The Simply Recipes A-Z Guide to Cooking Terms and Definitions

Ever wondered the difference between sautéing and stir-frying? Or a skillet and a saucepan? Our cooking terms glossary to the rescue!

Copycat Guacamole Recipe - person mincing an onion
Mincing Marta Rivera
In This Article

Every craft has its own language, and that includes cooking. Recipes can be full of words that you don’t hear in everyday conversation. Here at Simply Recipes, we try to use regular language as much as possible, but we can’t help but slip into recipe speak from time to time.

Whether you’re new to cooking and it’s all a mystery, or you’ve been cooking for years and recently stumbled across an unfamiliar cooking term, look it up below and add it to your personal storehouse of cooking terms! We'll also continue adding definitions as we think of them.

You know how new words are: once you learn one, you tend to spot it again and again.

A

Air fry: To cook in a quick-heating countertop convection oven. Air frying is not actually frying.

Aromatics: Ingredients such as herbs, spices, and vegetables used to add flavor and aroma to dishes.

B

Bake: To cook in an oven, usually at moderate temperatures (around 350°F).

Baking sheet: A large, flat metal sheet such as a cookie sheet or sheet pan. Some are totally flat; some have rims.

Batter: A pourable mixture prior to baking, often used for making pancakes, muffins, and quick breads.

Beat: To mix ingredients vigorously.

Bechamel: A sauce made from a cooked flour-and-butter paste (a roux) and thickened with milk.

Blanch: To quickly boil foods, often vegetables. Blanching often only partially cooks foods.

Blender, high-speed: A blender with a powerful motor and pitcher made of sturdy, shatterproof plastic. High-speed blenders can smoothly puree foods that regular blenders can’t.

Boil: To cook immersed in rapidly bubbling liquid.

Braise: To cook foods only partially immersed in liquid using low heat. A lid may or may not be used.

Broil: To cook in an oven with high heat using only the top heating element. When broiling, the food is typically 5” or less from the heat source.

Broth: A flavorful liquid made from the bones and meat of animals or fish. Often the terms “stock” and “broth” are used interchangeably.

Brown: To cook food until it becomes brown, but not burned.

A person with a blue apron and long sleeved white shirt is holding a chef's knife and chopping swiss cheese on a wooden cutting board.
Chef's knife. Alison Bickel

C

Casserole: A sturdy baking dish or pan.

Chiffonade: To shred leafy foods, such as lettuce or herbs, very finely with a knife.

Chef’s knife: An all-purpose knife, typically with a blade that's 6-10” long.

Chop: To cut food into smaller pieces.

Colander: A perforated metal or plastic bowl with handles used for draining foods cooked in liquid.

Convection oven: An oven with fans that circulate air for even browning and oftentimes faster cooking.

Cookie scoop: A metal tool shaped like an ice cream scoop that’s used to portion cookie dough, as well as other scoopable foods.

Cooling rack: A sturdy wire rack to set hot baked goods on so they cool evenly.

Cream: To beat solid fat (often shortening or butter) with sugar until lightened in texture and very well combined.

Cross-contaminate: To spread dangerous bacteria from one food, such as raw chicken, to another, such as raw vegetables, by using unwashed cooking tools and surfaces for preparing the same foods.

Making Chewy Fruit and Nut Granola Bars by mixing the dry ingredients in a glass bowl.
Dry ingredients. Kalisa Marie Martin

D

Deep fry: To cook food by fully immersing it in hot fat.

Deglaze: To add liquid, often stock or alcohol, to a pan or pot after cooking meat or vegetables in a small amount of fat. Deglazing releases the flavorful browned buildup from the bottom of the pan; often the liquid added is nearly cooked off until a thick, glaze-like mixture forms.

Dice: To chop food evenly into small pieces or cubes. Fine dice is 1/4”, medium dice is 1/2”, and large dice is 3/4”.

Divided: When a recipe calls for an ingredient that is divided, you add the same ingredient at two or more different steps of the recipe.

Dough: A cohesive unbaked mixture of flour and other ingredients that’s too stiff to pour, and thicker than a batter.

Drippings: The fat and liquid that drips out of meat as it roasts or browns.

Dry heat: Cooking methods that don’t use water or water-based liquid. Baking, broiling, grilling, sautéing, stir-frying, and roasting all use dry heat. Interestingly, deep frying, which does not require water, is also dry heat.

