How to Divide and Conquer Your Cooking Labors

This is Part 2 of a four-part series on How to Team Up in the Kitchen. If you haven't already, please take a look at Part 1.
Part 2: How to Divide and Conquer Your Cooking Labors

As you'll recall from Part 1, being King isn’t always fun and games and ordering people around. There is a weight of responsibility too, as the king’s duty, in addition to choosing the meal and getting it on the table, is figuring out an effective way to divide up the work. What is the best way to designate the responsibility of meal preparation so that everything is done well, the serfs don't revolt from overwork, and the meal is ready on time?

Ah, the crown can weigh heavily on the brow of the king. But don't get discouraged. There are lots of ways to divide up the workflow of a meal in an effective way. Here are a few highly typical examples that we've used in our kitchen:

1) One person creates the grocery list and goes to the store, another person plans the menu and makes the meal.

2) One person cooks everything, another does clean-up duty (sometimes the idea of cooking AND cleaning up afterward is just too much to bear).

3) One person washes/pre-preps the vegetables and sets everything out on a cutting board ready to go, another person blasts through all the actual chopping. Then, the King breezes in like a TV chef and makes the meal with the bulk of the manual labor already done.

These are admittedly generic suggestions. Since much of the division of labor depends on the nature of the recipe you're making, a highly specific list of labor division ideas would probably be infinitely long. Also, you can use combinations and permutations of these ideas, depending on whether you have one spouse-serf or a team of children-serfs at your disposal.

But don't worry so much about specific details just yet; my goal is to get you thinking about general and logical ways to break down dinner into something managable. With practice, you'll come up with the best solutions for dividing up workflow as you develop a feel for the core skills and task preferences of your serfs. We'll go deeper into how to optimize everyone's core skills in Strategy #4.

Let's face it; cooking isn't always a blast, especially when you have a family to feed every damn night. Sure, there are plenty of cooking shows, cookbooks (and even blogs like this one) that try to make cooking seem like some kind of consistently glorious act of personal expression. The real truth is that sometimes cooking is an obligatory, and occasionally a truly depressing, job.

But remember, you are king! If you use the suggestions above as a framework to think about logical ways to break down dinner preparation, you’ll be surprised how quickly everybody completes their tasks, and how even highly complicated meals get whipped up in no time by a well-oiled family team.

For additional thoughts on issues surrounding doing prep work, outsourcing, and teaming up to do kitchen tasks in parallel, see my Seven Ways to Get Faster at Cooking essay.

We'll be back shortly with Part 3: Three Strategies to Create Personal Space in Your Kitchen.

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