Primal Kitchen Efficiency: 13 Tips for Daily Organization and Smooth Cooking

Inline_Kitchen_EfficiencyGood cooking is art and science. You’re measuring, you’re tasting, you’re following recipes, you’re following intuition. You’re adding a dash of this, a level teaspoon of that. It’s clinical and sensual at once. For this kind of good cooking to occur, pleasurable cooking, the kitchen needs to disappear. It must get out of the way and become an extension of your body. You shouldn’t have to think about what to use or where to grab it; you just know it. A messy, disjointed lab or workspace is hell.

The ideal kitchen is just that, of course, an ideal. It’s probably not attainable or maintainable. Something will always come up to mar the optimality, like a toddler hanging on your ankle or the dirty dishes from last night or that damn spatula that always blocks the drawer from opening. But we can aim for it and get as close as possible.

These tips aren’t specific to Primal. They’re not specific at all; I won’t tell you which dishes to make. They are general guidelines that will increase the efficiency of any home cook.

First, Remove Clutter

Clutter gets in the way. The more stuff you have in your kitchen, the more likely something is going to end up on your counters when you’re trying to set up your mise en place, slow you down when grabbing that pot you need.

For Cookware, Quality Over Quantity

We’ve all stayed at that vacation rental whose description promises a “fully stocked kitchen” only to have cupboards and drawers stuffed with dozens of scratched teflon pans, aluminum skillets, rusty cast iron, and cheap stainless steel. Technically the description was accurate, but at what cost? You’re banging and clattering around just to get at the good stuff.

You want the cooking session to go smoothly, elegantly, with grace? Keep only high-quality cookware, and less of it, and you’ll glide through the kitchen. Buy fewer items of higher quality.

Stainless steel, not aluminum.

Cast iron and carbon steel, not nonstick.

Use Multi-Use Tools Whenever Possible

Single-use kitchen tools are fun to use when you need one—and that’s it. Otherwise, they collect dust and get in the way. How often do you need a garlic press? Do you really need that avocado slicer? Or that apple peeler—really?

Obviously, if you use the tool all the time, keep it around. If you’re running a crepery out of your kitchen, keep the crepe pan. But if you only bust out the single use contraption once or twice a year, give it up.

An Instant Pot is the perfect example of a complex kitchen tool that replaces many: your slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, and stove top pressure cooker. A sharp chef’s knife is the perfect example of a simple kitchen tool that replaces many complex single-use tools.

Get Nesting Storage Containers

Glass storage containers are really hit or miss. They’re inert, thus far better than plastic, but too many of them stack rather than nest, creating precarious piles of glassware. They take up too much room in the drawers, they’re liable to fall over and break, and they always end up messy and disorganized.

When you nest, you save space, and your containers are more secure.

I like these nesting glass containers from Rubbermaid.

Throw Out Old Spices

Once exposed to air, spices degrade quickly. Go through your spice drawer/bin/shelf and inspect each spice with a sniff. If it has no discernible aroma, toss it. If there are duplicates, keep the one that’s fresher. There’s nothing more annoying than taking an extra ten minutes to scour your cluttered spice drawer for the last ingredient.

When you’re cooking, or getting ready to cook, keep these tips in mind.

Clean As You Go

If you’ve ever faced the chaos of a post-dinner party kitchen, you know the value of cleaning up as you cook. It takes a little more effort at first, but it makes the cooking experience flow more smoothly, and it reduces chaos and clutter. Few people manage to religiously adhere to this one. That’s okay. You don’t have to clean everything as you go. Cleaning even just a few items as you cook will lighten the load you face at the end and reduce clutter in your workspace. Everything helps.

Have A “Peel Bowl”

When you’re cutting onions, peeling shallots, smashing garlic, or doing any kind of vegetable prep, you end up with a ton of sticky waste material that gets everywhere and mixes in with the veggies you’re keeping. Keep a large bowl next to the work area for direct deposits of vegetable cuttings. Instead of accumulating on the cutting board, they go right into the bowl. If you compost, you could just have a small compost bin nearby to chuck everything directly in.