Dry ingredients: The ingredients in a recipe that do not have moisture. Flour, sugar, salt, and cocoa powder are all dry ingredients.

Dutch oven: A large cast iron or enameled metal pot with a lid. Originally, Dutch ovens were for campfire cooking and had a recess on the lid to hold coals, but today most Dutch ovens are made for the indoor cooking of braises and stews.

E

Emulsion: A homogenous mixture of two items, such as water and oil, that do not typically mix. In an emulsion, tiny droplets of one liquid are suspended in the other. Mayonnaise, hollandaise, and ganache are all emulsions. Improperly made, an emulsion can “break” and separate back into two distinct liquids.

Swiss buttercream with melted chocolate folded into it.
Folding in ingredients. Alison Bickel

F

Fold: To gently mix one substance into another using a folding motion with a silicone or rubber spatula.

Food processor: An appliance for pureeing, slicing, grating, and chopping food.

G

Ganache: A smooth mixture of melted chocolate and/or butter. A liquid ganache may be used as a sauce, or to glaze a cake; hardened ganache can be rolled or cut to form truffles, or whipped to make dessert fillings.

Griddle: A flat, heated surface used for cooking.

Grilling, indirect: To grill food on a cool side of the grill and not directly over the flames or coals. Indirect grilling is best for foods that need to cook longer, such as whole chicken or pork ribs.

Grilling, direct: To grill directly over the coals or flames. Direct grilling is best for quick-cooking foods, or for giving grill marks to foods that cook longer.

Blender Hollandaise Sauce in a spouted cup with a spoon letting the sauce drip back into the dish.
A hollandaise sauce. Cambrea Bakes

H

Heavy-bottomed pot: A pot with a base that’s sturdy enough not to overheat easily. Heat distributes better in pots with heavy metal bottoms, making food less likely to burn.

Hollandaise: A fundamental sauce in classical French cuisine made of lemon juice and egg yolks emulsified into melted butter. Hollandaise is served over seafood, steaks, and eggs Benedict.

Immersion blender: A blender on the end of a stick-like appliance that can be inserted into liquid so foods can be blended directly in the pot they were cooked in.

I

Infuse (steep): To let an aromatic sit in liquid, either hot or cold, so it can flavor the liquid.

J

Julienne: To cut food finely into matchsticks.

K

L

Liquid ingredients: The ingredients in a recipe that contain moisture, such as molasses, milk, and eggs.

Grilled Chicken with Salsa Verde marinate the chicken
Marinating chicken. Sally Vargas

M

Marinate: To let ingredients sit in a flavorful liquid in order for the flavors to penetrate.

Measuring cup, dry: A metal or plastic cup with a handle, used for measuring ingredients without moisture, such as flour, sugar, and rice.

Measuring cup, liquid: A glass or plastic cup with a spout, used for measuring pourable ingredients such as water, milk, or honey.

Meringue: Egg whites beaten with sugar until they are greatly increased in volume and form stiff peaks when the beaters or whip are lifted from the bowl.

Mince: To chop as finely as possible. Garlic, ginger, and herbs are the mot commonly minced foods, because they are intensely flavored, and mincing allows them to be better distributed in mixtures.

N

O

Offset spatula: A blunt, thin, flexible metal tool used to frost cakes and lift foods, such as pancakes and cookies, from cooking surfaces.

Pressure Cooker Shepherd's Pie - Remove the cooked potatoes
Potatoes in a pressure cooker. Emma Christensen

P

Pan fry (shallow fry): To fry food by partially submerging in several inches of hot fat. Shallow frying is often for larger pieces of food, such as chicken or fish, though sometimes smaller foods, like sliced shallots, are shallow-fried.

Parchment paper: Paper in sheets or a roll that’s used to line baking sheets and pans to keep food from sticking. Foods can be baked in parchment packets so they steam in their packet.

Paring knife: A short knife (2” to 4” long) used for trimming and peeling foods.

Poach: To cook foods gently by submerging them in barely simmering (not boiling) water. Vegetables, seafood, and chicken are foods that are often poached.

Pressure Cook: To cook using wet heat in a special pot that’s sealed so pressure forms as it’s heated, allowing the temperature to go above the normal boiling point. The high temperature accelerates cooking, making pressure cooking master than conventional cooking.

Puree: To blend into a smooth paste.

