We all know that cooking for a big event can be daunting, but it can be made so much easier if you put a little extra time and effort into preparing. Treat cooking on a big holiday like training for a marathon.
So what’s the kitchen equivalent of stretching your quads and carbo-loading?
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Wear the Right Gear
Like having the right shoes and proper-fitting earbuds, having the right gear will help you maintain momentum in the kitchen. The following gear have been tested by our reviews team.
- A good apron: There are many pretty, frilly, patterned ones out there, but for serious home cooks, you want a workhorse apron. Remember: function over form. Not only will our favorite aprons keep your clothes clean, they’re sturdy and have handy pockets for your phone or smaller gadgets.
- Kitchen clogs: They may not sound like the sleekest options for fashion week (though some test cooks disagree), but the right kitchen clog will keep your feet, legs, and spine happy as you rush from the fridge to the counter and back to the pantry all day long.
- A dish towel: Yes, it’s wearable! A convenient place we love to stash our dish towels for accessibility is in the waistband of our aprons. No more running around to dry your hands every few minutes.
- A digital timer: Slipped into the pocket of your apron or clipped onto the top (depending on your variety), wearing a digital timer means that even if you step away from the kitchen, you’ll know when each element of your dish is ready in an instant.
- An instant-read thermometer: Like a timer, thermometers are best for those in-the-moment cooking situations. Need to know if your caramel is ready? Having it in your pocket versus the other side of the kitchen counter could be the difference between done and burnt.
Prep Your Space
You’re dressed and ready for action. Now, your kitchen will need a bit of pre-game outfitting too. Here are a few essential tricks and tools our test cooks use on a daily basis.
- Put down an anti-fatigue mat: Yes, they really are worth the money. If you don’t have a pair of kitchen clogs on hand, positioning an anti-fatigue mat over the most trafficked area of your kitchen will avoid pain and even injury after a long day cooking.
- Clean your kitchen: This may feel obvious, but even drying and putting away previously used cups and bowls will make a difference to the space you have and the tools available to you. ATK product reviewer Sarah Sandler says, “Nothing bothers me more than cooking an involved recipe and then realizing there's no room on my drying rack or in the dishwasher for more dishes!” And we all know she’s not the only one.
- Clean out/make space in your fridge and freezer: When you’re cooking multiple courses, you’re going to have to store your prepped food somewhere. There are few things more frustrating than trying to Tetris a 9-inch pie dish alongside four tupperware containers, a half-finished bottle of mayonnaise, and a withering bunch of parsley.
The Complete Modern PantryFlexibility is the core of pantry cooking–when every cook needs to improvise. The Complete Modern Pantry captures the ethos of true pantry cooking with a unique approach.
Inspect Your Arsenal
Your kitchen gadgets are the tools that will help you cross the cooking finish line. No matter how much (or little) you may have splurged on your gear, a lot of its performance will come down to how it's used and maintained:
- Sharpen your knives: Whether you’re using a honing rod or an electric knife sharpener, ensuring your kitchen knife is in peak condition will get the job done faster and significantly more safely. It’s counterintuitive, but a sharp knife means you’re cutting through foods easier, which means fewer slips and accidental cuts.
- Clean your oven: The last thing you want on your big cooking day is for previous spills and drips to burn in your oven and smoke out your kitchen, not to mention ruin your dish. Cleaning your oven will give your food the best environment in which to cook and become perfectly delicious.
- Ensure your oven is accurate: Having an accurate oven is as important as having a clean oven, and the only reliable way to know if your oven is accurate is to use an oven thermometer. But a reading is only as accurate as the thermometer. In our review of oven thermometers, nearly half of the nine products we tested failed to meet the basic criteria of our accuracy tests. The best oven thermometer, from CDN, was accurate and easy to read.
- Wash your dish towel: It's not gonna clean anything if it’s not clean itself. Drying mixing bowls or wiping down a skillet with a contaminated dish towel is going to spell big trouble, so make sure it’s squeaky clean before it makes anything else squeaky clean.
Which Knife Sharpening Method Is Right For You?Sharper knives are safer and make cleaner, more even cuts. But approaches to sharpening abound. Here are our favorite options.
Get in the Right Headspace
You’re dressed to impress; the kitchen is ready and so are your tools. The only thing left to do is prepare mentally. Like any great undertaking, mindset matters, and making sure you have a good time in the kitchen is important for a great end product (and a happy host when it comes time to greet the guests).
- Stretch it out: Yep, we’re serious. Long stints of cooking are physically demanding, and you’ll need to be on your A-game. Whatever routine works for you, make sure you target any tight muscle areas and make it a little bit fun for yourself. And get a good night of sleep the night before!
- Get a playlist going: The first use of a spoon is to mix. The second use is as a microphone to help you belt out Taylor Swift tunes to your thousands of adoring fans. Whatever your favorite songs may be, getting them in one place and having them on repeat will be sure to put you in the mood for a great day of cooking… even if your only adoring fan is the dog.
- Treat yourself: You may be cooking for others, but feeding yourself—especially while you’re cooking—is just as important. Make sure you’re well-fueled, even if it’s a snack or fun drink. Test cook Kelly Song says, “If it's in the evening, I'll pour a drink, whether it's just tea or a glass of wine. There's something so wonderful about sipping on one thing and stirring a pot of something else.”
- Recruit your sous chefs: Be they your kids, partner, friends, or family, a helping hand (or three) can be a huge load off. Delegating even the simplest tasks like peeling, chopping, stirring, or setting the table can clear your head for the more involved kitchen projects.