Keep Your Salt In a Wide-Mouthed Glass

I keep kosher salt in an open wide-mouthed glass about 2.5 inches in diameter. This allows me to grab pinches whenever I need it, and it gives me perfect control over the amount of salt I wish to apply. If I’m cooking something involved, I’ll usually use a separate glass with all the salt I’ll need for that cooking session. I can dip into the salt without washing my hands in between applications, because I’ll just wash the glass at the end.

Have Very Hot Water on Hand

Hot water can very quickly come to a boil. Eminently useful for cooking for obvious reasons.

Hot water can be used to clean dishes. Better to use a little near-boiling water than let your sink run.

You can bring a pot to boil, then cover it. It’ll stay warm for a long time. You can also keep water warm in your Instant Pot using the “warm” setting, which hits about 160°F.

Immediately Soak or Wipe Gelatinous Saucy Dishes

I love a good reduction using bone broth or added gelatin. You reduce until the collagenous viscosity coats the spoon. It’s the secret of many restaurant sauces—high quality bone broth reduced to a syrup.

However, if you leave that pan or those dishes for more than a few minutes without cleaning them, exposure to cooler air quickly hardens the sauce and makes cleaning it extremely difficult. Wipe those dishes clean right away, perhaps with your tongue.

For general kitchen efficiency, keep these tips in mind.

Keep an Overabundance Of Dish Towels

You can never have too many dish towels. They’re less wasteful than going through half a roll of paper towels, they seem to “mop up” spills and sticky fingers better than anything else, and they can double as pot holders. Get the cheapest ones you can find that still absorb liquids; nothing worse than those towels that just push the spill around.

Come Up With Some “Kitchen Rules,” and Stick To Them

One of mine is “keep the counters cleared at the end of the day.” This gives me a clean, fresh start every morning. I may not eat breakfast very often, but I don’t like coming out to a dirty, cluttered counter in the morning.

Another is “clean the coffee maker right away.” This also gives me a better start in the morning. My day goes much more smoothly when I can start out with a clean French press that’s ready to accept coffee and water. Cleaning it right away also means the grounds come out more easily. They have less time to adhere to the walls.

Purge Your Fridge Every Week and Your Pantry Every Month

You shouldn’t be embarrassed for guests to open your fridge. Check the back for old leftovers. Dig through the cheese drawer for mold that’s not supposed to be there. Discard slimy greens. A clean, organized fridge is a pleasure to encounter and will make cooking that much easier.

Same goes for your pantry. Pantry items won’t go bad so easily, but it’s really easy to just keep stacking stuff on top of stuff until you can’t find anything and the pantry door won’t even close.

Just be an adult about the state of your fridge and pantry. You know when it’s getting out of hand. Don’t ignore it.

That’s what I’ve got, folks. It keeps my kitchen running pretty smoothly. What about you? I’d love to hear tips and tricks from my intrepid readers, and so would my readers.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Don’t miss the final New Year giveaway with tomorrow’s feature. Take care.


TAGS:  cooking tips

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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32 thoughts on “Primal Kitchen Efficiency: 13 Tips for Daily Organization and Smooth Cooking”

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  1. Great tips. I am going to incorporate these in my cooking routine. Especially the “clean as you go.” It definitely cuts clean up time in half. Love your blog, its the best!

  2. I don’t have a “peel bowl.” Onion and garlic peels, trimmings (not meat), all get pushed off the cutting board and onto the counter. Then when I’m done, everything gets swept into the trash or back onto the cutting board for transfer to the trash. If I’m really peeling something like apples, potatoes, or carrots, I do it over a couple of paper towels. Gather them up in a nice neat package using the towels and throw them away. And pinch bowls for salt and pepper are standard in my kitchen. I have sake cups and hors d’oeuvres dishlets that fit the bill perfectly.

    1. I like to just peel directly to the counter, I wipe it down after cooking anyway so no waste of my paper towels. I used to use newspaper but I don’t read them so it’s just the counter, sweep and into the garbage.

