One of the best ways to learn how to cook is to help out your parents and relatives as a kid while they’re busy in the kitchen. That way, you quickly pick up some great techniques, sharpen your veggie chopping skills, and get used to being around all the clanking and clattering pots and pans. It’s great! On the flip side, you also pick up some of your parents’ cooking misconceptions, too.
Their mistakes become part of your knowledge base. And it sometimes takes years and years for you to realize that your parents might not have had everything figured out when it comes to food. Redditors opened up about some of the weirdest and funniest things their parents taught them about cooking that ended up being completely the wrong way to go about making food.
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From completely overcooking pork and salmon into dry inedible meals to undercooking mushrooms and not using any salt and beyond, here are the biggest misconceptions that they shared. Scroll down, upvote the posts that you think everyone should read, and if you have any food lessons to share with the rest of our dear Pandas, you can tell us all about them in the comments.
Bored Panda got in touch with Jessica Leigh Clark-Bojin, a talented pie artist, food expert, and the author of ‘Pies Are Awesome,’ for a chat about where misconceptions about food come from and about food fads (like the dastardly sugar lobby vilifying fat in the 1960s).
“Culinary knowledge is usually passed down generationally. If that’s how your mum/dad/gran did it, that’s how you do it. There’s a lot of, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality around the dinner tables of the world,” she told us. Read on for our interview with Jessica!
That meat has to be cooked to a point of total shoe-leather dryness in order to be “safe” to eat. Neither of my parents would touch a piece of chicken that wasn’t dessicated through and through nor a piece of beef with a touch of pink.
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Pie artist and baking grandmaster Jessica told Bored Panda that if people haven’t tried the ‘correct’ versions of the dishes or ingredients, then they’ve got nothing to compare the versions they’ve always been served with.
“And even then, due to warm fuzzy nostalgic feelings the foods of our youth often invoke, some people may prefer the ‘incorrect’ version. Overcooked pasta just like mother used to make!” she noted that people’s nostalgia goggles might make an appearance.
“Of course, there is a line between ‘sub-optimal’ and ‘inedible’ when it comes to food. But if no one is puking up a lung or dying of obvious malnutrition, most busy parents don’t see much of an impetus to change,” she explained why most food mistakes don’t end up being fixed.
My dad always told me that mushrooms should be added to the dish at the very last minute and barely cooked. I always thought I didn’t really like mushrooms. When I finally ate mushrooms which had been sautéed golden brown I was blown away. Turns out they are way better fully cooked!
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When I lived with my parents, I didn’t get the hype around steak. This was all around the context we lived in – My mum was feeding eight of us and brought cheap tenderized cuts that she could afford, would cook it to the consistency of cardboard, and tell us how lucky we were having steak for dinner. I was totally indifferent to it as a meal, but you eat what’s in front of you and you don’t complain.
It wasn’t till I moved out on my own and had a really good steak at a restaurant that I realized I had misunderstood beef for 18 years. Now I love to cook and eat steak.
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Jessica explained to us that society tends to go through fads and phases when it comes to its relationship with food. Some ingredients can end up being lauded or demonized, only for the tables to turn years later.
“When I was a kid, butter was the enemy, and muffins were the epitome of healthy diet food for the weight-conscious. A 1,000-calorie bran muffin slathered in margarine with a black coffee. That was where it was at,” the cooking expert explained how something that was taken very seriously in the past might sound silly from a more modern perspective.
According to Jessica, people tend to have very strong feelings about their favorite foods. It’s only later that we might learn that the ‘healthy’ items we were eating might not have been all that great for us.
Their method for hard boiled eggs: start them in cold water, boil for 15 minutes, then wait til the water cools to remove them. Gross grey yolks every time ?
ETA: whoever downvoted me obviously makes eggs this insane way so I just wanna tell that guy specifically that you can boil a perfect egg in 12 minutes, less time if you prefer a jammier yolk. you do not need to waste an hour to make hardboiled eggs buddy
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Putting oil in your pasta water keeps the pasta from sticking to itself.
This does nothing but waste oil. If you want to keep your pasta from sticking together stir it periodically and when it’s done drain it and put it right into your sauce.
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My mom used to overcook pork chops all the time because she didn’t believe it was safe to have any pinkness inside. I thought I didn’t like pork chops very much because I thought it wasn’t juicy enough until I finally had one that was cooked to medium doneness.
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“There are certainly some historical food misconceptions that have done a lot of harm. The vilification of fat’ by the sugar lobby in the 1960s is a big one that springs to mind, as well as the whole ‘eating a giant bowl of glorified marshmallows is a-ok for breakfast’ phase,” she told us.
