30 Kitchen Hacks EVERY Adult Should Know

Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi; Hand Modeling by Jessica Chou.
This story was originally published on August 5, 2015.

Congratulations! You've made dinner — only to face a mess of a kitchen, a sink full of dishes, and another hour spent cleaning when you could've been watching Netflix. Such is the reason takeout exists, right?

Of course, you end up paying for that convenience factor. Who can afford a $15-$20 minimum every single night of the week? So, we've come up with 30 genius tricks to make cooking insanely easy, vetting tips from the International Culinary Center, pastry chefs, line cooks, and yes, our own parents. Our goal? Saving you time, money, and perhaps a nicked finger or two.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: You want to heat up leftovers
The Solution: This infographic

The microwave might've been your best friend in college, but certain foods take a little more finesse. You wouldn't want to ruin your perfectly good steak or waste a good amount of fries. So the best way to reheat is to deal with the main issue — either too much moisture, or too little. Save this infographic (see a larger version here) for when you need to reheat muffins, steak, pastas, and even pizza (though with that last one, you can most likely eat it cold and it will be delicious).
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Your cutting board keeps slipping
The Solution: Place a damp paper towel underneath it

This is the oldest trick in the (pro) book — always lay a damp paper towel or a thin cotton towel under your cutting board. The resulting friction will keep that cutting board in place, which is all the better when you're dicing tomatoes, chopping onions, or otherwise putting your fingers at risk.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Your knives are never sharp
The Solution: A ceramic mug (or bowl)

Typically the problem with knives isn't that they're not sharp — it's that they're not straight. You can easily straighten your knife with the bottom of a ceramic bowl or cup, running the blade against the rough portion to straighten it. Take care of your knives, too — straighten regularly, bring to a sharpener every six months or so, and don't store them directly in a drawer (use a knife block or magnetic strip, or buy knife guards).
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Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi.
The Problem: Your pots keep boiling over
The Solution: A wooden spoon

This old grandma's trick has saved many a stove from overflowing with starchy water. Anytime you're boiling pasta or beans, place a wooden spoon over the top of the pot.

The science behind it? Well, bubbles are unstable forms, so a spoon will destabilize the bubbles because of its hydrophobic surface. Plus, since bubbles are filled with steam, if they touch something that's below boiling temperature, the steam will condense back to liquid and break the surface tension (which is causing the bubbles to foam up).

Naturally, once the wooden spoon soaks in more steam and heats up, it won't be as repellent and effective. Your next step, if you really must boil pasta for that long, would be adding a drop or two of olive oil, which would help break the surface tension as well.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Your lovely loaf of bread has gone stale
The Solution: Add water

If you have a partially eaten loaf of bread, turn it cut-side down under water, and let the water run through it, as seen in this Rachael Ray clip. Then, wrap it in tin foil, and warm at 200 degrees to your liking. Voila! As good as fresh bread.

If you have bread slices, this might be a bit trickier. You can't revive the bread, per se, but you can incorporate the crustiness into your next meal. Place the slices under chicken while roasting (to soak up all the gorgeous flavors), toss a slice atop French onion soup (before the cheese), or make gourmet croutons by toasting bread pieces mixed with olive oil and spices. If you don't want to even bother with cooking, make bread crumbs by grating the bread or putting it into a food processor. Freeze and use when ready.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Onions make you cry
The Solution: A slice of bread

The ultimate fix to this annoying kitchen problem might be contacts or onion goggles (or having someone else slice them for you), but if those are out of the question, you can try slicing an onion with a slice of bread in your mouth. Onions contain amino acid sulfoxides, which react when cut to produce a sulfur gas — which wafts up, meets the water in your eyes, and forms sulfuric acid. Ouch. Tears and sniffling ensue.

Having a slice of bread in your mouth helps stop the sulfur gas from reaching your eyes in the first place, as the gas dissipates through the bread and is breathed into your mouth. But if you're extra worried, try chilling your onions before cutting them, as the enzymes are less reactive when cold. Some folks recommend putting your onions in an ice water bath two hours before slicing, and peeling them under cold water before slicing them with a sharp knife. Clean cuts will cause less of a reaction, meaning less sulfur gas, and less pain.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Your hands smell like garlic
The Solution: Stainless steel

Grab a stainless steel pot or spoon (or even this stainless steel bar) and rub your hands against the metal under cold water. The theory behind this trick is that the sulfuric compounds in garlic bind to the ions on stainless steel surfaces, lifting away the tiny particles of garlic from your hands. The cold water helps by shrinking your pores to keep the garlic oils out.
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Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi; Hand Modeling by Jessica Chou
The Problem: Mincing takes forever
The Solution: Make the microplane your best friend

