Imagine for a second here, that after cooking up a feast, you could leave your kitchen cleaner than what you started with.
No, I’m not talking about hiding everything under the counter like they do on celebrity cooking shows (although, it would be nice to leave clean up to a production assistant), I’m talking about simple, quick strategies to clean as you go while you cook. This is how professional chefs are trained keep their kitchens clean. You can do this!
I don’t know about you, but a messy kitchen totally ruins my game. If you follow me on Instagram, you know how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE to cook. Over the years through experience and research, I’ve learned strategies to keep the kitchen clean while I cook and I believe it makes my food taste better. Every chef I talk to tells me cooking well is partly related to having great habits in the kitchen.
I find I can cook faster and more effectively in a clean and organized kitchen and my food tastes better! Think about it, you are clean and organized so you can add ingredients at the exact right time, you don’t scorch food while frantically searching for something and you always have a clean surface to work on. This makes so much sense and is really helpful for novice cooks all the way up to pro chefs. Let’s go!
Before you even start cooking, do this
Empty the dishwasher, scour the sink and clean the countertops
It goes without saying that your counter, your prep space, needs to be cleaned. I don’t know about you, but every single millimetre of counter space in my kitchen is valuable prep space, so it all needs to be clean. I remove any clutter from the counters and give them a wipe with a microfiber cloth and all-purpose cleaner.
The sink needs some love too, since you’ll be needing it for water and for cleaning/rinsing. Remove anything in it and give it a quick scour before cooking. I do this with a sponge, a squirt of dish soap and a few sprinkles of baking soda.
Cooking will create dirty dishes, utensils and the like, you use spoons and spatulas and pots and pans and plates and scoops. So, make sure the kitchen is prepared for you to place dirty items in their rightful place as opposed to piling them up willy nilly and hogging valuable prep space (especially if you are in a small kitchen). Unload the dishwasher so that it’s ready to receive all of your dirty stuff that’s not being hand washed. If you don’t have a dishwasher, have a designated spot for your dirty stuff to gather, even consider a plastic bin for temporary storage.
Prepare a utensil soak
This idea comes from my mom, who often hosts big dinners. A utensil soak is perfect for the utensils which
are used multiple times when cooking, but need to be cleaned throughout. This is also a great idea, because you won’t even have to use the dishwasher for most of the utensils and cutlery you used after the meal (but feel free to!).
All you need to do is fill one sink or a bowl with hot water and a couple pumps of dish soap. When you’re done using utensils – a whisk, tongs, a slotted spoon, just dump it in the utensil soak and let it swim around until you need it again. Before using it, just give it a quick rinse. Then when you’ve got some downtime, say while onions are sautéing and cooking is mostly done, you can refill the sink with clean water and soap, and give these a final quick rinse and dry. This is a great thing to do also if you’re hosting a party and need to re-use salad forks for dessert forks. Quick note here – I would recommend cleaning anything used with meat separately!
Set out the right cutting boards and utensils to keep meat and vegetables separate, clean cloths handy for wiping your hands and cleaning up spills and of course, paper towel for cleaning up meat juices. I sometimes pre-portion paper towel so that I don’t have to touch the roll with CHICKEN FINGERS.
You can also consider using disposable gloves if you are going to be handling raw meat or doing some hands-on work (making meatballs or patties, slathering a roast or chicken with marinade). I keep a box handy under my kitchen sink.
If you are well-stocked before cooking, you won’t grab for the wrong thing in a pinch and run the risk of cross-contamination.
Set up a garbage bowl by your cutting board
I love me a good garbage bowl. It helps keep my cutting board clean and free of peels and trimmings so that I can use it to safely cut everything and it’s just.so.easy. Plus, it saves trips to the garbage can which reduces spills and dropped peels that stick to the tile and are a P.I.T.A. to clean when I find them a few days later. Feel free to use 2 bowls if you keep certain cores or peels for stock. The contents of the garbage bowl can also be dumped into your compost after!
Prepare your ingredients beforehand
The pros call this mise en place, which is French for putting in place. Chop, measure and portion out what you need as a precursor to getting your meal ready. That way everything’s ready to be cooked when it is needed, because building a dish requires adding ingredients in at the exact right time. This method also reduces the mess created from a frantic scramble to measure or prep. Get little bowls or a couple of plates and do it that way, these can be easily hand washed. that way you’re not making a mess on the go. Just look at cooking shows, they have everything ready to dump in at the exact right time. It’s a habit all good chefs need to get into!
Clean up spills right away
Watch a professional chef – they have a cloth handy at all times. Whether it’s over their shoulder, on the counter or tucked into their apron, it’s there to handle hot pans and wipe up spills. It seems obvious, but if you spill something on the floor, stove top, counter or backsplash, wipe it up. Less scrubbing for later. I also use mine to wipe my cutting board between uses and to clean my knife between chopping different items.
Wash Items As You Go
When you use a knife, wash the knife. When you use a measuring cup, clean the measuring cup afterwards. To save water, I keep a bottle of dish soap and water (my all-purpose cleaner) handy and give anything that needs a clean a quick spray, scrub with a sponge or cloth and rinse and dry. Have a couple of microfiber cloths handy so you can quickly dry items and reuse them. It reduces the strain on the dishwasher and makes cleaning up after cooking much easier as you’re just putting items away instead of cleaning. Have some good drying towels around too, that way if anything needs to dry while you’re still cooking, you can leave it to do so and focus on other things.
Invest in a good splatter screen
These things may look silly, but I find they make a huge difference in oil splatter around the stovetop and backsplash and even the kitchen exhaust filters. They are quite inexpensive and easy to store, and you only need to bring them out while something is cooking on a high heat and spraying up fat and oil. Simply rest it atop your frying pan and remove when you need to stir or check your food.
Just about ready to plate and eat
Sneak time in to clean while you wait
If you’re waiting for pasta to cook, potatoes to bake or a sauce to reduce, you’ve got a few minutes. I’m usually listening to a podcast or a playlist, so spending time in the kitchen cleaning doesn’t even feel like a chore. Plus it gives me ample opportunity to keep a close eye on what I am making (timing is everything). Relax and take time to wipe up counters, place items in the dishwasher, or dry anything that’s been hand washed. I challenge myself to leave my kitchen looking *almost* as clean as when I started cooking.
Pre-treat anything that goes into the dishwasher
Give your dishwasher a head start on stubborn food by spraying items with a pre-treater (I just use all-purpose cleaner), that way it’ll have an easier time getting items cleaned once they’re in the grips of your dishwasher. If you don’t have a dishwasher, start soaking everything before you eat (see below)!.
Soak items while you eat
While you sit down to enjoy your creation, you should have a relatively clean kitchen. You my friend, are one impressive chef! That said, remove the food from the cooking vessels before eating and pre-soak them while you eat with dish soap and hot water. That way, you’ve got a head start on arguably the hardest stuff to clean after the meal. Nothing will have the opportunity to bake on! If there’s stubborn stuff to clean, add a little baking soda or Barkeeper’s Friend.
As I’ve learned to incorporate these habits into my cooking, I feel that my food tastes better and I am just that much prouder of myself after I’ve made something amazing. It’s also a great way to stay calm when you’re hosting guests for a meal; they can walk in at any time and your kitchen will look relatively wonderful and smell divine. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got friends coming over for brunch in two hours, and I’ve got some stuff to do!
I hope this post helps you keep your kitchen clean and organized while cooking. Share this post with your friends and family who love cooking, too! Everyone I’ve told my tips to has seen a real improvement in their cooking and clean up.
What are your cook-while-you-clean tips?