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Are You A Neat Cook?

My mom was what I call a “neat cook.” One of those who cooks without making a mess. When she was done cooking there was very little clean up. She occasionally comments on other friends/relatives cleanliness while cooking, as in, “When Mrs. H. cooks her kitchen looks like a hurricane hit it!”

I, on the other hand, didn’t inherit that trait. When I'm done cooking my kitchen doesn’t look like a post- hurricane zone, but it does look like a pretty good storm passed through. If Mom were to critique my cooking style (which she has), she would say that, in addition to the mess, I dirty too many dishes, bowls, pans, and utensils.

Mess? Yeah, kind of. When I dice an onion or something, stray pieces go everywhere. Transferred contents seldom completely make their intended target. And then there's the spatters, drips, etc. While I don't know about *too many* bowls, etc., I do tend to prepare ingredients separately (i.e. chop onions, dice tomatoes, measure liquids, etc.) and combine them later. Then there's the extra cutting boards used for raw meat. DW does most of the clean up, but I made these messes long before we met.

What about you. "Neat," "messy," or somewhere in between? If you're a "neatnick," what's your secret?

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  1. i am a bit like your mum then. i'm a clean freak and very efficient.

    1. Cooking on a sailboat and very small kitchens has made me quite tidy. Pro kitchens mandate efficiency in a small space so I guess my habits come from experience.

      Today, I have the luxury of a large, well-designed kitchen with what seems like miles of work space but I usually confine myself to my 18" and prep on a 1/2 sheetpan. When friends cook with me, I am always amazed at how much room they take and how much mess they make. But even more than the acreage is how much "stuff" they employ. I use the same knife while they'll use several. Instead of wiping out a saute pan, they'll grab another one. Maybe my work habits are also the result of not liking clean-up.

      Now, having admitted to all this tidy-tidy-tidy business, I am extremely lazy about doing the dishes at night. In fact, I rarely get more than the pots in the sink for a soak and leftovers in the fridge. DH does the cleanup in the morning when he makes our coffee.

      1. I guess I'm pretty neat, but that's because I'm lazy. I'd rather clean as I go so I can enjoy the meal and not return to the kitchen with a giant piles of dishes and utensils. My ex-boyfriend was a really messy cook, but I never complained because his meals were wonderful and he did all the cooking and I did all the clean up. I figured that was a fair trade off.

        I only use plastic cutting boards and I prep all of my veggies first and then move them to a separate area before I touch any raw meat. That way I don't worry about cross contamination. I lay a paper towel or used plastic bag down on the counter and all of my peels, seeds, skins, etc. from salad & veggies goes there. All that would be great for compost but I'm in an apartment. I try to put any "used" item in the dishwasher as soon as I'm done with it. I've found this keeps counters and sinks cleaner and although it may mean my dishwasher is full and needs to be run before there is room for dinner dishes, I still don't mind.

        Since it is over 100 degrees here in TX I've been doing a lot of grilling. If I'm marinating something it goes in a ziplock bag and so there is no clean up. Marinated food goes from ziplock to grill to serving plate. When I'm cooking something on my stove top and it splatters I wipe as I go so there isn't a lot of dried stuff that takes more elbow grease to clean.

        Not sure if this is what you were looking for, but I hope it helped.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Barbara76137

          I do much of what you do, but the amount of cleanup and the number of dirty dishes is what gets Mom, even if you clean as you go.

          My ex-boyfriend was a really messy cook, but I never complained because his meals were wonderful and he did all the cooking and I did all the clean up. I figured that was a fair trade off.

          That must be DW's rationale as well. : > )

          1. re: al b. darned

            The kitchen is a disaster zone when I cook. I was constantly being screamed at in culinary school for the mess. I find the chaos I create kind of comforting for some reason. Since I do most of the cooking (and most of the cleanup since we had our son) my wonderful wife never complains.

            1. re: donovt

              Preach on don! I have been known to use every last thing in the kitchen. No dish left unsullied. The wife just goes outside and avoids looking.

