Good 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.
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.
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.