Five Laughably Easy Timesaving Tips in the Kitchen

Here at Casual Kitchen, we're all about making cooking at home as easy and efficient as possible. My goal is to show that even the most time-pressed family can cook great meals at home and literally save a fortune over restaurant meals or takeout.

In today's post I'll share some of our most useful tips and techniques to save time in the kitchen--with some unintended bonus sarcasm thrown in for free. Which of these tips do you use, and what additional ones would you suggest?

1) Be Coarse.

If you're making a recipe that requires a lot of chopping, you can cut back on a ton of prep time if you don't worry so much about the beauty and elegance of your knifework.

An example: With my popular Groundnut Stew post, does it really matter if the tomato is cut carefully or not? (Nope.) Does it matter if the cabbage is in uniformly-small, bite-sized pieces? (Nuh-uh.) Skimping on steps like these can save as much as half of the prep time in a recipe, making a significant dent in the amount of time you're forced to spend cooking.

Now I know there are some kooks out there who consider the chopping of an onion to be a meaningful, zen-like experience. I, however, consider it an obstacle standing between me and my dinner. If you can get yourself into a zen state while chopping onions, have at it. But for my part, I'd rather hack that onion to shreds as quickly as possible, get a healthy meal on the table and start eating. Then I'll be in my zen state.

2) Eliminate prep steps.

Even better than doing your prep work more efficiently, how about leaving it out entirely? If you're making something containing peeled potatoes, seriously, do those potatoes really need to be peeled? No! In fact, skipping that step not only saves time, it yields a more healthy and nutritious meal. After all, the skin of a potato contains lots of nutrients and fiber.

What about painstakingly peeling ginger before grating or mincing it? Not necessary. Taking the papers off of garlic cloves before putting them through your garlic press? Skip it.

Skipping steps like these can change some recipes from marathons to sprints. What types of prep steps do you normally leave out?

3) Get everything out first.

One of the least considered timesinks in cooking is the wasted time, motion and mental energy spent when you have to fish around in your cupboards and drawers for the items you need to cook, especially when there's food smeared all over your hands.

A classic example that I've faced with my Chicken Mole recipe: I'd be (coarsely) cutting up the chicken and then suddenly realize that I didn't have any of my spices out to season it. Guess what? In order to avoid getting chicken goo all over my kitchen, I'd have to wash my hands, dry them off, open the cupboard, pull out the spices, open the jars, remove the inner lids and then have them handy when it comes time to season the meat. My life is growing shorter by the year, and I've just squandered several minutes of it, needlessly.

Now when I cook, I always have spices, tools and anything else I need out and ready to go. When I want to season chicken or other meats, for example, I use my (clean) knife hand to shake the spices onto the chicken as I manipulate it with my (chicken goo-covered) right hand.

Any time you're working with doughs, batters, meats or other messy (or potentially unsanitary) foods, you can waste a ton of time when the things you need aren't at hand. Having everything out and within easy reach will speed your cooking process enormously.

4) Clean up at the end.

Most tasks can be done far more efficiently en masse, and cleanup is a classic example. Save all the cleaning and dishwashing until the end, and you'll avoid interrupting your cooking process with wasteful and inefficient time and motion. This can translate into big time savings.

Note, however, that there's a big exception to this rule: if you're cooking a recipe that has a natural lull in the middle of the cooking process, you can get the cleanup done during that lull, and thus make good use of idle time that would otherwise be wasted.

5) Double, Double.

One of the key factors I think about whenever I consider making a recipe is this: Can it be easily doubled?

A recipe that can be easily doubled offers an enormous advantage to the busy cook: the advantage of scale. For example, you can make a double-batch of my laughably easy Black Beans and Rice in literally the same amount of time it takes to make a single batch. Think about it: measuring out double the spices takes no extra time (uh, especially if you've followed tip #3). Cutting up a whole green pepper takes the same time as cutting up half, since most of your time goes towards washing it and cutting out the seeds. And how much time does it take to open a second can of black beans?

Each of these steps takes at most a few incremental seconds, which means doubling this particular recipe might cost you at most a minute or two in total. And yet you get double the food. Better still, you'll have laughably easy-to-prepare extra leftovers for the next couple of days! Remember, there is no easier way to get a low-cost and low-effort meal on the table than to reheat a delicious meal you've already made. Go ahead and choose your next few recipes with an eye for doubling, and sit back and enjoy the benefits.

