Top 29 Essential Chef Terms

Alright class, today, we're going to go over some essential chef terminology. 

You may have heard of the saying, "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck." Well... if you look like a chef and can speak chef.. well, that doesn't quite make you a chef, but it's better than nothing! 


1. Al dente

Literally meaning "at the tooth" in Italian, al dente refers to what is believed to be the perfect texture for pasta, in which it maintains a little bit of firmness. You're cooking pasta, not Jell-O.

Food for Thought Blog: Essential Chef Terminology by Barbecues Galore


2. Amuse bouche

With the French translation being "to amuse the mouth", this type of dish is a small and bite-sized, yet full of flavour. It is meant to... well, amuse your mouth, while it waits for the main courses of your dinner.

3. Au gratin

This refers to when you sprinkle your dish with grated cheese or breadcrumbs, and then brown them, often with a torch. This technique is quite popular with desserts, as it adds an extra flavour and brings the dish to the next level.

4. Au jus

Translating to French again, this means "with juice", and refers to the food being served with it's own natural juices, especially with a nice juicy steak.

5. Basting

This is a cooking technique that involves brushing or coating a meat in its juice or the sauce you're cooking it in. Doing so keeps the meat moist, which is especially helpful when you're cooking something for a long time. 

Need a new basting brush? Click here to see our selection.


6. Braising

You likely already know this one, but we'll go over it anyway just in case you're a rookie. Braising is a technique where the food is seared at a high temperature and then fully cooked in liquid that will often have other ingredients to elevate the flavours of your dish. This keeps your dish moist and aromatic and is definitely a favourable method for cooking things low and slow so that your meets don't dry out. 

7. Broiling

This is a term derived in the US that refers to cooking with the heat source that is above the food, rather than below. 

8. Butterfly

This is when you split the food in half but do not cut all the way through, instead you cut it just enough to fold it out into a "butterfly" shape. Chefs will do this to expose more surface area to a heat source, which will help cook the food faster and more evenly. 

9. Coddling

No we aren't referring to helicopter parents - this is when you cook your food in water to just below the boiling point. 

10. Deglaze

Have you ever cooked something in a pan and had a bunch of your food stuck to it? Instead of scraping the food off, throwing it out, and potentially ruining your pan in the process, pour some stock or other liquid in it over high heat. Doing so will release any flavour and colour that is stock to the bottom, which works great for making sauces or even gravies.

A great chef never wastes food. It's like a painter who throws out all their paint every time they finish a painting. 

11. Double Steaming - 双蒸 (Shuāng Zhēng)

This is a Chinese cooking technique that is used to cook delicate foods, in which the food is immersed in water and then steamed for several hours.

12. Fermentation

Not only is this used in the process to brew your favorite beer, fermentation is also used as a food preservation method where sour foods can produce lactic acid in order to stay edible. Fermentation is commonly used in Korean kimchi and Chinese kombucha tea.

13. Ganache

Ganache refers to a combination of cream or milk that is mixed with melted chocolate, which in turn creates a soft consistency that does not re-set when cooled. 

14. Julienne

This is a fancy French term for cutting foods into long thin strips, most often done with vegetables. It gets its name from a soup, presumably created by a chef named Julienne, that used this method. 

15. Kneading

When creating dough, mix water and flour to start a chemical reaction that will give a desirable texture and firmness to the dough. You must knead the mixture by stretching, folding and pressing it multiple times to create an elastic and smooth dough that you can easily manipulate.

16. The Maillard Reaction

This "reaction" is not the surprised face of some dude name Maillard. Although your guests will be surprised when you pull this off right. The Maillard reaction refers to the chemical reaction in food items between amino acids and sugars when they're heated. The chemical reaction is what gets your meat, dough, fries, and more that rich flavour when they brown or darken. 

Remember the wise words of Gordon Ramsay himself. "No colour, no flavour". 

17. Marinating 

We're calling all rookies back to read this one. Marinating is when you place a food in a liquid or sauce (a.k.a. a marinade) for  significant amount of time before cooking for it so that it has time to soak up all the delicious flavours. This process will also help tenderize your meats.

18. Omakase - お任せ (O-Makase)

The literal translation of this Japanese term is "I'll leave it to you", and it refers to the chef choosing what food will be served, rather than a customer choosing themselves. 


19. Pasteurize 

Chef's do this to sterilize milk by heating it up and rapidly cooling it immediately after.


20. Poaching

Poaching is a cooking technique in which foods are slowly simmered in liquid.


21. Purée

A purée is a mixture that has been blended or sieving finely in order to remove lumps, seeds, and other unwanted components


22. Reduction

You may have come across the term "reducing wine" while watching cooking videos. This doesn't mean "using less wine" - you better not be wasting that precious juice for adults. Reduction is the process of thickening and intensifying the flavours of a liquid mixture, such as sauces and wine, by simmering or boiling the water out of the mixture. 


23. Rotisserie

We all know this one - rotisserie describes food that is often skewered on a long rod and cooked as the food spins in place to evenly heat the food. 


24. Roux

This refers to a blend of flour and oil or butter that gets heated and used as a thickening agent in sauces and gravies. Next time you braise a brisket, save that liquid and add a roux to it to make the most deliciously compatible gravy for your meat. 


25. Sautée

 This is classically done with items like onions and mushrooms on a burger - it means to lightly fry food in a little bit of fat over high heat and get Milliard reaction (to get it golden brown) 


26. Searing

This is also an age old cooking technique in which the surface of your food, like a big juicy steak, is cooked at extremely high temperatures. Doing so will caramelize the surface area, which helps to trap the moisture in the food as you move onto the next step. The food is then usually finished by grilling, braising, or roasting. 



27. Truss

This refers to when you skewer meat and tie it up while it cooks in order to keep its shape. 


28. Whip

No we aren't referring to what a the kids would say when they're talking about their new car. When a chef says "check out my whip", they're showing off their ability to incorporate air into an ingredient, like eggs or cream, by quickly whisking it so that they can get their desired volume and consistency.


29. Zesting

This is a technique where a chef lightly grates small pieces of the peel of a citrus fruit to add colour and flavour to their dish. Be sure to not grate too far into the peel, or else you'll end up getting the bitter part you don't want. 


Alright, now that you know the most essential chef terms, as well as a couple words in different languages, you're ready to start your journey as a true gourmand. 

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