This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

If you’ve ever wondered how to cook tofu or how to prepare tofu, you’re in the right place! Below you’ll learn about the different types of tofu, how to prepare it, how to cook it in a pan, and the best recipes to use it in.

Two photos showing pieces of crispy tofu
Want to save this recipe?
Enter your email and we’ll send this recipe directly to your inbox! Plus, we’ll send you fresh recipes weekly to inspire you in the kitchen!
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

I am fiercely passionate about certain things and make it my mission to encourage people to try new things that they otherwise wouldn’t try.

I was fiercely passionate about encouraging people to use pumpkin in savory dishes as opposed to always thinking that you have to use pumpkin in desserts.

I was fiercely passionate about converting brussels sprouts haters into lovers, dark meat averts to converts.

I’m fiercely passionate about Coke vs. Pepsi (Coke is better, btw) and also fountain soda vs. canned.

Now, I am fiercely passionate about converting tofu haters into lovers. Of course, if you’re allergic to soy, that’s a totally different story! I also understand it could be a texture thing for most people but that might also be because you’re buying the wrong type of tofu. Let’s dig into this…

Oh, on a personal note…did you know my parent’s nickname for me was tofu? It was kind of a demeaning and condescending nickname but it’s because I got sick a lot as a kid and they called me tofu as a metaphor to the fact tofu is really soft and anything that touches it, the tofu falls apart lol

Well, if only they knew the type of tofu I have become LOL extra-firm and strong!

Cubes of tofu cooking in oil

So, What IS Tofu?

Before we dive into how to prepare tofu, let’s quickly talk about what exactly it is. I know oftentimes people know what tofu is but can’t actually tell you what it’s made of.

Tofu is a protein made by curdling soy milk and forming it into a block. It’s high in protein and low in fat and practically tasteless. The key with tofu is that it takes on the flavors of the other ingredients in the recipe.

It’s a very popular ingredient in Asian cuisine and is perhaps one of the most well-known meat substitutes out there – though I encourage you to think of it as an ingredient on its own, not just as a substitute for meat!

In Taiwan, there is a district called Shenkeng District that is known for its numerous tofu restaurants and vendors. Nearly everything there is made with tofu and it’s so good! Not surprising, Shenkeng has earned its title as “Tofu Capital.”

I believe that many people claim to hate tofu because they haven’t had it cooked properly, just like brussels sprouts. Additionally, it’s also the type and kind of tofu you buy and how you prepare it and ultimately, cook it.

Why Cook With Tofu?

Why should you learn how to cook tofu? Here are a few of my favorite reasons.

  • Tofu is a great alternative to meat. It’s a great source of protein and low in fat. With more and more meatless alternatives out there, tofu has been around for ages and is considered a staple in Asian cuisine.
  • It’s a great blank slate and super versatile. Think of it like the vegetarian’s chicken. It is often seasoned or marinated to suit the dish and its flavors. Since it has a spongy and porous texture, it absorbs flavor really well and that’s why I love creating tofu dishes with a flavorful sauce. It really brings the tofu to life.
  • It’s also the opportunity to explore a different type of protein that you may not be familiar with. Even if you’re not vegetarian, cooking with tofu can just be a fun way to try something new.
A package of high protein organic tofu from trader joe's

Types of Tofu

I know the tofu section at grocery stores (and specifically Asian grocery stores) can be extremely overwhelming. Who knew there were so many varieties of TOFU?!

There isn’t a specific brand I buy but rather type.

Extra-firm or firm tofu is going to be your friend.

You’ll want to look for extra-firm or firm tofu on the label. Do not buy silken tofu or anything else. Silken tofu will literally fall apart in your hands from handling it haha. (Though you may occasionally want silken tofu for desserts or miso soup!)

Preferably, if there is extra-firm, I go with that. It ensures that it is, well, extra firm and that it won’t fall apart.

More often than not, I buy the tofu pictured in the photo above. It’s Trader Joe’s high protein super firm tofu. I don’t buy it because of the ‘high protein’ part — that’s just a nice bonus. I buy it because that’s their only extra firm/super firm variety they have. They also have an organic firm tofu that comes in a square container.

On the left, a brick of tofu on a wire rack. On the right, a heavy pan sitting on the brick of tofu

How to Prepare Tofu

Tofu comes packaged in water to keep it fresh and because it comes packaged in water, inevitably the tofu will soak up water.

