How to Stay Organized in the Kitchen

July 18, 2012

It’s easy to get distracted while working in the kitchen, and before you know it you have a HUGE mess to clean up.

Today I’m going to give you my tips & tricks on how to stay organized while cooking & baking!

Before you start working on a recipe, start with a clean kitchen!  Your baking/cooking mess will be greatly reduced. The task of cleaning up won’t be as daunting if you’re starting from square one. It’s just common sense.

A clean kitchen also helps you get your head in the game.

Make sure your work surfaces are clean & clutter free. It’s soo necessary! You’ll prevent a lot of accidents this way.

If you don’t want to mess up your freshly cleaned counter top, put down a dishtowel. It’s really nice to have when you’re measuring things like flour because the mess is well contained.

Before you get started on a dish, it’s SO IMPORTANT to re-read the recipe because you might forget an important step, preparation or ingredient. I almost always make the mistake of forgetting that something might need to be chilled in the fridge for hours and I’m totally thrown off time-wise. It’s important to know what steps, ingredients & tools are involved. So read, re-read and READ your recipe AGAIN. Really think about what has to be done from start to finish.

After reading the recipe, layout your tools. Be prepared! If you’re reaching for something you need in a drawer with sticky hands, you are most definitely going to make a mess.

Gather your ingredients! Look at the ingredients list and take time to measure things out in advance (if you can). It’s easier to follow along with a recipe if you’re prepared.

Also, SEPARATE ingredients. For example, I may have one area/station on a counter designated for all of my cake ingredients and another area/station set up for the frosting. If you have things mixed together, it’s easy to misplace the items you need.

When I’m in the kitchen I like to use an empty baking sheet as a surface where I put everything that needs to be put away.  In my kitchen I keep it on the center island so I can pivot around and place things on that baking sheet. When I’m done with a recipe and ready to clean the kitchen, I go right to the baking sheet and sort out the items that need to be put away. It’s all contained on one place.

I learned this tip a looooooooong time ago while watching Rachael Ray. Have a junk bowl on hand! Keep a large bowl at your workstation where you can toss your garbage/compost scraps. It’s not always easy to access the garbage can, so this prevents messes and is a huge time saver.

Timing is EVERYTHING. Take note of any baking/cooking times and set your timer accordingly. I usually use my phone because it doesn’t leave my side (sadly) so if I’m getting distracted in the other room I won’t miss hearing the timer. Like I said above, it’s important to know how long things are going to take. You also know how much time you have to clean up your mess. Which brings me to the next rule…

CLEAN AS YOU GO! This rule is ESSENTIAL. I can’t stress this enough. Use the increments of time in between steps to cleanup dishes/bowls/surfaces. Always exploit your cooking & baking time to clean up your mess. You will feel completely overwhelmed if you leave all the cleaning to the very end. You might not even have a clean surface to put your finished product on!

When I start working on a recipe, I like to get a little tub of soapy water ready in my sink so I can soak items that might require extra elbow grease.

I also like to play a little game with myself to see how much I can get cleaned while something bakes in the oven. It’s a good challenge and the reward is a clean kitchen.

Good luck in the kitchen! Remember to have fun!

Do you have any good tips to add? Let’s discuss.


51 comments on “How to Stay Organized in the Kitchen

  1. That junk bowl tip is GENIUS! So simple, yet so effective! Thanks!

  2. Candice Apr 18, 2012

    Cleaning as you go is SO ESSENTIAL. My husband cannot grasp why when I’m done making dinner, I have barely anything left to clean but when he finishes, it looks like our kitchen exploded around him.

  3. I love this baking sheet idea, it keeps everything together nicely! I often keep a trash can right next to me in the kitchen, but the junk bowl would work even better.

  4. maija Apr 18, 2012

    The sheet tray is a great idea for collecting the items you need to put away. I hate when I am measuring out ingredients and suddenly can’t recall if I added baking soda or not. I’ve started putting away each ingredient as I add it when baking, so I know for sure I’ve added it. Nothing worse than leaving out an essential ingredient like baking soda or adding salt twice, esp in baking where precision is key.

    I now have 2 sets of measuring cups & spoons – best decision ever! It’s so much easier to not have wash them out during a big cooking spell (especially when you’re measuring sticky things like oil or honey) & it’s only a few more things to wash at the end or chuck in the dishwasher.

    • Dani Jo Sep 10, 2012

      I totally agree how much easier it is having 2 sets of measuring cups AND spoons. I cook alot, but I bet I was 35 when I invested in those 2nd sets.

