Menu Ideas

20 Essential Dishes Every Cook Should Know

By • January 10, 2014 • 50 Comments

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If you were going to ever commit any sort of recipes to your memory -- if you were going to ever cook things so often that they become second nature -- you should look to these twenty. (Or, if they won't all fit in your brain, at least have them at the ready). Because while we're all into big parties and fun experiments and playing around in the kitchen, we've got our staples. We've got the things we turn to for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert -- all week long, when we're hungry or when we're tired or when the mood suddenly strikes. So here are Food52's most essential recipes: the things you really should know -- or strive to learn! -- how to cook.

Scrambled Eggs 

Scrambled eggs from Food52



Pancakes from Food52



Chili from Food52


Roast Chicken 

Roast Chicken from Food52


Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce from Food52


Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese from Food52


Salad Dressing

Lemon Caper Dressing


Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes from Food52



Steak from Food52


Stir-Fried Noodles 

Noodles from Food52



Pesto from Food52


Roasted Vegetables

Roasted vegetables from Food52


French Toast 

French toast from Food52


Puréed Vegetable Soup

Soup from Food52



Burgers from Food52


Macaroni and Cheese 

Macaroni and Cheese from Food52


Chicken Cutlets

Chicken fingers from Food52



Frittata from Food52


Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookies from Food52


Chocolate Bundt Cake

Bundt cake from Food52

What recipes would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!


Jump to Comments (50)

Tags: menu ideas, roundup, everyday cooking, how-to & diy

Comments (50)


2 months ago Diane

Chicken noodle soup and spaghetti and meatballs.


3 months ago Ronald Smith

Well you could add the following to the list...

Roasting a ham, pork or beef.
Sweet potatoes\squash
baked pies.
Bread(quite easy to do honestly)


8 months ago Nancy Pulsifer

I, too, love this site! It has become my go to for many things.
You cover everything well! Yum!


8 months ago nunya biz

I cant believe you added bread on top of mac and cheese,or carrots and stew beef in chili! yuk!


8 months ago patricia richardson

classic meat loaf...


8 months ago DianeT

Great list. I'd add chicken stock, some sort of braise, like a brisket, and cobbler - and skip the mac and cheese.


8 months ago scott.finkelstein.5

Lost me at including macaroni and cheese and fritata (don't even know what that is) but not chicken-kneidle soup or white fish with a ritz crust.


8 months ago Wendi

Meatloaf/meatballs. Same ingredients, with a variation on the meatballs for hors d'oeuvres


8 months ago Sofia



8 months ago bonbonmarie

I would add a good fruit pie to this list. Something you don't need a recipe for, just luscious, just-picked goodness and a flaky crust or crumble to contain it. yum!


8 months ago Patricia

Basic pound cake is a family staple!


8 months ago NinaM

I'd like to see a basic pizza!


8 months ago KitchenBeard

I'd add a good stew. Beef, pork, chicken, whatever, but the process of a one pot multihour braise is a good use of cheap ingredients to produce a complex flavor. B


8 months ago Peggy

Chicken soup!


8 months ago Bryan Paschke

I actually wouldn't be NEARLY as specific as this list is. Every cook (home cook) should know how to make: 1)scrambled eggs, 2)some form of hot cereal, 3)some form of fried/BBQed meat (skill is generally transferrable), 4)at least one simple pasta dish, 5)at least one complex dish suitable for company, 6)a basic green salad, 7) steamed vegetables and 8)at least one sweet. Everything else is optional. Know these six things and you'll be able to keep yourself and even a family at least relatively happy and healthy. These things should be known BEFORE a person is old enough to drive a car.


8 months ago Bryan Paschke

Doh, I forgot one....4a)at least one soup..preferably one that can be used as a base and varied.


8 months ago Ketoko

I want to dedicate my life cooking pancakes. There is something mystical in it:)

Happy New Year


8 months ago Cindy Wells

Survival cooking should include a basic spaghetti, oatmeal cookies, and rice.


8 months ago MrsPrincess07

I love this site!

I know most of my dishes, but it wasn't until I began coming here that they started to look as pictured!


8 months ago Karen

Would add chicken noodle soup and omelet.


8 months ago Rebecca Cherry

I second Samuel's request for rice instructions. I can cook a lot of wonderful dishes but when it comes to a pot of rice, I always F it up.


8 months ago Chickenfog

EVERY house in Asia, where rice is a daily eaten food, uses a rice cooker. It's bizarre to think that one is somehow 'relying' on it as if one is adding frozen waffles to a toaster. A rice cooker is how to make rice.


8 months ago Bryan Paschke

I mostly use a rice cooker, but I CAN, at need, make rice using nothing more than rice, water, a pot, a lid, and a heat source. Never be completely dependent on ANY one thing if you can help it.


8 months ago Bryan Paschke

Oh, and the key to rice without a rice cooker are 1)precision in measuring, 2)not rinsing your rice unless the package calls for it and 3)PATIENCE. Once the lid goes down, you don't lift it for ANYTHING until the time is up. Once the time is up, promptly fluff with a fork (never a spoon) and serve.


8 months ago Samuel Gerry

I use a cuban method to cook rice. Rince the rice until the water runs clear. 1 cup of rice to 1.75 cups of water. Boil water, add a tablespoon of butter and some salt, then add rice. Simmer with the lid off over medium heat until most of the liquid evaporates and craters form. Turn heat to low and cook for 12 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Comes out perfect (not sticky) for me everytime with jasmine rice. The one thing I hated about living in Korea was the rice was always sticky, which would be borderline offensive in Latin America.


8 months ago bonbonmarie

The type of rice is important to note. 2:1 water to rice ratio for puerto rican style rice, using short-grain pearl rice. Basmati is more like Samuel's recipe above.


7 months ago shayma

Indeed, it is important to know how to make rice. Where I come from, we don't use rice cookers, Pakistanis pride themselves on knowing how to make rice dishes without rice cookers. There is a huge difference between the basmati rice which is made in a rice cooker and that which is made in a pot of water. We throw the water away and let the rice cook in its own steam. Saying that we can make rice in a rice cooker is like saying we can just buy some processed garbage in a box to make pancakes.


7 months ago tara o'brady

I must say I agree with Shayma and others, and disagree that a rice cooker is THE way to make rice. Growing up, we never had a rice cooker, my grandmother never used one, I don't remember them in the houses of my relatives in India, and I don't own one now. Honestly, making rice as easy as boiling potatoes. Rice also varies from batch to batch, so cooking in a pot allows for that.