Cooking Tips

How to Become More Efficient in the Kitchen

These 4 tips will help you get dinner on the table more quickly—and with less stress. 

Published Feb. 17, 2023.

Do you ever stumble over what to do next when cooking dinner for yourself and your people, or otherwise just wish the whole operation was running more efficiently and smoothly? I know I do. 

Ideas are not the problem (the test kitchen has thousands of recipes a click away for inspiration), but sometimes my execution of the various components of a meal could use a little streamlining.

So how does one become faster and more efficient in the kitchen? Apart from practice and repetition of some basic culinary skills (such as chopping an onion), there are four best practices that can help you get dinner on the table more quickly and with less stress. 

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1. Get Water on the Boil Early

You know you have ground beef, chicken drumsticks, and tofu in the fridge, but you’re not sure which of them you’ll use for dinner when you walk into the kitchen. It’s OK—we’ve all been there. Stop. STOP! Before you continue contemplating, or asking your people for their preference, or searching, or leafing through cookbooks, take a few seconds to get a pot of water headed toward a boil on the stove. 

This way, you won’t have to wait for hot water when you need it. It sounds silly, but it really can save you time. Maybe you’ll add a little salt to the water and blanch green beans for a salad. Maybe you’ll soft-cook eggs, or boil pasta or potatoes, or use the water to make couscous or quinoa. And if you don’t use the water to make your dinner, you can use it to clean the dishes. 

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2. Think About Your Mise en Place Strategically

Mise en place (everything in its place) should be a part of your culinary routine: Read the recipe and do all your chopping, prepping, and measuring before you start cooking. But beyond basic mise, you can be more strategic.

Are there ingredients that will be added to the pot or skillet at the same time? If so, you can prep and measure them and keep them together in the same bowl. This works with spices, vegetables, etc. If a recipe starts with three ingredients in the same skillet (say, olive oil, garlic, and chorizo), you can mise them right into the pan. Save bowls, save cleanup, save time, save stress.

3. Be Smart About Your Trash System

Cooking with fresh produce is a key to making great food. But using fresh produce also creates refuse: your assorted peels, skins, seeds, cores, etc., and also the packaging the fruits and vegetables came in. So, like it or not, dealing with the trash is a big part of your meal prep. 

I recommend keeping two containers near your kitchen workspace: one for compostable waste, the other for trash. Bowls work well, as do any small dishes (I like to use plastic bowls because they are light and virtually indestructible). 

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4. Ride the Wave of Kitchen Momentum

When a recipe calls for 2 pounds of chicken breasts but you have 4 pounds, make the recipe as written but cook the other 2 pounds to save for another meal. Are you using half a bunch of kale or 1 cup of rice?  Same concept: Make more than you need at the moment to do your future self a solid. You can use the cooked leftovers in any manner of salad, taco, fried rice, grain bowl, sandwich, pasta, etc. 

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