    2. We have a drawer directly under the countertop where we do all our chopping and sweep all the peels etc into a compost container. Literally a stainless steel tub with cover designed for food service that happens to fit perfectly in the drawer. Don’t throw organic waste into the trash! It does not decompose well there…tends to generate methane, not break down like it was intended too if in contact with soil and its microbiome..

  3. “Clean As You Go” => Definitely ! Been doing it for years. When I start eating, the kitchen is clean. Best way to enjoy the meal, relaxed.
    And after dinner, clean the items I used during it, so that’s I’ve nothing to do in the morning after waking up.

  4. We live in a caravan so all the above is necessary for sure. A smaller fridge and smaller pantry area means that space is at a premium, so items are constantly checked and used up.

    Cleaning is also important, no used dishes or food of any kind can be left out overnight, otherwise the van is full of ants the next morning. (learn’t that once years ago after making banana bread and leaving it out overnight on the kitchen bench…. tragic the next morning!)

    Honey, sugar or anything like it are kept in well sealed containers, and plastic wrap is used to cover other containers before the lids are put on (nut flours etc). This also stops ants from getting interested in the kitchen.

    Living on the road means a smaller kitchen and fridge, but it also makes us aware of clutter… plus it’s a great life too.

  5. I used to have two goats who functioned as my “peel bowl”. They could also outrun me on sprints. Oh, how I miss those two!

  6. Scan the recipe you’re planning to make before you start. The absolute worst kitchen annoyance is to get halfway into making something and find that you have to drop everything and run to the store for a crucial ingredient you thought you had but didn’t.

    The second worst is people who do NOT clean as they go. My spouse falls into this category. He’s a good cook but the kitchen is a mess of clutter, spills, dirty dishes everywhere, etc. This is more of a bad habit than lack of ability, and it drives me crazy! There’s actually a lot of dead time involved in cooking. It isn’t hard to take advantage of those spare moments to clean up and put things away.

    1. As a husband who does lots of the cooking, if he is open to it, perhaps it would be more helpful to be his “clean as he goes” and then you get quality time together as well. You get what you want, he gets what he wants. 🙂

      1. Yep. I’m usually out there wiping up the drips, gathering up veggie peelings, loading dirty bowls and spoons into the dishwasher, and clearing up the general clutter, meanwhile trying to stay out of his way. I’m not sure I’d call it quality time, however. Probably more frustrating than anything else since I’m not nearly as messy when I do the cooking.

        1. Hahaha so classic with the chef guys! I totally get the annoyance but it really is a mindset thing to turn it around. The points below are stuff I try reminding myself, although it isn’t always easy to remain conscious of them all the time, especially with dominant women personalities like ourselves (! :D). Changing habits or mindsets is certainly not easy.

          One point is not to take our good habits and abilities for granted. Be grateful that you’re more efficient, rather than being mad he’s not as efficient as you. There are surely other things in life where he’s better than you. Imagine if you were both messy! 😀 See it as complimentary opposites, you make a good team 🙂

          Another point is a double approach. Is he open to changing his habits? If so offer to teach him how the “clean as you go” works, like teaching a little kid with very explicit clear directives and examples. The key here is to keep your tone compassionate rather than angry. This definitely helps prevent an unnecessary argument or tenseness or worse, a meaningless fight. The fact is that he probably did not learn it when he was little, which is when most little girls pick it up from their moms. (Note to moms: please teach your sons how to manage a home so they make better husbands in the future :D) Or perhaps his mom did not adhere by the “clean as you go” rule either… Otherwise, he could also have lacking executive functioning skills, or he’s absent minded and can’t focus on multitasking, or he perhaps just likes to stare at that food or keep stirring it, such that for him there’s no “dead time”. Perhaps he wants to treat cooking like a relaxing hobby instead of a chore.

