12 answers to the most popular cooking questions

When you have another "not again!" moment at the stove, don't you wish there was a genius standing right next to you to tell you how to fix it? Well, invite over the Every Day test kitchen cooks!

Q: Do I really need to let meat rest before slicing
and serving it?

A: You should. When meat is hot, its proteins are tight, and all the juices get pushed to the middle. Letting the meat rest for a few minutes allows the proteins to relax (which makes it
more tender) and evenly distributes the juices. Resting time depends on meat size: A whole turkey might need 20 minutes, while a steak that serves two will only need 8 to 10 minutes. If you're worried about it getting cold during
that time, keep it warm by loosely tenting it with foil.
See more: How to cook steak »

Q: I usually cook boneless chicken breasts, but I've heard that bone-in chicken breasts taste better. Is that true?
A: It's true! Any meat that's cooked on the bone is going to be juicier and more flavorful. But there's a
catch: Bone-in cuts of meat can take twice as long as boneless to cook. So if you're crunched for time during the busy week, boneless chicken and chops are the smart choices.
See more:
Rachael Ray's fastest 30-Minute Meal chicken dinner recipes »

Q: Recipes often say you should reserve some pasta cooking water to use in the sauce. Can't I just use regular water?
A: Not really. The cooking water has starch in it from the pasta. When you add it to sauce, the sauce thickens and clings better to the pasta. To reserve some, use a ladle or dunk a glass measuring cup in the pot before you strain the pasta. Mix it into your sauce a few tablespoons at a time until you're happy with the consistency.
See more:
Expert tips on how to cook pasta like an Italian »

Q: I can't always find parmigiano-reggiano cheese at my grocery store. What other cheeses can I use instead?
A: You can use another hard, aged cheese that's good for grating. In the test kitchen, we love grana
padano, which is cheaper, milder and melts a bit easier than parmigiano-reggiano; asiago, which is sharp yet buttery; and pecorino-romano, which has a more pungent flavor. And last, a shopping tip from Rach: If you see parmesan cheese in your grocery store, make sure the word "reggiano" is on the label-this means it's an authentic Italian cheese (otherwise, it's imitation, and nowhere near as delicious!).
Tips for buying a great cheese »

Q: I've heard that most home cooks only need a few knives. What should I buy?
A: The single most important one is a chef's knife (between 8 and 12 inches long). It will be your workhorse: You'll use it to chop onions, smash garlic, halve melons…you name it. Next up is a serrated knife, which uses a sawing motion to cut through delicate foods like tomatoes and bread without smashing them. Last, buy a paring knife for all those handheld tasks, like hulling strawberries and taking eyes out of potatoes.
See more:
Our top five kitchen tools »

Q: My market's hit or miss with fresh herbs. What's a good rule of thumb for using dried instead of fresh?
A: In general, use one-third the amount of dried herbs to replace chopped fresh. So if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, use 1 teaspoon dried. To release the most flavor, add dried herbs toward the beginning of cooking. One caveat: Cilantro, basil and parsley are so tender and delicate, they lose their flavor when dried. If you don't have these fresh leaves on hand, just omit them and add more salt and pepper for flavor.
See more:
12 fresh herbs you should know + how to use them »

Q: Meat always sticks to the pan when I try to sear it. What am I doing wrong?
A: Chances are you're not letting your pan get hot enough, so your meat isn't caramelizing
- which means it's sticking to the pan because it's not getting a golden-brown crust. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat for at least five minutes. (Don't use a nonstick pan for this purpose; because it has a special coating, it shouldn't be preheated when empty.) Then pour in some oil; as soon as it starts to shimmer, add your meat in batches (to avoid overcrowding the pan). It'll be tempting to move the meat around or lift it to see how it's doing, but the secret to a nice sear is to leave it undisturbed for at least two
minutes per side.

Q: I hate onions! Can I just leave them out when cooking, or is there something else I can use that will give me the same texture?
A: If onion is the main ingredient in a dish
-an onion tart, for example-I wouldn't bother making the recipe, because there isn't another ingredient that comes close to the exact taste and texture of an onion. But if you're cooking something like chili, where onion is used as an aromatic-the backbone or base flavoring of a dish-you can sauté other aromatics instead, such as celery, fennel, carrots or garlic.
See more: Learn about the different kinds of onions »

Q: Can I leave wine out of a recipe?
A: Yes, you can just use the same amount of whatever other liquid the recipe calls for.
If you're making risotto, for example, add more chicken broth or water. If there aren't other liquids in the dish, replace the alcohol with a splash of something acidic, like lemon juice or cider vinegar. (If there's cream in the recipe, however, it will curdle, so in those cases just omit the liquid altogether.)

Q: If a recipe calls for coarse salt can I just use table salt?
A: No.
Table salt grains are a lot smaller than coarse salt grains-so a teaspoon of table salt is a lot more potent than a teaspoon of coarse salt. You don't have to invest in fancy sea salt; kosher salt is an affordable coarse type that works well in most recipes. If you only have table salt handy and the recipe calls for coarse, start by putting in half as much table salt, and taste the dish from there.
See more: How to use different kinds of salt »

Q: When a recipe calls for just butter, should I use salted or unsalted?
A: When baking, you generally want to use unsalted butter.
I usually prefer cooking with unsalted butter, too-it gives me more control over how salty the final dish tastes, since I'm adding all the salt myself. That said, I love having salted butter at the table to spread on fresh bread!

Q: What cooking staples can be kept in the freezer?

A: Freeze chicken stock and pesto in ice cube trays
-then just pop them out to use in soups and sauces. Nuts stay fresh longer in the freezer and defrost quickly. And I always have a loaf of bread for breadcrumbs.

More of your questions, answered!

By Tracey Seaman, Diana Sturgis and Katie Barreira | Photography by Lisa Shin