Clean as You Go

By: Emily Stephenson

If you cook, you can’t avoid mess—or cleaning. Taking raw ingredients and transforming them with heat and fat is a chemical reaction, and the results are delicious food and greasy spatters. The downside of cooking is seldom discussed. So it’s no wonder Mark received an email from a new cook this week inquiring about his cleaning techniques. Here’s his philosophy from How to Cook Everything:

“As for me, I keep a spotlessly clean kitchen, [and] wash my hands about twenty times a day…It boils down to common sense: Don’t let your kitchen be a breeding ground [for bacteria]. Many experienced cooks and chefs are fanatical about cleanliness, and it works; that’s the best way to avoid food-related illness.”

He touches on the mantra in professional kitchens: “clean as you go.” Chefs are constantly cleaning because they are handling such a high volume of production in cramped conditions with a fixed set of tools. So you’re slightly better off at home.

But if you’re feeling bad that your kitchen doesn’t look like a spotless professional display kitchen, there’s more behind the scenes. Chefs have to be ready for the health inspector at any moment, and have a team of porters to wash dishes and cooks that scrub down every square inch of surface in the kitchen every night. Unless you run your family like a French restaurant brigade, you usually go it alone. Your best defense is to tidy up constantly. In practice, this means doing things like wiping your knife and cutting board between tasks, keeping a bowl for trash (and maybe one for compost) by your cutting board, clearing dirty dishes immediately, and washing up when you can. (Another famous food industry saying: “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”)

From How to Cook Everything Fast

Start with an organized set up, like the illustration above, enjoy the process of cooking, and do a few easy things to prevent a massive pile of dirty dishes at the end:

  1. Keep your work surface and tools clean at all times, which is as simple as keeping towel specifically for cleaning close by and using separate tools and cutting boards for raw and cooked food (or washing them well in between tasks).
  1. Wash dishes whenever you’re not chopping or stirring. (Extra credit: minimizing how many bowls and pots you use; Mark’s recipes take this into account.)
  1. Clean and disinfect counters, the stovetop, and your sink every night and spot check the floor for spills.

Try listening to good music or podcasts—or having someone in the kitchen with you—to pass time and make the work fun. Any other cleaning advice for novice (or experienced!) cooks missing?

Posted in Behind The Scenes


  1. Rafael said...

    baking soda and vinegar for disinfecting or bleach or something else for disinfecting sink and counters?

    • Emily Stephenson said...

      Whatever your preferred method, just as long as it kills germs! I like to use a nontoxic spray for everything, but when raw poultry is involved, I bust out the bleach.

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