          Also, it’s never easy to change habits, so however hard he’s honestly trying, it’s totally normal for a meaningful change to take months or years. If you’ve ever tried establishing a better habit in your life, you should understand the challenge. Actually trying to adopt this new mindset alone can make you two feel like you’re on the same team helping each other out, reminding each other to change habits and mindsets, to better yourselves with each other’s compassionate support. You can remind him to wash that pot and he can remind you to remind him with a soft, kind voice, not an irritable, accusatory tone.

          And even if he isn’t interested in changing his habits, then there’s no alternative (if you want to stay in the relationship) but to accept him as he is, with the good and the not so great. OK, say I have a spouse who likes to cook but refuses to clean up, while I’m good at cleaning up. Then think of it NOT as “he’s cooking” but as “WE’re cooking together”, as of course “cleaning is half of cooking”. Then it is possible to choose to think of it as quality romantic cooking time, where you’re not trying to stay out of his way but rather you’re getting in his way for lots of hugs and kisses to spice the moment up and increase your affectionate bond. Perhaps take it a level further up on the counter 😀 just remember to turn the stove off so your sexy moment doesn’t end in a disaster, LOL.

  7. Keep your salt in a salt cellar. Much nicer than keeping it in a glass. I have the alton brown one.

    I don’t understand the pan recommendations. Nonstick is really nice for a lot of things, and aluminum is fine as long as you don’t cook acidic foods in it.

    1. Eric, there is some evidence that aluminum leaches into the food and then into your bloodstream when you eat the food. That leads to some linkage with elevated levels of aluminum in the brain contributing to Alzheimer’s disease and/or general dementia. With the non-stick pans, the coating can burn off which emits toxic fumes. Some non-stick coatings will also chip off and I sure don’t want to eat that stuff. I only cook in cast iron or stainless steel. But that’s my choice, you certainly may choose differently.


    2. I’m an old-school cook in a lot of ways and prefer a salt shaker and pepper grinder. You get a more even distribution than by pinching it between your fingers from a glass or a bowl. You also add less salt to the food, which is good since most of us ingest far too much of it anyway.

  8. I can agree to all this! One small thing I do in addition to this is keep a roll of scotch tape and permanent marker in a kitchen drawer for writing dates on foods. It drives me nuts when I can’t remember which jar of bone broth needs to get used first. Or if my husband takes the fat cap off of the bone broth (breaking the “seal”) and doesn’t use it all- I don’t know how many days it’s been exposed to air (we now add an “open” date along with the batch cook date when we break the fat cap). I mark everything. I just did a triple batch of salsa, double batch of garlicky Chile sauce, and a garlicky pesto on Sunday. Everything has a strip of scotch tape with a date on it. And when I make broth spiced for pho, I indicate that too. Husband hates pho & the broth would ruin his Mexican dishes if he grabbed the wrong jar of broth.

  9. Wow, I’m actually doing most of these. But love the idea of the peel bowl…going to try that. And I’ve just started keep my salt in a wide mouthed jar…makes cooking so much easier since I’m usually cooking multiple things at once. Keeping the fridge clean and organized is always the biggest challenge.

  10. I’ve taken to dedicating a section of my freezer to “experimental” foods – stuff that has a high risk of not coming out again. Now I check this section every time I have nothing particular planned, and also make sure not to buy experimental food unless it fits into that section. My freezer is a lot less cluttered now.

  11. In my area the bins are emptied on Thursday so I try to empty and clean the fridge every Wednesday. No great advantage to this timetable except it seems to help me stay on track. Wednesday its also often “fridge surprise” for dinner!

    1. Around here, we say we’re having Corn for dinner–Clean out (the) refrigerator night! Pretty much the only time we eat corn 😉

  12. Great tips, thank you! I’m curious what people’s opinions are on cutting up and prepping a bunch of vegetables and keeping them in the fridge for salads and fast dinners – how fast do the vitamins and other great stuff degrade? I’ve always worried a little about that. I use those green containers that are supposed to keep things fresher longer and put down paper towels inside to keep the moisture down a bit, but didn’t want to trade having less vitamins for more convenience.