“Outside of broad societal attitudes towards certain foods and diets, there are a number of common everyday cooking mistakes that people make in the preparation of their food—our handling of rice and pasta are high on the list here—but outside of food safety violations, I tend to be pretty sanguine about these things,” the expert noted that not cooking something ideally isn’t always the same as making the food item dangerous for consumption.
“No one ever died from over-cooked pasta, or vegetables boiled within an inch of their life. Sure, they’re missing out on a heightened culinary experience, but do you really want to be ‘that guy?’ I know I’m not going to tell my grandma how to perfect her pasta boiling technique (and if you knew my grandma, you wouldn’t either!),” Jessica said that, at times, it’s best to be diplomatic and dig into the meal without comment.
Vegetables must be boiled. Particularly broccoli.
Maybe if we had roasted a few, I would have eaten more.
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In this vein – spinach! Boxed fish sticks, rice, and canned spinach was in the regular rotation when I was a kid. I didn’t realize spinach was tasty until I had a tasty fresh spinach salad at my in-laws’ place.
Reading the Harry Potter books, I always just straight imagined gillyweed as canned spinach. Slimy and revolting.
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A pinch of salt = only a few grains
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A lot of these misconceptions probably come from a place of love. For instance, some parents might not cook with salt because they know that an excess of it might be harmful to health. Others might overcook food because they’re overly worried about killing off any germs.
Sure, that might kill the flavor, but these aren’t misconceptions that harm you much apart from leaving your taste buds unsatisfied. It’s the mistakes related to hygiene in the kitchen that you should be worried about.
No more than three eggs per week, or you’d die of heat failure from the cholesterol.
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If you don’t have a potato then it is not an actual meal. It wasn’t exactly true then but that was what they knew.
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My parents boil any meat that they’re going to “cook” on the grill because it won’t cook all the way through on a grill. And this is why I thought I hated BBQed chicken. Few years ago I threw a BBQ for them, my Dad insisted I was going to kill them by just grilling the chicken and pork. Then they said, best grilled chicken and pork they ever had. I also grilled the corn on the cob which they thought was some kind of miracle.
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“The worst thing that can be done in the kitchen in terms of hygiene is treating the ‘dangerous’ ingredients in the same fashion as all the other ingredients in your food prep. Pathogens (the little things in food that can make us sick like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and microorganisms) thrive in certain foods more than others,” Jessica explained to us in an exclusive interview.
“Raw chicken, raw egg, unpasteurized milk, seafood, and raw flour (people often forget that one!) in particular are fertile breeding ground for nasties and need to be treated differently than other foods,” the food expert warned.
According to Jessica, everyone should keep in mind the food safety acronym ‘FATTOM’ to remember which foods spoil quicker than others. The acronym stands for “Food supply (protein), low acidity, time, temperature, oxygen, and moisture.”
My mom just told me to completely omit salt when cooking.
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Everyone loves their Moms cooking but don’t they all have this one dish that you learned later does not taste like it is supposed to? Mine for example will leave pasta in the water until it’s time to serve it, even if it’s practically starting to dissolve by that time. Then she will drown it in butter so it won’t stick.
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When baking, stir everything clock wise or it will be bad.
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The expert said that you can use ‘FATTOM’ as a quick rule of thumb to determine how dangerous the ingredients you’re working with actually are.
“For example, if you are working with something with a very high acid content like lemons, jam, or pickles, or something with a very low moisture content like crackers or rice cakes, you really don’t have to worry about them sitting out on the counter for hours or touching other food. They just don’t have enough of what the pathogens need to grow,” she said.
“On the other hand, something like raw shrimp which has a high moisture content and lots of protein for pathogens to eat really needs to be carefully monitored for how long it is left out in the open air in ‘danger zone’ temperatures and kept far away from other food and utensils,” she told Bored Panda that temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F (4 to 60 degrees C) are the danger zone for pathogen growth.
My entire childhood we had margarine. I thought restraunts had some special technique to make their butter taste good. Turns out it was just regular salted butter.
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Bacon. I assumed it was the solid food equivalent of coffee when I was a kid – smells amazing, tastes like bitter, burnt ashes. My parents err on the side of burnt, and sometimes they err hard. When I was 12 my buddy made us some for breakfast after a sleepover and pulled it off the heat almost still pink and my mind was blown.
Spinach is desgusting. Its NOT. I eat it every day as an adult. But they ALWAYS bought Canned Spinach which is… not good. Really bad. Green, slightly grass tasting slime. Fresh Spinach? Crunchy! No Slime! Good. They came up poor and lived on an island so I don’t think they quite understood that, one we had moved west, they now lived with 500 km of 1000 farms and didn’t need to buy it in a can anymore…
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It took me an entire summer of owning my own barbecue to learn that barbecued does not mean charred past recognition.
I was allowed to eat eggs, sunny side up, omelette, whatever, only once or twice a week.
