Americans have a definite fondness for eating out whether it’s McDonald’s or Bar Boulud (a NYC favorite of mine). I always choose restaurant dishes that I wouldn’t cook at home, but may not have been painting with a broad enough brush. Turns out that doing so makes sense not only financially, but also for taste. Here’s some detailed guidance.
10 dishes you’re better off cooking at home, according to restaurant chefs
- Surprisingly, some foods taste better when cooked at home as opposed to in a restaurant.
- According to professional chefs, roast chicken and barbecue ribs are best cooked at home.
- Homemade tomato sauce and risotto are two Italian specialties that you should consider making yourself.
It’s easy to assume that the food you order in a restaurant dining room must be better than what you can make at home. But this isn’t always the case.
Actually, there are plenty of dishes that turn out better when cooked in a home kitchen … at least, that’s what the group of professional chefs we consulted insisted. These experts pointed out 10 dishes that commonly appear on restaurant menus, but which tend to really shine when prepped in the comfort of your own house.
Roast chicken is simple enough for even a beginner home cook.
If you’re looking for a versatile dish to keep you fed throughout the week, you can’t do better than a whole roasted chicken. Salads, soups, sandwiches, and tacos are all perfect showcases for tender pieces of oven-cooked poultry.
Celebrity chef and lead food innovator of the Innit app, Tyler Florence, loves home-cooked roast chicken. He told INSIDER, “There’s nothing I like to make at home more than a classic roast chicken. It’s all about learning a few easy techniques to get an end result with crisp skin and a juicy interior. Once you’ve mastered it, I promise it will become a go-to.”
Florence’s top roast chicken tips? “Tuck herbs under the skin, don’t stuff the cavity, [and baste with] butter. Lots of good butter.”
For executive chef Albert Gonzalez of Red’s Porch and North by Northwest Brewing Co. in Austin, Texas, prepping roast chicken at home offers an opportunity to cook your bird “to order” in a way that’s hard to replicate at a restaurant.
“When getting [roast chicken] at a restaurant, you have to keep in mind that the bird is never going to be cooked to order. At best, it will be a rotisserie item that can hang in a warm environment, but every second after it is cooked, it’s losing moisture and the skin is becoming less crisp. Also, [when cooking] at home, you get all the delicious byproducts of a roasted chicken, [like] drippings that are fantastic for making sauces or to roast potatoes and veggies,” Gonzalez told INSIDER.
To keep your roast chicken juicy after carving, make sure to let it rest first. Gonzalez recommends “[letting] it rest on top of the oven for around 15 minutes before cutting into it. This will help all the juices settle down and keep the chicken nice and moist.”
Brining and cooking your own barbecue ribs lets you take all the time you need to develop delicious flavors.
Although it’s natural to assume that barbecue masters have tong-wielding skills far beyond what you can mimic in your own backyard, whipping up your own BBQ ribs might be the better idea.
St. Louis-bred chef de cuisine (and “Top Chef” alumni) Gerald Sombright of Tesoro and 10K Alley in Marco Island, Florida told INSIDER, “Restaurants have deadlines, time constraints, hours of operation and the organized chaos of this business. Barbecue ribs need love, attention, time and adoration, which is much better achieved at home.”
Sombright’s favorite tips for making ribs at home? “Brine a day in advance, as this will impart flavor ‘bone-deep,’ rub with your favorite spices, and cook slow and low. Enjoy an adult beverage, spend time with friends and family, and appreciate the journey. The wait is worth it.”
Chicken pot pie is a classic “comfort food” dish that’s at its tastiest when made at home.
When it comes to comfort food, it’s tough to think of a more quintessential example than chicken pot pie. Flaky pastry, creamy gravy, hearty chunks of chicken, and plenty of veggies — it’s a total treat. But ordering this dish at a restaurant often yields lackluster results.
Corporate chef Daniel England of the OMG Hospitality Group in San Diego, California said that chicken pot pie’s appeal connects directly to its homemade reputation.
“There’s just something about when that pie comes out of the oven that makes you feel all warm and cozy inside. It’s true comfort food. When you eat chicken pot pie in a restaurant, it’s usually a single-serving pie versus, when you make it at home, which yields a larger pie that the whole family can enjoy. It’s the best family-style dish I can think of. There’s not much I would do to elevate it since true chicken pot pie fans have expectations for the classic homestyle dish — some things don’t need fixing,” England told INSIDER.