A handy microplane is the ultimate multitasker in the kitchen. It's the perfect zester for citrus and the fastest cheese grater, and quickly churns out freshly grated spices and condiments (like nutmeg, cinnamon, or horseradish). You can grate fresh chiles into pasta, ginger into soups and stir-fry, and best of all, garlic. That's right, no more mincing garlic — with a microplane, you can easily make garlic purée to add into mayonnaise, sauces, and more. Of course, be careful with the stuff. Grated garlic is notoriously more pungent than minced.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: You put too much salt in your soup
The Solution: Toss a whole potato in there

If you need a quick fix for too salty soups, peel a whole potato and toss it in. It'll soak up the extra salt — and if you need it, add starch for a thicker texture. Fish it out once boiled.
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Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi; Hand Modeling by Jessica Chou.
The Problem: Cutting multiple tomatoes at once
The Solution: A serrated knife and two deli container lids

Place your cherry tomatoes between two lids, and carefully hold them in place with your non-dominant hand. Using your dominant hand, guide a serrated knife between the lids, slicing through the tomatoes. You won't smush all the juice out, and you'll get nicely halved results.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Mashed potatoes, tired arms
The Solution: A mesh sieve

For an incredibly smooth purée, simply boil your potatoes (or yams or celery root) and push them through a sieve with the back of a spoon or spatula. No need to mash with a fork, toss in a blender, or spend money on a potato masher. Steak and potatoes just got way easier.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Dry roast chicken
The Solution: Water

Getting the perfect, juicy roast chicken is definitely a process, but one way to ensure juicy meat is to roast the chicken with some water. When roasting the bird, put a quart of water into a separate pan and place in the oven, as the teachers at the ICC will do. Not only will the extra water keep the meat from drying out, it will also prevent chicken fat from splattering. If you want to baste the chicken with some white wine without rinsing off the aromatic herbs, we recommend placing some wine and lemon in a spray bottle and misting the bird.

Finally, once the chicken is done, try not to cover it. If covered, the meat will steam up and taste reheated, letting all your hard work go to waste.
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The Problem: Separating egg yolks is a pain
The Solution: A water bottle

Pros might just use the egg shells to separate egg yolks from egg whites, but if you're not careful, you'll break at least one. Luckily, this trick just requires a single plastic water bottle and a few bowls. Crack open your eggs, grab the water bottle, and use the suction to easily (and gently!) grab those egg yolks out of there. Then squeeze the yolks out into a separate bowl.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Are your eggs still fresh?
The Solution: Water

Grab a pot and fill it halfway with water, then drop your egg in. If it sinks, it's still good. If it floats, toss it. Turns out, eggshells are porous, meaning that over time, air will pass through the shell into the egg. If the egg floats, that means there's too much air inside.
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The Problem: Peeling an egg takes time
The Solution: Blow it out

Hard-boiled eggs are ridiculously easy to make, but peeling them can slow you up. This trick makes it fun — just peel away the shell at the top and bottom of the egg, place one end to your mouth, and blow. It'll just pop right out (as seen in the video). To make it even easier, use a pin to prick a tiny hole at the bottom of the egg right before boiling — the water will seep in and help separate the egg from the shell.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Your vegetables get soggy
The Solution: Paper towels

Keeping produce fresh requires a delicate balance of moisture — too much moisture will often make your precious kale rot. So the best solution is to wrap your celery, broccoli, cucumbers and other greens with a paper towel before storing them in a plastic bag. They won't last forever, but they'll last longer than usual.
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Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi.
The Problem: You have too many extra herbs
The Solution: Olive oil and an ice tray

You may have seen this trick around on Pinterest, and there's a reason why — it's the easiest way to save that beautiful seasonal basil (other than pesto, obviously). It's also works for a number of other herbs, such as thyme, chives and rosemary. Simply chop up your herbs, divide them in an ice cube tray, and cover with olive oil. Wrap in plastic wrap, freeze, and pop out individual cubes when you need a little touch of green in your meal. They'll dissolve easily into sauces and on a pan, and retain the fresh flavors of summer, all year long.
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Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi.
The Problem: Your avocado is turning brown
The Solution: Olive oil

The trick here is to address the problem: Avocados turn brown because of oxidization, so to limit that people tend to use plastic wrap or some lemon. The best seal, however, is actually olive oil — rub some over the cut side, store in a plastic bag, and your avocado will stay green longer.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Your white wine is still warm
The Solution: Freeze some fruit

