Reading an unfamiliar recipe can be frustrating: What steps, exactly, do you take to butterfly a chicken? How small is a fine dice? When the recipe says, “cook until browned,” just how brown should it be?
Cooking lessons can give you clarity on all those questions, and impart skills to improve your kitchen abilities. But they often come with a price. You’ll easily spend $50 and up for a few hours of one-on-one instruction on a single food or topic, and up to several thousands for true mastery through a lengthier professional lesson or class series.
Unless you go online, that is. Plenty of sites offer great video tutorials and illustrated step-by-step instructions, helping you learn skills as varied as how to hold a knife, make meals in a hotel room, and perfect Southern fried chicken. Better yet, they’re all free.
If you want a cheaper in-person lesson, keep an eye out for half-priced offers from local cooking schools on sites like Groupon, Living Social and Tippr. Cook’s World Cooking School in Seattle, for example, recently offered a $65 class on foods such as pizza or Spanish tapas for just $30 — a 54% discount. Individual schools may offer discounts for booking early, paying for a package of classes or being a regular student. Great News Cooking Cookware & Cooking School in San Diego offers a free class, regularly $54 and up, for every 10 you take.
Six Sites for Your Next Free Cooking Lesson Fix:
When Barbara Muessig’s 12-year-old son, Max, requested Peking Duck for a family dinner, Muessig was flummoxed. “I had maybe only had it once, and had no idea how to make it,” she says. So they turned to YouTube, which had more than two-dozen videos on preparation and carving, and watched them before and as they cooked. Wannabe chefs can do the same – the free video site boasts more than 58,000 videos tagged with the keyword “cooking.” Just search for the skill or recipe you want to know more about. Be prepared to watch a few; quality varies and some only cover one small slice of a bigger topic.
Think of it like watching the cable channel on-demand, with the ability to pause and repeat your favorite stars mid-lecture. Videos pair with photos and articles to show you techniques and recipes. Many are snippets of shows, but you can’t necessarily find every recipe covered — don’t think of the site as a DVR replacement.
For something enticing, you don’t need to peruse beyond the homepage: videos there include “better-than-classic candy apples,” “homemade lemoncello” and “classic roast chicken.” But it’s definitely worth a search on the comprehensive site by category. “Basics” introduces skills like using a chef’s knife, blanching vegetables, and how to store food, and the rest walk you through recipes of various complexities. Rachel Ray fans will like the site — she and her “buddies” have a whole section devoted to their video lessons and recipes.
The best of Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines, the site also offers a lot of original content. Browse video channels for technique tutorials, or search by meal type, holiday, chef and other distinction. You’ll also find plenty of linked videos and recipes for your next step (i.e., learning to make simple syrup leads you to cocktail recipes and candy-making techniques). Site users and commercial partners can submit videos, too.
The site’s OATV tests vegetarian and gluten-free recipes, as well as standard fare using organic ingredients. It’s a little niche, and there are just 87 videos so far, but the videos are entertaining and easy to follow. Editor-in-Chief, Laura Klein says more video lessons are coming soon on Google+ and UStreamTV.
With 1,753 food-related videos, foodies can beef up on a range of how-to’s, including how to buy and clean tuna and making a cucumber spiral for cocktail garnishes. It’s not one-stop shopping for video instruction, but the selection of tips and recipes is broad enough that it’s worth a bookmark in your web browser.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie http://www.twitter.com/mintfoodie.