        2. Neat unless I'm cooking drunk.

          1 Reply
          1. If you're a "neatnick," what's your secret?"
            OCD ;)

            seriously though, i'm not just a neatnik, i'm a total neat FREAK, and not just in the kitchen. mess = anxiety for me, so the rest of the house & the car get the same treatment, and i'll even "tidy up" the table at a restaurant if it looks messy.

            i use one board for veggies and one for proteins, and usually only one or two knives - my beloved Shun santoku is my workhorse, but occasionally i also need a paring, boning or filleting knife.

            i keep the trash can right next to me with the lid open, and toss waste in as i generate it. if a stray piece of something hits the counter or the floor, i snatch it up immediately and give the area a wipe if necessary. same thing goes with the stove top - i wipe up any splatters with a sponge while i'm cooking, which makes cleanup a lot easier later on because things don't get caked on or set in.

            i clean as i go, and that applies both to counter surfaces and dishes/utensils. for the sake of efficiency, ingredients get put away in groups - if i'm chopping a bunch of vegetables, i'll re-wrap whatever is left and set them all aside together until i'm finished, then put them all in the fridge at once. same goes for herbs & spices, use each one as i need it, set it aside on the counter as i go, then put them all away together.

            most of the dishes & utensils get washed or go in the dishwasher as soon as i'm finished with all the prep, and the counter gets cleaned/wiped down before i eat. i can't sit down and enjoy a relaxing meal knowing there's a sink full of dishes or a mess on the counter (just as i can't sleep after traveling, no matter how late it is or how tired i am, until every last item from my suitcase is unpacked & put away).

            3 Replies
            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Omigosh, it's like my left coast doppelganger. I do all of that, there's pretty much nothing to clean up after I cook. I can't stand messes or disorder, and I, too, neaten restaurant tables as I sit there... I can't stand to leave a spoon or a knife in the kitchen sink and to find it there in the a.m.

              My kid makes me crazy when she cooks here. Let's just say she's sort of my opposite.

              Jeez. OCD traits, not true OCD, though. I'm not compulsive, just have preferences.

              And if it's late enough, I'll unpack next day, but it's Very Rarely late enough. :-)

              1. re: mcf

                "My kid makes me crazy when she cooks here. Let's just say she's sort of my opposite"
                sounds like my mom & me. i lived with my folks for a few months when i was in the midst of a coast-to-coast relocation, and it drove me CRAZY to watch her cook...not that she does much cooking, but she managed to make a huge mess even just preparing something as simple as a roast pork tenderloin, or spaghetti & tomato sauce for my dad. i'd follow her around the kitchen cleaning up :)

                conversely, whenever i was cooking, she'd just watch me and shake her head/roll her eyes as i cleaned & put away everything along the way.

              2. it depends on what I'm cooking, but at home, if I have to prep chop lots of veggies, they all go onto the same plate/platter in their own piles rather than in separate bowls like they do on TV. :) Meats get cut after veggies on the same board. I don't worry about the cross contamination to use more than one board at a time. I try to clean as I go as much as possible because I don't want to worry about doing it later. In mine and my girlfriends house, I run the whole kitchen. She has prepared maybe three meals in the last two years we have lived here and washed a dish maybe four or five times (she does the laundry and cleans the rest of the house in return). That said, if I'm cooking bacon, the splatter screen isn't perfect, so I definitely have a mess to clean up afterward. I also try to prep on a large sheetpan or a few pieces of parchment so I can just throw it away later. Easier than wiping down countertops. The same pan is used as much as possible, and as many things as possible that can go into the dishwasher.

                1. I clean as I go.
                  It took me a ton of years to figure out this basic tenet of home cooking.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: steve h.

                    yes I am like you, I generally clean as I go, or at least stack the pans in the sink as I go or load the dishwasher, then when whatever is in the oven or cooking on the stove I immediately wash all the pans and utensils.
                    My ex husband was the hurricane type. He generally made Sunday breakfast and I used to wonder how it was possible to use so many dishes, pans and utensils for eggs and french toast!

                  2. i always try to clean as i go... twas how mum raised me. however, sometimes, i have to do things back to back or simultaneously. otherwise, while X is simmering, i wash the dishes i've used. or while Y is beating, etc. i also try to reuse tools or measuring devices when possible. i also create a soapy wash basin, where things that need to soak prior to washing can sit while i finish cooking. i find it harder to clean as i go when i have friends watching me cook, as i want to talk with them while i'm cooking. my kitchen now is quite small, which makes it challenging to be messy anyways because i rapidly lose space. my next place will have a bigger kitchen for SURE, but then it's easier to spread the mess...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Emme

                      I clean as I go which is why it drives me crazy when someone says, I'll cook if you'll clean because I know I'm going to find a sink full of pots and pans, a stovetop with spills burned in, and counters with dried ingredients where she set the spoon down.

                    2. Neat.

                      I don't always clean as I go, but I never ever leave the kitchen messy after I'm done with a meal.

