my clean kitchen

How to Cook and Keep the Kitchen Clean at the Same Time

my clean kitchen

I love to cook. And I enjoy inviting guests for dinner parties or more casual meals. What I hate is the big ugly mess that happens in the kitchen as I’m cooking and concentrating on getting everything on the table. My kitchen is right out there in the open for all to see, which is why I’ve come up with strategies to cook and keep the kitchen clean at the same time.

Begin with the end in mind

It’s a concept I learned from reading  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The first habit: begin with the end in mind. This has helped me so much, especially when setting out to cook and keep my kitchen clean at the same time.

I envision the meal all prepared, on the table with me enjoying it along with my guests. I see the kitchen clean, the sink empty, the stovetop splatter-free and shiny clean. Coffee and dessert are all sitting out, ready to be served at the appropriate time. Right there, a certain sense of calm and peace comes over me because I know where I’m going with all of this! I have a plan and a purpose.

Start clean

This means an empty dishwasher, empty clean and shiny sink, and cleared-off clean counters. Starting out with these three areas neat and tidy makes keeping the kitchen clean through the entire process so doable. You won’t believe the difference this makes!

Prep sink

This is an old restaurant trick and it is brilliant. Fill a sink or large bowl with hot water and a couple of squirts of dishwashing liquid. This is where you will be depositing cooking utensils as you are done with them—whisks, spatulas, spoons, tongs. Just drop them in the prep sink to soak. If you need it again, simply lift it out and give it a quick rinse and you’re good to go.

As you have downtime, for example when onions are sauteing or you’re waiting for water to boil, give all of the soaking utensils a quick scrub and rinse and put them back into the drawer ready to be used again. Empty and refill the prep sink as needed.

Caution: Anything that touches raw meat should not be dumped into the prep sink but rather cleaned and handled separately. Also, avoid putting knives into the prep sink for safety reasons. This is not the time you need to deal with cutting your hand on a sharp blade.

Garbage bowl

orange garbage bowlMy garbage bowl is big and bright orange. That is by design because I want to see it and know exactly where it is at all times while I’m prepping and cooking. It has a single purpose in my kitchen—to collect everything headed for the trash and recycle bin. I don’t want to be running back and forth to the kitchen trash area as I’m chopping, prepping, opening. I keep my garbage bowl within arms reach no matter where I am in the kitchen. It goes with me as I’m cooking.

Everything to be disposed of goes into the garbage bowl—cans, shells, lids, cuttings, bones, fat, peelings, and so forth. If it’s not part of the meal and will be discarded, it lands in the garbage bowl to be separated later.

A garbage bowl saves me time, steps, and movement. It keeps me on task because it is not unusual for me to think of a dozen other things as I dash to the kitchen trash area with an empty can or onions skins. Big Orange keeps me focused and on task.


Also known as “prepping,” this means getting ingredients all chopped, cut, peeled, sliced, measured, and otherwise prepared first. Before the actual cooking begins. This is not easy for me because my nature is to jump in, get things done, and clean up later. But I have learned to befriend the process because the results are spectacular.

If you chop, measure, and portion out what you need ahead of time, you’ll reduce the mess created from a frantic scramble to measure and prep. Set out plates or small bowls (easy to wash up in the prep sink)  that will contain all your ingredients as you go.


Pre-treating is an amazing concept that makes it easy to semi-clean as you cook. It makes the final cleaning up—while the roast is roasting, the bread is baking, the salad is chilling—a breeze! My pretreatment is a wine bottle that sits at my sink at all times that is about 95% water and 5% Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid. It’s pretty because it has no labels.

My pretreatment bottle has become part of my kitchen decor. And I use it with abandon, refilling as needed. It could just as easily be contained in a spray bottle and kept under the sink.

I use this to pretreat just about anything as soon as it’s cool enough to do so. If a dish or pan cools off too much, things can start to cake on and become really tough to clean. And ugly! So I give these items a generous splash with this solution and let them soak until I have a few moments to get them into the dishwasher or I finish by handwashing. The goal is to get things cleaned and back into their storage spot.

Clean spills on the spot

Mostly I’m talking about the cooktop. Spills and splatters can quickly derail an otherwise clean kitchen. A fresh spill is a thousand times easier to clean than one that has become cooked- or baked-on. If you spill it, clean it up right away. This includes the on the floor, counter, and backsplash, too. A good splatter screen will help immensely with keeping the cooktop clean.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have family coming for Thanksgiving. I have a load of stuff to do to get ready!


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  1. Gina Stevens says:

    Mary, I’ve always used the half-sink-of-soapy-water method to keep utensils clean and to rinse my hands betweens tasks. Also, when using a hand mixer or mashing potatoes, I set the bowl/pan in the empty side of the sink. This keeps any splattering inside the sink while relieving strain on my back, since the bowl/pot is lower than the countertop. Love this article. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Debbie Phillips says:

    Wow. I cannot believe those that are chastising Mary. It is none of our business what who she socializes with. Plandemic isolation is killing people w/depression and suicide. Research. The stats are not different than the seasonal flu. There is no research to prove that masks work. Do you think masks only provide one-way transmission of the virus? How can the virus only enter a cloth mask but not exit it. What about all the chemicals people are breathing from disinfectants? I hope Mary has a great Thanksgiving however she chooses to spend it.

    • Bonnie says:

      Not the correct forum for this, but I really hope you listen to science and doctors who are knowledgeable about pandemic spread before you infect someone or get sick yourself. It’s not our business who Mary a private Thanksgiving with, but masks work when worn properly to protect others, and yes, even the wearer from the Coronavirus.

      • Debbie says:

        Interesting that you did not tell those that dispensed health advice first that this is not the correct forum. You must only think it is not the correct forum when the views differ from yours. I’ve never heard that masks protect the wearer. I’ve only heard to wear them to protect others. Gates is behind most of the protocols. Research and see. He is not a medical profession just rich. I am glad not to be a sheeple. Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Bonnie says:

    I’ve added an additional step after prepping. I often combine recipes, or decide to add ingredients in a different order from the recipe, so as I actually use something, I move the container away from where I’m doing the actual cooking. Helps cut out wondering if I’ve already added the salt etc.

  4. Greta says:

    How encouraging to see these suggestions outlined and in print! I have tried to follow these steps, but not formally visualized or organized them like this. Such a BLESSING! Many THANKS for you and TO YOU!

  5. American says:

    Seriously? Judging Mary for having company at Thanksgiving? We are still free to make our own decisions, take risks that we choose to take. There are always risks in life that we take on – driving on the freeway is MUCH more dangerous.
    Please don’t make our freedoms an issue.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Marie says:

      Happy Thanksgiving and even with family over I’m sure you will keep it safe. We had company also, including my 100 yr old father-in-law.
      Joke: Someone called the police to report their neighbor has 11 guests. The police told her they weren’t going there because then there would be 12.

  6. Sharon Bakay says:

    Are you seriously having family over this year? I’m hoping that you are preparing and packaging so that they can grab dinner an go!. Not a good idea to have groups of people even if it is family. Kinda disappointed in that you are having them over.

    • Jrs says:

      I agree…. and if u did decide to do that, don’t advertise it to the public. Love your column other than this misstep. Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. Miriam Kearney says:

    I hope you don’t actually have family coming for thanksgiving. This year that would be a really bad idea unless everyone has been seriously isolating for the last 2 weeks and gets tested.

  8. Bill stock says:

    Excellent again. constant cleaning as you go makes workplace friendly & workable. Same with cooking- Mise en place- makes tasks most efficient , lining up all ingredients & tools in advance saves energy & frustration.

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