Maybe you’re a ninja in the kitchen. Maybe you’re just starting your cooking adventure. Either way, these tips and tricks from chefs and food pros can help you spend less time slaving over a stove and more time enjoying the foods of your labour.
We threw a wide net asking food experts to chime in with their best time-saving tips. You’ll no doubt already know many of these, but altogether the tips form a guide to wasting less time in the kitchen.
Many of the chefs’ tips were simple basics that bear repeating.
1. Read recipes in full before starting to cook. It’s a no-brainer, but you might neglect this essential first step when you’re in the rush to get dinner cooked. Emilie Bousquet-Walshe, Chef de Cuisine of Go Burger Bar and Grill, says:
“The most time saving device is reading recipes to their fullest before starting, whether at home or at work. That way you have time to start and sometimes finish certain instructions, while others are in the works. For example, one of our hostesses is in culinary school and asked me to help her with a cake. She started by taking out all the ingredients and midway I stopped her and told her to read the instructions first. The first step was to separate the eggs and keep the egg whites at room temp for 30 minutes. Having not read that she would have wasted 30 minutes of prep.”
2. Use the right tools. Michelle Girasole, marketing director for Chef Jamie Oliver, shares this tip:
“Get a good set of knives, and learn how to chop properly. A sharp, well-balanced knife set should include a chef’s knife (8” blade), a small paring knife, and a serrated knife for cakes and breads. This trio will make chopping easier and safer, and save time in the kitchen.
“My uncle is a landscaper, and always says, ‘If the tools ain’t right, the man ain’t bright!'”
3. Choose in-season ingredients. Several chefs repeated the tip to buy in-season produce and meats. Not only will this save you money, but you also don’t have to do as much with the food to get the best flavours. Chef Gregory Gourdet of Departure Restaurant + Lounge in Portland says:
“Always work with super seasonal ingredients for maximum flavour, you will have to do less to them to make them taste delicious. This will save you time and calories!”
4. Don’t bother peeling all produce. Chef Gregory continues:
“Eat the skin! All fruits and veggies have nutrient and fibre dense skin, so if you have tender product don’t bother peeling. Just make sure it is washed well. Carrots, sweet potatoes and beets all roast up great skin on.”
5. Remember the “mise en place”… for some recipes. Prep your ingredients before you begin and you can avoid recipe disasters (and time-wasting corrections). Whether you use small bowls on your counter, a single bowl or a muffin tin for your mise en place, it often — but not always — pays to get all of your ingredients prepped at the start.
Shelley Young, Chef and Owner of The Chopping Block in Chicago, advises:
“It’s all about ‘mise en place’, which is French for ‘together in place’. Always have all of your ingredients available and ready to go before you start cooking. For some recipes where the dish is cooked very quickly, such as stir fry or Chicken Picatta, you should have all of your ingredients cut and ready to go in advance before you start to cook. For other dishes such as soup which cooks longer, you can save time by doing the prep work as you cook versus having everything cut and ready to go in advance.”
6. Prep your pans. In addition to prepping ingredients, get your pans ready too. Dave Feller, founder and CEO of Yummly, says:
“Start with HOT pans: Instead of putting a cold pan on the stove, then adding oil, turning on the heat and waiting for it to get warm, start with an empty pan on the stove. The pan will get warmer as you prep your ingredients, making it the perfect temperature for your food (and cooks faster!)”
David Craine, Executive Chef of BLT Bar & Grill in New York City agrees:
“Put the pans you plan on using in a preheating oven. That way, they’ll be hot when you’re ready to use them.”
7. Cook once, prepare many ways. And make extra. This is a strategy I’ve been trying to use because it’s so much more efficient to make two-for-one meals. Beth Bader, the author of The Cleaner Plate Club, offers many great tips:
- Cook once, prepare many ways. Long-cook items like roast chicken are for weekends, but leftover chicken can make quick chilli with canned beans, chicken salad or chicken for salads, quesadillas and other easy, fast weeknight meals. Roast two chickens in that oven when you have the time! Serve one, carve and use the leftovers for easy weeknight meals and lunches. Plus, the two carcasses will let you make twice the stock for soups in one go as well!
- Cook double batches of soups, chillis, even spaghetti sauce and freeze half for a busy week. After a few times of this, you have a whole week’s meals ready to thaw in the microwave and heat for the nights when you don’t have time to cook or when you too busy to do the week’s cooking over the weekend!
