Become a Line Cook: Education and Career Roadmap

Interested in becoming a professional line cook? Learn about the career requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career as a line cook. View article »

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  • 0:00 Line Cooks
  • 1:10 Apprenticeship &…
  • 2:07 Voluntary Certification
  • 2:28 Career Advancement

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Video Transcript

Line Cooks

Line cooks work in restaurants, hotels, and other large kitchens. They usually work at a particular station, although they're expected to have knowledge of how to cook at any station in a kitchen. Line cooks might be referred to by the type of cooking they do, such as a fry cook or grill cook. Although line cooks don't hold the top position in the kitchen, many can eventually advance to head cook or chef positions. However, the job is high-stress and often includes standing for long periods of time and working nights and weekends.

Degree Level None required; associate's degree preferred
Degree Field Culinary arts
Training Apprenticeship
Certification Voluntary certification available
Experience 1+ years of experience in the field might be preferred
Key Skills Stamina, dexterity, listening and comprehension
Salary $28,240 (2015 median for cooks)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job postings (September 2012),

Apprenticeship & Degree Programs

Though many line cooks receive on-the-job training, some employers prefer job candidates who have completed a culinary arts apprenticeship or associate's degree program. Apprenticeships, which can last from six months to three years, include a minimum number of classroom hours in addition to hands-on experience. An associate's degree program in culinary arts typically features coursework in preparing stocks, sauces, soups, cold food, and international cuisine. Students are also trained in food safety. Degree programs are likely to require an internship as well.

Get certified in food safety is also a good idea. Some states and/or municipalities require that restaurant food handlers complete food safety training. If your apprenticeship or degree program does not include this training, you can pursue it through a private company or government agency. Courses can be as short as 75 minutes and typically culminate in an exam.

Voluntary Certification

The American Culinary Federation and the Culinary Institute of America offer certification for cooks with varying levels of experience. In addition to meeting training and experience requirements, certification candidates typically have to pass written and practical examinations. To maintain certification, they may be required to complete continuing education credits.

Career Advancement

With certification and additional experience, line cooks may seek higher-level chef positions and increased salary. Opportunities for advancement include becoming head cooks, food service managers, or chefs. Higher-level positions require increased levels of responsibility. Some cooks may prepare more complex dishes or supervise less experienced kitchen staff.

Becoming a successful line cook may involve completing a cooking apprenticeship, earning a culinary degree, participating in a voluntary certification program, and working hard to advance one's career in this demanding and exciting line of work.

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