Cooks prepare, season, and cook a wide range of foods.
What they do
Cooks typically do the following:
- Ensure the freshness of food and ingredients
- Weigh, measure, and mix ingredients according to recipes
- Bake, grill, or fry meats, fish, vegetables, and other foods
- Boil and steam meats, fish, vegetables, and other foods
- Arrange, garnish, and sometimes serve food
- Clean work areas, equipment, utensils, and dishes
- Cook, handle, and store food or ingredients
Cooks usually work under the direction of chefs, head cooks, or food service managers. Large restaurants and food service establishments often have multiple menus and large kitchen staffs. Teams of restaurant cooks, sometimes called assistant cooks or line cooks, work at assigned stations equipped with the necessary types of stoves, grills, pans, and ingredients.
Job titles often reflect the principal ingredient cooks prepare or the type of cooking they do—vegetable cook, fry cook, or grill cook, for example.
Cooks use a variety of kitchen equipment, including broilers, grills, slicers, grinders, and blenders.
The responsibilities of cooks vary depending on the type of food service establishment, the size of the facility, and the level of service offered. However, in all establishments, they follow sanitation procedures when handling food. For example, they store food and ingredients at the correct temperatures to prevent bacterial growth.
The following are examples of types of cooks:
Restaurant cooks prepare a wide selection of dishes and cook most orders individually. Some restaurant cooks may order supplies and help maintain the stock room.
Fast-food cooks prepare a limited selection of menu items in fast-food restaurants. They cook and package food, such as hamburgers and fried chicken, to be kept warm until served. For more information on workers who prepare and serve items in fast-food restaurants, see the profiles on food preparation workers and food and beverage serving and related workers.
Institution and cafeteria cooks work in the kitchens of schools, cafeterias, businesses, hospitals, and other institutions. Although they typically prepare a large quantity of a limited number of entrees, vegetables, and desserts, according to preset menus, they do sometimes customize meals according to diners’ dietary considerations.
Short-order cooks prepare foods in restaurants and coffee shops that emphasize fast service and quick food preparation. They usually prepare sandwiches, fry eggs, and cook french fries, often working on several orders at the same time.
Private household cooks, sometimes called personal chefs, plan and prepare meals in private homes, according to the client’s tastes and dietary needs. They order groceries and supplies, clean the kitchen, and wash dishes and utensils. They also may cater parties, holiday meals, luncheons, and other social events. Private household cooks typically work full-time for one client, although many are self-employed or employed by an agency, regularly making meals for multiple clients.
Cooks work in restaurants, schools, hospitals, hotels, and other establishments where food is prepared and served. They often prepare only part of a dish and coordinate with other cooks and kitchen workers to complete meals on time. Some work in private homes.
Cooks stand for long periods and work under pressure in a fast-paced environment. Although most cooks work indoors in kitchens, some may work outdoors at food stands, at catered events, or in mobile food trucks.
How to become a Cook
Most cooks learn their skills through on-the-job training and work-related experience. Although no formal education is required, some restaurant cooks and private household cooks attend culinary schools. Others attend vocational or apprenticeship programs.
Vocational cooking schools, professional culinary institutes, and some colleges offer culinary programs for aspiring cooks. These programs generally last from a few months to 2 years and may offer courses in advanced cooking techniques, international cuisines, and various cooking styles. To enter these programs, candidates may be required to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Depending on the type and length of the program, graduates generally qualify for entry-level positions as a restaurant cook.
Most cooks learn their skills through on-the-job training, usually lasting a few weeks. Trainees generally first learn kitchen basics and workplace safety and then learn how to handle and cook food.
Some cooks learn through an apprenticeship program. Professional culinary institutes, industry associations, and trade unions may sponsor such programs for cooks. Typical apprenticeships last 1 year and combine technical training and work experience.
Apprentices’ complete courses in food sanitation and safety, basic knife skills, and equipment operation. They also learn practical cooking skills under the supervision of an experienced chef.
The American Culinary Federation accredits many academic training programs and sponsors apprenticeships through these programs around the country.
The median hourly wage for cooks was $12.67 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.06, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.27.
Overall employment of cooks is projected to grow 10 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Individual growth rates will vary by specialty.
Population and income growth are expected to result in greater consumer demand for food at a variety of dining places. People will continue to eat out, buy takeout meals, or have food delivered. In response to increased consumer demand, more restaurants, cafeterias, and catering services will open and serve more meals. These establishments will require more cooks to prepare meals for customers.
In addition, consumers continue to prefer healthier foods and faster service in restaurants, grocery stores, and other dining venues. To prepare high quality meals at these places, many managers and chefs will require experienced cooks, such as restaurant cooks.
Similar Job Titles
Deep Fat Fryer Operator, Fast Food Cook, Fry Cook, Fryer, Grill Cook, Line Cook, Pizza Cook, Pizza Maker, Prep Cook, Appetizer Preparer, Back Line Cook, Banquet Cook, Breakfast Cook, Broil Cook, Cafeteria Cook, Dietary Cook, Dinner Cook, Food Service Specialist, Food Service Worker, School Cook, Sous Chef, Caterer, Deli Cook, Food and Beverage Attendant, Grill Cook, Line Cook, Short Order Cook, Snack Bar Cook
Food Preparation Worker, Baker, Butcher and Meat Cutter, Cleaning/Washing/Metal Pickling Equipment Operator and Tender
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Culinary Federation
- International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education
- National Restaurant Association
- National Restaurant Association
- School Nutrition Association
Magazines and Publications
- KTCHN Rebel Magazine
- Art Culinaire Magazine
- Food and Beverage Magazine
- Chef Publishing
- The Art of Eating Magazine
- Food and Wine Magazine
- Cooks Illustrated Magazine
The human need for nourishment— and the pleasure of a good meal— cannot be overstated. The cooks who prepare those meals– from elegant restaurant dining to fast food production- have fast-paced careers with more facets than you might expect. Under the direction of chefs or food service managers, cooks follow recipes to prepare restaurant-sized portions. They measure and mix ingredients to create their assigned menu items, and may garnish them to be served. Items may range from breakfast omelets to salads, steaks and desserts. They keep their work areas and equipment clean, following safe food handling procedures. Cooks use a variety of equipment, including blenders, stoves, grills, many different pans, and sharp knives. Some kitchens employ many cooks, each assigned a particular area such as fry cook, vegetable cook, or others. Some cooks order supplies and plan the daily menu. In a fast-food setting, cooks prepare a limited menu to be kept warm until sold. Cafeteria cooks usually prepare a large quantity of a limited number of items, with a menu that changes regularly. Short-order cooks emphasize fast service and quick preparation, with items such as eggs, sandwiches and French fries on the menu. Private household cooks, also known as personal chefs, prepare meals according to a client’s preferences. They order groceries and supplies, clean the kitchen, and may cater social events. Most cooks work full time in shifts that may include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Cooks in schools and institutional cafeterias usually work more regular hours. Cooks stand much of the time, and —at rush times— experience high intensity in close quarters to produce meals quickly. Falls, burns, and cuts are hazards of this field. Most cooks learn their skills on the job. Although no formal education is required, some cooks attend culinary training programs of between 2 months and 2 years, while others learn through a 1-year apprenticeship.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org