Culinary Lingo

Reviewed By Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN
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Braise, broil, poach, simmer — what does it all mean? Following healthful recipes is easier if you understand cooking vocabulary. Whether you are new to the kitchen or just need a refresher, understanding the basics of common cooking techniques will help you navigate through recipes and get healthy meals on the table with ease. From slicing to steaming, here's how to talk the talk in the kitchen.

The B, C, and Ds of Cooking

Bake: type of dry heat cooking — cook food surrounded by hot air, usually in an oven.

Barbecue/grill: type of dry heat cooking — to roast food over a charcoal or hardwood fire.

Boil: type of moist heat cooking — cooking food in a rapid boil.

Braise: to brown, then simmer over low heat in a small amount of liquid (water, broth or even fruit juice) in a covered pot for a lengthy time on the stove or in the oven.

Broil: to cook with direct heat, usually under a heating element in the oven.

Chop: cut food into smaller pieces of no particular size or shape.

Dice: cut foods into uniform square pieces.

Deep-fry: type of dry heat cooking — cook food by submerging it in hot oil.

Dry heat cooking: methods that use hot air, the heat from a pan or grill, or hot fat to cook foods.

From G to Ps & Qs

Grate: rub food against a serrated surface to create fine shreds.

Grill: to cook with heat directly over hot coals or another heat source.

Mince: cut food into very small pieces.

Moist heat cooking: methods that use water or liquids such as broth to cook foods.

Panbroil: to cook uncovered in a preheated, nonstick skillet without added fat or water.

Poach: type of moist heat cooking — to cook gently in liquid, just below boiling, until the liquid’s surface starts to shimmer.

Quadriller: to make a crisscross pattern on the outside of grilled or broiled food.

R to Z

Roast: type of dry heat cooking — to cook uncovered with dry heat in the oven.

Sauté: type of dry heat cooking — to cook quickly in a small amount of fat, stirring so the food browns evenly.

Simmer: type of moist heat cooking — cooking food in a hot liquid that is bubbling but not boiling.

Slice: to cut through or across into slices, generally of uniform size.

Steam: type of moist heat cooking — to cook with steam heat over (not in) boiling water, or wrapped in foil or leaf (such as lettuce or banana leaves) packets over boiling water or on a grill.

Stew: to cook in liquid, such as water, juice, wine, broth or stock, in a tightly covered pot over low heat.

Stir-fry: to cook small pieces of meat, poultry, seafood, tofu and/or vegetables in a very small amount of oil, perhaps with added broth, over very high heat, stirring as you cook.

Zest: to scrape the outer rind of a piece of citrus fruit for flavoring.

Be in the Know

Knowing these culinary techniques can help to bring out the flavor of foods without the need to add a lot of extra ingredients or calories. The healthiest cooking methods require only a little amount of fat, if at all:

  • Sautéing and stir-frying use a small amount of oil, compared with frying or deep-frying.
  • Steaming helps foods retain more nutrients, since they are not soaking in water, as is the case with boiling.
  • Grilling also can influence the flavor of foods, but it's important to avoid charring them, which occurs when they turn black.
  • Marinating meats and vegetables prior to grilling can help.

And, remember that cooking all foods to the appropriate internal temperatures is important, regardless of how the food is prepared!