The Smart Way to Use Your Oven to Help with Dish Duty

updated Mar 27, 2021
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Someone holding dirty baking dish.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

I have settled into stay-at-home life this year, but not into the Everest of dishes from constant cooking. Returning from a carb-heavy dinner to a sink full of unfinished business has been, and will always be, the most begrudged part of the meal. Can’t I just stash those crusty sheet pans somewhere so that I don’t have to look at them? It’s the dread of hand-washing that can easily sway me to order takeout (or just eat a bunch of cheese).

Turns out, I can stash them away! Baking dishes and oven-safe cookware, too! Inspired by my eccentric aunt, who used to use her oven as an auxiliary closet, I’ve found that while it’s empty and still warm from, say, a batch of bread, the oven works as the perfect “dry dishwasher.” (Note: Warm is the key word here. Not, like, 400 degrees.)

Just as a sauna helps open your pores, a warm oven has enough heat to loosen gunk on oven-safe dishes. This trick not only saves me scraping and scrubbing, but also energy and water. 

Now whenever I make something messy — like sticky sheet-pan chicken, fudgy brownies, or jammy cobbler, I let my oven do the cleaning. Or, at least, the hardest part.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Before I sit down to dig in, I transfer whatever I’m not going to eat into a storage container. Then I fill my dirty baking dish with whatever dirty utensils are in the sink, and cover with water and a squirt of dish soap. I stick the dish in the oven, and then I can enjoy my meal while the residual heat softens things up. The more leisurely I dine, the longer the warm soak, and the easier cleanup is later — the opposite of what happens when I leave it on the counter to get crusty. With this new method, I too am less crusty about cleanup. Plus, the water in the baking dish also makes the oven a little steamy (see my sauna reference from earlier) and I find that it helps make spot cleaning the oven easier, too.