There are times when you can leisurely cook a meal, sipping a glass of wine while music or a podcast plays softly in the background. But at least for me, cooking a meal is usually a race against the clock to get dinner on the table.
I love being efficient and always welcome shortcuts that help me prep, cook, and clean just a little bit faster. Here are some time-saving practices I’ve learned over the years!
1. Take one minute to mentally walk through what you’re cooking.
Before you start cooking, taking just one minute to think through what you’re about to do makes all the difference in the world. If you’re making multiple dishes, you can pick out what takes the longest to cook and the exact order to prep and cook things, seeing where there are opportunities to prep things while something else is cooking. It’s a lot more efficient to have a mental game plan so you don’t hit any bumps, like forgetting to get water boiling.
2. Set up appliances and heat the oven.
There’s a reason why oven recipes always start with having you heat the oven! Get the oven on before you even pull food out or use your oven’s delay start setting so it’s already turned on when you walk in the kitchen. Using convection to heat the oven will also speed things up, and you can always switch it back to regular bake once it’s heated.
Also pull out any cookware or appliances you’ll need so you’re not scrambling in the middle of the recipe. You can also throw ingredients right into, say, the stand mixer or food processor as you measure and prep if it’s already out.
3. Get the water boiling immediately.
Get that pot of water for boiling or steaming onto the stove ASAP so you can prep while it’s heating up. Heck, don’t even take your coat off or open the mail before getting that pot going. Don’t forget to put a lid on it; lids are your friends! Water will boil faster and covered food cooks faster, too. If you have an electric kettle, those can also be handy for getting water heated up fast.
4. Load a pan with ingredients from the pantry or fridge!
This tip comes from watching television cooking competitions like Iron Chef or Top Chef. Contestants grab big, shallow pans, run to the pantry or refrigerator, and load up with as much as they can at one time so they’re not constantly going back and forth.
While a home kitchen is not a big TV kitchen studio, you can definitely make this concept work for you. Take a rimmed baking sheet or big bowl to the refrigerator and load it up so you only make one trip. You’ll also know if you’re missing or don’t have enough of an ingredient right off the bat instead of halfway through cooking.
5. Clean your produce efficiently.
Trim your produce first if you can, like taking tops off root vegetables or cutting up the lettuce, then wash it after. This means there’s less to wash, and you can then wash what you need in one go. Combining things in a colander for rinsing can also reduce water usage.
6. Figure out your prepping order and multitask.
Well-written recipes list ingredients in the order they’re used and are usually a great guide for the order your should prep things. While those just learning to cook should prep everything beforehand so they can fully focus on cooking, more experienced cooks can multitask. For example, onions take time to caramelize or brown, so chop your onions and get those cooking first before you measure and chop the other ingredients.
7. Grate your butter so you don’t have to wait for it to soften.
Baking recipes often call for softened butter, but sometimes you don’t have the time to wait for it to come to room temperature. A quick trick is to grate cold or preferably frozen butter on a box grater into nice flaky shreds; grated butter will soften in the same amount of time it takes to heat the oven!
8. Cut food into smaller pieces.
Stir-frying is one of the best quick-cooking techniques because the proteins and vegetables are cut down into small pieces, so remember that the smaller the pieces, the quicker the cooking. Thinly sliced chicken breast will cook in minutes flat, whereas a thick, uncut chicken breast will take more time to cook.
9. Use a garbage bowl.
If your trash can or compost bin isn’t located directly next to your prep area, try using a garbage bowl instead. A garbage bowl is a large bowl or container that you put right on your prep area to toss unwanted things into as you prep. This means you don’t have to make multiple trips to the trash can or compost bin, and it also minimizes the chance of food scraps ending up on the kitchen floor since you’re not walking around constantly.
10. Use wide, shallow pans.
Instead of saucepans, try using wide, shallow pans for cooking instead. The wider surface area means there’s more of the pan directly touching the heating element. More surface area also means that liquids reduce faster and you can brown more food at once in a single layer.