This story is part of Home TipsCNET’s collection of practical advice for making the most of your home, inside and out.
Cooking hacks have been around much longer than social media, but eye-catching TikTok and Instagram videos have made them even more popular. The Internet is a seemingly endless source of flashy new tips, tricks, shortcuts, or “hacks” that promise to solve problems or save time in the kitchen—sometimes even problems you didn’t realize you had. But not all are created equal. Heck, some of them don’t even work. (Sorry, ice water won’t magically peel your boiled potatoes.)
To find the best cooking hacks worth your time, we checked in with Institute of Culinary Education chef instructor Kierin Baldwin for nine go-to kitchen and cooking hacks that work. Could you shave a few seconds off a process or use fewer tools? Could your dice be more uniform or poached egg more Instagrammable? What else can you achieve with a free hand if you are able to perform a two-handed process with only one?
Below are nine cooking hacks that actually work to keep your kitchen buzzing. (For more useful tips in the kitchen, find out how to protect yourself from leaking gas stovehow store cheese, it will last longer and how to store leftovers so they stay fresh longer.)
1. Use a wine bottle as a rolling pin
You were sure you had a rolling pin, but it’s nowhere to be seen, and you would never have started this pizza dough, sugar cookie, or cinnamon roll project without one. Now what? A wine bottle can save both your dough and your nerves in one practical package.
“It works!” said Baldwin, who points out that a wine bottle even comes with its own tapered handle. You need to make sure the bottle is clean, but otherwise roll as you would with a traditional rolling pin; no need to coat the surface with anything special. “I think it would drive me insane,” adds Baldwin, “because it’s so much shorter than a normal rolling pin. I would only do it in extreme circumstances.” Since rolling pins are low-maintenance and inexpensive kitchen tools, if you find yourself using this hack more often than not, it’s probably time to invest in the real thing.
2. Peel garlic by shaking it in a jar
As a home cook, the usefulness of this hack may come down to your need for multiple cloves of garlic at once, but according to Baldwin, “I have to tell you, it works great. In many of the restaurants I worked at, the preppers would guys actually put two little pans together and shake a bunch of garlic cloves to peel them.”
If it’s good enough for restaurant chefs, it’s certainly good enough for home cooks. Instead of smashing individual cloves of garlic with the side of your knife to loosen the skin—or trying in vain to pick them off with your fingernails—all you need is a jar with a lid or two small metal bowls turned together. Add garlic cloves, shake vigorously, and voilà! Perfectly peeled garlic without the lingering, telltale aroma under your nails.
3. Use dental floss to cut cheese or baked goods
You shouldn’t try this with just anything you typically need a knife for. But when it comes to slicing certain creamy foods, like cheesecake or goat cheese, dental floss is the answer. It’s so thin that it doesn’t create drag like the blade of a knife would, and the slices come out clean with just a simple loop and pull of the floss. “It’s also really good if you’re making cinnamon rolls or something like that,” Baldwin said, since floss not only creates clean slices, but it won’t smash or flatten softer items during the cutting process.
As for the quality of the floss, “maybe you don’t want to use mint,” she said. You should use straight, waxed floss instead of the extra textured varieties. “But pretty much everything else is fine.”
Read more: Stop cutting cake with a knife. Here’s a way that’s faster and cleaner
4. Cut or mash with a grater
“This is actually one of my favorite hacks,” said Baldwin, who doesn’t necessarily recommend it for foods that require a uniform, clean-cut look, but for when the end result is pureed. Tap your item through a lattice cooling rack not only does it break down what you’re mashing, but it also has an added peeling bonus.
“If I’m roasting squash and end up pureeing it, you just take it — skin side up — smash it right on the cooling rack and it separates it from the skin really easily,” Baldwin said. “Or if I was making guacamole or something with an avocado, it’s a great way to get the avocado out of the skin,” and also breaks it down into smashable chunks in one effort.
5. Add oil to your pasta water to prevent sticking
The best way to prevent noodles from hardening while cooking is to make sure you use a large enough pot with an adequate amount of water and don’t forget to stir as you go.
What if you’ve been taught to add a little oil to the water to secure individual strands of spaghetti? “I do it all the time,” Baldwin said. “I know chefs who say it doesn’t work, but it kind of does.” However, the oil must be in the water before the pasta, so that the noodles pass through the skimmed oil and get a little coating on the way to the water bath.
Bonus pasta hack: Sticking a wooden spoon across the top can prevent your pasta water from boiling over and spilling it all over the stove.
6. Use deli lids to cut through several round items at once
If you regularly lose minutes of your day individually slicing spherical objects such as cherry tomatoes or grapes, this hack is for you.
“Basically, you put one lid on your work surface right side up, put a layer of whatever you’re cutting on top of the lid, then flip another lid on top,” Baldwin said, “then slide your knife horizontally between the two lids to cut everything in half at once. It’s so much faster than cutting each one individually.”
If you don’t have any deli containers lying around from the grocery store or last week’s delivery, Amazon sells them really cheap.
7. Freeze individual portions in ice cube trays
The Internet would have you freeze individual portions of sauces like pesto in ice cube trays, but Baldwin believes that’s a better trick for specific components that usually come in larger quantities than a single recipe calls for. “Two that immediately come to mind are chipotles in adobo and tomato puree,” Baldwin said. “I usually just use a small amount and then freeze the rest, and freezing things in ice cube sizes makes it so much easier to use little by little.” Homemade chicken stock is another good candidate for freezing in ice cube trays. Like leftover wine (I know, I know: what is leftover wine?) to use the next time you whip up a sauce on the range.
If you don’t already have some, take different sized trays as you may want some leftover ingredients in them bigger or less portions when the time is right. Upstart kitchen brand Anytime makes a series of trays for freezing liquid and solid foods made of food-grade silicone with steel frames so they don’t crack as easily as plastic.
8. Store ginger in the freezer for easy grating
“I haven’t actually diced ginger in I don’t know how many years because it’s a total pain,” Baldwin said, but she’s certainly not advocating a ginger-free existence. “I just keep it in the freezer,” she said, “and when I need something, I take out the microplane and shred as much as I need.” According to Baldwin, with this method you don’t even have to bother peeling the ginger once it’s frozen, a winning hack for anyone with less than fond memories of fighting ginger’s gnarled form with a spoon. “It’s so much easier than any other way,” she said.
9. Cut pizza with scissors
If you’ve never quite gotten the hang of using a pizza cutter, or if your delicious homemade pies end up ruined during the slicing process, it may be a matter of thinking beyond the knife when it comes to cutting pizza. Culinary scissors are the way forward here. “Just make sure they’re clean scissors and they’re the ones that have the hinge that comes apart completely for proper cleaning,” Baldwin said. In other words, don’t try this with scissors straight from your craft drawer. If you want to get high technology, the kitchen equipment innovators at Dream farm has created Scizzasa pair of scissors designed specifically for portioning pizza.
As for whether any of the hacks that promise tear-free onion cutting have merit? “If you’re crying, it’s probably a sign that you just have to sharpen your knifeBaldwin said.