  5. Johanna Apr 18, 2012

    I just want to move into your kitchen. Your organization tips and triumphs send my heart all a flutter. Thanks for keeping the clean dream alive. :)

  6. Barbara Apr 18, 2012

    Great tips! Every cook should learn to prep mise en place. It will save your cookies (or pound cake). Invest in some small dishes/bowls (Cost Plus has an abundance of styles for very little cash.) Measure out everything ahead of time. It takes no extra time You’d have to measure it anyway, right? I also have three sets of measuring cups and spoons so I don’t have to stop and wash them between measuring the vanilla and the baking powder. If you are not daunted by the mess, you may be inspired to bake more. And that’s a good thing.

    • Tracy Apr 20, 2012

      wow! three sets of measuring cups! I have two. Maybe I need three…well maybe if Cooper starts baking…

      • I have two metal sets and 2 ceramic sets (because one came with the 1 cup size broken from west elm and they replaced the whole set but let me keep it). I only have 2 sets of measuring spoons and I think I need a third… I do have 3 bowls for my kitchenaid mixer and that comes in SO handy. I’m gonna stop now because I’m realizing I sound spoiled.

  7. Ann Burnell (great chef) refers to the “junk bowl” as a “Thankyou for coming bowl” She talks to her food…. and even when throwing away rinds, or shell she thanks them for coming to the food party…

    • Dani Jo Sep 10, 2012

      I think you mean Anne Burrell & “Thank you for coming” bowl.

  8. Junk bowl all the way, baby! I always feel like a TV chef when I use it.

    And when we compost, it’s hugely helpful to gather all the bits and pieces to throw in there.

    I make such a mess in the kitchen, though. It’s bad.

  9. Great post Tracy, as always. I definitely second the clean-as-you-go part. Whenever I try to shortcut this I regret it. And I love the junk bowl idea. Our garbage is under the sink so it’s hard to get at and the the junk bowl would probably make things a lot easier. I will try this.

    Can I just say that I really loved your picture of the ingredients with the 4 strawberries in a row above the straw. Why? I DON’T KNOW but I REALLY LOVED IT and it made me laugh. Beats me! Thanks :)

    Here is a strawberry butterfly cupcake decorating idea on that theme:

  10. Jenny Apr 18, 2012

    Love the tips on here! I will have to put more of them to use. The part I hate about baking is the cleaning up afterwards because I always make a mess. I love the tip about putting things on a baking sheet to keep stuff contained.

    • I agree! I always clean everything I can while stuff is in the oven, but I love the baking sheet tip and the soapy water tub!

  11. Great tips! Cleaning as you go is so important, especially if you are working in a small space!

  12. GREAT post! Very good hints! I’m lucky to have a fairly big kitchen but I ALWAYS clean as I go! I cannot stand a gigantic mess in the kitchen EVER! It’s just that it’s hard to keep my manicure EVEN WITH gloves on with all the prep and clean up. And I get the shellacs!

  13. I really needed these tips, thank you!!! Whenever I am done cooking/baking it looks like a bomb went off. Especially if flour is involved! haha

  14. I love the dishtowel underneath for catching loose flour, I never would have thought of that!

    I definitely love gathering all my ingredients prior and having them set up and measured out before I make my recipe. I kinda feel like I’m a on food show! Except… I’m the one doing all the legwork. :)

  15. Tracy!!! It’s like you wrote this for meeee. I have THE hardest time keeping my kitchen looking cute when I make delicious things. I’m going to have to take a deep breath, put my big girl pants on, and just have a complete clean-out of the kitchen/apartment.

    You’ve inspired me.

    • Tracy Apr 20, 2012

      so happy to inspire!! get in that kitchen! keep it cute.

  16. Best…post…ever. I will definitely by using each and every one of these AMAZING tips immediately. Thanks so much Tracy for giving me the ideas/inspiration I need to be less of a spaz in the kitchen!

  17. Hi Tracy,
    This is an essential post! What I try to live by every day. In fact I have something similar that I posted on my blog:
    Hopefully your message will inspire others.

  18. love the ingredient tray idea!

  19. I taught myself the “clean as you go” trick when I was learning to cook as a teenager, but it’s amazing how many people don’t do that. My mother was famous for cooking and leaving an overwhelming mess and no surfaces, so it’s nice to see it all spelled out here. I also use a junk bowl (or measuring cup, or dirty glass or whatever else happens to be on the counter). Good post!

