10 Tips for Cooking All Day Without Making a Mess

published Feb 1, 2017
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An all-day cooking project is fun! (Especially if it’s blizzard-ing outside.) An all-day cleaning project is not. If you’re tackling a super-involved snow-day recipe, you’ll need these tips to minimize your cleanup time and maintain your sanity.

1. Start with a clean kitchen.

Your kitchen should be spotless (or spotless-ish!) and the dishwasher and sink (or dish rack) should be empty before you even begin cooking. Adding to an existing mess will stress you out even more. If there’s a place for the dirty dishes to go as you dirty them, that will help.

2. Make a game plan before you start.

Compare all of your recipes for the day — how many of them use garlic or lemon zest? What about sugar or flour? Chop and measure everything at the same time, to limit how many times you have to wash your cutting board and measuring cups.

In an attempt to cut down on the number of dishes you dirty, try to eliminate tools altogether. If you’re roasting two kinds of veggies at the same temperature, toss them onto the same sheet pan for a one-dish preparation. Need to slice veggies and chicken? Chop the vegetables first — and then the chicken — and you’ll only have to wash your knife and board once.

(Image credit: Quentin Bacon)

3. Pick the right tools for the job.

We’ve all been there: You start mixing ingredients in a bowl, only to realize they’re not all gonna fit. So you have to dirty a bigger bowl, which you didn’t want to use because you didn’t want to have to clean it, but now you have to wash two bowls. If you’re not sure which bowl or container is best, just pick the bigger one.

Same goes for cutting boards. Your cutting board can never be too big — especially when you’re doing a day of cooking. With a big cutting board, you can chop different ingredients in different quadrants and then you just have one board to wash later.

And if you have to measure out, say, a cup of milk, use a liquid measuring cup. You may think your hand is steady enough to hold a dry measuring cup full of milk and dump it into a bowl, but it probably isn’t. That would be a recipe for a mess.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

4. Get canisters that are big enough to fit your measuring cups.

On a related note, make sure your dry goods canisters (for things like flour and sugar) are big enough to fit your measuring cups. Yes, even a full one-cup scoop. If you can’t fit your cups into the canister, then measuring is going to be difficult — and messy. (Never mind the fact that most recipes assume you’re working on a scoop-and-level method, not a spoon-in method!)

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

5. Measure over the sink.

If you think you might make a mess while measuring, just do it over the sink. When your prediction comes true, you can just rinse out the sink.

Oh, and rinsing out the sink is also something you should be doing. (Let’s call it Tip 5A.) If you don’t have a garbage disposal, clean up the big chunks of food before the water starts backing up. And give the sink itself a wipe-down whenever it starts looking too gross.

6. Use a plate as a giant spoon rest.

Pull out a plate (any dinner plate will do) before you start cooking. Use this to hold your measuring cups and spoons that you’re going to use again. Your spatula, knives, and mixing spoons can all rest on this plate, too. This way, you’re not dirtying your counter unnecessarily.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

7. Make friends with aluminum foil.

Line baking sheets or pans with foil to simplify cleanup — especially if you’re cooking something messy. There’s nothing worse than scraping off baked-on cheese!

8. Get rid of food scraps.

Use a garbage bowl to corral your fruit and vegetable peels, meat trimmings, and any other scraps. You know, versus having them strewn about your counter. Just empty it into your trashcan whenever it gets too full.

Read more about garbage bowls: Why We Love This Underappreciated Kitchen Tool

9. Tidy up as you go.

As soon as you’re finished with an ingredient, put the rest of it away so it’s not taking up space on your counter and creating clutter. Drop an almond on the floor? Pick it up now before you forget about it. Spill something? Clean it up right away; if you wait, it can harden and will be even more difficult to wash off.

10. Schedule cleaning breaks.

If your casserole is in the oven or you’re waiting for pasta water to boil, use that time to handle some dishes or take out the trash. Don’t put it all off to the end because once you’ve eaten that casserole, you’ll have to deal with that pan. And also, you’ll be tired by then!

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What else do you do to minimize the mess when you’re spending the day in the kitchen?