When you’re interested in working in the culinary industry but don’t have any specific training as you work your way up, you may want to consider a position as a prep cook. The prep cook job description is the entry-level way to work up the kitchen ladder to a higher chef position and is probably going to be a lot easier to come by for some who are straight out of school.
But if you’re not familiar with the position, you’ll want to check out the basics we’ve pulled together below for you to better understand what kind of salary you’re looking at, any additional thoughts on education, basic responsibilities, and more.
Prep Cook Job Description – What is a Prep Cook?
A prep cook is an entry-level position in a kitchen. This is the kind of job that an aspiring chef would want to consider, as it can help you get your foot in the door. By choosing to pursue this job, you can learn and gain invaluable experience. Over time you will be able to acquire the rudimentary skills and experience needed to be able to climb the chef hierarchy.
While prep cooks do receive a lot of training on the job, and many locations will not require them, it is easier to get this type of job if you already have taken some basic courses in the culinary arts. This kind of job requires working under senior kitchen staff members while in a high-pressure environment.
Due to the way kitchens are set up, it’s important for the prep cook to be able to accept constructive criticism so that they may improve their work and skills.
Since kitchens are such a high-stress work environment, it’s also important to thoroughly read the prep cook job description so you realize what kind of work you will be getting into.
A prep cook needs to have thick skin because they will be the one having to hear people’s complaints. These complaints will range from customers to senior chefs, and when something goes wrong they always want to blame the guy at the bottom of the ladder.
This is an entry-level job, so it’s also important to acknowledge that you are going to make mistakes and will need to be able to see those mistakes as a learning experience so that you can grow and learn in the position with less resistance.
Although a prep cook is at the bottom of the kitchen staff ladder, this is still an integral part of the team.
It is important to remember that, ultimately, a kitchen staff is a team. Like every team, they need every team member working together to be successful. If a prep cook can learn how to operate as part of the kitchen team then they will go much farther than those who insist on working independently.
Other Job Titles for Prep Cooks
While looking for the job as a prep cook, there are a number of other names to look out for. You might find titles such as:
- Banquet prep cook
- Line cook
- Food preparer
- Food preparation worker
Duties and Responsibilities of a Prep Cook
The purpose of a prep cook to act as an assistant in preparing meals. This role involves such duties as chopping up items, the creation of salads, and putting together entrees. While this job does not typically have any actual cooking duties, it gives the prep cook the chance to develop a wide variety of essential skills that are necessary for being a chef.
By the end of your tenure as a prep cook, you will have developed a wide range of skills that include being familiar with a wide range of kitchen utensils and tools that will help with future positions in a kitchen.
Besides the food prep duties, prep cooks are also responsible for any number of other smaller tasks. These tasks can range in anything from basic kitchen maintenance to ensuring leftover food is properly stored.
Below are some other duties you would probably be performing:
- Assist in setting up the dining area
- Maintain the kitchen by doing sanitizing, and prep before and after use
- Maintain kitchen equipment
- Maintain proper labels during the stocking of ingredients on shelves
- Follow the prep list created by the chefs
- Create simple dishes, such as salads
- Measure the ingredients and seasons to be used in that evening’s cooking
- Keep track of the side dish ingredients, and report inventory to the chef throughout the night
- Be ready to perform any other kitchen duty as the evening goes on
Qualifications and Capabilities for Prep Cooks
To be a prep cook, there are some basic qualifications that must be met. It’s necessary to have a high school diploma or a G.E.D. Some companies will also expect at least 2 years of working experience in food preparation in some area of the foodservice industry.
It’s important to have a flexible schedule and be willing to work holidays, evenings, and weekends either regularly, or on occasion, as the job requires.
Communication skills, along with the ability to follow instructions, are also vital qualifications for a prep cook. You’ll need to be able to work as part of a team, and be able to handle working at a fast-paced, often chaotic work environment, and be able to adapt on the fly.
As a prep cook, you’ll also need to be in very good health and have high endurance so that you can keep up with the workload. This is the type of job where you will be required to stand for long periods of time along with needing to kneel and crouch. It’s not unusual for you to be required to lift and move up to 50 pounds.
You’ll also need to have great manual dexterity, as you’ll be potentially working with dangerous cutting tools and kitchen utensils.
Work Environment for a Prep Cook
The work environment for a prep cook is what you would expect from working full-time in a kitchen. In the process of fulfilling the duties of this job, it’s expected that you will be in humid or wet conditions, around moving mechanical parts, smoke, and potentially toxic chemicals.
The noise level in a typical kitchen is almost always loud during work hours, as well.
Education, Certification, and Training for Prep Cooks
Being a prep cook does require some basic education. In order to hold this job, it’s important that you have a high school diploma or a G.E.D., but no college education or even culinary school training is required by most companies.
Having previous kitchen experience is important, if possible. Depending on where you apply, you will be expected to have at least one to two years cooking experience in a medium to high volume restaurant. If you don’t have any experience and wish to work at a finer dining establishment, beginning out as a prep cook at a casual dining establishment may help you get your foot in the door with finer establishments.
Depending on where the job is located, you may need to look into getting a Food Handler’s card from the county health department. Every state has different requirements for working in a kitchen.
Where Can Prep Cooks Work?
Prep cooks can work in any number of locations, in a variety of different companies, locations, or venues, including:
- Hotel restaurants
- Fine dining restaurants
- Casual dining establishments
- College campus cafeterias
- Conference center kitchens
- Hospital cafeterias
Shifts may be held at any time of day or night, depending on the venue, though most of the time, positions will not go any later than second shift. Casual dining, some hospital cafeterias, and even some hotel restaurants may have later shifts available.
Salary of a Prep Cook
This entry-level kitchen staff position has an average salary of $20,000 a year, according to Glassdoor’s findings. The low end of the salary range is about $17,000, and the high-end salary for a prep cook will run closer to $24,000 per year. The small differences are due to the location of the prep cook jobs, as well as the company for which the prep cook works.
Finding Your Ideal Prep Cook Position
If you’ve got an interest in working in the culinary industry, one of the first places to start is in the position as a prep cook.
You’ll be preparing foods like salads and chopping foods for others to prepare, but you’ll be learning, side-by-side, from more advanced chefs who may help you advance your career through the skills you learn and observe.
There’s no specific education required for the position of a prep cook, and far less training is required for anyone who wishes to start into the culinary realm this way.