So what do you do? To prep tofu you first have to press it! How do you press it? Literally smushing it, haha. Here’s a more detailed explanation of how to prepare tofu, though:

  • Put it on a wire rack. I like putting my tofu on a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Since it’s extra-firm/firm tofu, you don’t have to worry about it going through the grates when you put something heavy on top of it. Now if you do this with silken or soft tofu…it’s like an egg going through an egg slicer lol
  • Press it. I put a paper towel on top of it so the bottom of the heavy item doesn’t dirty it up and it can help soak up the liquid being pressed out. This is completely optional if you don’t want to waste a paper towel. I then put a heavy item on top of it, usually a cast iron skillet.
  • Leave it. I leave it there for 30 minutes and you’ll see that there is water on the baking sheet after. There won’t be a ton but there will be some.
  • Cube it. Gently wipe off the excess liquid around the tofu itself then cube it.
  • Toss with cornstarch. I then place it into a large bowl and sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of cornstarch on top and gently toss the tofu in it. I suggest not using your hands but grabbing the bowl on either side and gently tossing the tofu in the air to coat it in the cornstarch.
Tofu cubes on a cutting board and the cubes in a glass bowl

How to Cook Tofu in a Pan

Once you know the basics, figuring out how to cook tofu in a pan is not difficult at all. Master this and you’ll be well on your way to regularly incorporating tofu into your meals! (And keep reading below for some of my favorite tofu recipes!)

Close up of cubes of tofu frying in a pan
  • Heat the oil. Once the tofu is coated in cornstarch, you’ll want to heat up 1-2 tablespoons of avocado oil in a nonstick skillet.
  • Add the tofu. When you get the tofu in the skillet, shake the skillet so the tofu falls naturally into openings. Use tongs or a spatula to gently coax the tofu into an even layer.
  • Cook for 3-4 minutes per side. Let the tofu cook for 3-4 minutes on each side for crispy, firm tofu – without touching it!

Tips for Cooking Crispy Tofu

Here are a few tips for making the best crispy tofu.

  • Use the right pan. I highly suggest nonstick or ceramic. If you’re more experienced and want to use a stainless steel or cast iron skillet, you can certainly do that but you will need a lot more oil to ensure it doesn’t stick to it.
  • Use the right oil. I also highly suggest a high temperature cooking oil. Avocado oil works great in this because it has a neutral taste and it also can handle high temperature. That is what you need to get the crispy outer crust for the tofu. If you only have olive oil or something else, that is fine too. Just know you will have to cook the exterior of the tofu longer as the heat can be as high.
  • Make sure it’s in an even layer. Do not stack the tofu on top of each other. They need to be in a single layer to cook and crisp properly.
  • Do NOT touch the tofu (at first). As with all things (browning meats, crisping up the bottoms of potstickersmaking fall off the bone ribs), leave it alone and let it do its thing. If you keep moving it around in the pan, it won’t have the time to brown at all.
  • Flip to the other says. After 3-4 minutes, flip the tofu and work on another side, until they are browned/crispy on all sides. Also, it’s inevitably a lot of work to get all six sides crispy and I typically don’t do that. I usually only do two sides. *Gasp* I know – but that is plenty good for what you need in terms of crispy tofu!
Crispy cubes of tofu in a pan

Best Tofu Recipes To Try

Tofu itself doesn’t have much flavor so it really gets flavor from the sauces you make for it and toss the tofu in. You’re in luck because I have a bunch of recipes on my site that include the sauces for the tofu I usually make for weeknight dinners.

tofu, veggies, and rice are presented together on a single round plate.
5 from 2 votes

Sweet and Sour Tofu

Sweet and sour tofu is a vegetarian twist on the popular Chinese takeout dish. Made with crispy tofu, colorful veggies, and homemade sweet and sour sauce, this dish is perfect served over rice.
View Recipe
Coconut Caribbean Tofu in bowl with white rice, garnished with lime wedge and cilantro
5 from 2 votes

Tofu Coconut Curry

Made with tender and crisp tofu and creamy coconut sauce, this Tofu Coconut Curry comes together in just 30 minutes for a quick and easy dinner.
View Recipe
up close image of eggplant tofu on a grey ceramic plate
4.60 from 5 votes

Eggplant Tofu (Panda Express Copycat)

Inspired by the Panda Express dish, this Eggplant Tofu is sweet and tangy. Quick and easy to make at home!
View Recipe
Bowl of tofu chorizo with cilantro leaves and lime wedge
5 from 1 vote

Tofu “Chorizo”

This Tofu Chorizo can be used in as many ways as traditional chorizo – think tacos, burritos, and more!
View Recipe
5 from 1 vote

With just the right amount of spice, this Black Pepper Tofu is a crispy and flavorful vegetarian dinner you can whip up in no time at all.