If you’re hesitant to make your own pie crust, England has some advice for you. “A lot of restaurants will use puff pastry for the top [of the pot pie] instead of a [homemade] pie crust, so home chefs can give that a try if they’re feeling adventurous.”
According to chef Bobby Hodge of Oak Steakhouse in Nashville, Tennessee, traditional “family” recipes for chicken pot pie frequently taste better than professionally devised versions.
“When ordered at a restaurant, [chicken pot pie is] underseasoned and flat. Since it’s a comfort food, ‘grandma’s’ recipe or any passed-down recipe is most likely going to be better… To make it pop, brine the chicken first. Then add a lot of fresh herbs in the bechamel, and then go crazy with the veggies. You can also decide what type of crust you prefer; for example, bacon-fat pie dough, puff pastry, etc.,” Hodge said.
A perfectly seared steak seems difficult to make at home but doing so ensures your meat is cooked just how you like it.
Restaurants typically charge a lot for the steak dishes on their menus, so it’s easy to assume that the hefty price correlates with how hard it is to cook. But in reality, making your own steak gives you greater control over cut quality and temperature, culminating in a dinner prepared to your exact specifications.
Executive chef Ben Raupp of The Lanes in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, said that, unless you’re seeking out an especially rare grade of beef, you’re better off eating steaks that you make yourself.
“To be honest, steaks at a restaurant are nearly identical to what you can make at home. With the exception of high-end restaurants using true Kobe or steakhouses with their own dry-aging programs, you, the guest, can find beef just as good as what your average restaurant is serving. USDA choice and prime are available at most grocery stores, local beef can be found at the farmers market, or a neighborhood butcher can set you up with what you need. If you have a plain-old charcoal grill, you are already using the same equipment most restaurants are (honestly, you may be a step ahead; Most places just have gas),” Raupp told INSIDER.
Chef and director of kitchen operations Emily Horwath of VBGB and 8.2.0 Pizzeria and Bar in Charlotte, North Carolina agreed, adding that “if you watch one video online or look up a recipe for the best steak, you can easily cook steak at home for your entire family at a fraction of the cost it would be in a restaurant.”
Isaac Toups, a “Top Chef” vet and chef/owner of Toups South and Toups Meatery in New Orleans, Louisiana, said he likes the temperature control and creative freedom that comes with making his steaks at home.
“I like my meat bloody-rare and restaurants don’t always cook it that way. I’d rather cook it myself so that I can control the temperature and flavor. My go-to is either venison or Wagyu beef. To make the dish pop, I usually pair the steak with fresh, roasted vegetables or grains, and top it off with a colorful glaze — either a red pepper demi-glace or a fruit jam,” Toups told INSIDER.
In terms of both value and flavor, you’re almost always better off making soups and chilis in your own kitchen.
Though soup and chili frequently taste delicious when ordered at restaurants, amateur chefs can create their own renditions that equal or even surpass the professional spins on these hearty bowls.
Chef Ryan Kikkert of The Little Beet Table in Chicago and New York City recommends a restaurant-approved technique for bumping up the flavor quotient of your homemade soups.
“Restaurant chefs leave nothing to waste and often use vegetable scraps, bones, meat trimmings, and leftover product to create soups. It’s both economical and environmentally friendly. You can apply this same mentality at home to create flavorful broths and stocks to create a delicious homemade soup for a thrifty weekday dinner.”
Corporate chef Dan Harris of 4 Star Restaurant Group in Chicago, said he always prefers to make chili at home, claiming that “the possibilities [for chili] are endless and [that’s] all the more reason to make it yourself. Aside from personal preference, chili does exactly what all home-cooked meals should do: it builds the anticipation as it simmers all day and is a quintessential comfort food for any season.”
“Chicken noodle soup can be soul-satisfying at home, but when ordered out it usually misses the mark. I prefer to make homemade egg noodles and cook them in broth to a point where they still have some texture. I use all kinds of root vegetables such as parsnip, turnip, sweet potato and I’m very careful not to overcook,” Conley told INSIDER.
Homemade tomato sauce is better than anything you’ll find in a restaurant.
An absolute staple of Italian cooking, tomato sauce (aka marinara sauce or “gravy” when made with meat) is a very personal dish, with every family harboring their own secrets for how to make the basic recipe even more flavorful and special. Though tasty tomato sauces aren’t hard to find at restaurants, the heart and soul of the dish really can’t be duplicated outside of a home kitchen.
