Cooking? A Complete Guide to Methods, Proteins & Carbs

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 31, 2022

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Cooking or cookery is the process of preparing food for consumption with the use of heat. Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across the world, reflecting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions and trends.

In this article, I’ll explain what cooking is, how it’s done, and why it’s such a great thing to do.

What is cooking

The Many Facets of Cooking

Cooking is the practice of preparing food for consumption through the use of heat. This can include a wide range of methods, from boiling and baking to grilling and frying. The primary goal of cooking is to improve the palatability, digestibility, nutrition, or safety of food. It is an art, science, and craft that involves a deep understanding of the properties of food and the ability to control the cooking process to achieve the desired result.

The Role of Cooking in Different Cultures

Cooking is a highly valued practice in many cultures around the world. In some cultures, such as in Japan, cooking is seen as an art form that requires years of training and practice to master. In others, such as in China, cooking is a highly social activity that is often carried out outside of the kitchen, in public spaces like parks and markets. Regardless of the particular style or method of cooking, the ability to prepare good food is highly valued in many cultures.

The Tools of Cooking

Cooking requires a wide range of tools and equipment, from basic pots and pans to advanced electrical appliances. Some of the most important tools for cooking include:

  • Knives and cutting boards for preparing ingredients
  • Pots and pans for cooking food
  • Mixing bowls and measuring cups for preparing mixtures and measuring ingredients
  • Ovens, stovetops, and grills for applying heat to food
  • Thermometers (these are the best for smoking) for monitoring the internal temperature of food
  • Containers and storage solutions for keeping food fresh and safe

The Different Forms of Cooking

Cooking can take many different forms, each with its own unique set of techniques and methods. Some of the most common forms of cooking include:

  • Boiling: cooking food in water at a high temperature
  • Baking: cooking food in an oven using dry heat
  • Grilling: cooking food over an open flame or hot coals
  • Frying: cooking food in hot oil or fat
  • Roasting: cooking food in an oven using dry heat
  • Steaming: cooking food using steam from boiling water

The Importance of Quality Ingredients

The quality of the ingredients used in cooking can significantly impact the final product. Using fresh, high-quality ingredients can improve the taste, texture, and nutritional value of food. Additionally, using lower quality ingredients can result in a lower quality product and may even pose a safety risk.

The Role of Cooking in the Restaurant Industry

Cooking plays a significant role in the restaurant industry, where providing superior quality food is essential for attracting and retaining customers. Chefs and cooks in restaurants must be highly skilled in the art and science of cooking, as well as in providing a high level of control over the cooking process to ensure consistency and quality. Additionally, the price of food in restaurants is often significantly higher than in other settings, reflecting the additional value that is placed on the preparation and presentation of food.

Why Cooking Food is More Than Just Preparing a Meal

Cooking is not just about producing a meal. It is a process that involves combining and processing ingredients to prepare food in the following ways:

  • Makes food safe and edible
  • Imparts aroma and taste
  • Makes food easier to digest
  • Increases nutrient availability
  • Enhances food texture

Cooking is also popularly favored because it saves time and is convenient. With the advent of modern technology, cooking has become even more effective and efficient.

Why We Cook Food Today

While cooking started as a means of making food safe and edible, it has evolved into a practice that is much more than that. Today, we cook food for a variety of reasons, including:

  • To enjoy the taste and aroma of food
  • To make food more nutritious
  • To enhance food texture
  • To save time and be convenient
  • To socialize and bond with others

The Preferred Method of Processing Food

Cooking is the preferred method of processing food because it is safe and effective. It helps to eliminate harmful bacteria and other pathogens that can cause illness. Cooking also makes food more nutritious and easier to digest, which is essential for maintaining good health.

What Happens to Your Food When You Cook It?

When you start preparing a recipe, you may not realize the complex series of changes that your food will undergo. The initial changes include:

  • Mixing ingredients
  • Chopping or cutting foods into smaller pieces
  • Increasing the temperature of the food

All of these steps can cause chemical reactions that ultimately produce the final product. Depending on the type of food and the desired end result, the methods used to prepare it will vary.

Carbohydrates and Starches

Carbohydrates and starches are common in many foods, and they undergo a series of changes when cooked. The stages of carbohydrate changes include:

  • Breaking down into simple sugars like glucose and fructose
  • Undergoing a process known as caramelization, which can produce a sweet, dark, and slightly bitter taste
  • Increasing in size and becoming highly complex compounds

The actual changes that occur depend on the type of carbohydrate and the cooking method used. For example, boiling potatoes can cause the starch to gelatinize, while baking bread can cause the starch to become crispy.