                      Sometimes if I'm cleaning as I am cooking I'll lose track of things and start cleaning the entire kitchen. Wipe down the counter because of meat drippings, then notice that the counter is a bit dusty so dust the counter, then notice the shelves are a bit sloppy so fix the shelve items and then my hand brushes underneath the shelves and notice grime, so break out the cleaners, etc. ... it can get debilitating so much so that I begin to stop cooking altogether. [sigh]

                      1. Nope. My husband dreads it when I cook (it's his job to clean up). Being tidy slows me down - we'd never eat if I cleaned as I go.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: AnneInMpls

                          The way to clean efficiently as you go is to clean while things are cooking, or during steps where you don't have to personally interact with the food. Cleaning as you go doesn't entail actually taking time out of the preparation steps to clean up, at least to me it doesn't. Any mess left after the plating is done is cleaned after the meal is over.

                          1. re: Jemon

                            I take the first pot or bowl and fill it with hot soapy water and leave it in the sink as a small basin from which to to easily and quickly wash the next bowl. It is so much easier to clean something before the remants dry.

                        2. Kind of in between. I clean up what I can as I go, but some dishes/recipes don't necessarily permit that. I hardly ever leave the dishes for the next morning--waking up to dirty dishes is just not a good way to start my morning!

                          1. I'm a man. Of course, I'm not neat.

                            1. I clean as I go. We have one of those open kitchen/family room layouts, so a hurricane is visible until it's gone. Besides, I really want to relax during the meal and not have clean-up to look forward to. My deal with my wife is that I do most of the cooking and she does the clean-up. Good deal for her, the way I do it; not great for me in reverse.............. but she doesn't cook much.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Midlife

                                but she doesn't cook much.

                                DW says, "We eat better when he cooks."

                              2. I have a "game" with myself, which is that when we sit down I only have the last pan that I was finishing with and our dinner plates. It doesn't always work depending on the menu, but for the most part it does. I think this is really just a way that I can survive. My DH thinks cleaning the kitchen means placing the dirty dishes in the sink, and if it was full of dishes from when I cooked, I would imagine that they would still be on the table. So, if I am going to clean them anyway, I might as well do it when the stuff isn't dried and stuck on them. :-) I have been teaching this game to my 11 year old niece when she cooks and she likes it. She has mentioned to mom a few times at home that she "wins" and her mom loses. Pretty funny.

                                1. I was going to say that it depends on what I am cooking, but that's a lie. And then I was going to say that it depends upon whether or not I've brought the laptop into the kitchen, and then draw a distinction between the times I am watching a movie, playing on chowhound, or listening to music, but that would be a lie as well. I'm chaos in the kitchen.

                                  It is rare that I am neat in the kitchen. I used to be, but I've found that the bigger my kitchen, the less urgent the task seems. Also, I have noticed that my neatness in my own kitchen predated my time in the restaurant industry. I think, somewhere along the line, being 'off-duty' meant breaking some rules for the sheer pleasure of it.

                                  1. I am not a neat cook period.

                                    1. Extremely neat, no cleanup required afterwards, I clean every step of the way. My mother taught me to cook this way but I make my mother look messy now. When we cook together she just says "leave it and we'll do it later" and it's shocking to me.

                                      Not sure if there is a secret, but I think it's just cleaning along the way that cuts down.

                                      1. the nice thing about cleaning as you go is that you can re-use the pans, spoons, knifes and so on.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: smartie

                                          True, and I never leave the dishes in the dishwasher, as soon as they're washed and dried they come out so it's empty and new stuff laying around goes in. I run it again and mine goes for close to 2 hours but it's always done by time I need anything that went in. My utensils and plates/pots are very limited too.

                                        2. Clean as I go for sure. Really hate to have a mess of a kitchen to deal with AFTER a nice meal.
                                          Now that I have a dishwasher this should make things easier, but I am having a hard time getting used to it. It has just become second nature to wash dishes and glasses by hand, I have to really force myself to rinse things and just stop there.
                                          I definitely think about re-using things while cooking to minimize mess and dishes, it would take the joy out of cooking otherwise.
                                          I spent a lot of time cooking with a friend last summer who was the exact opposite. The messes her mad cooking skills rendered were shocking to say the least. And when she fried? Just eek.
                                          Delicious food, but just not worth the mess we all faced after an evening of eating and drinking.
                                          I like to keep it tidy, it adds to the zen effect I get from cooking in the first place.
                                          I will however, leave a full suitcase in the bedroom for weeks. Embarrassing, but true.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: rabaja

                                            Now that I have a dishwasher this should make things easier, but I am having a hard time getting used to it.

