How to be a tidy cook

Jan 23, 2013 at 8:00 a.m. ET

Cooking and cleaning go hand in hand. Instead of cooking first and cleaning up second, try cleaning as you go and see the difference it can make in your meal, your attitude and your kitchen.

Woman cooking in kitchen

There’s no doubt that cooking is a form of art, and most cooks, even amateur ones, focus much more on the cooking than the cleaning. Of course we want our food to taste good, but why not learn to clean while we cook? This saves time and helps us stay organized during the cooking process, making the meal that much easier to create and enjoy.

Step 1: Prep

The first step in being a tidy cook starts with the preparation. Take all the necessary ingredients out of the cupboard and place them on kitchen counter. If you’re cooking more than one dish, group the ingredients based on where they’re needed. Get your pots and pans on their correct burners, preheat the oven and get out any other needed items, such as a cutting board, mixing bowl or measuring cups. Having everything set out in front of you before you begin eliminates scrambling for items as you go and causing an even bigger mess.

Check out this super-spicy chicken stir-fry recipe >>

Step 2: Clean as you go

Whether you’re making cookies or a stir-fry loaded with veggies, it’s vital to keep your cooking area clean. Here are some tips to make this happen:

  • Put ingredients away after each use. For cookies, measure all dry ingredients and put them back in the pantry before moving on to the wet ingredients. This helps keep your area free of clutter and ensures you don’t forget a valuable ingredient!
  • Throw away trash as you go. If trimming veggies, pile up the peels, ends, etc., on a paper towel and dispose of it when done. Same goes for cracking eggs, unwrapping butter or opening meat packages. Consider moving the trashcan to your cooking area to make this process even easier.
  • Rinse dirty dishes immediately. Whether using knives, bowls, spoons or measuring cups, rinse each item with hot water right away. This prevents the food from sticking, saving you tons of time when loading the dishwasher later on.
  • When food is cooking, load up the dishwasher. Now that your food is successfully prepped and in the oven (or on the stove), it’s time to put all the dishes in the dishwasher. Since you’ve pre-rinsed everything, this should take but a few minutes.
  • Keep the counters clean. If stirring sauces on the stove, keep the spoon on a paper towel or spoon holder to prevent food from getting on the counter and hardening.

Step 3: Clean up afterward

Tip: After loading the dishes, spend an extra few minutes wiping down the stove and countertops.

By the time the meal is finished, the only visible dirty dishes should be whatever dish the food was cooked in and plates to serve your meal on. For sauces and stir-fries (or anything in a pot or pan), rinse the cooking dish immediately after the food is put on the plates. Rinsing spaghetti sauce or caramelized onions is much easier when the pan is still hot. The same goes for the plates — once you and your family are done enjoying your meal, finish the job by rinsing all the plates and loading everything into the dishwasher. Since the pre-cooking dishes are already in it, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to get everything else loaded up.

Being a tidy cook for every meal guarantees that you will always have a clean kitchen. Once you’ve used this process a few times, it becomes a habit — one you won’t want to break!

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