Cooking Verbs in English (and Other Cooking Vocabulary)

Cooking Verbs in English (and Other Cooking Vocabulary)

We also have a podcast on Cooking Verbs in English if you’re prefer to listen instead of read.

When we cook, we’re in ACTION MODE! Cooking is a very active thing to do.

I mean, cooking is nothing more than lots of short actions, right?

And, as a result, there are lots and lots of cooking verbs in English.

And they’re pretty useful. I mean, when did you last ask someone about how to cook something or tell a friend about an awesome new recipe you’ve tried?

If you’re anything like me, this happens quite a lot.

So let’s check out 55 of the most useful cooking verbs in English — plus lots of other handy cooking vocabulary and phrases about preparing food.

Today, we’re going to look at cooking verbs in three main stages:

  1. Verbs for preparing food
  2. Verbs for cooking food
  3. Verbs for serving food


Let’s go!

Cooking Verbs in English #1: Preparing food

defrost: sketch of a vegetable inside a block of ice being defrosted with a hairdryer

OK. Before you start preparing food, don’t make the mistake I always make — if you’re going to use any frozen stuff, make sure you take it out of the freezer and defrost it somehow (or, confusingly, you could frost it … which means the same thing). Maybe by heating it on the stove for a while or, if you’re impatient like me, by popping it in the microwave for a few minutes.

White beans soaking in water
soaking beans (1) by Joel Kramer | CC BY 2.0

Also, before you start, remember that some things need to soak (or to put it another way, you need to soak them). Beans are a good example. Beans can be a pain because you actually need to leave them to soak overnight. That’s why people who eat beans are very good at looking into the future. I read that somewhere on the internet, so it’s probably true.

OK. Now you’re ready for some serious prep!

chop: sketch of a carrot being cut with a knife

A lot of food prep involves dividing big pieces of food into smaller pieces of food — usually with a knife. Chopping is the general word for this. Perhaps you need to chop stuff into slices (or simply slice them), or maybe even dice them, which means chopping them into small cubes about the size of a tiny, tiny box … or a dice.

grate: sketch of a grater and a half-grated carrot

A lot of food can also be grated. This involves getting a grater and rubbing ginger or carrots or whatever you’re grating along the side. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to make stupid jokes like “This is great!” (“This is grate!”). Hours of fun.

crush: sketch of garlic coming out of a garlic crusher

For some other food, and I’m looking at you, Mr. Garlic, grating isn’t quite enough. Some food needs to be crushed. So, you might need to crush some garlic (and it’s usually just garlic) with a garlic crusher — JUST LIKE I CRUSH MY ENEMIES! Oh … sorry. By “enemies” I mean “more garlic.”

Grinding with pestle and mortar

And some things just won’t go through the crusher. Perhaps they’re too small, like little seeds, or too hard, like pepper. In this case, you’ll probably need to grind them. For this, you can use a pestle and mortar and pretend you’re in an old-fashioned painting. Or use a grinder and pretend you’re in a horror film.

whisk: sketch of a whisk moving in a bowl

Sometimes, you’ll want to mix or combine ingredients in a different way. A typical example of this is when you need to combine flour and water. This is when a whisk comes in handy, which you can use to whisk the ingredients.

stir: sketch of a man stirring a large pot

You can also just stir ingredients. This is the simple process of putting a spoon into the bowl of ingredients and moving it around. While you’re doing this, you might want to add a pinch of salt or even some red pepper flakes or something like that.

blend: sketch of a blender with moving liquid inside

Still not aggressive enough for you? OK! Let’s bring out the big guns. It’s time to go electric. When you have a blender, you can do most of the things above with the touch of a button. You can blend your ingredients, but you can also grate and grind them, too — if you have the right blender attachments, of course. Sometimes you’ll just need to blend stuff on low power, sometimes on high power and other times you’ll just need to hit the pulse button a few times.

knead: sketch of hands kneading a piece of dough

If you’re working with dough (that stuff you make from flour and water to make bread and pizza and stuff; it rhymes with “no”), you’ll need to knead it. This is when you sort of press the dough with your hands again and again until it’s smooth and ready to start the long journey of becoming bread in the oven. If you’re making pizza, you are obliged to spin the dough in the air and catch it again while kneading.

roll: sketch of a rolling pin on a piece of dough

Some dishes require you to roll things — perhaps it’s a pastry thing or cookies, and you need to roll the dough flat.