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My mom is a great cook. People offer to buy her stuff all the time. And when my friends come over, they leave at least 5lbs heavier. HOWEVER, there is one thing that she does that hella bothers me- she leaves soups and stews on the stove top for a couple days. She boils it every day and claims it removes the bacteria. Luckily, no one has gotten food poisoning yet. It still freaks me out. And I’ll only eat it when it’s freshly made or from the fridge.
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Love my mom, but she was an awful cook. As a teen I started to cook for my family once or twice a week. My father grilled on the weekend nights. The other 3 nights of the week were hers. She tried, she really did, but she was just not good. She would see a recipe she was interested in, but instead of trying it out as is, she would make adjustments to it the first time out. And her adjustments were not necessarily sensible. For example, she would see a recipe that calls for 2 cups of shredded cheese which she saw as too much cheese, so she would replace one cup of cheese with a cup of shredded carrot because it looked like shredded cheese. Stuff like that.
When I grew older and was at Girlfriend’s house for dinner one night, she decided to make enchiladas, which I absolutely detested growing up. Of course, there are times in life when you just swallow what’s offered to you and smile. They ended up being the best enchiladas I had ever tasted. Amazing. And of course I huge kuddos from her, A for eating them, B for asking for seconds, and C for the smile on my face.
Turns out, most enchiladas don’t have 2 cans of diced olives mixed in. Yet another adjustment my mother made without thinking it through. You know diced olives bare a resemblance to ground meat when you cook it. And so, at the age of 22 I learned that I don’t hate enchiladas. Lesson learned.
Not exactly my parents, but my grandmother had some… Unique views on food. For example:
Enjoying foreign food makes you almost traitor of your country
Never washed her vegetables because dirt toughens you up
Only she knows the correct recipes and experimenting in kitchen in unforgivable (direct insult to my mom)
If something had gone bad, she didn’t throw it out, but boiled till it literally dissolved and then got upset that noone ate it
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Salmon. My mom was a decent cook but I thought I detested that nasty dry stuff until I had salmon at a restaurant once and was like holy sh*t, THIS is salmon??
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Salt is bad. MSG is bad. Fat is bad. Ended up eating extremely bland food and thinking I hated vegetables because of it.
Eggs are bad for you…. That was before we heard about cholesterol. Then butter, here use this congealed artery spackle instead
Later they got into the whole low fat thing
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You can’t drink milk while eating anything with lemon or it will *curdle in your stomach* and make you *severely* sick!
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Add oil and salt to your pasta water before it boils.
Peel mushroom caps before cooking.
Always put your leftovers in the fridge while still hot.
Stuff your turkey and sew it shut before roasting.
You can’t freeze cheese.
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Asparagus – had no idea you could get it fresh and crisp. We always had boiled, canned asparagus when I was a kid. Blech.
Putting eggshells down the garbage disposal. Disproven by a very unhappy landlord of mine when he had to fix my drainage backup.
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Most of these differences are simply preferences, rather than strictly advantageous, incorrect or correct. Two cooks can use vastly different techniques for the same dish and make an end result that is equally delicious. That is why it is best to regard all recipes as advice and suggestion, not gospel.
For my entire childhood I thought mashed potatoes came in a box.
Hard boiled eggs. The yolks were also dark grey by the time they were done in the 20 minute bath.
My parents always had their big meal in the evening. Only as an adult living in Germany did I learn that a big lunch and a light supper are much healthier (for me at least). Much better sleep for one thing.
I just made meatballs after not eating them for 15+ years and they were delicious. As much as I love my mom for cooking for us kids and inspiring me, I guess meatballs just weren’t her specialty. They’d come out dry and burnt on the outside, plain wet on the inside.
Pretty much everything. My parents don’t use spices, so everything is extremely bland. Once I went to college and started experimenting with different food, I realized how bland their cooking was. Well done steak with ketchup was a regular meal.
I once made them shakshuka, which hardly has anything fancy in it, and it was too overwhelming for them to eat.
My MIL puts a packet of Lipton’s dry onion soup mix in everything she makes. Every dish! Rice, mashed potatoes, taco meat. It’s the only thing consistent about her cooking.
My dad would always scrub mushrooms lightly with a brush instead of washing them. It turns out because mushrooms are already mostly water, rinsing then doesn’t affect their taste and texture, and is a much faster way of cleaning them
Salads were iceberg lettuce, tasteless tomatoes, and a couple of unhappy croutons all covered in ranch dressing. Just awful.
You can’t leave leftover canned food like tomato sauce in the can and cover it and stick it in the fridge or you’ll get sick when you eat it. You have to put it in a Tupperware. Since moving out I don’t bother transferring it to a Tupperware and I haven’t had any problems
Was also told you need to drain and rinse beans before cooking with them or you’ll get a stomachache
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That “all fat is bad.” Don’t ask.
