What Does a Prep Cook Do — and How Do You Find a Good One?

With dozens of tasks every day, a prep cook must be a master multitasker, a great communicator, and an organized and tidy worker — here’s how to find all three.

A young cook’s first job is almost always as a prep cook, whether they’re home cooks or culinary school grads. It’s the perfect role to get those knife skills and cooking chops up to speed, and for a new staff member to get a feel for the menu and the environment of a particular restaurant kitchen.

What is a Prep Cook? 

Without a prep cook, a kitchen comes grinding to a halt. Prep cooks are tasked with preparing all the ingredients that’ll eventually be turned into dishes by the line cooks, and that means portioning meat, poultry, fish, and seafood; shredding or slicing cheese; preparing sauces and dressings; chopping and slicing produce; and labelling, dating, and storing everything in the right place. It also means keeping their station clean and sometimes helping out in the dish pit or on the line.  

Responsibilities vary widely depending on the type of restaurant, number of covers, cuisine, and size of the team, but it’s invariably an extremely busy job with many competing priorities at all times.  

If you’re looking for a prep cook in your kitchen, it’s important to outline everything a prospective employee needs to know about the job — the more detail you provide, the more you’ll attract candidates well-suited to the job and your team.

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How Much Should a Prep Cook Make?

Prep cooks typically make around $24,187 annually, according to Glassdoor. Another way to look at it is that they typically make just a little more than whatever the minimum wage is, to start, so rates vary across the country. Prep cooks are almost always non-tipped employees, but if a restaurant tips out the kitchen, their income will be very slightly supplemented by a little extra cash each week — usually up to $50 per shift, if they’re lucky.

What Goes Into a Prep Cook Job Description?

A thorough job description will show prospective employees that you care enough to let them know what to expect in the role. This is the space to describe your restaurant, your team values, your management style, how many covers your restaurant does a day, how many people they’ll be working with, and what pay and benefits you offer. 

When writing a prep cook job description, the number one trait to highlight is the ability to multitask. Each day, they’ll be staring down a long list of prep tasks — somewhere between 20 and 50 tasks of varying urgency, time, and impact, made longer by things that need to be done weekly, or to prepare for special menu items.  

They’ll need to be able to prioritize tasks in order of urgency, be comfortable pivoting from one task to another if something runs out on the line, and do everything in accordance with food safety standards. They’ll have to be excellent communicators that flag problems or missing inventory as soon as they notice, and they’ll need to be morning people — prep cooks are usually the first at the restaurant, starting around 9 or 10 a.m. for a lunch shift.

Using the following section as a guideline, divide your prep cook job description into sections, adjusting the tasks to be as specific to your restaurant’s operations as possible: 

70 Prep Cook Duties 

Inventory

  1. Receive, sign for, and put away deliveries.

  2. Rotate inventory in the fridge (newest to the back).

  3. Organize fridge and dry storage in accordance with food safety regulations.

  4. Label, date, and initial every container of prepped ingredients.

  5. Store all prepped ingredients in the correct size containers.

  6. Distribute prepped ingredients to appropriate line cooks and stations. 

Preparing produce

  1. Wash all produce.

  2. Dice and/or slice onions.

  3. Slice and/or chop garlic.

  4. Julienne peppers.

  5. Slice and/or dice hot peppers.

  6. Slice zucchini.

  7. Chop cucumber.

  8. Slice and/or dice potatoes.

  9. Slice tomatoes.

  10. Chop lettuce.

  11. Use mandoline to slice radishes.

  12. Peel beets. 

  13. Peel turnips. 

  14. Wash and chop herbs. 

  15. Cut open and clean squash.

  16. Chop fruit and make individual fruit cups.

  17. Remove spikes from nopales; slice and strain them.

Preparing dairy

  1. Shred, slice, or dice necessary cheeses.

  2. Season ricotta.

  3. Prepare creme anglaise. 

  4. Season cream cheese and/or make cream cheese-based dips.

  5. Prepare raita.

  6. Prepare tzatziki.

  7. Season sour cream.

  8. Add split vanilla bean to cream.

  9. Make chocolate milk.  

Preparing recipes from the recipe bible 

  1. Prepare marinades.

  2. Prepare dressings.

  3. Prepare fresh salsas.

  4. Prepare sauces to be cooked.

  5. Prepare homemade condiments.

  6. Prepare, roll out, and portion bread or pasta dough.

  7. Prepare batters.

  8. Prepare spice mixes.

  9. Prepare desserts.

  10. Assemble sandwiches or quesadillas to be grilled.

  11. Prepare fillings. 

  12. Assemble empanadas or dumplings.

Portioning and cleaning proteins 

  1. Defrost any frozen proteins needed for the day or week.

  2. Clean ribs. 

  3. Butcher chickens and save carcasses for stock.

  4. Tear the beards out of mussels and discard any closed ones.

  5. Slice skirt steak into strips and marinate.

  6. Clean, fillet, and debone whole fish.

  7. Shell and devein shrimp.

  8. Kill and clean lobster.

  9. Make sausage, or slice and/or remove premade sausages from casings.

  10. Bread veal, chicken, or steak for frying.

Cooking

  1. Cook bacon.

  2. Season and cook sauces. 

  3. Cook rice. 

  4. Cook pasta.

  5. Cook spinach.

  6. Cook sausage.

  7. Season and roast root vegetables.

  8. Season and roast chicken breast.

  9. Season and poach octopus.

Miscellaneous

  1. Strain and store stocks and/or demi glace.

  2. Portion doughs.

  3. Help out on the line when needed.

  4. Help out in the dish pit when needed.

  5. Take out garbage and recycling.

  6. Mop up spills.

  7. Refill toilet paper and paper towel dispensers.

It’s a huge list, but it makes it extremely easy to understand the responsibilities of a prep cook and the impact they have on a restaurant. It can be a high-stress job — they have the whole flow of the kitchen on their shoulders — but if a prep cook is organized and great at multitasking, they’ll find the job gets easier as their knife skills get sharper.

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