Armageddon tired of messy kitchens
March 3, 2014 7:31 PM   Subscribe

What are your tips and tricks for keeping your kitchen clean while preparing and cooking?

I am referring more to dishes that are started and finished within the same time frame rather than slow-cooked or baked dishes where there is time between prep and eating for the cleaning to be done.

We have a small kitchen, no dishwasher and a single sink with no insinkerator. I am not an explosion of mess when it comes to cooking but I could be a bit/lot cleaner and more organised. I imagine some Mefites are paragons of neatness in the kitchen and I would like to know how you do it. Even those who are semi-neat must have some tips to pass along.

posted by Kerasia to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
wash as you go
posted by edgeways at 7:39 PM on March 3, 2014 [10 favorites]

When I bake, or cook, I do everything in stages, and in between stages I am constantly wiping down surfaces and cleaning up spills if they happen, so paper towels are present always in my kitchen. I also have become very disciplined when it comes to processing hard-to-clean dishes immediately even before I sit down to enjoy food. If something needs to start soaking, that's more important than me taking a bite of food because the time I will waste later trying to get dried cheese off that baking dish = a big pain in the ass. I start rinsing as I cook, too. Done with a dish? Great. Time to wipe it down and soak it as I'm watching those onions saute. Don't need that spoon anymore? Into the sink.

My friends hate me for all of this because there's never anything for them to do when I cook for them. I'm extreme, though, because I live in an area with a lot of bugs so messes need to get taken care of right away lest I leave anything behind to tempt the creepy crawlies who like to haunt my kitchen and its cabinets.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:42 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do your prep work in nesting bowls in such a way that, as you cook, you can nest the dirty nesting bowls in the order you collate ingredients.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:47 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Instead of prepping as things cook, separate steps as much as possible. It's less efficient but easier to keep the mess in check. Any cutting, measuring out, mixing - prep all of that before you start the cooking part, then take a break between prepping and cooking to wash all the prep ingredients, wipe down the counter, etc.
posted by aka burlap at 8:05 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I use the same bowl, knife, cutting board, etc for everything, rinsing it but probably not full-on washing it between non-meat items. As soon as I'm done with whatever the thing is, I wash it for real and put it away. In the event that you have a child of about, I dunno, ten? Enlisting said child to do the washing and putting away part of this is very useful.

If I'm using the oven, I line cookie trays, casserole dishes, and baking sheets with foil--when things come out of the oven, the foil goes into the bin and the tray is clean.

Sometimes I'll spend a weekend doing the sort of low-reward work that creates a lot of mess--I'll caramelize five pounds of onions, for example, and then freeze them in a log and chop them off as needed. Then next time I need onions, I just have to use a knife, not a cutting board, a knife, a pan, plus the peeling and subsequent mess.
posted by MeghanC at 8:05 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Similar to the above answers, I clean as I go, nest bowls, and dedicate one bowl/cup/whatever to hold all dirty utensils soaking in water.

Also, the 'garbage bowl' championed by Rachel Ray is actually a great time-saver. Use one big bowl set off to the side to throw garbage in as you go. Think egg shells or potato peels or any other thing you'd normally take the time to walk over and put in the garbage can, but instead throw them in your garbage bowl and then dump all garbage stuff into the trash one time when you're done cooking. It's a small time saver, but it adds up.
posted by matty at 8:06 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I also have a tiny kitchen with no counter space and there are only two ways I can handle cooking in it: do all the prep first so everything's ready to go in bowls or whatever, and do all the clean-up from that before actually starting to cook. Or, wash as you go, even when you're doing several dishes at once. Even if that means turning off the flame under a pan for a few minutes, or deliberately spacing things out even when the natural cooking rhythm wouldn't require it.

Also, when a big bowl or pot goes into the sink, fill it with water and put subsequent dishes/cutlery/whatever in there so it's all soaking.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:06 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also - keep a bowl on the counter for trash and another for veggie/compose scraps. Put stuff in there as you go then dump the bowl in the trash/compost when you're done. Have a place to soak dishes (especially utensils), where you can put them as you're done with them.
posted by aka burlap at 8:07 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, clean as you go.

