12 Game-Changing Cooking Hacks From Top Chefs

burger condiment food hack
Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Cooking can be both intimidating and time consuming, which often leads to microwaving. But on the rare occasion when you're not heating up Hot Pockets, it's empowering to have a few tricks up your sleeve. We asked a few of our favorite chefs and our in-house recipes editor to give us tips that will make your kitchen seem more like a playground, and not the kind that's full of bullies. Soon you'll be creating perfect burgers, using ramen flavor packets creatively, and learning how to keep oil from splattering everywhere.

Drew Swantak/Thrillist

Use sausage to make the easiest meatballs ever

"Spaghetti and meatballs can be a quick and easy meal. Save time by using sausage instead of making meatballs. Remove the casings and roll small sections of the filling into balls. Fry them in a skillet and dunk into some hot marinara." - Perry Santanachote, Thrillist recipes editor

Try the recipes on boxed food -- but personalize them

"Read the recipe on the package while you're in the grocery store. Then buy those items, but add one or two ingredients to make the dish yours. Then to level it up, always serve it with hot bread purchased from the freezer section." - Brad Orrison, The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint (Ocean Springs, MS)

Test temperatures without a thermometer

"If you don't have an oil thermometer when deep-frying, a kernel of popcorn will tell you if the oil is hot enough. Place it in the oil as it heats up and it'll pop when the oil reaches 350 degrees. That's just the right temperature for frying anything from fries to donuts to Twinkies." - Perry Santanachote, Thrillist recipes editor


Experiment with flavor packets

"The flavor packets in ramen are awesome on popcorn, or mixed with sour cream to make dip. Same goes for the cheese packets in mac and cheese. Dump and toss."  
- Justin Warner, Do or Dine (Brooklyn, NY)

Cinnamon keeps oil from splattering

"While my wife Sylvia was in the Philippines visiting family, she noticed her aunt putting cinnamon into a pan of oil right before frying fish. The aunt explained that it keeps the oil from sputtering when the fish is added. We've since tried it with Texas quail in our cast-iron -- just two healthy pinches -- and sure enough, the oil didn't pop. Most remarkably, there was no cinnamon taste. This is my new go-to trick for home frying." - Steve McHugh, Cured (San Antonio, TX)

Get tomato flavor in any season with juice & gelatin

"To make perfect tomatoes for burgers in winter, I use tomato juice and gelatin or agar agar to make 'tomato jigglers.' I cut them into discs with a glass and put them on a burger. You get ripe tomato flavor, and it melts into the patty." - Justin Warner, Do or Dine (Brooklyn, NY)

putty knife
Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Use a glue comb to make sauces look fancy

"Squirt ketchup, BBQ sauce, or Sriracha on a plate, hit it with the glue comb (or putty knife) from Home Depot to make straight lines or a design, and then put your favorite chop or burger on top for an awesome presentation." - Jennifer Jasinski, Rioja (Denver, CO)

Keep fish from sticking to the grill with aluminum foil and... mayo

"Fish is always hard to grill, and we've all dated girls who want fish while we want a steak. But don't fret! Grab a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and a spoonful of mayonnaise, and spread the mayo on the foil in a thin layer. Season your fish with salt and fresh black pepper, and then add it to the grill about five minutes before your steak is done. The foil and mayo combo will keep the fish from sticking, and it adds some much needed flavor." - Brad Orrison, The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint (Ocean Springs, MS)

Get easy-to-separate bacon strips by rolling the package

"You know how raw bacon strips are kind of a pain to separate? Simply roll the package lengthwise into a cylinder before opening it. The strips won't be stuck to each other anymore." - Perry Santanachote, Thrillist recipes editor

Drew Swantak/Thrillist

Make homemade ravioli with wonton wrappers

"Want to impress with 'homemade ravioli'? It's easy. Choose your own filling and buy store-bought wonton wrappers! They are already pre-cut to size. Simply wet the edges, press out the air pocket, and seal. You can steam, boil, or even pan-sear them." - Ming Tsai, Blue Ginger (Wellesley, MA)

Use the oven for crispier bacon with less mess

"Cooking bacon in the oven gives it a uniform crispness, and while a wire rack is often used, I like to crimp aluminum foil at 1-inch intervals (like a paper fan) and place strips of bacon crosswise on the makeshift rack. Put that on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees. Grease drips into the foil during cooking and clean up is simple. No more scrubbing caked-on fat out of the rack." - Perry Santanachote, Thrillist recipes editor

Thumb-print your burgers for even cooking

"Want to form the perfect burger? Do it lightly and don't 'pack.' Compress only until the meat coheres. Be sure to make a small thumb indent in the middle to help it cook evenly. Never, ever press with a spatula as they cook. This forces the juices out and makes the meat dry." - Ming Tsai, Blue Ginger (Wellesley, MA)

Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. He's been called a food hack in several comment sections, but that wasn't clever enough to make the cut for this story. Follow him to 140 characters of self-deprecation: @Dannosphere.