Proteins and Fats

Proteins and fats are also affected by cooking. When proteins are heated, they denature and coagulate, causing them to change texture and become firmer. Fats can be removed or prevented from becoming rancid by cooking. The changes in proteins and fats can ultimately affect the taste and texture of the final product.

Colour and Flavour Changes

Colour and flavour changes are also common when cooking food. For example:

  • The Maillard reaction can cause browning and produce a nutty, toasty flavour
  • Acidic ingredients can cause foods to become more vibrant in colour
  • Cooking can also break down compounds in foods, producing new flavours and aromas

The Importance of Proper Preparation and Storage

Proper preparation and storage of food is important to ensure that it is safe to eat and retains its flavour and texture. Some important notes to keep in mind include:

  • Enzymes in food can cause it to spoil if not stored properly
  • Different foods require different storage methods and temperatures
  • Companies that produce food on a large scale use consistent techniques and standards to ensure that their products are of the highest quality

In the kitchen, it’s important to carefully follow recipes and cooking instructions to ensure that your food turns out as intended. By understanding the changes that occur when cooking food, you can produce new and exciting dishes that are both delicious and nutritious.

The Evolution of Cooking: From Ancient Times to Modern Cuisine

As humans evolved, so did their cooking methods. In ancient times, people used simple methods to cook their food, such as roasting meat over an open fire or boiling vegetables in water. The refinement of these methods took centuries and was influenced by the great civilizations of the world, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. These early civilizations introduced new foods, sauces, and preparation techniques that are still used today.

The Rise of Professional Chefs and Restaurants

The modern form of cooking began to take shape in the Middle Ages when chefs started to work in the kitchens of wealthy households. Later, in the 18th century, the first restaurants were opened in France, serving specific dishes in a specific order. This marked the start of the culinary movement that would define regional cuisine and bring about the discovery of new foods from around the world.

The Evolution of Culinary Techniques

Over the years, cooking has taken on many forms and has been influenced by a wide variety of factors. The following are some of the key moments in the evolution of cooking:

  • The use of hearths and ovens in ancient times
  • The discovery of new spices and ingredients during the Age of Exploration
  • The refinement of French cuisine in the 19th century
  • The introduction of new cooking technologies, such as the microwave and sous-vide cooking
  • The rise of the farm-to-table movement and the emphasis on using fresh, locally sourced ingredients

The Evolution of Cooking as a Profession

Cooking has been an essential part of human civilization for thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, beer brewing initiated the trend of professional food preparation. Archaeological remains found in tombs suggest that employees worked in shops specializing in the production of beer and bread. In earlier civilizations, cooking was largely a task performed by women in individual households. However, the trend of specialization eventually led to the emergence of professional cooks and chefs.

The Emergence of Culinary Professions

As the market for cooked food grew, the number of professionals required to produce it also increased. Chefs and artisans began to specialize in multiple forms of food preparation, from baking leavened bread to cooking meat and vegetables. In many cultures, flatbreads like tortillas in Mexico, chapati in India, and lefse in Norway were invented, and these products required specialized skills to produce.

Ways to Cook Food: Techniques, Methods, and More

Cooking with direct heat involves placing food directly on a heat source. Here are some methods that fall under this category:

  • Grilling: This method involves cooking food on a grill over an open flame or hot coals. It’s handy for cooking smaller dishes like burgers, hot dogs, and vegetables.
  • Broiling: Similar to grilling, broiling involves cooking food directly under a heat source. It’s a great way to cook dishes like steak, fish, and chicken.
  • Sautéing: This method involves cooking food in a small amount of fat over high heat. It’s a handy way to cook vegetables, onions, and meat.
  • Stir-frying: This method is similar to sautéing, but involves constantly stirring the food in a wok or frying pan. It’s a handy way to cook vegetables, meat, and rice dishes.

Combination Methods

Combination methods involve using both direct and indirect heat to cook food. Here are some methods that fall under this category:

  • Braising: This method involves searing meat in a hot pan and then simmering it in a liquid. It’s a great way to cook tougher cuts of meat like beef brisket and pork shoulder.
  • Steaming: This method involves cooking food over boiling water. It’s a handy way to cook vegetables, fish, and dumplings.
  • Smoking: This method involves cooking food over wood chips that have been set on fire. It’s a great way to add flavor to dishes like beef, pork, and chicken.

Other Methods

There are a few other methods that don’t fit neatly into the above categories:

  • Sous vide: This method involves cooking food in a vacuum-sealed bag in a water bath at a precise temperature. It’s a modern technique that’s becoming more popular in home kitchens.
  • Deep-frying: This method involves cooking food in hot oil. It’s a handy way to cook dishes like french fries, chicken wings, and onion rings.

