The Sanity-Saving Cleaning Trick Every Chef Knows

woman cleaning holiday dishes

Even if you’ve got everyday cooking and cleaning under control, Thanksgiving’s abundance can quickly create a mountain of dirty pots, pans, and dishes. Save the day with a tried-and-true tradition of professional kitchens: Clean as you go. Here’s how to do it for the holiday:

  • Wake up to a clean slate. Before you hit the sack Wednesday night, recruit the family to empty the sink (and the dishwasher, too), wipe down the counters, organize the fridge, and take out the trash. The more time you invest beforehand, the less you’ll need to spend during the big celebration.
  • Plan your prep. Instead of dirtying a separate bowl for each item you prep, think about the recipes and when ingredients will be added. If carrots and celery go into the stuffing at the same time, you only need to dirty one bowl.
  • Have your Swiffer WetJet handy. Easy-to-use disposables are practically a necessity on Thanksgiving. Mop up those drips of gravy as soon as they happen, and you won’t need to scrub the floors later.
  • Clean and re-use. Keep a damp paper towel near the cutting board, so you can wipe the sticky bits of garlic off your knife instead of grabbing a new one. Peelers, pans, cutting boards, and colanders only need a quick wash between uses – it takes a few minutes during the cooking frenzy, but it beats cleaning twice as many later.
  • Be trash-savvy. Got a garbage disposal? Do your food prep – peeling, chopping, trimming – right next to the sink, so you can push the scraps directly into it. And if you’re not so fortunate, keep a garbage bowl next to the cutting board to contain the mess, and dump it into the trash can frequently.
  • Aim for an empty sink. Rather than letting dirty prep equipment pile up, call in the troops – spouse, kids, even houseguests – and let them take turns washing, drying, and putting away. If you’ve got a double sink, fill one side with warm, soapy water and slip in implements after use. (And if you don’t have a double sink but do have counter space, use a large plastic bin for the same purpose.)
  • Clean = safe. Place a spray bottle of soapy water and a roll of paper towels on the counter for quick wipe-downs between tasks – especially important after handling the turkey, when cross-contamination risks foodborne illness.

How do you stay ahead of the mess when you’re having guests over for the holidays?

Debbie Koenig writes about family and food, and is the author of the cookbook Parents Need to Eat Too. Find her at

Image © Gagne

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