Just like your car or your computer, your kitchen tools need care and maintenance to be their best. All it takes is a little effort, and they will serve you well for years.
Scrub Your Stainless Steel
You can't run a kitchen without good stainless steel pots and pans, so it's important to properly clean them in order to make them last.
You're bound to get burnt-on food stuck to the pot when you cook, and that can be difficult to remove. The dishwasher can help, but it's best done by hand. Le Cordon Bleu recommends:
If you want to clean off the stuck-on food by hand, many experts recommend letting soapy water sit in the pot for up to an hour. If the stubborn food still won't come off then try boiling the soapy water on the stove top to loosen it fully.
To really give it a good scrubbing, you need to pick up a can of Bar Keepers Friend cleanser and polish. This non-abrasive, non-bleach cleaner will get your pots and pans looking as good as new. You want to be careful in pairing it with a non-abrasive scrubbing pad, and add a little bit of water to the powder. Apply some elbow grease, and your pans will be shiny in no time.
Finally, if your cookware is developing small white dots, a good scrub and soak with warm water and a soft cloth is in order. Those spots are called "pits", says PopSugar, and they come from calcium deposits on the surface of the cookware.
Sharpen Your Knives
You should have at least three decent knives in any kitchen, and you should hone them before every use. We've explained how to hone knives, and it's easy to do -- especially if you watch this Alton Brown video. However, when they get really dull or difficult to use, it's time to sharpen them.
We've discussed the right ways to sharpen knives, and as any good chef will tell you, nothing beats a whetstone. For most home kitchens, a standard two-sided whetstone should get the job done. The video above shows how to use a whetstone correctly to sharpen your knives.
How do you know whether your knives are sharp? Cutlery specialist Bob Kramer recommends the paper test, where you see if your knife can cleanly slice through paper without any effort -- and if you really want to check the sharpness, use magazine paper.
In case you don't want to invest in a whetstone or spend the time and effort required to sharpen those knives, you can turn to your community. Your local butcher or someone in a farmer's market will give your knives a sharp edge for a small fee.
Besides sharpening, the cleaning and maintenance requirements are similar to stainless steel cookware, since most kitchen knives are made from steel.
Oil Up Wooden Utensils
Paul Wheaton of richsoil says that no matter which wooden instrument you use -- a cutting board, a wooden spoon, spatulas, bowls, or even things with wooden handles -- you need to apply walnut oil to them a few times a year.
Walnut oil polymerizes when it comes into contact with the air. Once polymerized, it cannot turn rancid. All you need to do is buy a little walnut oil and rub it on. Warming it slightly first will help it to penetrate the wood.
He recommends walnut oil because it's non-toxic. While mineral oil is fine for your cutting boards, he recommends against using it for your wooden utensils, because it's a petroleum product that is also used as a laxative. You could use flax seed oil, but Wheaton warns that it's either laced with chemicals or goes rancid.
It's a good idea to pair the oil with beeswax, and The Kitchn has a neat recipe for that.
Clean Cast Iron Without Losing Flavour
The best part about a cast iron pan is the seasoning -- a layer of fat and oil that has been polymerised over a lot of cooking. Putting a cast iron pan under water and using a sponge to clean it will destroy that layer, and it's one of the most common cooking mistakes. The folks at America's Test Kitchen tells you exactly how to season and care for your cast iron pan, and they too use the Alton Brown method:
When you're finished cooking, pour a little oil into the pan (if there isn't any left from cooking), dump in a handful of coarse salt, and then scrub the salt around the pan with an old rag or wadded-up paper towels. The salt will get dirty, and the pan will get clean. Dump out the salt, wipe the pan clean and put it away.
Unused cast iron also has a tendency to rust when not stored properly. Moisture causes rusting, so consider lining your cast iron skillet with coffee filters.
Clean And Deodorise Cutting Boards
The cutting board gets overlooked in the cooking process because of how much you use it, but that's precisely why you need to be more mindful.
First, if you've cut raw meat on your cutting board, you need to clean it thoroughly before using it to do anything else, otherwise you risk bacterial contamination. A diluted solution of water with bleach or hydrogen peroxide will get the job done. In any case, it's best to have two different cutting boards -- one for fruits and vegetables, and another for meats and seafood. Next, wash the cutting board with soap and hot water, and then rinse and dry thoroughly.
When you want to remove odours from the cutting board, which is common if you have been chopping garlic or onion, What's Cooking America says four common kitchen ingredients work well: coarse salt, bicarb soda, white vinegar and lemon juice. Rub the board with any of these (or combine them), let it sit for a while and then rinse it off.
If you're using a wooden cutting board, then you can maintain it with mineral oil, mixed with some beeswax. Using a clean soft cloth, apply the oil in an even layer and let it rest for a few hours or overnight. Buff off any remaining oil with a soft cloth or paper towel.
Things aren't that easy if you use a plastic cutting board, especially as the cut marks are difficult to remove -- and these can become hard-to-wash places where bacteria sticks around. You can just chuck your board and buy a new one, but there's a full guide at Instructables on how to refresh your plastic cutting board.
Of course, maintaining and caring for these common kitchen tools is only going to be effective if you are running a clean kitchen overall. Have you checked the germiest spots in the kitchen recently and cleaned them thoroughly?