stuff: sketch of a stuffed pepper

Maybe you’ve got some big, empty peppers and some delicious stuffing. So what now? Now you need to stuff the peppers! That’s right! Stuff the stuffing into the peppers to make stuffed peppers. Stuffed vine leaves are also pretty good, too.

skewer: sketch of vegetables on a skewer

Ah! Yes! You want your food on a long spike? Like a sword? Great idea. Take the pieces of food and skewer them on a skewer.

drain: sketch of spaghetti being poured into a colander

What’s that? It’s too wet? Oh no! Well, that’s OK. Just leave it to drain for a while. You know — put it in the sink, maybe in a colander, strainer or a sieve. It’ll be drier later. (For more kitchen vocabulary, click here.)

Finally, you might also need to be really patient and leave things in the fridge before you serve (or cook) them. Maybe you need to serve your dish cold, so just let it chill in the fridge (or put it in the fridge to chill — same thing). Some things might need to be in the fridge for a long time so that the herbs and spices and delicious things can get right into the food. That’s when you marinate it overnight, leave it to marinate or let it marinate.

Cooking Verbs in English #2: Cooking Food

OK! Time for the fun part!

The part that involves fire.

And, in my opinion, nothing can be improved without some extra fire.

White stove and oven
Dwight Burdette, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Generally speaking, you might just want to heat something or heat something up. You can do this on the cooker (the top part of the big cooking machine) or in the oven (the one that’s like a very hot little room). You can put something on low heat, medium heat or high heat. Sometimes you want to heat it until warm or heat it until cooked through (meaning cooked all the way to the middle).

boil: sketch of a saucepan containing water over a flame

One of the most common ways of cooking stuff is by boiling it. This involves getting some water, putting it on the stove (or cooker), and bringing it to the boil. When it’s boiling, you add whatever you’re cooking (such as pasta). Of course you can boil other stuff, like sauce or soup. And sometimes, once it’s started boiling, you might want to turn the heat down and let it simmer (or leave it to simmer).

Steaming vegetables
Steaming Vegetables for lunch by Ian May | CC BY 2.0

Steaming is great fun! It’s something I’ve recently discovered. It’s amazing that there’s something you can do to make zucchinis actually taste amazing. What is it? Well, it’s when you put the food above boiling water so the steam from the evaporation cooks the food.

fry: sketch of a frying pan over flames

Another classic way of cooking stuff is by frying it. This basically involves getting a pan, usually putting some oil in it, adding your food and putting it over the heat — think of pancakes. There are different ways of frying. Stir-frying, common in Asian cooking, is when you have a pan that gets unbelievably hot and you have to keep your food on it moving at all times. It looks great and usually turns out disastrously when I try it. Seriously — don’t let me do a stir-fry. You’ll regret it. You can also shallow fry something by cooking it in a shallow pool of oil, or even deep fry something by cooking it in a deep pool of oil (think French fries). If you coat (cover) food in a paste of flour and water (or other liquid) before deep frying, then you are battering it.

If you feel like being a bit fancier with your cooking, you could always blanch some vegetables. This basically consists of dipping your veg into boiling water for a very short amount of time (like a few seconds). This scalds the vegetables. But make sure you remember to shock them straight away by putting them in ice-cold water (or under a cold tap) to stop the cooking process. Apparently, that is how it’s properly done.

roast or bake: sketch of an open oven with a tray of vegetables inside

“Let’s put something in the oven and put the temperature up.” That’s what you say when you want to roast something. Roasting is when you do just that and is probably the most common thing we do with an oven.

But what about baking? We can bake stuff in the oven, too, right? So what’s the difference?

Well, it seems that the difference is quite complicated. A lot of people say that it’s about the temperature (anything above 150°C is roasting; anything below is baking). Other people say that when the food actually changes shape, it’s baking, and if it doesn’t, it’s roasting. When I was training to become a teacher, our teacher trainer told us that when you use oil, it’s roasting, and when you don’t, it’s baking.

And in a way, I think none of these distinctions is particularly helpful. What we need to ask ourselves here is, “What do people actually say?”

In that case, the difference is easier. Generally speaking, we bake things like cakes, bread and pizza, and we roast stuff like meat (and veg if you’re doing a Sunday roast). This answer isn’t 100%, but it’s the closest we’re going to get without breaking our brains.

