What You're Cooking: The Most Popular Posts of 2016

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

It's been a big year for us at Serious Eats. We celebrated our 10-year anniversary, introduced video content to the site, produced dozens of new episodes of our podcast, Special Sauce, welcomed Stella Parks as our recipe developer for all things pastry, and had our biggest year of traffic yet. From an epic guide to all things steak to myth-busting cooking techniques to a takedown of America's favorite cooking appliance, here are the articles you clicked on most in 2016.

22 Supermarket Items You Should Leave on the Shelf (and What to Get Instead)

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[Photograph: Shutterstock]

From hot sauce to jam, there are plenty of supermarket products that we rely on to make faster work of our favorite recipes. But sometimes, taking the storebought route also means sacrificing the quality of the final dish. It isn't always easy to know which items to leave on the shelf, or how to best substitute them if you do, which is why we've done the legwork for you. From jarred garlic to pre-grated cheese, here are 22 common supermarket ingredients that you should never put in your cart, along with suggestions on what to look for instead.

Find out what foods and ingredients to cut from your shopping list »

Stew Science: Why You Shouldn't Cook Your Beef All Day

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Conventional wisdom dictates that cooking beef for a virtually indefinite period of time is key to making the most tender and flavorful stew. The reality, though, isn't nearly as pretty—think hours of hard work in exchange for dry, pulpy meat in an albeit flavor-packed sauce. We tested beef at consistent cooking intervals to find the perfect intersection of taste and texture. The good news? Making the best beef stew doesn't take nearly as long as we once thought.

Discover the better route to rich and tender beef stews »

Great Hummus and the Science of Smooth

Ever notice that storebought hummus tends to be far smoother than most homemade renditions? We set out to replicate that flawless texture while improving on its flavor, and learned some great tricks along the way. From puréeing garlic directly in lemon juice to overcooking dried chickpeas with a dash of baking soda, these steps will transform your homemade hummus, while still allowing you to customize it with any additional flavors you desire.

Read on for our go-to tips for the best Israeli-style hummus »

Follow These Rules For the Best Fried Rice

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

If the only fried rice you've been eating comes from takeout (or takeout leftovers), you're in for a treat: not only can you make it with almost any variety of rice, but it doesn't even have to be days old to excel in this classic rendition. We'll walk you through selecting and prepping your rice of choice, our preferred technique for cooking it, and how to strike the perfect balance of seasoning. The result? Pleasantly crisp, perfectly balanced fried rice that isn't clumpy, greasy, or soaked in soy sauce.

Learn how to make better-than-takeout fried rice at home »

How to Make Rich, Flavorful Caramel Without Melting Sugar

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

We love melty, syrupy caramel as much as the next guy or gal, but what if we told you it was possible to capture all the toasty, subtly bitter complexity of caramel without making a sauce? This technique, which calls for toasting sugar in the oven at a low 300°F (150°C) for anywhere from two to five hours, results in a richly caramel-flavored sugar with a subdued sweetness. Unlike true caramel, you can use it as a one-to-one substitute for plain sugar--it's key to our Perfect Swiss Meringue, but it'll play just as well in coffee or your favorite batch of cookies.

Follow these simple steps for mess-free caramel flavor »

The Serious Eats Definitive Guide to Steak

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We've been honing our steak recipes and techniques for years, exhaustively testing every cooking myth and recipe trick in the book. This year, our editorial and product teams collaborated to launch this interactive guide to shopping for and cooking our go-to cuts of steak, whether you're using a sous vide circulator, grill, frying pan, or smoker. Learn about classic butcher's cuts and filter them by cooking method to find the perfect recipe, each and every time.

Check out our exhaustive guide to steak »

What Is American Cheese, Anyway?

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Is American cheese even cheese? Why does it melt so damn well? Is it any better or worse for you than other cheeses? These, and all your other pressing questions, are answered in this close look at the iconic yellow square. Love it or hate it, you may as well get to know it just a little better.

Get the full scoop on American cheese »

The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Sous Vide Smoked Brisket

Brisket is a tough, lean cut of meat, which means it's exceptionally tricky to get moist, tender results. Sous vide cooking isn't exactly true barbecue, but it does promise far more reliable, downright delicious results when it comes to this particular cut. Once the brisket has cooked to the proper temperature in a water bath, we finish it off on the grill or in the oven, for a dark, flavorful bark, intensely smoky flavor, and melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Learn everything there is to know about sous vide smoked brisket »

How to Seal Foods Airtight Without a Vacuum Sealer

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There are a lot of reasons to remove all the air from a plastic bag, whether you're sealing food for freezer storage, sous-vide cooking, or a marinade. It's an easy task to perform with a vacuum sealer, but if you don't have one, don't despair: all you really need is a zipper-lock bag and a tub (or pot) of water to get extremely similar results.

Find out how to get a tight sous vide-worthy seal with a zipper-lock bag »

How to Roast the Best Potatoes of Your Life

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Truly excellent roast potatoes are hard to come across. They should emerge from the oven—and then, crucially, stay—crisp on the outside, with a tender, creamy center. Our method calls for large chunks of potato, which maximizes that textural contrast, along with a garlic- and herb-infused oil for added flavor. But the real trick is parboiling the potatoes in alkaline water to help break down their exteriors, maximizing surface area and crunch.

Check out our go-to methods for crisp-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside, all-around perfect roast potatoes »

Why Anything Slow Cookers Can Do, Others Can Do Better

Slow-cookers are one of the most popular cooking appliances out there, and it's easy to understand why: set it, forget it, and enjoy a hot, satisfying meal hours later, no supervision or stirring required. Unfortunately, we're hard-pressed to think of more than one or two instances where a slow-cooker is a better option than a pressure cooker or Dutch oven. We performed dozens of side-by-side tests to illustrate just what characteristics are sacrificed when you opt for a slow-cooker, and just how easy it is to get better results with little to no extra labor.

Read on to see why we're saying so long to slow-cookers »

2 Roads to Gooey, Stretchy, Extra-Cheesy Baked Mac and Cheese

Stovetop mac and cheese is all well and good. But transfer it to the oven with a breadcrumb topping, and you have something extra special: all that rich, creamy, cheesy pasta with a bubbly, browned, crunchy crust for contrast. Plus, it's easy to make in bulk and forgiving (dare we say better?) if you overcook your pasta. Even better, we've given you not one, but two methods to get there. The first takes a traditional béchamel-based route; the second embraces the melt-enhancing properties of sodium citrate, allowing you to give virtually any cheese a Velveeta-like texture. The choice may be yours, but you'd be hard-pressed to go wrong.

See our recipes for the very best crisp-topped baked mac and cheese »

The Right Way to Use a Meat Thermometer

If you're not already using a good digital thermometer to check the temperature of any red meat, poultry, or seafood you cook, take a moment to do a little research and buy one: it is THE only way to guarantee your food will be properly cooked. But assuming you have one, you may still be a little unsure of the best way to use them—and yes, a best way does exist. This handy guide will guarantee you make the most of your investment.

Make sure you never check a roast the wrong way again »