Guide to Different Methods of Cooking

Confused about cooking methods? Up your skills with our easy 101 guide.

It can be easy to fall into a recipe rut, especially if you have a couple of cooking methods that are your go-to's. But if you're a serial slow cooker or stir-fry fanatic, we'll help you break out of the mold and explore a few new cooking methods. We'll teach you exactly what goes into broiling, braising, stewing, and more, and give you a few tips and recipe suggestions for trying each one for yourself.

1. Broiling

measuring for broiling

Broiling is a great way to give your food a crispy, crunchy outer layer (after all, who doesn't love chicken with crispy skin?). Broiling means cooking food a measured distance below direct, dry heat. When you're broiling, position the broiler pan and its rack so the surface of the food (not the rack) is the specified distance from the heat source. And don't rely on estimations—use a ruler to measure the distance while the oven is still cold (so you don't get burned), or you could end up accidentally over- or undercooking your food.

2. Roasting

Garlicky Roasted Lambs and Potatoes

If you've only been roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving, you're seriously missing out the rest of the year. To roast is to cook food with dry heat, uncovered, in a large oven (you're probably most familiar with roasting a whole turkey or chicken). Not to be confused with plain old baking, roasting usually involves cooking food at a higher temperature than most baked recipes. Large items, like poultry or roast beef, are usually placed in a roasting pan to allow the melted fat to drip away (less fat = crispier skin). This method works best with tender meats that have internal or surface fats to keep them moist, like large cuts of beef, pork, or lamb.

3. Searing

Turning roast with tongs

Searing is a quick cooking method that usually involves finishing your meat or roast by using another technique; the purpose of searing is mainly to add flavor. Searing means browning a food, usually meat, on all sides using high heat. This gives the meat color and flavor, but despite what you might have heard, it doesn't actually seal in juices. Usually you sear meats that you'll finish cooking covered (like in your slow cooker) since they might not brown otherwise.

4. Stewing

Fast and Slow Old-Fashioned Beef Stew

When you want low-and-slow, ultra-tender meat, turn to stewing. To stew is to cook food for a long time in a covered pot with liquid over low heat. This moist-cooking technique helps tough cuts of meat become tender—not to mention how comforting and tasty a bowl of stew is on a chilly night. Usually the liquid in the pot is brought to a boil, then it's covered and the heat is reduced so the mixture simmers (bubbles gently). While your meat cooks, you can enjoy the tempting, mouthwatering smells filling your kitchen!

5. Pan-Frying

Pan-Fried Garlic Steak

Not to be confused with sautéeing, pan-frying involves cooking a food, which may have a light breading or coating, in a skillet in a small amount of hot oil or fat. The surface of the food browns and will become crispy if coated. Thin cuts of fish or meat, which can cook quickly, work best for this method. Don't confuse it with deep-frying, either—deep-frying involves completely submerging food in hot oil to cook it, whereas pan-frying uses just a small amount of oil (making it a little healthier and easier to do on a regular weeknight).

6. Braising

Adding braising liquid

Braising sounds like it could be an intimidating cooking method, but it's actually much easier than you think. To braise is to cook foods in a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan on the stove top or in the oven. Braising is best for less-tender cuts of meat, like a pot roast, because it allows all of the juices and flavors to seep in and tenderize the meat. When you want a melt-in-your-mouth roast, braising is your best bet!

7. Grilling

Grilling steak

If you're used to just tossing a couple of burgers on the grill, you might not know that there are actually two different grilling methods: direct and indirect. For direct grilling, food is placed on the grill directly over the heat source and can be cooked covered or uncovered. Generally, direct grilling is best for foods that cook quickly because they're tender, small, or thin (think burgers, hot dogs, and veggies). Indirect grilling means placing the food adjacent to the heat source (rather than directly over it), and covering the grill so the hot air circulates, cooking the food from all sides and eliminating the need for flipping. Indirect grilling is best suited for larger foods that take longer to cook, like ribs and whole birds.

8. Slow Cooking

Slow Cooker Chestnut-Bacon Stuffing

With all of the different tasks it can perform, your slow cooker can easily become the workhorse of your kitchen. If you're trying to prep meals for later or want dinner waiting for you when you get home from work, slow-cooking is the way to go. Like the name suggests, slow cookers often take at least a few hours to completely cook food because it cooks at a lower temperature than your stove top or oven. Slow cookers can be great for soups and stews, as well as tender meat recipes like pulled pork and chicken. You can also make unexpected recipes in them, like stuffing, yogurt, and pies!

9. Pressure Cooking

pressure cooker on stove with glass jar cans inside
Boiling-water canner and pressure canner. Waterbury Publications Inc.

When you need dinner fast or want to seriously speed up cooking a roast, turn to your pressure cooker. Thanks to an airtight gasket seal that traps steam, pressure cookers can cook food quicker and more evenly than pretty much any other method. The airtight seal allows for intense pressure and heat to build up inside the cooker. You can find pressure cookers in both electric and stove-top varieties, and you can also buy electric multicookers (like the Instant Pot) that include pressure cooking along with other functions like slow-cooking, browning, and steaming.

10. Sautéeing

Blaine Moats

Probably a cooking method you're familiar with, sauté comes from the French word sauter, which means "to jump." Sautéed food is cooked and stirred in a small amount of fat or oil over fairly high heat in an open, shallow pan. You can sauté just about anything, including ground meats, chicken breasts, and veggies—in particular, you'll want to master how to sauté an onion. Before you start sautéeing, make sure your food is cut into same-size pieces—otherwise it will cook unevenly (smaller pieces will cook faster).

11. Stir-Frying

stir fry
Kritsada Panichgul

Stir-frying isn't just for restaurants—you can stir-fry in your own kitchen, too! You don't need to invest in a fancy wok, either; a large skillet will work fine. To stir-fry is to quickly cook small, uniform pieces of food in a little hot oil over medium-high heat. Foods need to be stirred constantly to prevent burning. You'll mostly use this method for cooking veggies or making Asian-style recipes like fried rice or beef and broccoli.

12. Steaming

Steaming Basics

When it comes to steaming, you're probably the most familiar with cooking (and eating) steamed vegetables. To steam is to cook foods over boiling water. The steam from the water cooks food without washing away any color or nutrients. Food is placed in a steamer basket, set over boiling water, and covered. This is usually a fast cooking method because most vegetables don't need to steam for very long to become tender. Of course, you can also get much more creative with steaming—try your hand at making steamed bao buns or dumplings.

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