Use this information to prepare your recipes and enjoy the process of cooking healthy food.

Cooking Basics

Experiment with new cooking techniques, new flavours and increase your confidence in the kitchen!

Part 1 – Before You Start

Kitchen Equipment

In order to be able to cook, it is necessary to know how to use some basic kitchen equipment. If you are setting up a kitchen for the first time there are a few basic things you will need. Read our list of suggested Basic Kitchen Equipment.

Most cooking does not require a lot of special equipment and there are items you can use as substitutes if you are missing some of the tools.

Equipment Substitutions

Kitchen ToolSubstitute Item
Potato MasherFork
Vegetable peelerParing knife
StrainerSlotted spoon or hold lid slightly off the pot to drain
Measuring cupMedium sized coffee mug or any jar or baby bottle marked with measurements
Measuring spoonsRegular tablespoon and teaspoon
Mixing bowlsPots, pans or storage containers
Soup ladleMug or cup with a handle
Mixer or a whiskFork
Rolling pinTall, smooth glass or bottle
Cookie sheetAny cake pan or pizza pan
Cookie cuttersRim of a glass or jar lid
SpatulaSpoon or edge of knife

How to Measure

All recipes will include measurements which describe how much of an ingredient should be added. In cooking this measurement can be adjusted to suit taste preferences quite easily, but in baking this measurement requires more accuracy for the final baked item to turn out well. For more details on the information provided in recipes, see Reading a Recipe.

Ingredients can be measured in the Imperial system using cups, tablespoons and teaspoons, or in the Metric system using litres and millilitres. Most recipes will give the quantities in both imperial and metric, and most measuring utensils have markings for both.

Measurement Conversion

¼ tsp1 mL
½ tsp2 mL
1 tsp5 mL
1 tbsp15 mL
2 tbsp30 mL
¼ cup60 mL
1/3 cup80 mL
½ cup125 mL
2/3 cup165 mL
¾ cup190 mL
1 cup250 mL
2 cups500 mL
4 cups1000 mL

Measuring Dry Ingredients

  • Spoon ingredients directly into a dry measure and fill it to overflowing. Using a straight edge spatula or knife, level off the ingredient across the top edge.
  • Use a dry measuring cup to measure dry ingredients like flour, rice, cornmeal, and sugar.
  • Brown sugar is measured in a slightly different way. The brown sugar is spooned into a dry measure and pressed down slightly to ensure there are no hollows underneath. The top is levelled off with a straight edge, the same way as with dry ingredients.
  • Some dry ingredients such as baking powder, baking soda and cocoa have a tendency to pack down in their containers. To measure, stir the product first to loosen, then lift a heaping measure and level off with a straight edge spatula or knife. Sift or fluff ingredients like oats and flour with a fork prior to measuring.
  • Solid fats like butter, margarine and shortening are measured in dry ingredient measuring cups. Press into the measuring cup firmly to ensure there are no hollows underneath, and level off across the top.

A note about measuring semi-liquids: For ingredients that do not clearly fall into either liquid or dry (for example, yogurt or peanut butter), measure using the dry measuring cups.

Measuring Liquid Ingredients

  • Liquids are best measured in marked, clear containers usually with a spout for easy pouring.
  • Use a liquid measuring cup for things like oil, water, milk and juices.
  • Set the measuring cup on a flat surface and read the desired amount at eye level.

Temperature Controls

Ovens have temperatures that are marked in Celsius (°C) or Fahrenheit (°F). In Canada, most recipe temperatures are given in degrees Fahrenheit.

Two useful points of comparison are:

  • Freezing point of water, 32°F or 0°C
  • Boiling Point of water, 212°F or 100°C

Oven Temperatures

Degrees FahrenheitDegrees CelsiusOven Heat level
250°F120°CVery low heat
300°F150°CLow heat
350°F180°CModerate heat
450°F230°CVery hot

A note on Convection Oven temperatures: Convection baking uses a fan to help circulate the hot air around the food resulting in increased browning and faster cooking. If using a convection oven, reduce the oven temperature of a standard recipe by 25°F to achieve the best results. For example, if the recipe calls for muffins to bake at 350°F, reduce the temperature to 325°F when baking in a convection oven. Keep the cooking time constant.