My dad, whose mother is from Sicily, he was really offended when my future SIL sweetened her Bolognese sauce with carrots. I did a little research on a standard Italian sofrito, and it includes carrots. I’ve since modified my recipe, swapping sugar for carrots, and I think it improves the flavor.
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You can use any random ingredient substitute that you’re trying to get rid of as long as it vaguely resembles what the recipe calls for.
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Rice can’t be reheated or it will make you severely sick
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I’m not sure if this necessarily counts, but my grandmother had this thing where you had to have bread with every meal. On top of that, she felt that certain foods would make you sick if not eaten with bread. She would get apoplectic if I ever ate a slice of cold cuts out of the fridge without bread. She claimed cold cuts and eggs would make me sick if I ate them without bread.
Another one is that soup is part of every meal.
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I had no idea that hard boiled eggs could be soft boiled or any other degree of doneness… I just assumed they always had grey ring around the yolk, later in life realized this is due to over boiling.
My parents thought any cut of beef could become steak (like the ones they would eat at expensive steakhouses) and that it had to be cooked a certain way to achieve it. Cue to my parents buying chuck roasts and getting super frustrated when they were super tough. I would point out that there were actual rib eyes and porterhouses in the super market that would be similar to the steakhouse in quality, they refused to shell out money for them. Years later I’m still mad they would buy s**t meat and get mad at me when it didn’t end up like a dry aged porterhouse.
My mother saying leftover vegetables cause cancer.
That you must “clean” any kind of meat before cooking it because it “kills any bacteria” on it. Turns out not only is this false, but it also does the complete opposite of said effect. Doing so spreads the bacteria all over your sink/kitchen and does nothing to “clean” the meat. Cooking your meat properly is how you get rid of any bacteria full stop. This was something that was taught to my mother by her mother when she was young (which was 50+ years ago) and she has been doing it ever since. After randomly getting sick when she cooked sometimes I went on and did some research of my own and found out that the main reason I would get sick was because she was “cleaning” the meat every time before cooking it.
I confronted her about it, and of course she refuted it. I mean… I get it, she has been doing that since she was basically a child, but that was then and this is now. We have science and data that back these things up. Shortly after I started cooking anytime meat was involved and never got sick again (surprise, surprise!). She still doesn’t really believe it, but at this point it’s a lost cause trying to convince her.
Also, I know that in Latino culture it is tradition to “clean” the meat using mixes of vinegar/lime juice and water. When the study came out about this a few years back the Latino community was up in arms about it because they felt attacked. I do know that in certain places around the world the meat folks have access too isn’t the most… safe… or prepared correctly before being sold off to the masses; thus “cleaning” said meat became somewhat of a tradition in some places. I’ve seen some of the videos where the chicken that was being cleaned did have copious amounts of scum like skin on it, so of course in that case it makes sense, but it still has to be done properly to avoid contaminating the surrounding area.
Wash your chicken before cooking.
They didn’t expressly teach me every meal needs meat but that was certainly the default. Only i went vegetarian as a kid, and since then there’s plenty of information that a meatless meal can be as nutrient dense and filling if not more so than a meat based meal.
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Margarine was healthy.
That liver and onions taste good.
Every meal must have a complex carbohydrate
That if your melting butter and it turns brown, it’s ruined
Using soapy water to wash cast iron was a sin….
You can only warm up leftovers once. If you don’t eat it all after it’s been reheated, then that’s the end of it for those leftovers.
Butter flavored crisco is healthier than all alternatives, because that s**t is made from vegetables and not animals
Take your chicken out of the freezer before work/school and leave it on the counter to ‘thaw’ until you get home that evening.
Always salt the water when boiling eggs.
Dumping a can of vegetables directly into a pot and heating it up is good
Stiring direction when mixing a batter. Had to be clockwise from memory. You could get away with anticlockwise but once you started you couldn’t change.
And my mum used to put bicarb in veggies when I was younger. Thankfully that died off after a bid.
Cold tap water boils faster than warm/hot tap water. – yeah, i know. ?
Salting too early in grilling can make a steak tough. It was great being able to cite this as something Martha Stewart said on TV (she specifically called it a myth) to my mom’s friend who both idolized Martha and believed that salting made steaks tough.
Disproven: Safe pork temperatures and some other excessive anxiety around food safety. Not that I am lax, but my mom is concerned to the point of wasteful.
The main thing that annoys me about my parents’ cooking v. mine is their adherence to the meat, starch, veg model of a typical dinner. It creates so much extra dishes. Make 1-2 pot meals; you don’t need three separate preps.
To cook with water when broth is much more flavorful.
I don’t bake my meatloaf in a loaf pan anymore.