Photo: LauriPatterson/iStock

Garlic is one of the building blocks of cooking, prevalent in almost every cuisine and the ingredient that, oh, about 99 percent of the dishes we cook begin with. But for as cheap and ubiquitous as this onion relative is, it can be a little fussy. Wondering if you're cooking it wrong? Take a look at a dish that you've cooked that includes garlic, and then answer these questions:

  • Are the edges of the sliced or chopped garlic singed and dark brown, and is the overall texture now crunchy?
  • Does the garlic smell acrid and harsh?
  • Does the cooked garlic taste bitter instead of subtle and warm?

If you answered "yes" to any of these, we've got three easy fixes...

Photo: Lynn Andriani

1. Slice it more thickly (or don't slice it at all).
The thicker the slices, the longer they'll take to cook, which can be good insurance against burning—so, if the dish you're making calls for slices, go beyond "paper thin," aiming for slices that are closer to 1/16" thick. And if a recipe says to use minced garlic, try a Microplane grater; it results in tiny, evenly sized pieces of garlic in a fraction of the time it takes to use a knife. Plus, the Microplane helps the garlic retain its moisture—another safeguard against charring.

Photo: Lynn Andriani

2. Cook the garlic for less time.
Raw garlic has an unpleasant bite, so unless you're tempering it with acid (such as with vinegar or lemon juice in a salad dressing) it has to be cooked first—but unlike with onions, less is more. Usually 30 seconds in a bit of oil is all you need for the garlic to turn mellow and to release that scintillating aroma; a minute (if the oil is still heating up), tops. We've found medium heat is best; low heat isn't enough for the garlic to release its flavor into the oil you're cooking it in (the oil's garlicky taste will then permeate the dish), but high heat burns it too quickly.

Photo: Lynn Andriani

3. Have a liquid handy.
The instant the garlic turns lightly golden ("a crucial moment," says Lidia Bastianich), it's time to add a liquid or wet ingredient to the pan. It could be wine or broth, as in this pasta sauce, or tomatoes, such as in this recipe. This immediately lowers the temperature of the pan, so even garlic that's just 20 seconds away from burning will be spared.