Part 2 – Food Preparation and Cooking Techniques

Once you are familiar with the words used in cooking instructions, attempting new recipes is easier. For a list of common words found in cooking instructions, read Common Terms Used in Preparing Food.

Basic cooking methods can be split into Dry Heat Methods (frying, grilling, baking, roasting, sautéing, searing, broiling) and Wet Heat Methods (braising, boiling, steaming, poaching, simmering).

Dry Heat Methods

Frying is when food is cooked using an oil or another hot fat. It delivers a crisp browning on the surface while maintaining an internal moistness. Food is placed into a pan with hot oil (fat) and turned during cooking to cook it all the way through. Very little oil is required in frying, and cooking spray is a good option. Frying in polyunsaturated oil (like canola and vegetable) is recommended over solid fats (like lard and shortening). Foods that fry well include eggs, battered meat, fish and vegetables (stir-fry).

Grilling is commonly done on a barbeque but can also be done using your stovetop and a grill pan. Food is heated from underneath and cooks quickly. Foods that grill well include burgers, fish, vegetables and chicken.

Baking is cooking in the oven with heat surrounding the food to cook. Examples of foods that can be baked include root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, parsnips, etc.), fish and chicken, and baked goods like bread and muffins.

Roasting is done in the oven and what makes it different from baking is there may be a change in temperature during cooking. It usually begins with higher temperatures to create a crisp brown surface on the food, followed by lowered temperatures for the remainder of the cooking process. Examples of foods that can be roasted include whole chickens, pork roast or tenderloin, beef roasts and root vegetables like carrots and potatoes.

Sautéing is a form of frying that uses minimal amounts of oil and higher temperatures. Similar to stir frying, stir the vegetables and meat frequently until they are in a crisp-tender state or until meat is thoroughly cooked. Examples of foods that can be sautéed include vegetables, noodles, small (strips or cubed) pieces of meat and tofu.

Searing is the use of very high heat to brown the outside of a food, generally for cooking meats and fish. Once the outside is browned, the temperature is lowered to cook food completely. Searing can be done in the oven under a broiler, or in a frying pan with a small amount of oil to create a brown crust.

Broiling is done in the oven with intense heat from above. Foods cook very quickly and care must be taken not to burn or overcook them. Broiling is a good method for lamb chops, chicken legs and pork chops.

Read more about Dry Heat Methods from the Dietitians of Canada.

Wet Heat Methods

Braising is often used to prepare tough cuts of meat as it is a slow, moist, cooking process that allows the tough fibres to break down while cooking. After meat is browned at a high heat (usually in a fry pan), meat and vegetables are simmered in a small amount of liquid in a covered pot. Flavours are wonderfully concentrated and can be further enhanced with spices during cooking. The best equipment for this technique is a slow cooker (crock-pot), or a Dutch oven that can be placed in the regular oven at a low temperature. Meats that cook to perfection this way include beef short ribs, brisket and chuck roasts, lamb shanks and shoulder, pork shoulder and spareribs, and other inexpensive cuts of meat.

Boiling uses a pot of water on the stovetop. Food is cooked when water comes to a rapid boil (big bubbles) and food reaches its desired tenderness and temperature.

Steaming is a great option to cook foods over boiling water, without immersing them in the water. Once the pot of water is boiling, put vegetables into a metal steamer basket into the pot and cover to cook. Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots cook well this way, giving them a tender but slightly crunchy texture while retaining more nutrients than traditional boiling.

Poaching is a cooking method where the food is submerged in some type of liquid (broth, water, wine, milk) and cooked at a warm temperature. Liquid is not boiling but is very warm (about 160°F/70°C to 180°F/80°C). Steam may be visible at the surface. This type of cooking is good for delicate proteins like chicken, fish and eggs.

