Food52 Life

30 Qualities of a Good Home Cook

October 22, 2015

Although you may not have put it into words, you likely have a sense of what you believe makes a good home cook. Some of us immediately think of our grandmothers or roommates or daughters or sons. (Some of us think of ourselves.) 

And while all of these people probably function in the kitchen very differently—maybe your grandmother knows how to make samosas and curry but nothing else, while your brother has cooked his way through Modernist Cuisine—they likely have a couple of things in common, too.

When we asked our community and our staff what they think makes a good home cook, there were certain qualities that came up again and again.

This list does not include everything, and you probably won't agree with every point. While no one can be the perfect home cook, it's still fun to think about.  

A good cook...

  1. Can make something out of nothing and turn dregs into a meal

  2. Respects—in all senses of the word—food: where it comes from and how it's traditionally used, how it got to him or her, how to best prepare it

  3. Has a desire to nourish and please, and focuses on the enjoyment of the people eating their food 

  4. Has no fear (or is at least able to set fears aside)

  5. BUT also knows his or her limits (you can be a good home cook even if you have a comfort zone) 

  6. Is curious, with a tendency towards experimentation

  7. Is at peace with eating a less-than-amazing meal in the name of learning 

  8. Is patient 

  9. Can scale up quickly (is able to cook for 10 or for 2)

  10. Knows a few techniques that are transferrable and that work for what he or she likes to eat: roasting, stir-frying, making a dressing

  11. Brings people together over food

  12. Has respect for the freshest and best ingredients that his or her budget allows 

  13. AND keeps an adequate supply of these ingredients on hand in the pantry, fridge, and freezer in order to make varied, delicious, comforting, seasonally appropriate food

  14. AND has an encyclopedic knowledge of what's in his or her kitchen at any time

  15. Is willing to try again

  16. Knows which foods/flavors complement one another

  17. Follows recipes

  18. BUT can adapt recipes as he or she goes along and is willing to think outside their boundaries

  19. Loves cooking as much as eating

  20. Develops a broad vocabulary and understanding of cooking as his or her knowledge develops

  21. Tastes as he or she goes

  22. Does not overcrowd the pan

  23. Isn't afraid to use high heat and really char things

  24. Uses a tiny bit of acid (lemon, vinegar, etc.) to brighten up a dish 

  25. Adds enough salt but does not over salt

  26. Learns from his or her mistakes 

  27. Has a healthy appetite 

  28. Wastes as little as possible 

  29. Respects those who have come before him or her and the knowledge they can impart 

  30. Embraces the mundane: enjoys chopping a carrot, boiling water, and (maybe) washing dishes

A huge thanks to all of those who contributed to our list: Phyllis Grant, Megan Scott, Josh Cohen, Leslie Stephens and her mom, Amanda Sims, Jennifer Morris, Kristen Miglore, Jeremy Beker, Micki Balder and her best friend, Lauren Locke, Catherine O'Donnell, Haley Priebe, Haley Sonneland, Jane Poretsky, Caroline Lange, Risa Jampel, and, from the Hotline, Niknud, Stephanie, ChefJune, Susan W, Cav, Panfusine, Bevi, Nancy, Kristen W., lapadia, boulangere, Sippity Sup (Greg Henry), SilverSage, scruz, Jenny Maria, AntoniaJames, and Westcoasty. 

What did we miss? Tell us your definition of a good home cook in the comments.

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16 Comments

LLStone October 25, 2016
Like! I was nodding my head.
 
Donna H. October 24, 2016
Great list. I was nodding. Love to be in my kitchen creating!
 
Kimberly April 27, 2016
Love this article. A great home cook has enthusiasm. Unbridled enthusiasm for what can be in the kitchen.
 
NaoHorton January 15, 2016
This is a great list but I would add, Isn't afraid to use what might be hiding in the veggie bin or cheese bin...<br />Also, cooks an interesting recipe once as written and THEN, goes on to adapt, for season, family preferences, what's in the pantry, and intuition!
 
cminthor October 27, 2015
Makes simple recipes taste complicated, comforting and heavenly
 
A G. October 27, 2015
Forgot to add "Keeps Notes" and "Updates Recipes"
 
Windischgirl October 25, 2015
I think a good cook uses all the senses in the service of preparing a dish: hearing when water is about to boil or when a sauté pan is properly heated based on the sizzle; seeing when a fond has formed and it's time to turn the meat, or when a baked good needs to brown just a little more. Taste, of course, and smell are givens. And then touch/ sensation --feeling the heat radiate from a pan or the oven and knowing the temperature is right, using the "touch test" to know if a steak is rare, medium rare, etc. And then the sense of knowing: when the texture of a dough is right or how many pinches of salt a dish needs. My grandmothers didn't have thermometers or measuring cups or spoons, yet one operated a bakery and restaurant, and the other fed a family of 7 every day and helped cater weddings. I hope I've inherited even a smidgen of their skill.
 
Connie S. October 25, 2015
Great list! I thoroughly enjoyed perusing it. I agree with Liz below that usually a recipe ought to be just a point of departure. I might add that a good cook also trusts their intuition when evaluating a recipe and whether the ingredients or techniques make sense.
 
Smita G. October 23, 2015
I am everything except wanting to wash dishes ( I get so tired cooking all the yummy stuff :))
 
Betsey October 23, 2015
I'm not a good cook then. Tl:dr after "Is patient".
 
Erin M. October 23, 2015
Really fantastic list - I completely agree. I love the entire process from recipe distillation to the buying to the preparing to the slow process to tasting, to enjoying, to sharing. To NOT cleaning up. Cheers from Denmark!
 
boymeetsgirlmeetsfood October 23, 2015
still working on #22! love this list.
 
Liz October 23, 2015
Number 18... A recipe should just be a point of departure (having made it once to know what would make it REALLY good next time.) and number 30, although, as I write, my husband is washing last night's dishes.
 
Anisha B. October 23, 2015
Everything!
 
Batsheva R. October 22, 2015
A good home cook can make a single dish sophisticated and clever enough to impress adults while simultaneously simple and approachable enough to please children.
 
Riddley G. October 22, 2015
Number 2! Number 2 is really everything