I swear, didn’t I just feed these people yesterday? And they want dinner again tonight? The nerve of them!
Sure, it’s quick and easy to just pop a pre-made meal in the microwave or oven, but I prefer to cook meals from scratch. I enjoy cooking, and I like to know exactly what goes into the food I feed my family. The downside…. lots of dishes. Some nights I make some of those wonderful “one-pan” meals, although it still dirties more than that one pan (think cutting board and knives, cooking utensils, etc.). Other nights I make more extravagant meals, such as Garlic and Herb Cheese Fondue, and that’s where the dishes really start to pile up.
Even though it makes a mess, I still cook those meals. Why? Because the cooking is still fun for me. Because they are meals we enjoy as a family. Because being in the kitchen is a peaceful place for me in the evenings.
The part I don’t enjoy? The clean-up. Seriously. Grimy pans covered in oil and bits of whatever was cooking. Utensils with food crusted to them. Rings around the pan from the water or sauce line when you boil something. Not to mention any of the other small gadgets with food that seems infused into the sides. It’s just gross!
Throughout my years of cooking and baking, I have learned one trick that saves me a lot of time cleaning after we enjoy those delicious meals at dinner time:
Soak your pots and pans in water as soon as you can!
It’s as simple as that! I know some people who clean as they go, but some meals, like my Hawaiian Chicken Recipe, you have to continuously stir, so trying to clean as you work is just not possible.
Why does soaking work? The water starts to break down and loosen anything left in the pan. Then when you go to clean it after dinner is over, you don’t have to scrub so hard. Depending on the meal, I’ve had some pans that I’ve had to leave soak overnight because the food was so stuck to the pan.
Hot or cold water? When doing dishes, you should always use warm to hot water. I have my water as hot as I can handle it, and keep a pair of cleaning gloves under the sink for those times I need the water even hotter. Typically, when cleaning dishes, you are cleaning off oil and grease. The hot water will help to melt anything on the pan, and also helps kill any bacteria as well.
What if the pan is still hot? If the water is also already hot, then you may be ok to fill the pan. I typically wait until it cools just a little. You never want to run cold water on a hot pan because it can warp your pan. Metal expands when it’s hot and putting it under cold water that quickly can cause it to shift shape slightly as it retracts.
Why does this save time? In my experience, it helps save a lot of time because I am not fighting to scrub the pans. If I let them soak even for 10-15 minutes while I clean up other things from dinner, such as our plates and cutlery, I can clean the pots and pans just as quick. When the food has been crusted/baked/burned into the pan, it takes a lot more effort to scour the pan to get it off. You can also destroy the finishing on the pan if you start to scrub too hard or use abrasive materials to wash the pan. I prefer to use a scrubbing brush made for dishes, it’s soft enough to not damage my cookware, and doesn’t start to smell like a washrag does.
To help out, here’s my typical nightly routine:
- Cook dinner
- Clean as I go as much as possible
- Enjoy dinner with my family
- Soak any pots/pans as needed
- Start washing everything else
- Clean the pots/pans last after they’ve soaked
- Finish by wiping down the counters and stovetop
What if it’s too late and the pot/pan is really bad? I start with trying to soak with some dishwashing soap in the pan. Usually this will get most things out for me. Otherwise, I found a blog post here that details How To Clean the Absolute Toughest Pots & Pans.