Q

Chicken Stew with Chicken Thighs make the roux
A roux. Sally Vargas

R

Reduce: To boil or simmer liquid ingredients, such as sauces, so moisture evaporate and creates a thick mixture with less volume and more concentrated flavor.

Rest: To allow roasted or grilled meat to rest after cooking and before carving or slicing, so juices can redistribute throughout the meat. As meat rests, its internal temperature often goes up several degrees.

Ribbon stage: The stage in baking when you beat whole eggs, alone or with sugar, until they become pale, fluffy, and a ribbon-like trail falls into the bowl when you lift the whisk or beater above the mixture.

Roast: To cook foods, often at high temperatures (400°F or more) in an oven. Roasted foods are intended to brown.

Roasting pan: A large, deep pan made to hold large cuts of meat.

Roasting rack: A sturdy metal rack made to hold meat elevated above a pan so the meat is exposed to heat more evenly and does not sit in the drippings it gives off.

Roux: A paste of flour and butter cooked together and used to thicken sauces, soups, and stews. For roux to properly thicken, it needs to be added to the sauce and simmered for a period. Some Cajun and Creole rouxs are made with oil or other fat, and are cooked until the flour browns to create extra flavor.

How to Pan Sear Pork Chops cook the chops
Seared pork chops. Sally Vargas

S

Santoku knife: Similar to a chef’s knife, a santoku is an all-purpose knife, typically between 5-7”. The blade shape originates from Japan, and the tip is not as pronounced as a chef’s knife.

Saucepan: A deep pan with one long handle on the side.

Sauté: To cook quickly over high heat in a small amount of fat.

Scald: To gently heat a liquid, usually cream or milk, until it nearly reaches a boiling point. Scalding dairy changes the structure of its proteins and helps it perform better in recipes.

Sear: To brown or char food over high heat, using dry heat cooking methods such as sautéing or grilling. Searing can be done with or without fat.

Shock: To quickly stop cooking by immersing hot foods in an ice water bath.

Sift: To blend and aerate dry ingredients by forcing them through a wire mesh strainer or sifter. Sifting helps dry ingredients incorporate into batters more evenly.

Silicone baking mat: A flexible, reusable mat used instead of parchment paper to keep foods from sticking to baking sheets. Silpat is a popular brand.

Silicone spatula: A tool with a heatproof, flexible head used for folding ingredients together and scraping thick foods and batters from bowls and pans.

Simmer: To heat liquid so it bubbles gently, not rapidly. Simmering is several steps down in intensity from boiling.

Skillet: A large, shallow pan, typically with one long handle and no lid. Also known as a sauté pan.

Skim: To remove scum or fat from the top of a pot of liquid using a spoon or skimmer.

Slow cook: To braise in a slow cooking appliance, such as a crock pot.

Smoke: To infuse a food with wood smoke. Items may either be hot smoked, which cooks the food, or cold smoked, which does not cook the food.

Sous vide: Cooking method using water heated by an immersion circulator to cook food, often (but not always) sealed in plastic pouches.

Steam: To cook food with vaporized water. When steaming, the food sits above the steam, often in a rack.

Stir-fry: To cook quickly over high heat in a small amount of fat, all while constantly moving the food. Stir-frying is usually done in a wok, whose bowl shape helps the food on top steam as the food at the bottom of the wok cooks in the fat.

Strain: To pour cooked food through fine mesh, often to remove fibrous residue and create a smooth, more refined end result. 

Stock: A flavorful liquid simmered with bones and aromatic vegetables. Often used interchangeably with “broth”.

Stockpot: A large pot for cooking liquid foods such as stock, or for boiling pasta.

Thermoworks Thermometers
Thermometers. Elise Bauer

T

Thermometer, candy: A heatproof thermometer marked with temperatures specific to the stages of candy making. Candy thermometers are meant to be left in liquids as they cook on the stovetop.

Thermometer, instant-read: A thermometer, either dial or digital, with a probe to be inserted into cooked foods to get a rapid temperature readouts. Most instant-read thermometers are not ovenproof.

Thermometer, meat: An ovenproof thermometer meat to be inserted into meat and left in it as it cooks.

U

V

W

Wet heat: Cooking methods using water or liquid as the means of distributing heat. Boiling, steaming, poaching, cooking sous vide, and all forms of pressure cooking use wet heat.

Whisk: To mix or beat with a whisk.

Whip: To incorporate air into an ingredient by beating rapidly, often with a whisk.

X-Z