No one wants a super watered-down or warm drink — two of the worst things you can do to alcohol. Luckily, there's a whole wide world of ice cube substitutes out there — frozen grapes for white wine, frozen pickle juice for your Bloody Mary, and frozen raspberries to toss into champagne.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
What's more, fancy ice cubes aren't just for alcoholic drinks — lemon juice is great in iced tea, leftover coffee in iced coffee. For the whiskey drinkers in your family, simply freeze a water balloon, cut away the rubber, rinse, and you've got a giant sphere to slowly dissolve in your drink, leaving your whiskey barely diluted. For gorgeous, clear ice cubes, boil your water first before freezing.
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Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi.
The Problem: You spilled red wine...on a white shirt
The Solution: Salt

Who knew? This tableside staple is great at getting rid of red wine stains. Pour a pile of salt onto the stain immediately, then watch as the salt absorbs the liquid. Leave it overnight, then take your shirt to the cleaners in the morning. Fun fact: Salt is also a great way to clean up raw eggs if you drop them, as it soaks up all the sticky, gooey egg whites.
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Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi.
The Problem: You always break wine glasses
The Solution: Don't hand dry

Sure, the pros know how to polish a wine glass spotlessly — but in the real world, nobody's got time for that. So don't even try drying them by hand; instead, clean the glasses in hot water, then place them upside down on a cooling rack or oven rack. Don't have one? Elevate the glasses by placing them upside down on two chopsticks. Once dry, just polish up the edge of the glasses with a clean towel.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Your sponges are gross
The Solution: The microwave

The microwave isn't just for heating up food — the heat also helps disinfect household cleaning supplies like dish rags and sponges. Simply wet your sponge and zap it for a few seconds; the heat will kill the germs, and the moisture from the sponge will help soften all the crusty grime in your microwave, making it easier to clean. Bonus: After washing dishes, use a binder clip to store your sponge upright, allowing all the water to evaporate quickly.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: The smell of food lingers
The Solution: White vinegar

In tiny places, the smell of food will definitely stick around. Sure, you can burn a candle or simmer some cinnamon in water — but that will just cover up the smell, not eliminate it. Instead, put out a jar of white vinegar overnight (baking soda and coffee grounds will also work, but won't be as strong). Bacon smell, begone!
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The Problem: You need softened butter, fast
The Solution: A warm mug and a microwave

No one really has time to set out a stick of butter to soften to room temperature. If you want spreadable butter for bread (or to bake cookies), simply cut up the butter into pieces and set them on a plate. Warm a cup in the microwave, turn it upside down over the butter, and let the heat do the trick.
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Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi; Hand Modeling by Jessica Chou
The Problem: How do you butter a pan?
The Solution: Save butter wrappers

Instead of using a stick of butter, or even Pam, save butter wrappers. When you need to butter a pan, just take our the wrapper and rub the buttered side around. It's incredibly easy — especially when it comes to muffin tins. Of course, you could also spend some money on parchment paper, as the pros at the ICC do. It's equally effective, especially for cookies, and saves cleanup time.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Problem: Your brown sugar is rock solid
The Solution: Bread

Let's deal with the cause of the problem first: You're not storing your brown sugar correctly. First, since moisture evaporation is the culprit, make sure that the seal is airtight. Second, toss a slice of bread into the bag before sealing — the sugar should draw moisture out of the bread and stay soft. If you really want to spend some moolah, put some clean terra cotta into the bag (like these brown sugar bears) and call it a day.

Need some sugar immediately? Put the brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high with a glass of water next to it. Alternatively, cover the bowl with a wet paper towel before microwaving; the moisture should seep into the sugar and loosen it up.
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The Problem: Hand-held mixers make a mess
The Solution: A paper plate

Cut a few key incisions into a paper plate, fit the egg beaters through, and you've got a nifty cover for your mixing bowl. Who knows? Maybe you can even forgo an apron.
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Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi.
The Problem: You want the perfect cut
The Solution: Dental floss

For beautiful slices of cake, the ICC recommends warming your knife in hot water and drying it with a towel before making each slice. But if you're slicing a whole cake — or a soft round of Brie, or a log of cookie dough — unflavored dental floss will do the trick. Tighten the floss around your fingers and slowly move it through the cookie dough or cake.
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The Problem: You need to decorate a cake — without icing
The Solution: Stencils

This is the easiest way to create gorgeous patterns on cakes. Simply cut out whatever patterns you like on paper, place the stencil over the cake, and sift powdered sugar or colored sugar on top. Even better, use lace doilies for even more intricate designs with half the work.
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Photographed by Danny Kim; Prop Styling by Ali Nardi; Hand Modeling by Jessica Chou.
The Problem: You have to measure sticky substances
The Solution: Butter spray

Honey and molasses are delicious — but measuring them out is a pain and typically ends up making a mess. Luckily, cooking spray and other butter sprays are here to help. Briefly coat the measuring cups in a light layer of butter spray, pour in your honey, and watch as it slides right out.

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