  20. Pro tips for sure. :)

    I always balked at the idea of having one more thing to clean, thus I’ve never really grabbed on to the idea of a garbage bowl. Perhaps I’ll give it another go. Thanks Tracy!

  21. Well, I definitely start from a clean kitchen, have the compost bowl on hand at all times–it lives on the counter anyway–and clean as I go, but otherwise? I just don’t make a whole lot of food complex enough to require much more organization!

  22. Shannan Apr 18, 2012

    Great tips. I ALWAYS start cooking/baking with a sink full of hot soapy water, it’s key for me.

  23. Love the chevron towel. Super sized for super messes when cooking with kids. I also use the small tray for my little one as her working space to measure out sugar and flour.

  24. I love the tip about the water in the sink – brilliant! Filing under ‘why didn’t i think of that?’ And starting with a clean kitchen is a must for me. I get so disorganized if my kitchen is messy

  25. Petila Apr 18, 2012

    TRACY!!! Amazing post today!!!
    I’m not much of a cook, but your ideas for keeping the kitchen clean during my brief stints in the kitchen might inspire me to spend more time there!
    I LOVE the cookie sheet idea, the junk bowl idea, and the soaking suds tub in the sink idea!!! Thank you for sharing your awesome kitchen tips.

    P.S. This might be a lame question, but where did you get the tub that you put in the sink? 😉

    • Tracy Apr 20, 2012

      haha! that tub is actually tupperware. I was cleaning it up for another post and I thought it made a good tub…so I kept it in my sink.

  26. Aeshna Apr 18, 2012

    Tracy you are AWESOME. Your posts make my mornings more fun!

  27. Junk bowl is absolute genius. Totally agree with the washing up as you go, my mum taught me and I always thought she was just being a finicky mum; it was possibly the best advice I have ever received.
    I love that there is a whole blog that I can read to indulge in my list making obsession.

  28. Amber Apr 19, 2012

    I love the idea of putting a dish towel down so that I don’t spill flour all over my counters. That’s such a great idea. I also like the idea of putting all my ingredients on a cookie sheet. The post was very helpful.

  29. Wow! I never thought of some of these! I love the tip of laying down a towel, and I’m so going to use a large baking sheet to put items on after I use them. Thanks, Tracy! For someone who bakes everyday, I really needed to read this!

    • Tracy Apr 20, 2012

      hooray! I’m so glad I can help you. Happy baking!

  30. YES! Junk Bowls are the best! I learned that tip from a chef I used to work with. Also I LOVE that chevron teatowel!

  31. A dishtowel and a baking sheet: so simple, so intelligent! Thanks for the GREAT tip! 😉

  32. Bethany Apr 20, 2012

    Great inspiration and super-lovely design!!! What is the font you used?

  33. I definitely have a junk bowl area. I’m terrible at containing the flour though. It just gets everywhere, but thankfully it’s easy to wipe up. :p

    • Tracy Apr 20, 2012

      here’s a trick. measure it out in the sink!

  34. homiha Apr 21, 2012

    What a sexy Sprint EVO!!!! I love the ‘tronics! :O)

  35. Saving this and thinking I need to look over it about once a month since I make SUCH a mess while cooking. Thanks for sharing these tips!

  36. Fantastic post! This was so easy to follow and informative!

  37. This is such a great compilation of tips! I am definitely going to put more than a few to use. I agree with starting with a clean kitchen. I need to unload/load the dishwasher, and clean any dishes in the sink before I get started. I also try to have everything cleaned up/washed before whatever I’m baking comes out of the oven!

  38. Yes, cleaning as you go is so important or else everything just gets piled on top of one another into a heaping mess!

  39. this is SO helpful! Thank you!!

  40. A great post! These are logical and seemingly obvious rules, but it is so very useful to remind oneself about them from time to time. My worst problem is the cleaning while you cook bit. My husband is great at that: when he’s done cooking, the kitchen is miraculously clean (I love that man). I on the other hand tend to use the waiting times to get along with my crafting or to catch up on blog reading… so so bad. :)

  41. Great tips! I have an upgrade on the junk bowl thing though – line it with a junk bag! that way you only have to gather it up and throw it away, and the bowl stays much cleaner (cleaning up something that contained junk, even for a short time, isn’t exactly my ideal). And if you need to sort the junk, may I suggest using two (lined) bowls.

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