A few final words:

Look, I still have readers who make the ludicrous claim that cooking healthy food at home is either a) too time-consuming, or b) too expensive. Spend 15 minutes perusing the recipe index here at CK, and you'll find dozens of easy and ridiculously healthy recipes that can be made in under 30 minutes, cost $1.00 a serving or even less, and yield days and days' worth of laughably easy to prepare leftovers.

Readers, what are your favorite time-saving tips in the kitchen?

Related Posts:
The 25 Best Laughably Cheap Recipes at Casual Kitchen
How to Feel Less Hungry on Fewer Calories: Hacking the Satiety Factor of Foods
The Worst Lie of the Food Blogosphere
A Reader Asks for Help

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!


The Calico Cat said...

on that chopping idea...

Use a grater! I saw this trick on America's Test Kitchen. One of the secrets to their quick tomato sauce was to grate the onion - smaller = less cooking time. So this past weekend, I made a meat sauce.
As you probably assume it used chopped onion (Not a mirepoix, but I added celery & carrots anyway). I decided to grate the onion (I've been doing that a lot since seeing it done on TeeVee) & while I was at it, I grated celery & carrots too.
Worked like a charm & boy was that quick.

Stuart Carter said...

You can, of course, make the bean recipes even more laughably cheap by canning your own beans ahead of time. Black beans have become pretty much my bean of choice these days, due to their rich umami flavour.

And with my laughably simple technique for quick canning beans, I have put up lots of jars of various beans so they can be immediately to hand:

The Calico Cat said...

I little different than Stuart's canned beans - I cook a big batch & then freeze them. I can then break off enough for a recipe...

Joanne said...

Love love love these tips!

And anyone who thinks chopping is a zen-like experience is probably either a serial killer or a surgeon.

oilandgarlic said...

I used to spend a lot of time looking over recipes and following it step by step. Then I learned by watching my husband and I realizeed that the more you cook, the faster you get. Cook the same recipe over and over until you can make it without thinking!

Milehimama @ Mama Says said...

You can double and freeze your preps, too. Chop a big onion or two, and put the rest in the fridge or freezer to be used through the week.

You can also prep and freeze beans- I routinely do 5# at a time then freeze in quart baggies.

Grating onion, celery, and carrots is genius!

Another time saving tip (for those who work from home or are otherwise home all day) is that all of the preps don't need to be done all at once. Chop that onion while you are on hold or waiting for your lunch to heat up. Slice the meat for stir fry while the coffee brews. Of course, this assumes you know what you're having for dinner before dinnertime!

Sally said...

I always check to see if a recipe can be cut in half. I'm generally not thrilled with dishes I've made and frozen. I do, however, like have ingredients on hand. So I'll make a big roast and freeze portions of the meat individually to be used in whatever way I like. They give me lots of options for in-a-hurry meals, depending on what else I have on hand. If all else fails, there's always an omelet or frittata.

Julia said...

Great list! Calico Cat brings up an interesting point - larger cut veggies, take longer to cook... though since this is passive time, perhaps it isn't a wash.

A few thing to add...

- A sharp knife! I was working in someone else's kitchen last week with a dull knife and everything took twice as long to chop because I had to use so much more force! I found a sharp knife, and suddenly I was a speed-demon with the prep. And when I say "sharp knife",I mean, take it out to be professionally sharpened every 6 - 12 months, not just running it across a steel.

- Also, I think there's an exception to the don't clean as you go rule. My kitchen is so tiny that if I don't clean, everything starts to get in the way and I can't move, and that really slows me down too.

Daniel said...

Great insights so far!

Relevant to Calico Cat's idea... a mandoline might add value to some kitchens if you find yourself with recipes that require a lot of slicing. Likewise, a food processor could apply here too.

In both cases I think you need to ask yourself if your cooking occurs at a scale that really means you'll need the device... but if you pass that litmus test these items could really save a lot of time.

Keep the ideas coming!


Eleni said...

This is a controversial one (my boyfriend questions it every time I do it) but if I'm going to boil some veggies...I don't wash them. I mean, they're going to be simmering in boiling water - surely that is going to kill off more germs than running them under a cold tap! Still, the boy is suspicious!

Julia said...

Here are seven more:

Glad to see that my tip for using a sharp knife made the list :)