Plan the cooking process so that you do everything using one set of utensils all at once, and then you can wash those utensils. Eg: peel everything that needs to be peeled, compost the scraps, wash the peeler, wipe down benches. Measure out all your ingredients (and combine as much as can be combined), wash all your measuring cups/spoons, wipe down benches.

Chop what needs to be chopped, put in bowl(s), then wash the chopping board and knife, wipe down benches. This might create extra washing though, but it might not, if your chopped ingredients don't all fit on your chopping board anyway. In any case, it will be neater, plus you'll be a lot more satisfied using ingredients from a bowl rather than scraping them off the chopping board.

Have your bin/re-cycling bag/compost bin handy so that wrappings and scraps can go straight in. Those bins that you have to pull out from behind a door are all very well for the kitchen aesthetic, but much less practical when your hands are covered in raw meat goop. (Or on preview, what matty said).
posted by pianissimo at 8:08 PM on March 3, 2014

If you have a dishwasher, start every cooking project with it empty and ready to run. As you complete tasks that involve dishwasher-safe tools/implements/whathaveyou, into the dishwasher they go. Run it as soon as it is full.

I have a two bay sink, and one side is dedicated to things that aren't dishwasher safe. As soon as the project reaches an appropriate hold point (say, waiting on onions to soften or water to boil), I start washing and drying the things in the sink. Usually, between these two tricks, I keep the dishes to a minimum for any given cooking project.
posted by conradjones at 8:15 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

When cooking something that spatters, stand up a baking sheet to shield the counter.
posted by yohko at 8:28 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a micro kitchen with no dishwasher or disposal and regularly trash the whole thing just to do something simple like bake cookies or make tacos. I have a few things I do

- do all the dishes beforehand and empty the dish drainer
- use the sink for putting the dirty dishes in and, like other people, use nesting bowls and a soaking container for silverware
- have a lot of everything so I can, for example, use five tablespoons/knives/cutting boards and not have to wash them in-between
- every ingredient goes out when I use it and back when I'm done, takes longer than arranging all ingredients lovingly in some foodblog fashion but it keeps surfaces cleaner
- use as much of the oven/stove as I don't need for cooking for surfaces/drying spaces - got to watch out to not melt things but there's a lot of spare space on a stovetop
- all waiting time is cleaning time, whether it's washing counters, drying dishes or putting things away
- save all the Big Dish Doing for the end but it's usually not more than 10-15 minutes no matter how messy things are
- I have a garbage can with a foot pedal and it's right next to my stove which makes tossing stuff out pretty simple
- I wear an apron so I can wipe my hands on it all the time and not have to wash them in the sink (if I'm not working with meat)

I'm not a paragon of neatnesss certainly but I try to be efficient about my space and the time it takes me to do stuff. Sometimes if I'm cooking something with a lot of downtime, I'll prechop or prefreeze stuff for later just to be a little ahead further down the line.
posted by jessamyn at 8:43 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not environmentally correct, but my answer is those Clorox handiwipes- I use one or two every day to just tidy as I go, when I have a moment.

I think this is similar in concept to this advice: the best form of exercise is the kind you'll actually do. For me, I appreciate a clean space, but I am also willing to recognize that it must be stupid easy for me to keep it clean first.
posted by samthemander at 8:45 PM on March 3, 2014

Like others I wash as I go. Run a nice big sink of hot soapy water and just quickly wash everything in it when you are done with the item. It becomes a routine. Do it in the times when you are cooking when you are waiting for a second or 2. Veggies browning, wipe down the chopping board, thrown the meat in, plate the meat was on goes in the soapy water, swish it around wipe with a cloth and into the drainer. Waiting for pasta water to come back to a boil, toss the packet in the bin. Have a couple of chopping boards, get ones you can throw in the dishwasher because you can just dump them in the sink, and wash them quickly.

