Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Kosher Cooking

"Kosher" is a Hebrew word that means "fit," as in "fit to eat." It sounds simple—but the rules about kosher cooking might surprise you. We're demystifying what makes something kosher (so you don't have to!).

The rules that govern kosher cooking and eating are detailed—and we mean detailed. Truly keeping kosher requires rigorous adherence, and in the case of restaurants and commercial kitchens, the careful watch of a religious supervisor to make sure all rules and spiritual laws are followed.

When it comes to keeping kosher, there are plenty of surprises for the uninitiated. Here are just a few:

What Foods Are Kosher?

Ever wonder what’s off-limits if you’re eating kosher? We have a full breakdown of what you can and cannot eat if you’re planning on eating kosher. Do keep in mind, though, that kosher rules can be more or less strict based on different Jewish ethnic cultures and branches of Judaism.

graphic displaying kosher vs non kosher foodsSydney Watson/Taste of Home

Popular kosher foods to enjoy:

  • Beef: Look for cuts like chuck, rib, brisket and plate. Other cuts may or may not be kosher depending on the preparation.
  • Lamb
  • Fish with fins and scales
  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Goose
  • Turkey

Non-kosher foods to avoid:

  • Pork
  • Rabbit
  • Fish without fins and scales, including shellfish like crab and lobster
  • Birds of prey
  • Foods derived from animals that aren’t considered Kosher (like gelatin)
  • Meat and dairy served together

Kosher Food Symbols

When in doubt, look for a label on the packaging marked “K” or “OU” for kosher. These markings by themselves can indicate that the food is pareve—or does not contain meat or dairy. Here are a few additional symbols to look for

  • “M” or “Glatt”: The product contains meat.
  • “F”: The product contains fish.
  • “D” of “DE”: The product contains dairy or was made in an area that handles dairy.
  • “P”: The food is suitable to consume during Passover.

Kosher Kitchen Rules

It’s not only about what foods are kosher, but how they’re prepared. From the slaughterhouse to the kitchen, strict rules of preparation must be followed to ensure food remains kosher. For example, meat and dairy products must never be combined—or even touched by the same utensil, even if that utensil has been washed. Like kosher foods, these kosher kitchen tips are used more or less depending on personal Jewish ethnic cultures and branches of Judaism.

How to keep your kitchen kosher:

  • Use separate meat and dairy dishes, utensils, and cookware and store in designated cabinets. We recommend labeling your cookware or using designated color themes to help separate the two.
  • Prepare meat and dairy dishes on different countertop spaces.
  • Store open containers of meat and dairy products on separate shelves in the fridge or freezer.
  • Avoid using the oven and microwave for meat and dairy dishes at the same time.
  • Don’t wash meat and dairy dishes at the same time—and use separate cleaning utensils.
  • If using a dishwasher, clean dishwasher between meat and dairy dish washes.
  • Use separate tablecloths, napkins and other place settings for meat and dairy dishes.
  • Consult your Rabbi on any other kitchen tips (and to kosher your kitchen.)
  • Load up on these kosher snacks to stay satiated between meals.

Not Everyone Keeps Kosher

As with every religion, there are those who follow the text literally, those who loosely follow it and those who fall somewhere in between. In the U.S., 22% of Jewish people consider themselves Orthodox—a group that knows the rules and follows them to the letter.

Others identifying as Conservative know the rules and follow many, making exceptions as necessary. Reformists, the most populous denomination in the United States, may or may not know all of the rules. They follow them according to what feels appropriate in a given context—or not at all.

There’s an Additional Level of Kosher for Passover

During the eight days of Passover, an additional set of kosher rules apply, which are primarily to avoid any food that contains leavening. Matzo is eaten during Passover because it’s unleavened bread.

In addition, to be kosher for Passover, food purchased from a store must be certified as “kosher for Passover,” and food that is not kosher for Passover must be segregated from food that is.

If you’re hosting your first Passover seder, check out our first-timer’s planning guide here. Also, be sure to browse our selection of Passover chicken dishes and top them off with one of our favorite Kosher wines for your seder dinner, too.

Any Cuisine Can be Made Kosher

Kosher food doesn’t have to be Jewish, and Jewish food doesn’t have to be kosher. Pretty much any style or type of cuisine can be made kosher with the proper ingredients and set-up in the kitchen. In fact, you can find kosher Chinese restaurants in New York City, where there are hundreds of kosher restaurants.

“Kosher-Style Cooking” Is Different Than Eating Kosher

There’s also kosher-style cooking, which you can think of as “kosher-ish.” Think brisket, homemade bagels and lox. Kosher-style cooking can include any dish that celebrates Jewish culture or that you might associate with Jewish cuisine, but may not follow traditional kosher rules. Many restaurants coin this term to any dish that is related to Jewish cuisine, so if you’re eating kosher, be sure to ask your waiter before ordering.

Try These Kosher Foods
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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly in The Huffington Post as well as a variety of other publications since 2008 on such topics as life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. She is also a writer of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.