Becoming a better cook is more than just knowing skills and techniques. An organized kitchen will create real cooking efficiency and easy cleaning.

Creating an efficient kitchen may not sound very tantalizing, but organizing like a chef will make you start thinking like one (and how can that not be exciting?!). It will also save you time and reduce that post-cooking disaster site that nobody wants to deal with. Below are some of the best kitchen tips for prepping, cooking, and cleaning so you get dinner on the table faster every night while enjoying streamlined clean up.

1. Create 4 Kitchen Zones & Organize Around Them

When it comes to kitchen organization, people often wonder what to do with a small kitchen. But contrary to popular belief, a larger kitchen does not equal a better kitchen. Unless you have a cooking staff or regularly make feasts for the Queen of England, a smaller kitchen is not only perfectly fine, it’s often better. If you set it up right, you’ll be able to maneuver around quickly, multitask easily, and have so much less to clean (hooray!).

Here are the 4 essential zones for your kitchen:

Prep Zone 

  • This is where you prep all your ingredients prior to cooking.
  • Tip: Choose an area with the most countertop space and try to store the tools and ingredients mostly use during prep at or near this station. These items can include a cutting board, a sharp knife, kitchen towels, a trash can, prep bowls, salt and pepper, and oils and vinegars.

Cook Zone

  • This is where you do all the cooking.
  • Tip: Put all cooking utensils and supplies within arm’s reach to make cooking very efficient. It’s easy to store items like tongs and wooden spoons in a drawer or utensil holder and keep supplies like cooking oil by the stove.

Clean-Up Zone

  • This is where your sink is and where all the cleaning gets done.
  • Tip: If you have a small kitchen, your clean-up zone is likely pretty close to your cooking zone. Remember, clean as you go for more efficient cooking and a tidy kitchen!

Put Away Zone

  • This is when dinner is done and it’s time to put things away in your fridge and / or freezer.
  • Tip: Keep items that will make leftovers easily go from fire to fridge next to this zone. These items can be tupperware for packing foods, saran wrap, foil, and a magnetic whiteboard and dry erase markers to keep inventory of what you put in your freezer.

2. Make a Cooking Strategy from Your Recipe

We know that strategies may sound like they belong more in business meetings or board games than in the kitchen. Yet, if you have adopt a good cooking strategy, getting dinner ready will be a breeze and you’ll be left with extra time instead of extra dishes. It’s actually quite easy – all you need to do is read through your recipe before you start cooking!

  • Ingredients – Take a look at your recipe and get all of your ingredients out from the freezer, fridge, and pantry. The time you spend running back and forth in the kitchen really does add up, so make sure you have everything you need at your fingertips.
  • Tools –  Next pull out all the tools you will need to make your meal, like a cutting board, knives, pots, and pans. It’s best not to fumble around in a drawer with raw meat on your hands!
  • Prep Bowls – Take out your prep bowls (collapsible ones like these are so handy!) so that a prepped ingredient can go directly from the cutting board into a prep bowl and directly into the appropriate pot or pan when you are ready to cook. This will create a hassle-free Prep Zone. (Remember to place ingredients that cook at the same time into the same prep bowl to cut down on those extra dishes!)
  • Streamlining – As you prep each item, transfer it into the set out bowls to keep your cutting board uncluttered and your ingredients organized. This will make each step of cooking streamlined as you seamlessly move ingredients from the Prep Zone to Cook Zone when the recipe calls for them. There’s a reason the assembly line approach caught on.

3. Clean with Kitchen Smarts

Although it may seem easier, don’t wait until the very end of cooking before you start your clean-up (this makes cooking a lot less fun!). In fact, for many people clean-up deters them from even wanting to cook in the first place. Luckily for you, we have some quick and easy kitchen cleaning tips!

Here are some great ways to tidy up as you go:

  • Before – Right before you start prepping and cooking, place a bowl, paper bag, or compost container at your prep station. As you cut ends off veggies or peel skin off of potatoes directly into the trash / compast bowl, you keep your station clean and your prep process efficient without having to move back and forth between your standing trash can (that probably has a lid).
  • During – Since there’s always a couple minutes while you’re waiting for a pot to heat up or a piece of meat to sear, make the most of them by washing a few of those prep tools or bowls. When you don’t have a cooking lull, place any dish that will get crusty as food remnants dry in a sink filled with warm soapy water.
  • After – If you’re not the only person eating, once everyone else at the table has finished licking their lips, get their help cleaning up. Dishes are so easy to wash after they’ve been soaking between cooking and eating. Even young kids can learn to wipe messes or load non-heavy items into a dishwasher. Train ‘em early and their future roommates will adore you!
  • Ongoing – Not everything that needs cleaning in the kitchen is directly used in cooking a single meal. Some things just get dirty over time. To learn when and how to clean items in your kitchen – from sink, to microwave, to coffee maker – read our helpful Guide to Kitchen Maintenance article or review our infographic below! Also, keep a solution of distilled white vinegar and water in a spray bottle so it’s ready to go when you are.

Kitchen Maintenance Guide

A handy infographic that tells you what kitchen appliances and areas to clean, how to do it and how often to repeat the process.

More Ways to Organize Your Kitchen

For even more cooking efficiency and kitchen organization tips, check out our articles below. We go into more detail regarding the 4 Kitchen Zones and a more in-depth look into organizing your kitchen so you can cook with ease.


How to Create the Most Efficient Kitchen Layout

Learn how to optimize your kitchen space with the 4 cooking zones for simpler cooking, and how to design an… Read more.


Organize Your Kitchen Cabinets Into Streamlined Kitchen Zones

Now that my new kitchen reno is complete, I'm ready to get organized and cook efficiently! Learn how I organize… Read more.


12 Tips That Make Cooking Cleanup Faster & Easier

Make your cooking cleanup faster and easier with 12 tips to help you save time in the kitchen and cook… Read more.


How to Clean Up and Organize Your Act in the Kitchen

Whether you’re cooking for one or a whole group, the key to a simple, quick, and successful kitchen experience is… Read more.

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