How to Become a

Prep or Line Cook

The complete career guide to be a Prep or Line Cook: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $24,430
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 14.3%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Dependable Daily Workload
    Career Attribute

Prep cooks prepare ingredients that line cooks use when cooking food orders during busy shifts at restaurants and other dining establishments. Line cooks use the food and ingredients prepared by prep cooks to finalize food dishes and orders for customers and establishment patrons.

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What is a Prep or Line Cook?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in prep or line cook roles:

  • Cut and dice ingredients and prepare food items that can be rewarmed to expedite cooking during busy shifts
  • Receive, label, and stock food and kitchen items delivered by food distribution services
  • Prepare food to match orders received by customers, or prepare food to replace empty trays in buffet or cafeteria-style establishments
  • Ensure proper food handling procedures are utilized to prevent foodborne illness
  • Ensure kitchen meets all health department standards and regulations

A Day in the Life

Prep cooks work before busy dining shifts—such as breakfast, lunch, or dinner—and prepare food and ingredients. They cut fruits, vegetables, and meats; portion foods appropriately, pre-cook foods that can be warmed later when ordered; and cook pastries and make sauces that will be used during the shift. The role of the prep cook is to ensure that chefs and line cooks have everything they need at hand in order to prepare and deliver food quickly during heavy ordering times.

Line cooks use the food prepared by the prep cook to finalize dishes in order to deliver food orders to customers. Generally, line cooks work in a food assembly line and are responsible for preparing part of an order. For example, some line cooks will be responsible for putting all necessary ingredients in a pan, some will be responsible for cooking the ingredients, and some are accountable for plating the cooked food, making it look nice for the customer, and performing any finishing touches.

Both prep cooks and line cooks are responsible for maintaining a clean and safe kitchen. They must be familiar with proper food handling and preparation techniques in order to prevent foodborne illness, and they must be familiar with state and federal health department regulations in order to ensure their business is not shut down due to violations. They are also responsible for cleaning their work areas, labeling food with dates, receiving orders from distributors, and stocking freezers and refrigerators.

Typical Work Schedule

Prep or line cooks may be required to work any shift, depending on what type of dining establishment they work at. Those that work in venues with busy dinner shifts may work afternoon and evening hours, and those that work at venues with busy breakfast or brunch shifts may work early mornings and afternoons. Additionally, some line cooks may work for 24-hour restaurants and work third-shift.

Career Progression

  • Early Career: Dishwasher, Busser, Prep Cook
  • Mid-Career: Line Cook, Sous Chef
  • Late Career: Chef, Head Chef, Executive Chef

Typical Employers

Line cooks may work for any type of establishment that serves food, including fast food restaurants, full-service restaurants, and cafeterias for schools, prisons, or nursing homes. Prep cooks work in the same venues, though few fast food restaurants keep prep cooks on staff.

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How To Become a Prep or Line Cook

Many prep and line cooks are able to find work with only a high school diploma. Many begin their careers in fast food restaurants where no former experience is required and work their way up to prep or line cook positions in cafeterias or full-service restaurants. Others begin their careers as dishwashers or table bussers at full-service restaurants and work their way up to prep or line cook positions. Most training is conducted on the job, and these jobs are generally easily attainable with little experience.

Conversely, many prep and line cooks who do not want to work in fast food, as dishwashers or bussers, or who have aspirations to become chefs later in life, opt to pursue a culinary certificate from a trade school, vocational school, or community college. Certificate programs allow job seekers to secure employment without having prior work experience, and many use the education they received for their certificate later in life when applying for or attending culinary school to become chefs.

Prep and line cooks who want to become chefs will usually be required to have a degree from a culinary school, though some smaller or locally owned establishments will look more at experience than educational credentials. Large and high-profile establishments will look for chefs with both a culinary degree and significant experience working as a cook/chef and preparing recipes for restaurants.

Prep or Line Cook Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range




High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Prep or Line Cook salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Prep or Line Cook's can make an average annual salary of $24,430, or $12 per hour. This makes it an Above Average Salary. On the lower end, they can make $19,610 or $9 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #778 Nationally for All Careers

Highest Education Among Prep or Line Cooks

  • 0.2%   Doctorate
  • 0.6%   Masters
  • 4.6%   Bachelors
  • 5.2%   Associates
  • 18.2%   College
  • 40.3%   High School
  • 30.9%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Prep or Line Cook job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 159,000 jobs for a total of 1,268,700 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 14.3% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Below Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #112 Nationally for All Careers

What Companies Employ The Most Prep or Line Cooks

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Full-service restaurants 884,100 136,400 136%
Drinking places (alcoholic beverages) 17,100 1,000 1%
Special food services 15,500 400 0%

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