Chef Joey Giannuzzi of Farmer’s Table in Boca Raton, Florida told INSIDER that “as an Italian, the dish that’s better to make at home is hands-down tomato sauce. My family always compares the sauce at restaurants to Mom’s or Grandmom’s sauce. Growing up eating these masterpieces, nothing ever compares. [To really make your sauce pop,] take your time making it, slow-cooking with meat. My family uses beef and pork, along with the meatballs and sweet Italian sausage cooked right in the sauce.”
Preparing spaghetti cacio e pepe at home gives you the chance to make this classic recipe the traditional way.
In the interest of boosting the texture and flavor of dishes cooked in a restaurant kitchen, chefs frequently add ingredients that may not exist in the “authentic” version of the recipes.
According to chef Valentina Rizzo of Farmacia dei Sani in Ruffano in Southern Italy, a particularly bad example happens is when chefs put cream in the Italian staple known as spaghetti cacio e pepe.
“In restaurants, they [often] use cream [in cacio e pepe]. In the original recipe, [cream] is not used. [To make cacio e pepe the authentic way], put three tablespoons of grated Pecorino cheese in a large plastic cup [or bowl] and [add] three pinches of pepper for each person. Add a little warm water and mix to release the cream [from the cheese]. When the pasta is cooked, pour [the mixture] into the cup [or bowl] and mix gently. If the sauce is very thick, add a little warm water. Serve sprinkled with more pepper,” Rizzo said.
The conditions in a home kitchen are perfect for making risotto.
A notoriously challenging dish to prepare correctly, risotto can seem out of reach for a home cook without professional training.
But according to chef Mike Brewer of Copper Vine in New Orleans, Louisiana, the most important ingredient in a successful risotto is time, which comes at a premium in restaurant culture but is far more readily available at home.
“I always find risotto a difficult dish to execute at a restaurant. Because of the time required to make a great risotto, most folks don’t want to wait for it to be cooked to order. Risotto takes time and a lot of love to make perfectly, and I can only find that time at home. I use veal demi and fresh mushrooms in my risotto instead of cream. Then to make the dish pop, at the very end, I fold in tons of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Parmesan, parmesan and more parmesan. Super rich, full of umami, and comforting,” Brewer explained.
Deviled eggs were initially devised as a snack for at-home entertaining, and that’s still the best setting in which to enjoy them.
A hand-held treat perfect for summer barbecues and cocktail parties, deviled eggs offer cooks an ideal canvas for customization. When you make them yourself, you have full control over the flavors and garnishes you include.
“Deviled eggs never taste as good at a restaurant or ordering to-go as they do when they’re made in the comfort of your own home. When making deviled eggs, I always use duck eggs. They add an enhanced richness to the overall dish and make all the flavors pop more than a traditional deviled egg,” said corporate chef Quinnton Auston of Louisiana Purchase in San Diego, California.
As for the egg yolk, he told INSIDER that it’s all about hand whisking them.
“That way I’m able to make sure they aren’t over mashed or leave them too thick. You want a slightly creamy and smooth consistency for the yolk. A fun and tasty hack is to implement black truffle, crushed peppercorn and house smoked salt. I’ll add a little cayenne to add an extra kick, which compliments all the flavors. My finishing touch is adding bacon lardon and laying it across the top of the eggs. This gives them a nice rich and clean finish,” Auston added.
Enjoy a crawfish boil at your own home or at the home of a loved one.
Up-cycled versions of regional specialties run rampant throughout restaurant menus these days, but in almost every instance, these homegrown dishes become truly special when you roll up your sleeves and give them a shot yourself.
Chef John Russ of Clementine in San Antonio, Texas told INSIDER that “as a native New Orleanian, I grew up eating crawfish that someone in my family cooked, including uncles, aunts, dad, grandparents, cousins. Each of these people had their very distinct version, but it was always excellent … After leaving New Orleans, I broke down in my weakness and ordered hot boiled crawfish, but was disappointed every time. We did do it better, and you can too. Give it a shot at home, experiment, and the overall experience will help you as a cook in many other ways.”
Thinking about trying a crawfish boil of your very own? Chef Russ has a tip for you.
“Try adding pineapple, artichoke, and chicken wings to simmer in the boil after the crawfish. Throw them on the grill for a second round of gluttony. I do.”