Making toast in an oven grill
Broiler French Toast by Mark Wallace | CC BY 2.0

You can also, of course, grill things. This basically consists of turning on the grill (the heating element or flames above your food) and allowing it to cook the food from above. This is a great way to toast things (like bread) if you don’t have a toaster. But, if you’re in the US, this isn’t called grilling but broiling. In American English, grilling is when your flames are cooking the food from below — like a barbecue.

Charred red peppers on a barbeque
Charred Red Bell Peppers by woodleywonderworks | CC BY 2.0

But whether you’re frying, roasting, baking or grilling, make sure you don’t burn it! There’s nothing worse than burnt cake or burnt toast. Unless, of course, you’re trying to burn it for that extra “carbony” taste — in which case we don’t call it burning. Nope — that’s when you decide to char your food. One of my favourite Bulgarian foods, for example, is charred peppers.

But of course, at the same time, you’ve got to remember not to undercook your meal. There’s nothing wrong with chewy pasta. But it’s a thin line! Leave it in too long and you’ve overcooked it! Which is worse, because there’s nothing you can do with soggy pasta. Except feed it to the dog. But I don’t have a dog. So that doesn’t help, does it?

Glazed doughnuts
Glazed Doughnuts by William Jones | CC BY 2.0

But what if your food isn’t shiny enough? You know — sometimes it’s good to see your own reflection when you look at your food, right? That’s when you might want to glaze your food. You can do this by brushing on some sort of liquid (sometimes sugar, sometimes fruit, sometimes even edible wax). Think about how candy or doughnuts are often quite shiny.

season: sketch of a hand sprinkling salt into a pan

As you reach the end of the cooking process, you might want to start seasoning your food. To be fair, if you’re roasting something, it’s usually good to season before you stick it in the oven. What’s seasoning? Well, when you season something, you add herbs and spices to it — maybe even a pinch of salt (or a pinch of pepper or a pinch of cumin or a pinch of whatever you want to season your food with), or you could sprinkle on some cinnamon.

microwave: sketch of an open microwave with a dialogue bubble "feed me!"

But what if you don’t have time for any of this? Then just grab some leftovers from the freezer (if you’re lucky enough to have any food left over from a previous meal) and pop it in the microwave for a few minutes. “Ping!” Yep! That’s the sound of an easy meal. What? Don’t look at me like that! There’s nothing wrong with microwaved food.

Cooking Verbs in English #3: Serving Food

OK! You’ve made it!

You’ve cooked all the food!

Now it’s almost time to eat it!


There might be a few things you’ll need to do first.

Woman serving rice
rawpexel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dish yourself up or dish everyone up if you have guests (put the food on plates or in bowls or whatever you’re using), drizzle some oil or vinegar or something yummy on the top, maybe even garnish it with some chopped parsley or even some flower petals and serve it to your very grateful guests! Or, if you’re eating alone, to yourself.

All done? Great! Remember — if there are any leftovers, make sure you freeze them for later.

And there we have it! Fifty-five cooking verbs in English — plus quite a bit of other cooking vocabulary!

If you want more practice on this topic, Oxford Online English has an excellent video and quiz about vocabulary for preparing, cooking and serving food. Click here for the lesson.

I don’t know about you, but I’m starving (very hungry) now!

But before we head to the kitchen, why not practise what you’ve learned today?

Tell me — what’s your favourite recipe these days? Can you tell me how it’s made?

Answer in the comments and the best recipe wins a virtual carrot cake!

Did you like this post? Then be awesome and share by clicking the blue button below.

7 thoughts on “Cooking Verbs in English (and Other Cooking Vocabulary)

  1. Simply amazing way to bring English language to Kitchen for kids,I incorporated verbs with the story Little Red Hen & how to make bread

  2. Thanks for this kind of post! I’m capable to hold conversations about all kind of complex topics, like politics, but I’ve realized that I usually struggle when it comes to name everyday objects. Why is that? Well, probably because most of my English comes from reading non-fiction and listening to podcasts that, for some reason, don’t use this kind of language (or I haven’t notice it) :S
    Anyway, this is awesome! I’m adding all this words to Anki 🙂

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback Cristobal. That’s EXACTLY what the post was designed to achieve.

      If you’d like to see another post like this, let me know what kind of gaps you have in your everyday vocab and I’ll see what I can do.

      In the meantime I strongly recommend reading some fiction – loads of everyday stuff comes up there.

      Good luck and happy holidays! 🙂

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