    1. I think it is a good idea to wash/peel/prepare veggies to stock the fridge for a week. If washed & prepared once you bring it into your kitchen, then you keep bacteria out of your fridge and your family healthy.
      Yes, keep prepared produce sealed like you do (I use Tupperware – but that’s a whole other debate), then it should be fine and not lose nutrition. I think veggies lose/evaporate once it is say made into a liquid like juicing it as the enzymes start to break down.

      1. I suspect veggies start losing their nutrients the minute they’re harvested. For that reason I don’t stockpile a lot of them. I’d rather buy them more frequently, concentrating on the nicest, freshest ones the store has to offer (when we don’t have garden produce). This gives us a good variety. I put them in the crisper unwashed and unprepped. IMO, they stay fresh longer. Whatever bacteria they carry must be mostly beneficial since my family and I hardly ever get sick.

  13. Awesome tips. Just one to add: throw out that plastic cutting board if you haven’t already and invest in a high quality wood or bamboo one …

  14. I love using a peel bowl! So handy. I looked at those nesting glass bowls on your link, but read several reviews about them exploding for no good reason. I will avoid that brand. I have also heard that while vintage (40, 50 years old) Pyrex is strong and won’t explode, the newer ones are not strong and will also explode. Way too dangerous for my taste. They don’t make them like they used to, sadly.

  15. Every week I make ‘bin end soup’ in my instapot with bone broth as the liquid. I keep stalks of broccoli and cauliflower, tops of fennel and then add any vegetable not yet eaten to make the soup. How I start the soup can vary. I might use onion, carrot and celery finely diced, or mushrooms if I have any left over, all very very slowly cooked in a suitable fat until soft and cooked down. Sometimes I add anchovies and capers, or use ginger, garlic and chillies. I then add in all the diced vegetables, add the bone broth, perhaps some left over tomato paste, indeed anything I think might do well. Obviously herbs are also added and this will depend on the earlier ingredients. The instapot cooks it in about 15 minutes and then I use my stick blender to puree it. Don’t knock lettuce soup with chicken bone broth until you have tasted it.

  16. Glass and plastic snapware are critical in my kitchen. Lots of cheap ziplocs for marinades and storing cut veggies on the fly. Mason jars are nice for storing spices and the bulk ones I store in larger airtight nesting containers with clips over the bags. I made a simple painted 2×2 pot hanging rack with expanded metal on top that I store all the pots pans and bakeware I use. All from the ceiling really saved cupboard space. Every time I see clever kitchen gadgets I slow down and ask myself what simple tool this is trying to replace. 9 times out of 10 the purchase isn’t necessary. I save old glass jars to make and store a variety of sauces.
    Food processor, immersion blender, pressure cooker are vital for me. I’m due to add a fermentation crock and a sous vide with vacuum sealer so that my cooking problems become luxury first world problems like the rest of my problems. One simple tool I’m due to add any day now is a stand for filling Ziploc bags hands free.

    1. I have one of those stands for filling the Ziplocs, it’s the best!

    2. Aaron, a bowl will usually work just as well. Open the bag and stand it upright in a fairly deep bowl that’s just slightly larger than the bag. The top will stay open while you fill the bag, and the bowl will catch any accidental drips or spills.

    3. For filling Ziplock bags, I use large yogurt or sour cream containers. Put the bag in the container and fold the bag down over the edge of the container. Works great and no mess.

  17. Downsizing helps to decide just what you really need and what is a waste of space in a kitchen. I use a salt cellar, and I will use a peelings bowl if it’s more than paper towels worth.
    I like to get everything out I need for a recipe and then put them away as I go. It helps to make sure I’m not hunting for something hiding in the fridge, or worse thinking I have something and it was used up by someone else. And a grocery list on the fridge is a big help when it’s time to go shopping again.

  18. We have two eight foot stainless work areas. My husband built 6 inch deep shelves that run the length of each. These are filled with almost everything we use-spices, sauces, utensils. All gadgets like toaster, microwave, instant pot are stored in lower cabinets. No upper cabinets-just art. Keeps the clutter to a minimum!