I Rarely Make a Mess When I Cook (and I'm Kind of Smug About It). Here's What I Do
Love cooking but not dealing with the aftermath? Here's are my top tips to keep your kitchen tidy while cooking.
David WatskySenior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's logged more than a decade writing about all things edible, including meal kits and meal delivery subscriptions, cooking, kitchen gear and commerce. Since earning a BA in English from Northeastern in Boston, he's toiled in nearly every aspect of the eats business from slicing and dicing as a sous-chef in Rhode Island to leading complex marketing campaigns for major food brands in Manhattan. These days, he's likely somewhere trying the latest this or tasting the latest that - and reporting back, of course. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
ExpertiseKitchen tech, cookware, small appliances, food innovation, meal delivery and meal kits.
Cooking is fun. Cleaning up after? Not so much. But unless you have a live-in housekeeper or extremely well-trained children, you’re probably shouldering the lion’s share of that chore. As someone who loves to cook -- I've tested more than 75 meal kits in the last couple of years -- but loathes the cleanup part, I’ve adopted habits that help minimize the inevitable kitchen mess as I move through a recipe. When added together, a series of small practices and minor adjustments make for a much more pleasant post-dinner experience.
My penchant for cleaning while cooking is a source of pride; a set of skills I brandish to the benefit of myself and anyone who offers to clean up after I’ve cooked. In that spirit, I’ve distilled them all into a checklist of the best tips and tricks for keeping your kitchen clean while cooking.
Designate a garbage bowl
I learned this one years ago from TV chef Rachael Ray, and it’s as useful today as it was then. Either bring the main compost bin or garbage can nearer to the action or designate a large bowl to place on the counter to use as a temporary bin for onion skins and celery ends. If the trash or compost is closer, you’ll use it more frequently and be less likely to let the nasty stuff pile up.
Automatic kitchen composters such as the Lomi and Mill will process your food waste into usable garden fuel or animal feed. They both cost a few hundred dollars but go a long way in keeping your kitchen free of odors and organic waste out of the landfill.
Get yourself a splatter guard
The best way to clean a mess in the kitchen is to prevent it from happening in the first place. One of the biggest sources of a dirty post-cooking kitchen is when grease pops and splatters across that pristine stovetop. A splatter guard will lessen the damage by keeping cooking oil and food in the pan. I recommend the sturdy silicone Splatter Dom (read our full Splatter Dom review) because it sits on the rim of the pan and allows you to keep both of your hands free for cooking. It’s also adjustable to fit two pan sizes and has a removable lid.
Clean as you go
Cleaning as you go is one habit you’ll have to train yourself to incorporate, but it makes an enormous difference. A few well-placed wipes with a sponge or rag along with loading dirty dishes, cutting boards, pans and containers into the dishwasher as you go will make a huge impact on the final state of your kitchen.
If you find yourself looking at a timer or clock between steps, find something small to clean or unused ingredients to put away.
Use foil in between the stove and counter
The miniscule space in between the stove and the counter is truly the devil’s playground. Cleaning crumbs and other bits of food from that crevice is nearly impossible without moving the stove, so your best bet is to prevent them from falling down there in the first place. A small piece of aluminum foil will keep that cursed space free from future mouse food.
Soak pots and pans (almost) immediately and use dish spray, not liquid soap
Washing scorched pots and pans with caked-on food is often the most time-consuming part of kitchen cleanup. While you may not be able to avoid that step altogether, the sooner you can get those pans covered with soap and soaking in water, the easier they will be to clean.
While you don’t want to douse scalding hot pans with cold water for fear of warping the metal, you can certainly get that soak going while the pan is still warm and before the food really sets.
For best results, switch from liquid soap to a dish spray such as Dawn’s Powerwash. Dish spray allows you to quickly coat the entire surface of a dirty pan with one or two spritzes of grease-fighting mist. Here’s my full review of Dawn Powerwash.
Use a Dutch oven
Some pieces of cookware are superior for cooking without making a mess, and an enameled Dutch oven is up there. For one, most Dutch ovens have high walls and a lid so you’re less likely to have grease, liquid and food splatter. Quality Dutch ovens also have a very naturally nonstick enamel coating that rarely needs scrubbing.
While enameled cast iron isn’t quite as non-stick as Teflon-coated cookware, it’s pretty darn close. Unlike stainless steel or nonenameled cast iron, even seemingly stuck-on food lifts fairly easily from this versatile cookware material. At worst, a short soak with soap and water almost always does the trick.
These are the best Dutch ovens for 2023, from pricey French heirloom pots to more budget-friendly models.
Load the dishwasher properly
Despite what your partner said in a recent post-dinner spat, there is a right and wrong way to load the dishwasher. If you follow this simple guide for arranging plates, bowls, glasses and silverware, you’ll maximize space and have cleaner dishes afterwards. And if your dishwasher isn’t working well or smells funny, it’s probably because the filter needs cleaning.
If you’re grilling, use grill mats for flaky foods
Seasoned grillers know the agony and the ecstasy that comes with firing up the Traeger or Weber at mealtime. While grilling outside keeps the mess far from your kitchen, flaky fish and vegetables often fall through the grates to the fire below creating a burnt mess that’s not for the faint of heart. Fire-safe grill mats for those fall-apart foods is an easy fix for a cleaner grill. And here’s how to properly clean your grill before and after each season.