Thanks to addicting cooking shows and recipe tutorials, it can be easy to get a little too ambitious in the kitchen at times. Sure, making everything from scratch is bound to be tasty, but is it always worth the extra time and effort?
When it comes to cooking “shortcuts,” some kitchen conveniences are better than others. And if I’m being honest, some should be avoided altogether. We’ve gathered a collection of insidious shortcut foods that you should leave on the grocery store shelfs, and those that are actually worth stocking up on.
Jarred Vs. Fresh Minced Garlic: Worth It
Assuming you don’t have a garlic press that minces garlic in seconds, it’s hard to beat jarred garlic. Jarred garlic is convenient, lasts longer, and saves a ton of time.
Jarred garlic does have a slightly milder flavor than fresh. Still, you wouldn’t be looking for shortcuts if you weren’t short on time, right? And in dishes with many ingredients and flavors, no one will notice if fresh garlic isn’t used.
Say goodbye to breaking, peeling, and chopping tiny, sticky garlic cloves. Just scoop, plop in the pan, and you’re done.
Bottled Vs. Lemon And Lime Juice: Not Worth It
Whether in cooking, baking, or cocktails, it’s best to stick with real lemons and limes. Pre-bottled juices might be tempting, but this shortcut falls considerably short.
These juices are often full of sulfites and preservatives to make the juice last longer. Despite this, the juice still ages poorly and tastes worse over time.
Moreover, it’s usually cheaper to buy fresh lemons and limes than pre-bottled juice. When stored in the fridge, the citruses can last almost a whole month.
Premade Guacamole Vs. Homemade: Worth It
Listen, in a perfect world, every avocado we go to cut will be at its peak ripeness. But somehow, avocados know when you’re in a time crunch, and they’ll do everything they can to not be ripe or worse, overripe when you need them.
While homemade guacamole is great, there are many tasty premade options on the market that are sure to please your party guests. Store-bought guac also lasts much longer in the fridge, which is a serious blessing if you’re the only avocado lover in the house.
Dried Herbs Vs. Fresh: Not Worth It
With so many earthy, sweet, and savory flavors to choose from, herbs can elevate a dish to a whole new level. Fresh herbs can be the star of the show, offering a lively zing and dimension.
Dried herbs, though? Well, they’re more like the understudy everyone prays won’t get a chance to perform. Sure, they play the part relatively well. But there’s something off about the product.
Dried herbs go stale fairly quickly, making their already-high price that much more expensive. Do yourself a favor, and stick with fresh. No gardens are necessary—just head to the produce aisle.
Premade Pie Crust Vs. Homemade: Worth It
If you weren’t in a time crunch, I would say that there’s something fulfilling about making a pie from crust to filling. But from the taster’s perspective, store-bought and homemade crusts are virtually the same.
Premade crusts are especially handy if you’re making multiple pies. And while gluten-free pie crusts are not impossible to make, they are finicky. A store-bought crust will likely save you a major headache in the long run.
Premade graham cracker crusts are also great for quick cheesecakes and no-bake cakes. Because who has time to smash a million graham crackers (and clean up the mess)? Not you.
Store-Bought Tortillas Vs. Homemade: Worth It
It’s important to note that this list is for shortcuts only. If you have the time to make homemade tortillas, by all means, go for it.
But take this as a sign to not stress yourself out over not having time to make fresh tortillas. The process is fairly simple but messy and time-consuming. In a pinch, the small improvement in flavor just isn’t worth the trouble.
Besides, it’s what’s inside the tortilla that counts, anyway.
Powdered Ginger And Cardamom Vs. Fresh: Not Worth It
Not all grocery stores offer fresh ginger root and cardamom pods. In some parts of the country, the ground version is the only option.
But if you have the option, it’s better to go with fresh. Powdered ginger and cardamom really can’t compare to the real deal. Powdered flavors are more subtle and offer a less zingy mouthfeel.
Plus, just because it’s fresh doesn’t mean it isn’t long-lasting. It’s incredibly easy to freeze ginger and cardamom pods can last up to six months.
Premade Marinara Vs. Homemade Sauce: Worth It
Somewhere, my Italian ancestors are rolling in their graves. But if you’re short on time and cooking for a small crowd, go ahead and buy the premade marinara.
Like with tortillas, there will be many diehards who believe homemade pasta sauce is the only way to go. But when put to a blind taste test, few people would be able to tell the difference between store-bought or homemade marinara.
And, just like tortillas, it’s what’s inside the sauce that counts, anyway.
Premade Balsamic Vinaigrette Vs. Homemade: Not Worth It
Balsamic vinaigrette is a fairly divisive flavor. It’s a tart mixture of tangy, sweet, sour, and spicy. The balance between the vinegar, spices, honey, oil, and mustard varies between premade brands.
You can customize homemade vinaigrette to your guests’ taste—a little less sour, a bit more spice, etc. The dressing takes roughly five minutes to make (and that’s a generous estimate).
Plus, you don’t have to worry about buying plain balsamic vinegar and vinaigrette. And that’s just smart shopping.
Canned Beans Vs. Dry Beans: Worth It
Dry beans give you more control over the final flavor. Unlike canned beans, you can control the amount of sodium and other spices in dry beans. But in a pinch? Go ahead and skip it—those dry beans will be more useful for your pies’ blind bakes.
Canned beans require very little cooking. All they need is quick warming in a pot, and they’re ready to eat. Simply rinse the canned beans in cold water, and add to chili, soups, salads, side dishes, or enjoy on their own with a little seasoning.