                                            I had to "train" DW not to wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

                                            1. re: al b. darned

                                              Whole other topic. I guess there's a case to be made to just stick everything in the dishwasher dirty, and we've had that running discussion with our daughter for years. We're rinsers.

                                              Our dishwasher is a pretty good one, but some residues do dry out waiting for the next run and we've had enough re-dos happen that we prefer to rinse most things before putting them in. It's probably related to the specific dishwasher, water temp, and how accessible the items you put in are to the action of the unit............. but we just can't get into the 'just stick them in there' camp.

                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                There is a difference between "rinsers" and "washers." Our dishes were essentially clean before they went into the dishwasher.

                                                1. re: al b. darned

                                                  That is what I fight on a daily basis now. Used to be a washer, have to learn to be a rinser.

                                          2. I'm neat and there's no secret other than the fact that once I sit down to enjoy the meal, I do not want to have to deal with a hideous pile of dishes and splatters. So I do all my prep, then clean up the prep bowls and boards as I go. At the end of the meal, all I want to have left to clean is the serving dishes, utensils, and the dishes we used to eat the meal. I do dirty a lot of bowls, too, but try to be organized about it. For example, when making gumbo, I know I can throw the chopped onions, peppers and celery in the same bowl because they'll all go into the roux at the same time.

                                            1. I am not very neat, and I don't think I'm *very* messy, but I think I'm probably only as neat as I am because of limited space and no newfangled dish-washing machine. I have to be moderately neat just to have the space to continue. I could probably wreck the heck out of a nice large kitchen with lots of counters in no time. :)

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: occula

                                                newfangled dish-washing machine


                                              2. I'm in-between neat and messy. I try to clean dishes and pots immediately after I've used them for prep. I also wipe down as I go. But I've also been known to pile a few used utensils and plates and wash them as my food is cooking. I also prefer the staggered method of washing dishes. Doing them all at once seems too much of a chore for me. However, washing one or two here and there makes it much more palatable.

                                                Luckily I'm currently dating a man who insists on washing the dishes when I've cooked. If only I could convince him to stack the dishes a certain way so that they look neat as they're drying in the rack (instead of the haphazard way he puts them in now).

                                                1. I'm fairly neat and will do everything I can to only use one knife/pan/cutting board, etc. We had a party at our house a couple weeks ago and I put a lot of thought into how to use as few containers and plates as possible. Sides were prepped the day before and stored so I could simply take the containers out of the fridge and place on the table. Veggies were cut and seasoned, brought out to the grill, and put back in the same bowl or platter. Would love to do that with the meats, but didn't want to kill anyone!

                                                  1. For the first 12 years of our marriage, we lived with a small kitchen -- a little counter space on either side of the sink, and that was it. So I HAD to learn to be neat when I cooked, because there just wasn't enough room NOT to be. Thank heavens. When we moved into our current home which has two more counter spaces and a nice four-foot island in the middle, I already knew how to keep things neat and to clean as I went along. (My wife says we probably have the only kitchen island that is always completely clear of clutter, because as I always say, it's a WORKING island.) So my wife brags to her friends that even after a special dinner -- Thanksgiving, say, or Christmas -- there's still minimal cleanup to do.

                                                    1. If I am eating alone, definately messy and clean up is after. I have too much fun with the process of prep work to think about what a mess I am making.

                                                      If I am entertaining, I clean as I go.

                                                      1. I cook in multiple portions that can be refrigerated/frozen for reheating on future days. On a day when I am cooking entrees, it will often be more than one recipe. Before I start, I mentally break down the tasks involved so as to minimize the number of pots, bowls, etc. For example, I might start by making pasta, remove the cooked pasta from the pot with a spider, then add soup ingredients to the pasta water. After the soup is cooked, cooled, and ladeled into containers, I'll wipe out the pot, make meatballs in it, remove the meatballs while making tomato sauce in it before returning the meatballs to finish in the sauce. I use my food processor for a lot of baking and find that many recipes don't lay out steps efficiently. I do all the dry stuff first - like chop nuts that will get stirred into dough as a last step. Set aside the nuts and then do the flour, butter, etc. Rarely do I need to clean or wipe out the processor midway through preparing a recipe. I layer vegetables in a bowl in reverse order accordint to when they go into a pot (paper coffee filters in between), use measuring spoons and cupsfor dry ingredients before wet, So I minimize the amount of cleanup needed, and put things in the dishpan to soak as I go. However, I am far from a neat freak.