Keep a rubbish bowl by your chopping board so as you go you can scrape your board clean of all the bits and then just empty it in the bin (composter?) when you are done, cheap plastic bowls are great for this, scrape everything into there before washing and you don't have to worry about the lack of garbage disposal. Most of the world gets by without one, so don't let that hold you back.

Make sure you have a good micro fibre cloth or 2 on the go, have spares to rotate and wash regularly if you worried, keep them in the hot soapy water so you can quickly wipe down your counter. Paper towels are too fussy, trying to rip a bit off with dirty hands and then finding the cleaning spray then cleaning the cleaning spray from the chicken slime on your hands is a pain.
posted by wwax at 8:45 PM on March 3, 2014

If you only have a single basin sink, leave a tub or bowl full of really soapy water in the sink at all times (can be cold/get cold). Then just pre-wash/soak the dishes in the tub as you go. A quick dip in hot soapy water + rinse will be all that's needed when the foods simmering/resting etc.
posted by W.S (disambiguation) at 8:46 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

What everyone else says. Prep first, it's easier to time your cooking that way. It's also easier to do only one thing while you cook... prep OR wash. Prepping first and washing as you cook pays off more, since it stops your sink from turning into an unusable clusterf!&$ at the end. We actually have a dish rack on the draining board to one side, and a wall to other... if the sink gets full, it's a nightmare. Always start cooking with an empty sick... excuse me while I do that now!

It takes practice, but you'll get it!
posted by jrobin276 at 10:19 PM on March 3, 2014

Oh, it also helps if you're cooking things you've cooked a million times before, so you're not also trying to read and follow a recipe while you cook. For me, following a recipe is A Thing I'm doing, and I can only do One Thing while I cook. New or complicated recipes are for weekends.
posted by jrobin276 at 10:25 PM on March 3, 2014

As soon as you get home from the grocery store, do whatever's practical to prep ingredients for later use: peel & trim carrots; wash lettuce & store so salads are easy; cube cheese if you eat cheese in cubes.

Always measure dry ingredients first so you can re-use the measuring spoons and cups.

Put in-use measuring spoons, spatulas, knives, etc. on a small plate -- this keeps the counter cleaner and can also help the implements stay cleaner (different kinds of clean -- germs vs. goop).

If you can tell whose drinking glass is whose (none of our glasses match), you can re-use the same drinking glasses all day.

Use bathmats in the kitchen so they can be washed in the clothes washer.

Buy spices in bulk and keep them in small, labeled jars -- if you can tame the spices, you're well on your way to reducing clutter and confusion, and anyway if you buy spices in the large jars in which they usually are sold, the spices will be very stale by the time you finish the jar.
posted by amtho at 11:50 PM on March 3, 2014

What everyone else said, and one small additional tip: If I use canned tomatoes for a dish, I use the can for water to add to the pot while it's cooking (or variations on this theme). That's one glass or cup less to wash, dry and put away later.
posted by Harald74 at 2:26 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do all the prep work/table setting ahead of time, wash anything that got dirty in the prepping (chef's knife, peeler), then start cooking, and as you add ingredients to the pan and go through the steps there's always some time where you're not supposed to be doing anything, like you're letting the chicken brown or the pasta boil. During those staring into space moments you wash whatever you have to wash (like you put the chicken in the pan and now the cutting board is dirty and its purpose in life is in question) and you just keep going until at the end, you don't have all that much to wash.

Basically you do pretty much everything in advance, because if you're setting the table during the cooking period, or opening wine, or feeding the cat, it throws the whole thing off.

Dedicated little bowls for this, like the little metal ones you see in restaurants or little glass ones, make this way easier. You don't want to have some big bowl sitting there with two tablespoons of vinegar, and you don't want to have to wash and find storage space for all those big bowls. But the little metal ones, are just a quick sponge, rinse, and done.

