Understanding Prep Time in a Recipe

Excitement begins to make your tummy tickle as you scan a new recipe. This is the one, you think to yourself. Not only does it sound good, but also the prep time is only 10 minutes with the cook time at 20 minutes. This is a no-brainer to prepare after work. Home by 5:30pm and eating by 6:15pm.


7:00pm rolls around and you now just have your dish in the oven. I must have made a mistake you think to yourself. Why did it take so long to finish the dish? This better be good! And it was outstanding, just like you thought it would be; you just wish you weren’t still eating at 7:30pm.


It wasn’t the mistake of your preparation or cooking. The misstep might have been understanding the prep time.


I didn’t realize how many people misunderstood prep time until I had friends over to try a dish I was creating for a recipe contest. When I asked someone to start timing me during my prep time, she asked me what I was doing. When I told her, she was surprised. She then talked about her frustration with recipes because it always took her so much longer to prepare a dish then what was stated on the recipe.

Prep time is the time it takes for all the ingredients on the list to be assembled for cooking. Prep time begins before the actual cooking starts. This means if your recipe states this:


4 cloves, minced

4 ounces of whole mushrooms, sliced

1 celery stalk, de-ribbed and chopped

1 medium yellow onion, chopped


The recipe assumes you have all your ingredients in the list prepared and in place before you start the cooking process. The prep time is in assembling the ingredients to be cooked, not the mincing, slicing or chopping.

However, if my recipe calls for an apple to be sliced before cooking, then I might have the ingredients listed like this:


4 cloves, minced

4 ounces of whole mushrooms, sliced

1 celery stalk, de-ribbed and chopped

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 green apple


Then the preparation time would include the time it takes to core and slice the apple in the recipe. There are some ingredients that just can’t be prepared ahead of time.


Knowing this confusion, a lot of the recipes I had created did not include prep time. However, since writing my cookbook I need to list the prep time and cook time.


A tip to figure out how much time it will really take to prep is to time yourself when chopping an onion. Do you use a knife (my favorite because I like the control) or a food processor? If your mindful on how much time it takes for you to mince a garlic, chop an onion, dice a carrot; you can better prepare yourself in the timing it takes to do the actual recipe.


Another tip is doing some of the preparation ahead of time if you know when you are cooking a particular dish. A chopped yellow onion will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. I put the onions in two zipper baggies to try to keep the aroma of the onions from seeping out into my refrigerator. Diced carrots, about 2 weeks. Put the diced carrots in some water to prevent drying out.


I hope this helps in understanding the prep time in a recipe and you find my tips useful.


Until next time, happy creating.

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