Simmering is another wet heat method of cooking where the temperature of the water/broth is just below boiling, but slightly hotter than in poaching. Water is brought to a boil first and then temperature is lowered to maintain cooking temperature just under the boiling point. It is a slower and more gentle way to cook than boiling and allows foods to become tender while cooking. Simmering is often used when making soups or stews.

A note on Pressure Cookers: Pressure cookers rely on steam for transmitting heat. They look much like a regular pot, but have a locking lid that creates a seal, allowing steam to build up as water that is added to the pot is being heated. The high steam pressure not only cooks food faster, but it forces liquid into the food, helping foods like tough meat, get very tender quickly. Many foods can be cooked in pressure cookers but they are especially suitable for beans and pulses, rice, tough meats and stews.

For more information, read Cooking with Wet Heat from the Dietitians of Canada.

Cooking Food Properly

Each recipe will have a cook/bake time for when that recipe should be finished cooking, however each stove and oven is different so these cooking times should be used as a guide.


The best way to tell if baked goods are cooked is to insert a toothpick or knife into the middle of the food. If it comes out clean, the food is cooked. This works best on muffins, cakes, and other flour-based baked goods.

For cakes, when the outside edge of the food starts to pull away from the pan, the cake is likely done. Another sign that muffins are finished cooking is when the top springs back when pressed lightly with your finger.


It’s important to make sure that meat products are cooked properly to eliminate the possibility of food poisoning. For meats, cooking is complete when internal temperatures reach the following safe temperatures:

Safe Cooking Temperatures

Pieces (drumsticks, breasts, thighs)165°F (74°C)
Ground Chicken or Turkey165°F (74°C)
Whole bird, Chicken, turkey, duck, goose180°F (82°C)
Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird)165°F (74°C)
Frozen raw breaded chicken (nuggets)165°F (74°C)
Beef, Veal and Lamb
Pieces and whole cuts (steaks, roast)145°F (63°C) medium-rare
160°F (71°C) medium
170°F (77°C) well done
Ground Beef (burgers, meatballs)160°F (71°C)
Pieces and whole cuts (pork chops, roast)160°F (71°C)
Ground Pork160°F (71°C)
Ham160°F (71°C)
Fish and Seafood
Fish, all types158°F (70°C)
Shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab, scallops, mussels and oysters)165°F (74°C)
Discard any that do not open in cooking
Game Meats
Deer, Elk, Moose165°F (74°C)
Bison165°F (74°C)
Game Birds and Waterfowl
Whole bird (pheasant, wild turkey, goose, or duck)180°F (82°C)
Pieces (drumsticks, breasts, thighs)165°F (74°C)

Internal temperature is measured by inserting a food thermometer into the centre of the meat making sure not to touch any bones or the pan.

If you do not have a food thermometer, there are a few other basic methods that indicate a food is cooked:

  • Meats like ground beef and pork are extremely hot all the way through.
  • For chicken and turkey, juices will run clear when cut along the bone.
  • Food should be steaming hot all the way through when cut.
  • Fish will lose its translucent raw appearance and will flake easily when a fork is inserted into the thickest point and twisted gently.

A note on serving rare meat: It is safe to eat whole cuts of beef or lamb rare, as long as the outside of the meat has been properly cooked or “sealed” to kill any bacteria that might have been on the meat. This is usually done over high heat on the grill or frying pan. The way to tell if a piece of meat has been properly sealed is that the entire outside should have changed colour (no pink/red on outside).

Poultry, pork and any ground meats (sausage, ground beef, etc.) should never be eaten rare. These types of meat can potentially have bacteria all the way through them and must be fully cooked for safety reasons.

For more information, read Safe Cooking Temperatures from Health Canada.


The home economists at Farm to School Manitoba have created excellent videos with ideas of how to use cook Manitoba vegetables.

5 Ways to Enjoy Parsnips
5 Ways to Use Shredded Cabbage
How to Cut Onions

For more information on safe cutting and use of knives in the kitchen, read Knife Handling and Safety from Ottawa Public Health.

Read these articles next:
Reading a Recipe
Ingredient Substitutes