We have a tiny kitchen and a small household compulsion to orderliness.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:41 AM on March 4, 2014

Building on the Llama's thought - using (and owning) the smallest possible dishes for what you need. We use bread/salad plates for dinner, saucers for other uses, little Japanese sushi dishes (intended for soy sauce, I think - 2" diameter) for ingredients, _small_ glass tumblers for juices and melting butter, etc.

Don't feel you have to use a bowl for combining wet ingredients if they will all fit in, for example, your 2-cup measuring cup. You can start with your 1 cup milk, add 1/4 cup oil so that the total is 1-1/4 cup, then add an egg and vanilla, etc.

Know what you can get away with not cleaning - if you mix flour and baking soda in a small bowl then pour that out into some other bowl, the flour bowl can be wiped with a clean towel and used for cereal, chopped onions, etc. without washing.

If you use a container to store something that doesn't spoil (crackers, pieces of cheese, frozen stuff), you can probably re-use the container without washing it a few times.
posted by amtho at 5:59 AM on March 4, 2014

-We have these low bowls with a ridge along the edge, similar to this.

Food waste goes in this bowl and cooking utensils that have been used but will be needed later go on the rim. Tablespoon of sugar used, will need tablespoon of salt later? Wooden spoon stirred the soup, now it is covered, will be needed for stirring later? Lean them on the rim. Keeps utensils out of the way (e.g. not on your cutting board) without generating any extra dishes or mess on your countertop from drippings.

-I tend to make a much bigger mess when I'm rushing-oh shit it's time for the pineapple and I haven't chopped it yet, or whatever. I know how long it takes me to peel and dice an onion or sift a cup of flour, but if there's anything that I have any question about, I'll measure/slice/whatever before I start cooking the rest.
posted by Kwine at 10:55 AM on March 4, 2014

This is exactly what "mise en place" is about. Prepping as much as possible, and also thinking about how to save time and utensils will save a lot of time and waste in the long run. After 2 or 3 months of strict discipline, it becomes routine, and you will be able to improvise and improve.

And tidy up as you go. Stacking dishes in the sink is a really bad habit. If your prepping is good, there will be time for cleaning up during cooking, and you should do it.

Some dishes are really quick on the stove. A frittata takes less than five minutes. So you prepare all ingredients in advance, clean up everything you have used, like knives and boards, and then make the frittata. When you are this ready, you can clean the (egg) mixing bowl while it sets. The bowls you had you had the dryer ingredients in can wait till after dinner. Most dishes are slow enough that you can clean up absolutely everything while it is cooking, if you prepared sufficiently in advance.

Finally, though you probably know this already: never begin cooking before your kitchen is spotless. I add this because I spend hours trying to teach it to my children, and sometimes I fight with cooking friends and family over it. There are many, many reasons you should never cook in a less than clean kitchen, but a good one is efficiency.

Once I lived in an apartment with no oven and just two gas burners. The counter was less than two meters long and since the hot water for dishwashing came from a heater, it was limited. Everything had to be planned to the last detail. Actually I cherish this as a learning experience, since all the knowledge I gained from this experience has given me an advantage later in life. I had to think out how to cook my favorite dishes under these circumstances and how to organize for dinner parties. At the time, most of my friends lived similarly, but many gave up on cooking entirely. One of my best friends, however, insisted on maintaining a gourmet lifestyle, and really thought out what was necessary and what wasn't (you don't need a mixer, you can use a fork, etc)
The only thing I wish I'd had then was a pressure cooker. I used my dutch oven as a slow cooker, with one of those pans with holes in them on top of the burner. Actually, I used my dutch oven for almost everything. When I later got a wok, I needed no more pans (though today I have a battery...)

Another lesson I learned then was: I don't need to be able to cook everything. I need to be good at cooking what is possible in my kitchen. So eliminate everything that is too complicated and/or messy; it's ok, you have a small kitchen.
posted by mumimor at 1:03 PM on March 4, 2014

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