What does a prep cook do?

A prep cook may play a supporting role in the kitchen, but their job is just as important as anyone else’s. Almost every chef and line cook has spent time as a prep cook before moving their way up the ranks. Without prep cooks, the line cooks’ jobs would be much harder. But what does a prep cook do, exactly?

The short answer is that they prepare ingredients that higher-up cooks and chefs need to make the dishes for the customers. When a chef finds a prep cook who is a good fit for their kitchen, they want to keep them around.

Prep cooks are in high demand, and if you’re interested in the role, you’re in luck — there are lots of high-paying prep cook positions available right now on Instawork. But what does a prep cook’s day-to-day look like? How much does a prep cook earn? And what skills does a prep cook need? Find out the answers to all these questions and more below.

What does a prep cook do?

“Prep” is short for prepare or preparation, and that is exactly what a prep cook does. A prep cook follows a “prep list” created by the chef. This “prep list” contains all the food items that need to be prepared for the kitchen that day. The prep cook works with the head chef throughout the shift to complete tasks in the right order and on time.

Because they are preparing the food for that day, a prep cook is often the first person in the kitchen. Depending on when the restaurant opens, this could be very early in the morning. The preparation that a prep cook does can vary greatly, from chopping vegetables and grating cheese to portioning out meat and fish. Prep cooks will also prepare parts of dishes for the kitchen, like sauces, soups, and salad dressings.

And prep cooks don’t only prepare food. They also help clean the kitchen and keep it organized. A prep cook will help put away deliveries, for example, and they may also be expected to help the dishwashers when needed. As a result, being a prep cook is a labor-intensive job. Prep cooks also spend many hours on their feet and are sometimes required to lift and move heavy objects. By the end of the shift, you can end up getting quite the workout!

What are a prep cook’s responsibilities?

A professional kitchen has rules that must be followed to make sure everything runs smoothly. One important thing to note when answering the question “What does a prep cook do?” is that the prep cook doesn’t only prepare food. They also play an important role in the organization and operation of the kitchen. As a result, a prep cook has multiple responsibilities in the kitchen. These might include:

  • Washing and preparing fresh foods
  • Preparing cooked foods for consumption later
  • Keeping to food safety standards
  • Labeling and organizing prepared food
  • Rotating and organizing stock to keep to First In First Out (FIFO) principles
  • Keeping the walk-in refrigerator organized
  • Filling the line cook’s station
  • Keeping dry storage organized
  • Performing cleaning tasks around the kitchen as needed
  • Helping the dishwasher

A prep cook’s responsibilities can change from one kitchen to another, but the above list should give you a pretty good idea of a prep cook’s typical responsibilities.

What education does a prep cook need?

There usually aren’t any necessary education qualifications for getting a job as a prep cook. A business may require the applicant to have a high school diploma or GED, but this isn’t always the case. They may also require prep cook candidates to have previous experience in a kitchen. It’s important for prep cooks to have a good knowledge of the foods used in the kitchen they are working in.

A prep cook does not need any formal training as the skills needed can be learned on the job. Being a prep cook is a necessary stepping stone on the way to being a line cook or a chef. As a prep cook, you will learn and sharpen the basic skills necessary for becoming a line cook. If working your way up the kitchen hierarchy sounds like a good fit for you, make sure to check out the many prep cook shifts available on Instawork.

What skills does a prep cook need?

If you’ve been asking “What does a prep cook do,” you probably also want to know what skills they need. To start, a prep cook should have at least adequate knife skills. Good knife skills can be learned on the job, but having them ahead of time is always a bonus.

More importantly, a prep cook needs to have a good sense of organization. The prep cook makes sure the kitchen is organized however the head chef wants it organized. The prep cook also needs to be able to follow orders. These orders will come from the head chef.

A prep cook should also be able to multitask. Prep cooks often have a long list of tasks to complete, and completing them in a timely manner requires multitasking. On top of this, a prep cook needs to be able to prioritize. They should know which tasks on their list are the most important and start with those.

Food safety certification

Food safety certification requirements differ by state and city. But, in most states and cities across the country kitchen employees need to have food safety certification. Even if it is not required by the state or city, a kitchen will often require its employees to have the local food safety certification. If you want to work as a prep cook, then it is a good idea to have this certificate before you apply. This will signal to the business that you take the job seriously.

On Instawork, most employers won’t book Professionals unless they already have the certificates they need — so make sure to upload your Food Handlers card and any other certifications you have to your Instawork profile so we can review and verify them.

What does a prep cook get paid?

According to Glassdoor, prep cooks in the USA earn an average of $27,751 per year, which comes out to $13.34 per hour (assuming a full 40-hour workweek). The prep cook position is not usually supplemented by tips, but some kitchens will have the wait staff tip out the back of the house as well. In these locations, prep cooks' earnings will be supplemented by a small amount in tips.

Does a prep cook’s role change?

The answer to “what does a prep cook do” will vary slightly from one business to another. But the good news is that a prep cook’s skills are easily transferable. However, a prep cook’s role will change between kitchens. The main part of a prep cook’s role that will change is the food they will be preparing. Different kitchens make different food, which is prepared and served in different ways.

Some kitchens might be open and much more formal than others. In more formal locations, especially those with an open kitchen, cooks are always in view of the public. This usually requires them to be well-groomed and professional with both their actions and their words.

Another part of the prep cook’s role that will change from business to business is how the kitchen they are working in is managed. It is important that a prep cook organizes everything how the head chef of that kitchen wants it organized.

The bottom line

Being a prep cook is a labor-intensive job, but it is an important position that can be very rewarding if you’re passionate about food and cooking. A prep cook is an integral part of a kitchen’s team, and prep cooks are in high demand across the country.

If you’re looking for a job with good career prospects, and you like cooking or working in a fast-paced environment, then a job as a prep cook might be the perfect start for you. So make sure to check out the many prep cook jobs available on Instawork!


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