Career Development

What Does a Prep Cook Do?

Find out what a prep cook does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a prep cook.

Prep cooks are the backbone of many restaurants, hotels and other food service establishments. They’re responsible for preparing all of the ingredients that will be used in cooking dishes later on. This includes chopping vegetables, washing produce, butchering meat, etc.

Prep cooks may also be tasked with assembling ingredients into individual portions or containers before they’re sent to the line cook or chef.

Prep Cook Job Duties

A prep cook typically has a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Maintaining food safety standards by following proper food preparation procedures and using safe food handling equipment
  • Preparing food ingredients such as chopping vegetables, dicing meats, or blending ingredients for sauces or marinades
  • Cleaning kitchen equipment and work areas
  • Following recipe instructions and measuring ingredients precisely to prepare food items such as soups, stews, sauces, and salads
  • Preparing food that has been ordered by customers who are seated at the restaurant’s bar or waiting in line for a table
  • Preparing a variety of foods such as sandwiches, pizzas, and salads according to established recipes and serving them to customers
  • Stocking kitchen pantries with food items such as flour, sugar, and spices
  • Preparing food in large quantities for banquets and parties
  • Storing food in refrigerators and freezers until it is ready to be served or sold to customers

Prep Cook Salary & Outlook

The salary of a prep cook can vary depending on their level of experience, the type of restaurant they work in, and the location of the restaurant.

  • Median Annual Salary: $27,500 ($13.22/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $49,500 ($23.8/hour)

The employment of prep cooks is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade.

The need for food preparation workers will increase as more restaurants offer takeout and delivery services. Preparing food for takeout requires less space than preparing food for dine-in customers, so some restaurants may hire prep cooks to prepare food for takeout and delivery.

Related: In-Depth Prep Cook Salary Guide

Prep Cook Job Requirements

A prep cook typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Most employers require a minimum of a high school diploma or GED. Some employers prefer a minimum of an associate’s degree in culinary arts. Courses in food preparation, nutrition, business, accounting and management can help prepare you for a career as a prep cook.

Training & Experience: Most prep cooks learn the specific skills and techniques they need for their role while on the job. Training typically includes shadowing another prep cook and performing duties under supervision until they are comfortable enough to complete tasks on their own. Training often also includes learning about the computer systems and software the restaurant uses to keep track of inventory and orders.

Certifications & Licenses: Prep cooks do not require any certifications or certifications to earn their position. However, some states require food handlers’ licenses for employees who will be handling food for public consumption. Prep cooks who want to grow into more advanced positions may pursue a certification in basic cooking techniques or a specialty area such as baking or pastry.

Prep Cook Skills

Prep cooks need the following skills in order to be successful:

Food safety: Food safety is an important skill for a prep cook to have. They should be able to follow proper food safety practices to ensure the food they prepare is safe for consumption. This includes following proper hand washing procedures, keeping food at the proper temperatures and properly storing food.

Communication: Communication is another important skill for a prep cook to have, as it allows them to work with other kitchen staff and restaurant patrons. They should be able to clearly relay messages to their coworkers and supervisors, and they should be able to answer any questions that patrons may have about the menu or the restaurant.

Attention to detail: Attention to detail is another important skill for a prep cook to have. This is because they often handle food and ingredients that are meant to be consumed by others. Prep cooks should be able to handle food and ingredients with care and ensure that they are properly stored and labeled.

Teamwork: Prep cooks often work in a team environment, so it’s important for them to be able to work with others. This can include working with other prep cooks, line cooks and other kitchen staff. Being able to work with others can help you learn new skills, solve problems and complete tasks more efficiently.

Adaptability: The duties of a prep cook can change quickly depending on the needs of the kitchen. Being adaptable means being able to change your focus and complete new tasks as they arise. This can help you stay engaged and productive throughout your shift.

Prep Cook Work Environment

Prep cooks typically work in the kitchen of a restaurant, where they are responsible for preparing food for the cooks to cook. They typically work the same hours as the cooks, which can be long and irregular, and may include nights, weekends, and holidays. The work can be physically demanding, as prep cooks are often required to stand for long periods of time and to lift and carry heavy pots and pans. The work can also be stressful, as prep cooks must often work quickly and under pressure to keep up with the demands of the cooks and the customers.

Prep Cook Trends

Here are three trends influencing how prep cooks work. Prep cooks will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Growth of Plant-Based Diets

The growth of plant-based diets is a trend that is quickly gaining popularity across the globe. This is due to the many health benefits associated with a plant-based diet, such as reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.

As more and more people adopt this lifestyle, restaurants will need to hire prep cooks who are familiar with preparing plant-based dishes. Prep cooks can utilize this trend by learning how to prepare healthy and delicious plant-based meals that appeal to all tastes.

More Focus on Local Ingredients

Local ingredients are becoming increasingly popular in the culinary world, as chefs and restaurant owners strive to use products that are grown or produced close to home. This trend is likely to continue as people become more interested in where their food comes from and how it is made.

Preparation cooks who are able to work with local ingredients will be in high demand, as they will be able to create dishes that reflect the unique flavors of their region. They will also be able to source ingredients that are fresher and more seasonal, which is always a plus for diners.

Healthier Options Are Becoming More Popular

As the population becomes more health-conscious, restaurants are beginning to offer healthier options on their menus. This is leading to an increased demand for prep cooks who can prepare these items.

Preparation cooks who are able to work with healthy ingredients will be in high demand, as they will be able to help restaurants create menu items that meet the needs of their customers. In addition, they will be able to help create recipes that are both tasty and nutritious.

How to Become a Prep Cook

A career as a cook is full of opportunities for growth. You can move up the ranks from line cook to chef, or you can specialize in a particular area of cooking. You can also become a food writer or blogger, or create your own cooking show.

No matter which path you choose, it’s important to stay up-to-date on culinary trends and techniques. Read cookbooks and magazines, watch cooking shows on TV, and try new recipes at home. Attend cooking classes and workshops, and network with other cooks.

Related: How to Write a Prep Cook Resume

Advancement Prospects

There are many ways to advance in the field of cooking, but most of them require hard work, dedication, and a passion for the culinary arts. The most common way to advance is to move up the ladder in a restaurant, from prep cook to line cook to sous chef to executive chef. This progression usually takes several years, and requires a great deal of experience and skill.

Another way to advance is to open one’s own restaurant. This is a risky proposition, but can be very rewarding if done successfully. It is also possible to advance by becoming a food critic, food writer, or cooking instructor. These positions usually require a great deal of knowledge and experience, as well as a strong writing or teaching ability.

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