No matter what method you choose, there are a few handy tips that can help improve your cooking:

  • Adding onions to a dish can help improve the flavor.
  • Double-check the setting on your stove or oven to make sure you’re reaching the right temperature.
  • Allow meat to stand for a little while after cooking to allow the juices to settle.
  • Use the right utensils for the dish you’re preparing.
  • Carry hot dishes with a towel or oven mitt to avoid burns.

Remember, the majority of dishes require a little bit of time and effort, but the end result is worth it.

Proteins: The Building Blocks of Flavor and Color

Proteins are essential nutrients that our bodies need to function properly. They are the building blocks of our muscles, bones, and organs. When we eat foods that contain proteins, our bodies break them down into amino acids, which are then used to build and repair tissues.

How Do Proteins Help in Cooking?

In cooking, proteins play a crucial role in adding flavor and color to our foods. When proteins are cooked, the amino group binds with carbohydrates and produces a brown pigment and aroma. This is known as the Maillard reaction, and it’s responsible for the delicious flavors and aromas of many cooked foods.

What Foods Are High in Proteins?

Some foods that are high in proteins include:

  • Meat, poultry, and fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

Why Are Eggs Used in Many Cake Recipes?

Eggs are a great source of protein, with most eggs containing between 10 and 15 percent protein by weight. In addition to their protein content, eggs also help bind all the other ingredients together into a uniform cake batter. This is why most cake recipes use eggs.

What Tools Do You Need to Cook Proteins?

Cooking proteins can be done in a variety of ways, including grilling, baking, and frying. Some tools that you might need to cook proteins include:

How Can You Ensure That Your Proteins Are Cooked Safely?

When cooking proteins, it’s important to ensure that they are cooked to a safe temperature to avoid the risk of foodborne illness. Here are some tips for cooking proteins safely:

  • Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the protein.
  • Cook ground meats to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C).
  • Cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
  • Cook beef, pork, and lamb to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) for medium-rare, 160°F (71°C) for medium, and 170°F (77°C) for well-done.

Cooking fruits and vegetables can enhance their flavors, make them easier to digest, and even increase their nutritional value. While some fruits and vegetables are delicious raw, others are better cooked. For example, cooking tomatoes can increase their lycopene content, a powerful antioxidant that may help prevent cancer.

Carbohydrates: The Key to Energy Storage and Structural Support

Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient that play a key role in providing energy to the body. They are made up of sugars, which are simple carbohydrates, and polysaccharides, which are complex carbohydrates. When we eat carbohydrates, our body breaks them down into glucose, which is then used as a source of energy. The excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen, which can be used later when the body needs energy.

Caramelization of Carbohydrates in Food

When carbohydrates are cooked, their sugars caramelize. This is why bread turns golden brown on the top when it is baked. But fruits and vegetables can also be caramelized when they are cooked. This process results in a sweet, nutty flavor and a golden brown color.

Health and Safety Tips for Cooking

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling any food.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly under fresh running water to remove any dirt or bacteria present on the surface.
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Clean all surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water before and after use.
  • Avoid washing unwashed meat or poultry as it can spread harmful bacteria around the kitchen.
  • Rubbing or splashing can also spread bacteria, so avoid doing that.

Cooking and Storing

  • Use a food thermometer to ensure that meat and poultry are cooked to the correct internal temperature. The temperature should reach 145°F for pork, beef, lamb, and veal steaks, roasts, and chops; 160°F for ground meats such as burgers and sausages; and 165°F for all poultry.
  • Always remove meat from the heat source before it reaches the desired temperature, as it will continue to cook for a few minutes.
  • Allow meat to rest for a few minutes before cutting into it to allow the juices to settle.
  • Store cooked food in airtight containers in the fridge or freezer within two hours of cooking.
  • Avoid leaving food out at room temperature for too long, as bacteria can grow quickly in warm environments.
  • When reheating food, make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present.

Avoiding Offal and Mixed Meats

  • Offal, or the internal organs of an animal, can contain harmful bacteria and should be cooked thoroughly before eating.
  • Mixed meats, such as burgers and sausages, can contain bacteria from different parts of the animal, so it’s important to ensure they are cooked all the way through.
  • Rolled joints and thicker steaks may hide harmful bacteria in the core, so it’s important to use a food thermometer to ensure they are cooked properly.

General Tips

  • Basic hygiene and cleanliness are important when working with food.
  • Use the correct type of thermometer for the food you are cooking. For example, a meat thermometer is different from a candy thermometer.
  • Proper cleaning and chilling can prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
  • Avoid using expired or spoiled food, as it can cause food poisoning.


So there you have it- everything you need to know about cooking. It’s a skill that can be enjoyed by everyone, and the best part is, you can make almost anything you want! So go on, give it a try! You won’t regret it!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.