9 Ways to Make After-Cooking Cleanup Easier
There are some people who don’t throw dinner parties, because they believe that it’s too much work. Setting the table, preparing the food, and cleaning afterward are all too much for them. I am not one of these people. I love throwing dinner parties, and while I agree that it is a lot of work, the reward of your friends and family joining you for a delicious meal is worth it. However, I can’t say that I love cleaning, and I do my best, whether it’s dinner for six in my studio apartment’s tiny kitchen or Christmas Eve for 12 in my grandfather’s elegant dining room, to maintain cleanliness at all times. In order to spend the least amount of time cleaning, you have to be smart when you’re cooking. Here are nine ways to make cleanup after cooking easier.
My father always makes fun of me, but if the kitchen is messy before I start cooking, I clean it. When the dishwasher is full or the counter is cluttered with a toaster, cutting board, and dirty knife from the morning’s toast making, there is no place to put dirty dishes and mixing bowls. To cook efficiently and actually enjoy what you’re doing, you need a clean slate to work on. Starting with a clean kitchen will also mean that you have less to clean up at the end of the night.
Don’t wait until you are done cooking to clean everything. Instead, clean as you go. If you’re making braised short ribs and mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner, sear the beef and transfer to a plate. Add the vegetables to the pot, and while they are cooking, wash the cutting board and knife that you were using. Add the liquid and beef to the pot, and while it comes to a boil, place the measuring cup and plate that the beef was on in the dishwasher. When you put the pot in the oven to braise for several hours, your kitchen is clean and you can start to make the mashed potatoes.
When cooking, it’s essential to have empty space and clean slates. You need an empty counter to set up a chopping station. An empty sink to wash dirty pans. An empty dishwasher to place soiled utensils. Keep things empty and you’ll naturally have less to clean. Plus, when the sink is filled with dishes, it’s overwhelming and more difficult to wash the offending items. You may end up breaking something because the sink is too full!
Another thing that my family members like to poke fun at is my addiction to loading the dishwasher. I place everything—even expensive wineglasses—in the dishwasher. It’s a machine whose purpose is to wash dishes, so why on earth wouldn’t you fill it with everything?! The only items I do not stick in the dishwasher are knives (dishwashing knives can dull the handle material, and too much moisture can cause the blade and handle to separate—plus the detergent makes stainless steel oxidize) and wooden cutting boards.
In 2005 and 2006, I watched back-to-back episodes of 30-Minute Meals With Rachael Ray every evening. It’s how I unwound and learned to cook! One of Rachael’s best signature tips is to use a garbage bowl. She places a large bowl on her counter while she’s cooking and throws all of her trash in it. She saves time by not having to go to the garbage every couple of minutes and keeps her work area clean by minimizing the mess. I’ve modified her technique: I pull my trash bag out from underneath the sink and place it next to me while I’m cooking. Then I have a compost bowl and place compostable items—onion skin, carrot tops, avocado peel, egg shells, etc.—in it.
Whenever I cook, I play a game with myself where I try to use as few cooking tools and utensils as possible. The less you use, the less you have to clean! At a recent dinner party, I made a compound butter that required fried bacon and sautéed vegetables. For the main course, I was serving pasta with a pork sugo that had to be heated up in a pan. Instead of washing the pan that had the bacon and vegetables in it, I simply added the sugo to it. The dishes had similar flavors, so why waste time washing a pan when you’re going to use it again?
Whenever you’re roasting and baking, line cookie sheets with parchment paper or foil. After you’re done making roasted broccoli or chocolate ginger cookies, you won’t have to clean the baking sheet. Simply discard the paper or foil.
If a cake recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 cup of flour, use the 1/2-cup measuring cup. Don’t get them both dirty!
Although I hate to leave things soaking in the sink overnight, sometimes it’s necessary. If you have a large pot that needs to be soaked, but the sink is filled with dirty dishes, fill the pot with hot soapy water, then place it on the stovetop and let it soak there.
Fill the cabinet underneath your sink with all-purpose cleaner, dishwashing soap, different types of brushes, a copper scrub, and lots of clean sponges. Having the proper tools and storing them in a handy, easy-to-access place makes cleaning quicker and more efficient. If your countertop requires a special type of cleaner, stock up on it, so you’re always ready to clean.
One of my pet peeves is when a friend or family member offers to clean the kitchen. They wash all the dishes but leave them wet and piled next to the sink. This doesn’t mean that the kitchen is clean. This means that the dishes have been washed. For the kitchen to truly be clean, one must dry the pots, pans, and utensils and put them away. At a dinner party, it’s perfectly okay to ask friends to help you dry dishes. Give them clean towels, and since you know where everything goes in your kitchen, have them pass you the cleaned and dried items to put away.
Find some of my favorite cleaning products below.
How do you maintain a clean kitchen?