The job title of prep cook can be misleading; typically he does not do much cooking. He spends most of his workday preparing foods that don’t need to be cooked, such as salads, and getting ingredients ready for chefs. The job may be a good opportunity for someone with no work experience, or who needs flexible hours or supplemental income. As it is an entry-level job, it's also a good option for individuals that are interested in becoming a chef.
Prep cooks wash, peel and slice or chop vegetables, and slice, grind and prepare meat or poultry for cooking. They make vegetable salads and fruit salads. Prep cooks weigh and measure ingredients so the chef can begin cooking without doing these tasks. Prep cooks also monitor the temperatures of ovens and other cooking areas, and stir and strain soups and sauces. In addition, they help keep the kitchen clean.
Salary by Experience
Food preparation workers, including prep cooks, typically learn their skills on the job. Individuals interested in a career in food service should complete their high school diploma or obtain an equivalent for better job opportunities. The average pay for food prep workers as of May 2009 was about $9.80 per hour, or $20,400 per year. Those in the middle 50 percent of the earnings scale were making $8 to $11 per hour, and the top 10 percent averaged $13.60 and over.
Types of Employment
Most prep cooks are employed in full-service restaurants, where the average pay is about $9.60 per hour, or $19,900 per year, and in limited-service restaurants, with average pay of $8.70 per hour, or $18,100 per year. They also work in nursing homes, making $10 per hour on average, in grocery stores at $10.50, and in school settings at $11 to $12 per hour.
In 2008, about one-third of food preparation workers were 16 to 24 years old, according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. High turnover in this field leads to good job opportunities. In addition, people are eating out and picking up take-out meals more often, creating a need for more food prep staff.
Shelley Moore is a journalist and award-winning short-story writer. She specializes in writing about personal development, health, careers and personal finance. Moore has been published in "Family Circle" magazine and the "Milwaukee Sentinel" newspaper, along with numerous other national and regional magazines, daily and weekly newspapers and corporate publications. She has a Bachelor of Science in psychology.