Common Cooking Terms Explained

Whether you’re a beginner cook or a serious foodie, learning common cooking terms can expand your culinary vocabulary. Explore basic cooking vocabulary lists to discover the cook’s alphabet. 

flambé cooking term exampleflambé cooking term example

Basic Cooking Terms

Common culinary terms include everything from cooking methods to fancy French cooking words. 

Terms for Cooking Methods

Each cooking method requires a specific type of heat, temperature, or technique. 

  • air fry - to cook in an air fryer where hot air moves quickly around the food cooking it 

  • bake - to cook food in an oven with dry heat all around

  • barbecue - to cook food over coals on a rack or spit

  • baste - to put liquid over food while it cooks to keep it moist

  • blanch - to briefly cook in boiling water; typically used with fruits and vegetables

  • boil - to cook in water that is hot enough to be bubbling

  • braise - to brown (usually meat) then simmer in a little liquid on low heat until tender

  • broil - to cook on a rack under direct heat coming from the top of the oven

  • brown - to cook over high heat on the stove top until the food turns brown

  • caramelize - to heat sugars until they become liquid and turn into a brown syrup

  • char - to burn the surface of the food slightly

  • confit - meat that has been cooked then preserved in its fat

  • cure - to cook without using heat by packing the food in a salt mixture until its dry

  • deep fry - to cook by submerging the food in hot fat (like oil) 

  • flambé - to add alcohol to a hot pan then ignite it until the alcohol burns off

  • fry - to cook in hot oil

  • grill - to cook over or under direct heat

  • pan-fry - to cook in a small amount of fat in a frying pan or skillet

  • parboil - to partially cook a food by boiling it

  • parcook - to partially cook food so it can finish cooking later

  • poach - to carefully cook in a liquid that is either simmering or boiling

  • roast - to bake meat or poultry

  • sauté - another word for pan fry

  • sear - to quickly cook over high heat until the food browns

  • simmer - to cook in hot liquid that is just below the boiling point

  • steam - to cook food using steam by placing it over boiling water or using a steamer

  • stir-fry - to cook small pieces of food quickly over high heat while stirring constantly

  • sweat - to cook vegetables in oil or butter with a lid on the pot 

Cooking Terminology

While you’re cooking with various methods, you may come across these typical cooking terms. 

  • al dente - a pasta or vegetables texture when it is cooked, but still a little firm

  • bread - to coat food with bread crumbs or something similar before cooking

  • brine - to soak or preserve in a saltwater solution

  • cool - to move away from heat and lower the temperature

  • deglaze - to add a liquid to a pan you’ve just cooked in and scrape the pan while heating

  • dredge - to coat uncooked food with something like flour

  • infuse - to soak an ingredient in a liquid until the liquid takes on the ingredient’s flavor

  • macerate - to soak a fruit in a liquid so the fruit takes on the liquid’s flavor

  • marinate - to soak an ingredient in a flavored liquid over time; usually meat

  • pickle - to preserve food in a salt or vinegar solution

  • reduce - to thicken a liquid by boiling or simmering it

  • render - to melt the fat away from a piece of meat by cooking over low heat

  • skim - to remove fat or foam from the surface of a liquid

  • steep - to soak a dry ingredient, like tea, in a liquid until the liquid takes on the ingredient’s flavor

example of pickle cooking termexample of pickle cooking term

Cutting Terms

There are over a dozen different ways you can take ingredients apart or cut them. 

  • butterfly - split a food, like meat or shrimp, down the center without cutting all the way through

  • chiffonade - to cut herbs or leafy vegetables into thin strips

  • chop - to cut into smaller pieces

  • cube - to cut food in a way that it makes small cube shapes

  • dice - to cut food into very tiny cube shapes

  • flake - to gently break off small pieces of a food like a piece of fish

  • french - to cut between the bones on a piece of meat to remove the fat and cartilage

  • grate - to make shredded fine bits of a food by rubbing it against a serrated surface

  • grind - to break something down into fine pieces

  • julienne - to cut into long, thin strips that look like a matchstick shape

  • mince - to cut into small, uniform pieces smaller than diced food

  • purée - to mash or blend cooked food until it’s smooth and paste-like

  • rough chop - quickly cutting into pieces that are not uniform

  • score - to cut shallow slits on the surface of a piece of food

  • shred - to break or cut into thin pieces

  • slice - to cut across the grain of a piece of food making thin pieces with a uniform thickness

  • zest - to remove small bits of the outer part of a citrus fruit

example of dice cooking termexample of dice cooking term

Common Baking Terms

Baking is one type of cooking that has a whole set of terms to itself. Whether you’re baking cakes or making bread, these terms will come in handy. 

  • batter - mixture of ingredients that is uncooked and pourable

  • beat - mix quickly by stirring with a whisk, spoon, or electric mixer

  • blend - combine two or more ingredients thoroughly

  • blind bake - to bake a pastry crust without the filling

  • cream - to beat ingredients, usually sugar and butter, until smooth and fluffy

  • crimp - to pinch the edges of pastry together

  • combine - to blend two or more ingredients together

  • cut in - to mix butter or shortening into flour using a cutting motion

  • dry ingredients - ingredients that are solids and not moist like flour or spices

  • dust - to coat lightly with a powdery ingredient

  • grease - to rub some type of fat, like oil or butter, on the inside of a dish to prevent sticking

  • knead - to use your hands to press, fold, and stretch dough to a pliable mass

  • proof - to allow dough to rest and rise before baking

  • punch - to press down on risen dough to force the air out

  • set - a state of firmness for things like custards that happens over time

  • soften - to make less hard, but not completely melted

  • soft peaks - when the pointed mounds of something that’s been whipped stiff curl over

  • stiff peaks - when the pointed mounds of something that’s been whipped stiff stand up

  • temper - to add a small amount of of hot liquid to a cold liquid to warm the cold liquid gently

  • wet ingredients - ingredients that are liquid or moist like milk and eggs

  • whip - to beat and add air to increase the volume

  • whisk - to use a whisk to beat food and add air

example of crimp cooking termexample of crimp cooking term

French Cooking Terms

If you’re trying out some fancy cooking, you might need to know these common French cooking terms. 

  • au jus - includes its own juices; usually for meat

  • bain-marie - baking dish filled partially with water and used to cook things like custards

  • bisque - thickened shellfish soup

  • bouillon - stock or broth

  • consommé - broth that was made clear

  • coulis - thick sauce made from one main ingredient

  • roux - thickener made from adding flour to melted butter

cooking term example of bisquecooking term example of bisque

Uncomplicate Cooking

Simple explanations of normal cooking terms can take you from kitchen disaster to home chef. Continue your culinary learning by exploring cooking measurement abbreviations and conversions.

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