10 Baste and Batter Basics: Translating American Cooking Terms for EFL Learners

10 Baste and Batter Basics
Translating American Cooking Terms for EFL Learners

Devon Reeser
by Devon Reeser 3,314 views |

Americans have a very unique way of describing cooking terminology, and their antiquated measurements and onomatopoeia words have infiltrated the English language and taken on additional meanings in every day speech as well.

Explaining terminology, expressions, and measurements that come from American cooking terms can be challenging for the EFL teacher as a result. The best way to teach them is show from where they derived! Hence here are 10 demonstrative and visual ways to show the meaning of cooking-derived terminology for EFL learners.

Present  American Cooking-Derived Terminology

  1. 1


    Mimic lounging in a beach or pool chair in the sun and browning your skin.

    You generally do not really want to turn food brown when you brown! This is very confusing for EFL learners. It is possible that brown meant more like tan in the past, but now it means burnt. For this term, compare it to sunning oneself and getting a tan. We call that browning as well in English. Mimic lounging in a beach or pool chair in the sun and browning your skin. You are really tanning. Hence, browning (meat) will have a connotation in their minds of sun tanning!

  2. 2

    Batter It Up

    Batter is important to teach students because it pops up in a number of different common idioms and clichés. In cooking, it refers to a generally flour based liquid that either coats something or is the base for something, like a cake. This is not easy to understand because batter for fried chicken is very different from batter for chocolate cake! The common connection between the two is that they are bases for a finished product that has to be cooked. So, when we “batter it up”, we are getting something ready to go in the oven, to be finished. Hence put both images in their minds: beating cake batter and slopping batter on chicken. Both batters are gooey preparatory steps to a finished product, and both result in the same comprehension.

  3. 3


    Poaching is referenced often in English idioms. Translate it as “skimming from the top”, with a big spoon or spatula. Then compare it to how we use the term poaching to reference killing animals illegally from someone else’s land, or quasi-stealing. Those hunters are skimming from the top of the water of their neighbors.

  4. 4


    This is another verb referenced often in idioms. Cut garlic or another vegetable into nearly pulverized squares! Be very demonstrative with this one; bring a big knife. You want to show how it is not chopping or cutting, but converting foods into very small pieces. Then ask them to think what “mince words” means.

  5. 5


    Explaining sautéing can be challenging because it is not really an English word. Link it to sauce because the words are so similar. Teach them to make spaghetti sauce, or another similarly globalized food they know. Sauté onions, garlic, and tomatoes to make sauce. The connotation to sauce will help them remember the word and the technique.

  6. 6


    Similarly, puree comes from a foreign language, and its spelling and pronunciation will confuse learners. Create a tongue twister for this one and have them repeat it 10 times. Pure puree promises no pulp, for example. You can also have a fruit prepared in three different ways. For example, bring three bananas, and have one whole, one cut into minced squares, and then one completely pureed into a smooth sauce. Have them literally feel the different textures.

  7. 7

    Dashes and Pinches

    These mean the same in cooking, but it is confusing as they have different meanings in other contexts! Explain dash in its meaning of a punctuation mark, a hyphen, instead of a quick running spurt. Write a sentence on the board with a dash, or tape the dash in between the words if you can. Then literally pinch it out of the sentence with your fingers, and add it to your pot or bowl! It will put a visual in students’ minds of taking a little bit and pinching it into your cooking.

  8. 8

    Cups, Quarts, Gallons

    Four cups makes a quart and four quarts makes a gallon. Instead of translating what the measurements are into the metric system, have four cups, four quarts, and four gallons available and pour water to fill each and show the quantities. Their minds will naturally translate what the measurement equivalent is in metric much better than an equation, and they will have a visual of the words connected to their sizes.

  9. 9

    Tablespoons vs. Teaspoons

    It can be a challenge to remember the difference between the big one and the small one. Put a tablespoon on a table next to a plate if you can, and put a teaspoon in a mug. Explain, tablespoons are big because you want a big spoon on the “table” next to your plate, and teaspoons are small because you only need a small spoon to stir your “tea”.

  10. q

    Pie Plate, Cheesecloth, and Paring Knife

    What about all those other terms that came from special foods cooked in America or Britain? Make an activity where they look for clues in the word phrase to understand the meaning, even if they do not know what paring or a pie is. Ask, “What is a plate?” and then “What kind of special food would you put on a plate?” Have them list all of the special foods that deserve their own plate, and then tell them what a pie is! Do the same for 10 terms that couple common kitchen and cooking items with a special term.

Idioms and special words can be challenging for EFL learners, but they can also be a fun and interactive way to get students to think about English and its roots and ingrain that vocabulary in a more profound way.

Demonstrative activities in the class are a great way to break up intense grammar sessions or other learning as well!

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