9 Tips for Spending Less Time at the Kitchen Sink

This month’s Eat Well, Spend Less theme is one that you are going to love: saving time in the kitchen!  I can’t wait to see all the tips from the Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers, and as usual, will be doing a roundup of all the posts later this week.

When my mom comes to visit, it never fails that she’ll remark about just how many dishes I use to make a meal.  (Probably partly because when she’s here, she usually ends up doing the dishes for me!)

It’s true – I do use a lot of dishes when I cook.  Even though I don’t use a bunch of gadgets, I still somehow end up with a plethora of dirty mixing bowls, pans, and knives every time I cook. And I used to go to bed most nights with dirty dishes in the sink.

This year, I’ve been working on developing good habits in several areas, and getting the dishes done efficiently is one of them.  I’m really excited that I can say that I have made great progress in this area, and no longer wake up dreading the mountain of dishes that will greet me.

Here are nine tips to help you spend less time with your hands in the dishwater – and might just even help you look forward to cooking a bit more!

Sink image from raganmd via flickr.

1. Wipe it up right away.

I learned this seemingly-obvious-but-lost-on-me tip from Nony at A Slob Comes Clean earlier this year: if you wipe those drips of cake batter and tomato sauce up right away, it takes a fraction of the time to clean up versus letting it sit become cake batter gunk and tomato sauce crust.

Yes, sometimes it interrupts the “flow” of your cooking to wipe up a splatter right away, it saves a ton of time in the long run, and once you get into the habit, it will become second nature.

2. Use fewer gadgets and more all-purpose tools.

I already alluded to the fact that I’m not a fan of most single-purpose kitchen tools.  A garlic press or one of those onion choppers are a beast to clean, and good knife skills can do just as good of a job.  Cleaning one or two knives is a lot less work than cleaning a bunch of single-use tools!

If your knife skills are lacking, check out the book An Edge in the Kitchen.  I just got it from the library and it’s a great resource for learning what makes a good knife and how to cut properly.  (I’m really trying to work on my knife skills!)

3. Rinse it right away.

Rinse your knives and mixing bowls right away, rather than waiting until the end of the meal when you are doing the “big load” of dishes.  Use your sprayer to get the food off with the least amount of water possible.  You’ll use much less water if you rinse it right away, before food has a chance to dry out at all, and it will save you time later.  You probably won’t dread the final cleanup like you used to, either!

Again, it may interrupt the flow of your cooking, but once you get into the habit, it becomes second nature.

4. Clean your pans by deglazing them.

When you sear a piece of meat in a smoking-hot pan, you’ll be left with a brown crust on the bottom of the pan.  This is called fond and it contains a ton of flavor.  To get that flavor into your food, you’ll want to pour a little liquid (wine or stock usually) onto the pan while it’s hot, and then stir it around, scraping up the fond.  This is called deglazing.

You can apply the same principle if you have burnt bits in the bottom of your pan after you’re done cooking.  Heat up the dirty, empty pan; add some water while it’s hot; and then scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula or spoon as it sizzles and steams.

You will want to be careful doing this – if you add cold water to a hot pan, the pan could warp, so you’ll probably want to use lukewarm water.

5. Use aluminum foil.

I know, I know – it’s not the most economical choice, but using aluminum foil to strategically line your pans can save a ton of effort when it comes to dishwashing time.  Baked-on oil is the bane of my existence, but this can often be avoided by lining pans with foil.

I line my pans with foil when roasting peppers, and when cooking meatloaf or chicken, I bake it on a rack with the pan beneath lined with foil to catch the grease.  Cleanup is so much easier when I remember to do this!

6. Start using a garbage bowl.

I stole this trick from Rachael Ray, who probably stole it from someone else. ;)  Place a large bowl next to your cutting board or in your central work area and line it with a plastic grocery bag.  (I’ve never seen Ms. Ray do this; probably because it doesn’t look very attractive on TV.)

Place all your vegetable scraps, empty cans, wrappers, and meat trimmings in the bag-inside-the-bowl and then when it’s time to clean up, you can just lift up the bag, tie it up, and throw it in the garbage.

This is something that I’m still trying to make a habit, but it makes cleanup so much easier when I do it!


7. Use your dishes for more than one thing.

Shh.  I won’t tell anyone if you don’t wash the cake batter bowl with soap before you used it to make the frosting.  Obviously, you want to avoid cross-contamination, but you can often re-use mixing bowls during the same cooking session with only a quick rinse.

8.  Make friends with your dishwasher.

The dishwasher is, I think, my favorite kitchen appliance ever.  I usually run two loads a day, and yes, often I put in mixing bowls, serving spoons, baking dishes, and my (dishwasher-safe) pots and pans.