Crispy and flavorful with a slight kick to it; this tofu dish is a meatless entree that will have you wanting more!
View Recipe
A block of tofu is topped with green onions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and a homemade oil.
5 from 1 vote

Chilled Silken Tofu

If you're looking for something different, try this Chilled Silken Tofu with a spicy and savory topping.
View Recipe
Crispy Buffalo Tofu fries on plate with fork
5 from 1 vote

Crispy Buffalo Tofu Fries

Spicy, flavorful, and baked to perfection these Buffalo Tofu Fries make a great party appetizer, snack, or even dinner. Great for game day!
View Recipe
Basket of popcorn tofu with 2 bowls of dipping sauce
5 from 1 vote

Crispy Popcorn Tofu

This Popcorn Tofu is ultra-crispy and easy to make. Enjoy with your favorite dipping sauces as an appetizer or dinner.
View Recipe
Bowl of rice topped with 3 teriyaki tofu meatballs and spears of steamed broccoli
4.67 from 3 votes

Teriyaki Tofu Meatballs

These sweet and savory Teriyaki Tofu Meatballs are baked to just the right texture. This is one even the tofu-skeptics will love.
View Recipe
Three tofu tacos on plate with lime wedge and tortilla chips
5 from 1 vote

Tofu Street Tacos

Featuring crispy spiced tofu, pickled radishes, and onions in a corn tortilla, these Tofu Street Tacos are perfect for Taco Tuesday or any night you need a simple dinner.
View Recipe
A serving of spicy tofu stir fry sits on a bed of white rice in a small bowl. Chopsticks sit on the side of the bowl.
4.31 from 13 votes

Spicy Tofu Stir Fry

Packed with veggies and crispy tofu, this Spicy Tofu Stir Fry really brings the heat! It's the ultimate vegetarian dinner for busy weeknights.
View Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Tofu and Shiitake Coconut Curry Bowls

Looking for an easy but flavorful vegetarian dinner? Look no further than these Tofu and Shiitake Coconut Curry Bowls.
View Recipe
Overhead view of a teriyaki tofu bowl with broccoli, with a pair of chopsticks resting on the edge of the bowl.
4.86 from 7 votes

Teriyaki Tofu and Broccoli Bowls

With a perfectly sweet and savory sauce, these Teriyaki Tofu and Broccoli Bowls are perfect for those nights when you're craving Asian takeout but need something plant-based
View Recipe
A pile of sesame garlic fried tofu on a plate garnished with sesame seeds.
4.56 from 302 votes

Sesame Garlic Fried Tofu Recipe

If you're new to tofu, give this Pan-Fried Sesame Garlic Tofu a try. Perfectly crispy, super tasty, and easy to make, it's a tofu recipe anyone can enjoy.
View Recipe
Crispy pieces of tofu on a plate

As you can see, tofu is truly a versatile ingredient once you know how to work with it. I am always thinking of unique ways to incorporate tofu into my meals.

I hope this guide on how to cook tofu been helpful. As always, I welcome questions in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them!

You May Also Like...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

12 Comments

  1. This is so helpful. I can’t wait to see the effect of using cornstarch on the tofu. And, thanks for the frying tips. You have enlightened my cooking world.

  2. Thank you thank you for this post! I used to hate tofu but with your recipes and tips it always end up being delicious

  3. Hi Julie!

    You don’t know how much I appreciate this post! When I messaged you on IG asking about how to buy tofu, etc. and you said you were working on a post, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But this post here, is informative, funny and to the point. I can’t say when I’m going to be able to try tofu yet but when I do, I know I will be more confident because of this post and I know I’ll be trying out some of your tofu recipes. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  4. Always a great process to cook tofu. If you don’t follow her- do so! Excellent recipes and tips!

  5. Thanks to you I’m a tofu convert now! Have it a couple of times a week and don’t miss the chicken or meat at all!
    Thanks!

  6. Julie’s method is foolproof and simple! Perfect for an easy meal during a busy week and tofu is so versatile!