16 Tips and Tricks to Cook Dinner Faster
Whether you are transitioning back to a workplace or not this summer, you’ve still likely got way more on your plate (and more plates to fill) day in, day out. Which can make dinnertime feel like more of a production than it should. Wouldn’t it be great if someone came along with a list of ways to streamline the process, saving you time and buying you back a little sanity? I thought so. Check out these 16 easy-to-adopt ways to get to dinner quicker.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Make sure you have everything you need—prepped ingredients and equipment—ready to roll and in place before you start cooking. Cooks who don't heed this rule can waste a lot of time backtracking in the middle of a recipe to prep ingredients they forgot. You can call this mise en place if you want to be more technical, but the idea is to make sure once you begin, you’ve got everything you need, ready for you.
Practice cooking more than one thing at a time
Don’t be afraid to have multiple things going on the stove at once. Professional cooks can work six or more; practice handling two or three as needed.
Quit walking to the garbage can
Keep a refuse bowl on the countertop. Avoiding extra trips to the garbage can will save you time (and accidental spillage on the floor).
Give yourself an aromatic head start
When you are looking at what you need to prep for recipe fundamentals, let’s say chopping an onion or mincing some garlic, you are already going to be getting your hands stinky, so why not prep enough of those items to last you for a few days? Having a stash of prepped aromatics in your fridge makes the start of almost any recipe that much faster. If you cook a lot of a single style food that seems to start with the same basic prep, think about making a paste of those ingredients in your food processor. Whether it is a garlic and ginger paste for Indian cooking, a shallot/celery/carrot blend for French stuff, a New Orleans trinity paste or an Italian or Spanish sofrito, take the initial fuss out of starting those recipes.
Wash and prep produce as it enters your house
An hour of washing and prepping produce after you shop or receive a delivery can set you up for faster meals down the road. Washing and cutting celery into sticks, peeling carrots, turning broccoli and cauliflower into clean florets, and washing greens and herbs will make specific recipes come together fast.
Pre-cook some simple proteins and carbs
Here’s your new secret stash: cooked noodles, rice, or whole grains; some steamed or boiled potatoes; some roasted sweet potatoes; and some cooked proteins like chicken breast, ground beef, or Italian sausages. The reason for the stash? Simple meals can now get to the table in minutes. Fast fried rice, quick pasta, and hearty salads are suddenly the work of moments instead of hours of prep/pre-cooking.
Soak dried beans
Beans can be super versatile in quick meals, but if you are working with dried beans, you often have to remember to soak them overnight, which doesn’t make them fast food. Having some pre-soaked beans at the ready is a terrific way to speed up some soulful home cooking. You can put the beans in the water and leave in the fridge for a couple of days so that they are waiting for you and not the other way around.
Make double and freeze
Any time you are making a dish that freezes well, make a double batch and freeze either single portions or family-size portions for a future meal. Dinner doesn’t get quicker than a thaw and a reheat!
Embrace the egg
Thinking different about your nightly meal will deliver speedier outcomes, guaranteed. Omelettes, scrambles, shakshukas… nothing cooks faster than eggs. And if you have some salad and crusty bread on hand, this breakfast for dinner approach is nutritious, filling, and delicious as well as speedy.
Plan proteins for speed
Fast-cooking cuts like skirt steaks, pounded cuts like paillards, even choosing to do smash burgers instead of thick pub style burgers, is building in fast protein cook-times. How come we never thought about this before?
Use your toaster oven
Quick to heat and efficient as all get out, your toaster oven can be a mini-accelerator to a surprising variety of dinner options, from open-faced toasted sandwiches and English muffin pizzas to quick quesadillas.
Cook it with gas!
If you have a gas grill or a propane unit like a Blackstone plancha or griddle, you know it heats up faster than your oven, so think about full meals on the grill. You can put pots or skillets right on your grill to cook sauces or heat up side dishes so that everything is in one place. Bonus, grilled fruit makes for a wonderful dessert.
Look for recipes with low hands-on times
It might be in your slow cooker for six hours, but if the prep is minimal, you’re saving time. And better yet, you might get that prep out of the way in the morning and feel that afternoon-to-dinner transition turn into a wind-down instead of a gear-up.
Rely on pantry staples
You’d be surprised how easy it is to make a meal with some cans and frozen items at the ready. Soups, stews, and pastas can all come together super-fast if you are using prepped items from the pantry and freezer.
Double down on pizzeria orders
Next time you are ordering from your favorite pizza place, order a second pie and freeze it. Reheating in your oven will always be faster than a new order.
Have appetizers for dinner
If you are like me, your freezer has a good stash of heat-and-eat appetizers at the ready for spontaneous entertaining. But since there are no cocktail parties in our foreseeable futures, you can make a whole fun meal out of those pigs in blankets, mini quiches, cocktail meatballs and little phyllo or puff pastry delectables. Kids especially love a meal of mini dishes!