10 Tips to Keep Your Kitchen Cleaner While You Cook

published Jun 24, 2014
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I can hear my husband laughing from all the way across town as I write this post. As a cook, I am anything but neat; he calls me the “full-contact chef.” A typical afternoon of cooking will involve grease splatters, crumbs on the floor, and a pile of dishes. Imagine me as the Tasmanian Devil, but with a cloud of flour instead of a tornado. But I’m trying to mend my ways and make things a little easier for myself (and my husband, the dishwasher).

Here are a few thoughts on not only cleaning as you go but making less mess to begin with.

I was inspired to take stock of my own cleaning habits from this question from reader jlksince1986, who says:

Every time I cook I feel like the kitchen ends up a huge mess even though I try to clean as I go. More tips on keeping things neat/making less of a mess in the first place would be wonderful. (Though maybe I’m just a messy person!)

jlk, I feel you. I am a messy person too, and that’s A-OK. Messy people make delicious food. But if you’re trying to keep your mess a little bit in check, here are some of my best tips.

→ And don’t forget to check in with these guys:

How to Clean Your Kitchen, as Told by Dogs

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10 Ways Keep Your Kitchen Cleaner While You Cook

  1. Use a garbage bowl. Anjali talked about why the garbage bowl is the key to happiness in the kitchen. Instead of walking over to the trash can or compost bin with handfuls of peelings or scraps (dropping some in the process, probably) use a bowl on the counter where you work to consolidate all of your cooking waste. It’s more efficient, too; it will save you time.
  2. Line your cutting board with a flexible cutting mat. You know that thing that happens when you take your big, stocky cutting board and try to slide a bunch of chopped vegetables into a pan? Half of them go on the floor, right? I like to use a thin, flexible cutting mat on top of my cutting board. When it’s time to transfer the vegetables I pick this up, instead of the whole board, and bend it to funnel everything neatly into the pot.
  3. Take the trash can or recycling bin out of the cupboard. For cooking projects where I’m using a lot of canned or boxed goods, I’ll take the recycling bin out of the cupboard and set it right by the counter so I can drop everything in at once as I open it.
  4. Pick up anything that falls on the floor right away. I’m so bad about this, but picking up that strawberry that rolled under the cabinet or or the pasta that fell out of the box now will save on cleanup later.
  5. Put reusable measuring spoons in a cup. I put a cup or ramekin in front of me while baking or cooking, and if I use a measuring spoon that I know I’ll want to use again, I’ll drop it in the cup so I don’t forget about it and get out a new one. This also keeps spoons corralled.
  6. Make it easy to clean as you go. Not everyone agrees with me on this, but I think that preparing your workspace before cooking with a bowl of hot soapy water is such a nice way to save on cleanup. It also consolidates your dirty things; instead of having them hanging around the countertops they’re all in one place. On the same note, start cooking with an empty dishwasher.
  7. Use a splatter screen on the stove. I’m a bit lazy about this, but using a splatter screen when rendering fat, sautéing, or shallow-frying will save you oodles of cleanup later.
  8. Measure and spray over the sink (or open dishwasher). Christine showed us this smart tip: Spray cooking spray over an open dishwasher to catch the extra grease. You can also do this over the sink. And I would add that this is not just a good tip for cooking spray, but for when you’re measuring messy things like honey or oil.
  9. Fill a bottle with soapy water. I find that having a bottle full of soapy water makes me more likely to give scummy spots a squirt right away, wiping down the counters as I go, instead of leaving them to get crusted and hard to scrub.
  10. Cook more slowly. The biggest way, though, to minimize mess, is to cook more slowly. Being slow and deliberate in measuring and chopping, and wiping up in between each step, is probably the most effective way to cook more neatly. But this is the one place I don’t usually follow my own advice; I am often trying to do too much at once. There’s a lot of fun in being a slam-bam-poof-of-flour cook, and far be it from me to take that pleasure away!

Any other tips for keeping the kitchen cleaner as you cook? Or is it just a losing battle?

It’s Reader Request Week at The Kitchn!
This post was requested by jlksince1986.