Go ahead – don’t feel guilty about running your dishwasher. ;)  Every study I’ve ever read seems to conclude that it uses less water than washing them the traditional way, and if it’s what it takes to help you get delicious, healthy food on the table with less stress, why not?

9. Do freezer cooking.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that part of the draw of freezer cooking is the lack of dishes to do!  Duh.  I struggle with getting dinner on the table at a set time, but I’ve been doing some freezer cooking – or even just cooking ahead – lately and having some of the prep already done has seriously streamlined dinnertime and cleanup time.

No, it’s not fewer dishes – you still have to cook the items and dirty the dish at some point – but it’s fewer dishes on busy weeknights, which is a huge plus.

That’s a natural segue into a plug for the new cookbook of the Eat Well, Spend Less “founder”, Jessica Fisher.  I’ve been looking forward to this cookbook for over a year now!  Jessica appreciates really good, fresh food, so I knew her cookbook would be filled with good food for your freezer, not just soggy casseroles.

I’ve only had time to read through what I would call the “strategy” section of the book and haven’t tried any of the recipes, but even just the “strategy” section had lots of great tips about how to make freezer cooking work for you.

I’m giving away a copy of Jessica’s book, Not Your Mother’s Guide to Make-Ahead and Freeze, on Springs Bargains, so click here to enter the giveaway!

More “eat well, spend less” time-saving kitchen tips

Be sure to check out the rest of the Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers for more tips for saving time in the kitchen:

What are your strategies for spending less time at the kitchen sink?


  1. Along the same lines of aluminum foil, crock pot liners are awesome. I can’t always justify the expense, but for those things that stick to the bottom they are a life saver. You just pull the bag out, throw it away, and your mess is gone!

    • …and the bag is in the landfill forever. And you’re eating food that cooked for hours in plastic with unknown health effects. I don’t have a slow cooker, but if I did I would not use the liners.

      Here’s how I remove crusted-on food from baking pans, which I bet would work with a slow cooker, too: Fill with hot soapy water. Let soak an hour or more. Rub off whatever comes off easily. If there’s still more, sprinkle the damp crusty stuff with baking soda. Let stand 15 minutes or more. Scrub; a lot will come off. If there’s still more stubborn gunk, baking soda plus hydrogen peroxide takes off just about anything, and I’ve never yet seen it harm any surface. (I wouldn’t try any of this on cast iron, though; the seasoning is so easily damaged. You know what works on cast iron? Coffee grounds!)

  2. Great tips – but do you not have recycling service in your area? It makes me cringe to think of recycling items being tossed in the garbage (as well as compostable things not being composted), but I guess that’s another issue altogether, huh?

    • I was thinking the same thing about number 6. I would do this with the organic material, and then take the bowl to the compost heap afterwards. But I would never chuck cans in the bin, stuff like that should get recycled. ;-)
      Apart from that, some good advice!

      • For those that can recycle and compost, you can apply the same principle, but have 2-3 bowls instead of just one. :)

        • Yes, exactly. When I am cutting up anything with a lot of unwanted bits (like peppers) it saves a lot of time to put the compost bucket right next to the cutting board instead of turning around repeatedly to reach its normal location behind the sink. It also cuts way down on the harried feelings when my 7-year-old is helping me cook, because I’m not having to reach around him so much!

          Cans and other recyclable containers, I normally toss into the sink while I’m working, then rinse them and put them in the recycling bin when I get to a point where the food is baking or simmering or whatever. Sometimes they’ve gotten rinsed on their own from my running the water for other things.

  3. I’ve learned most those things the hard way too! They do save a lot of time when it’s dishwashing time! I especially love rinsing and reusing :) (Or rinsing and sticking in the clean side of the sink to dry, like if it’s just a knife I chopped an onion with.)

    And although I often use a “garbage bowl” (which is usually just a dirty bowl I’d already used for something else), I never thought to line it with a grocery bag. Thanks for that tip–I’ll be sure to try it soon!

  4. Deborah Jennings says:

    I try to clean up as I go. Instead of washing all the dishes after the meal, I try to wash the knives or measuring cups when I finish using them and have a minute between stirring or whatever needs to be done at the time. This I learned from my dear Mother.

    • I learned good things from my mom, too! But somehow I forgot along the way. How does that happen?! My mom never went to bed with dishes undone, but I had to retrain myself after getting into bad habits. :/ Glad I have that example to look to, though!

  5. Great tips, except no.6 — you obviously don’t live in a country where you sort your trash. Vegetable scraps, meat trimming and wrappers go into separate trash cans over here.

  6. Darcy Allen says:

    we’ve been looking at this cookbook, and would love to try the recipes and put some of Jessica’s tips to work in our own home!

  7. For the garbage bowl, I just use an empty already dirty bowl and dump it in the trash or compost when I’m done. No extra waste but serves the same purpose.