Kitchen skills are arguably some of the most useful life skills to learn and practice. Not only do they lead to great meals and better eating all around, they can also save you money. The following seven skills are ones that many home cooks lack, and are worth spending time to master. All of them will make you a better cook, and all of them will lead to considerable savings.
1. Butchering Meat
Before you become overwhelmed, this does not mean breaking down a whole steer. Rather, this means simple, do-it-yourself butchery that you can easily do at home without getting grossed out. It makes sense that the more work you are willing to do at home, the less money you'll pay for your food. If you take a few minutes to cut and trim your meat at home, you can knock dollars off of your grocery bill.
One common example is purchasing a whole chicken rather than in pieces, such as breasts and thighs. Whole chickens are cheaper per pound of meat, and offer more versatility. With a little practice, you can break down a chicken in a mere five minutes, and you have control over the size of the pieces. Plus, you can use the carcass to make delicious homemade stock (more on that later).
Another example of worthwhile butchering is beef tenderloin. A trimmed version (which has the fat and excess removed by the butcher) is one of the most expensive pieces of meat available. Buying it whole can save you $5 or more per pound, and trimming beef tenderloin isn't difficult with the right method.
2. Menu Planning
Americans throw away an amazing amount of perfectly good food every year. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it's also a waste of money. Effective menu planning leads to less food waste and less budgetary waste. Prepare before you head to the grocery store by looking up recipes and referencing your calendar. Make a list and stick to it, keeping in mind what spoils quickly and what will last. Be realistic about what you will eat and how much you need, and make a real effort to use everything up before it goes bad. Try buying ingredients that can be used for more than one meal, and have a plan for re-using leftovers.
3. Knife Skills
Buying pre-cut fruits and vegetables can cost you. Buying whole produce and chopping it up yourself, on the other hand, can equal real savings. Learning proper knife techniques will save you time, keep your produce nice, and help keep you safe. Freshly chopped fruits and vegetables will keep for longer, and you can just chop up what you need. The price difference between pre-cut produce and whole produce can be huge, so get those knives sharpened and start chopping.
Even those who love to cook can find baking scary, but many recipes are not as hard as they seem. Making a birthday cake rather than ordering one can cost a tenth of the price, and mean so much more to the recipient. Start with an easy recipe and watch videos demonstrating the best way to frost a cake and more.
Homemade bread may be the most intimidating form of baking, but it also offers some of the biggest savings. If your family eats bread regularly, the cost savings are huge. When first dipping your toes into bread making, try a no-knead bread. They tend to rise easier and with less yeast, and you can't over or under-knead the dough since you're not kneading at all. The biggest adjustment is learning to plan ahead, but once you get the hang of it, you can have fresh bread whenever you want it with very little effort.
Canning is a popular domestic hobby for good reason. It's seasonal, long-lasting, and gratifying. And, considering the equipment and jars are reusable for many, many years, canning saves money. This is especially true if you're buying specialty canned items, like beautiful jams and spicy pickles. The list of things you can start canning at home is long, and the list of equipment needed is not. All you need is a little know-how and an afternoon, and you'll be knee-high in fresh-canned goodies that you can store away or give as low-cost gifts. (See also: 4 Ways to Preserve Fruit)
6. Making Sauces and Stocks
The mastery of sauces is one of the pillars of French cuisine. That's why many fine dining kitchens have a position dedicated largely to sauces — the saucier. Learning to make even the simplest sauces from home can save you money and have delicious results. Their canned or packaged counterparts have quite a mark-up, and can't match the fresh quality of homemade.
Making your own pasta sauce can be as simple as combining canned tomatoes (home-canned, perhaps?), garlic, and seasoning in a pot. Other examples include pesto, cheese sauce, and gravy. Many sauces freeze well, so you can make a big batch and then store it away for later.
Homemade stock is incredibly cheap and easy to make, too. Not only does it use otherwise unusable parts of a chicken (see butchering above), you can use up leftover veggie pieces to make something delicious and versatile. To be especially efficient, save discarded ends of veggies like carrot tops, mushroom stalks, and celery fronds and toss them in a freezer bag. Every time you have more veggie pieces, add them to the bag until you have enough to make a stock. You can also freeze leftover stock for later.
7. Keeping Sanitary
This seems like a no-brainer, but good kitchen sanitation is not only smart, it will also save you money. By keeping your family healthy, you will save money on health care costs and lost work time due to illness. Rather than buying "pre-washed" produce, which often needs to be washed again anyway, buy regular produce like lettuce and wash it yourself. The cost will be lower and you'll know that it's nice and clean. Following sanitary guidelines, such as regularly checking your fridge temperature, can also help keep food fresh for longer. Be sure to wipe down all surfaces regularly, wash your hands often, and be very careful to keep raw meat and everything it touches separate so that you don't cross-contaminate.