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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

How to Cook in Your Tiny Kitchen (and Stay Sane)

Glossy cooking magazines and shows on the Food Network give the impression that everyone has a palatial kitchen in which to make flatbread pizzas and prep three-course meals. But an awful lot of us are stuck with kitchens that feel like afterthoughts or were the victims of compromises made by the people who built our homes, especially if you live in a big city, where it's not uncommon to find kitchens crammed into hallways and former closets. If your kitchen is so small you have to store bread vertically to keep it from sticking into the living room, then this is the guide for you.

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Use Vertical Space

  • Start with pot hanger shelves. Getting those pots and pans onto the wall will free up precious drawer and cabinet space. If you don't have room for a shelf, a hanging bar will get skillets, saucepans, and woks out of your way.

  • Mount a wooden knife bar to your wall, like this Schmidt Brothers Acacia 18-inch Bar ($50). The magnets that grab the knives are hidden beneath the wood, so it'll be less likely to chip or dull your knife blades than an all-metal bar. Skip the countertop knife block—not only does it take up counter space, it'll dull the blades of your knives more quickly.

  • Wall-mounted spice racks free up a lot of cabinet space. You could buy one loaded with spices, but who knows how long those have been sitting in storage, going stale. They're often low-quality anyway. Just buy a bare rack and stock it with good spices, like selections from Burlap & Barrel. Spices are one area where you should spend money; the difference in quality is noticeable.

Consolidate (and Downsize) Your Cookware

  • Ask yourself how often you really use that quesadilla maker, ice cream maker, bread machine, deep fryer, steaming basket, Crock-Pot, or rice cooker. If you make rice three times a week, then sure, keep it around. But if you use these things only occasionally, they're taking up a lot of precious room.

  • A Dutch oven, like this enameled one from Lodge ($70), can replace several single-use pots or machines. I've used my Dutch oven to steam oysters, bake cornbread, slow-cook stews, and make barbecue.

  • Check out our cookware buying guide that lists the seven essential pans you need.

  • Multicookers will do a fair job at many tasks such as pressure cooking, sautéing, slow-cooking, steaming, and cooking rice. Just one multicooker can replace a couple of lesser-used machines. The Instant Pot for ($70) is the most famous, but there are other multicookers worth a look.

  • WIRED writer Louryn Strampe makes most of her meals in the Great Jones' Deep Cut ($85), a hybrid pan that's a cross between a skillet, a frying pan, and a sauté pan. "I doesn't shine in one area over any other," she says, "but it's sturdy, it heats up evenly, and the stainless steel surface cleans up easily in the dishwasher." WIRED food writer Joe Ray recommends a similar multiuse option from All Clad.

  • You don't need that many knives. Three or four, tops. An 8- or 9-inch chef's knife, a smaller paring knife, a bread knife, and maybe a couple of specialty blades. Styles break down broadly into Western and Japanese knives, which often differ in blade and handle shape. We've got a whole buying guide about chef's knives. Whatever you choose—Western, Japanese, Chinese—ditch the 10-knife sets.

  • There's also the Chinese caidao, which looks like a butcher's knife but is really a general-purpose, do-it-all knife akin to the chef's knife. This CCK cleaver from Hong Kong ($80) is a classic recommendation if you want to replace your chef's knife or add something to your rotation.

Add Prep Surfaces

  • Cutting boards take up a ton of room when you're doing meal preparation. Buy one that's made to fit over your sink, like this Catskill Craftsmen Maple Cutting Board for $38. Hardwood, like the maple used here, is easier on your knives than bamboo.

  • Mount a drop-leaf table to a nearby wall. The IKEA Bjursta ($40) is three feet of counter space that swings down and away when not in use.

  • Burner covers can add space to your cooktop. Use them to make a place to set down an extra cutting board or utensils. This Prosumer's Choice Bamboo Workstation ($34) can cover half your stovetop—get two for a continuous flat surface over all four burners.

  • Buy a kitchen cart with wheels. Most tend to be 48 inches long, but if you're in a tiny kitchen you'll be better off with 36 inches or less. You can tuck it in a corner of your kitchen-adjacent room and wheel it over when you need more counter space, then roll it away when you're not using it.

How to Move in the Kitchen

  • Here are some tips from Scott Gilbertson, a WIRED writer who worked in the restaurant industry for six years and knows his way around tight cooking spaces.

  • You don't need to lay everything out like you're presenting a cooking show. "I think there's this notion that you always need to cook via mise en place, where everything is all spread out and ready to go," Scott says. "Take what you need off the shelf, use it, and put it away."

  • Clean up as you cook. Got a spare minute while you're waiting for a sauce to reduce in the skillet? Wipe down that counter. Toss out those egg shells. It's not just a chef's and line cook's secret to making clean-up less intimidating and soul-sucking later on. It'll also cut down on the clutter that builds up by the time you're finished making your meal.

  • If you're sharing your cramped kitchen, it's important to communicate whenever one or both of you are handling handling food, pots, or cooking utensils. Just say "behind" loudly when you're passing somebody in the kitchen who's wielding that cleaver or handling that colander of hot pasta.

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