- Use weekend family time to get help preparing large meals for the week. By making these meals on Saturday and Sunday, you should have leftovers to alternate Monday-Wednesday. A quick meal on Thursday like grilled cheese and soup (from your freezer stash) and make-your-own pizza and salad night on Fridays for fun and you have real food on the table without cooking every night!
Jeff Anderson, Executive Chef for Safeway Culinary Kitchens, adds you could throw in an extra roast when making a pork loin, pot roast, or other item — so you’ll have extra for carving into sandwiches and other meals.
Don’t forget this applies to desserts as well. Laura Forer of Waltzing Matilda’s Bakery in New York said:
“Want fresh cookies but don’t want to bake up a whole batch? Next time you are making cookies, make a double batch. While your cookies are baking, take the extra dough and scoop it out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Pop the pan in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Once frozen, put the unbaked cookies in a bag and freeze until you’re ready to use them. Now you can make small batches of freshly baked cookies anytime!”
8. Save even the little bits of meals. Small scraps of ingredients can be turned into “flavour bombs” for your next meals, says Gio Bellino of, well, Flavour Bombs:
“Get in the habit of freezing bits of meals! What I mean by that is saving small amounts of that fabulous gravy on your meatloaf, save the chicken fat you skim from your soup, save some of that bacon grease (especially the maple flavoured mmmm), save some of that rub, marinade, herb blend. Saving small amounts of stuffing or vegetables will provide you with a savoury mixture to either puree for a sauce or reuse as a breading. Having these elements in your freezer will make cooking future dishes a snap. You start experimenting with mixing flavours, you have starters on hand to build a new dish, you re-create a dish from flavours you already love.
“Once in the habit, you develop a stockpile of essences in your freezer that save you time and money. You are basically creating your own ‘flavour bombs.'”
Stacey Strout Stabenow, founder of No More ‘to go’ Weekly Meal Plan, has similar ideas:
“If a recipe calls dicing small amounts of vegetables like onion or bell peppers, go ahead and dice the whole thing. Store the rest in a resealable bag in the refrigerator or freezer. Huge time saver for future recipes.
“When using partial cans of things like creamed corn or chillis in adobo, label and freeze the remainder in resealable bags.
“The same goes for fresh herbs. If you have more than you need, simply freeze the rest in ice cube trays. Place the herbs in the trays, fill with water and freeze. When frozen, transfer to resealable bags. To thaw, simply rinse in hot water, pat dry, and use as if they were fresh.”
9. Clean as you go. Since clean up is one of the worst parts about cooking, David Lebovit’s favourite kitchen tip ever is also one of my favourites:
“Simply fill the sink with warm, soapy water, and as you finish with dishes, slide them into the water. Later, they’ll be easier to clean after a leisurely soaking, and you can usually just scrape or scrub them with a sponge and load ’em up in the dishwasher. Or finish washing by hand.”
10. Cook more one-pot meals. Beth Moncel tells The Kitchn that one-pot meals are easy to make, result in fewer dirty dishes, and usually freeze and reheat very well.
11. Prep for the week. Even if you can’t spend a whole day for batch cooking, just one hour over the weekend prepping your vegetables can save you time during the more hectic workweek. Jess Dang, Founder of CookSmarts, says:
“We run a meal planning service, and our customers tell us their most time saving trick is to set aside 1 hour on a Saturday or Sunday for prepping all their vegetables. You mince all your garlic for the week at once, chop all your onions, pull out your food processor just once to grate carrots and cabbage, etc, and then pack prepped veggies up. This not only saves time but of course makes it more likely that you’ll cook during the week. We recommend that folks use this time to multi-task – spending time with a family member or catching up on their favourite podcast.”
More specific tips
Some of the tips we got were more specific to types of foods, but still worth adding to your arsenal of cooking tricks.
12. Push the roasting temperature. You don’t have to depend on a recipe’s cooking temperature all of the time. Chef Jill Houk, author of The Essential Dehydrator and The Complete Soda-Making Book, writes:
“Roast at a higher temperature. Your oven has temperatures other than 350 (180C). Some items, such as roasted vegetables, fish and baked grains, actually cook better at higher temperatures. And the higher temperatures cook them faster. For example, you can bake shrimp at 450 (230c) and they’re done in five minutes. If you roast veggies at 400 (200C) versus 350 (180C), you can shave 15-20 minutes off their cooking time.”
13. Saute vegetables before adding stock or water. Mihaela Lica Butler, author of Garden Super Hero Tales, offers this tip for making soup:
“For vegetable soups, always sauté the veggies before you add the stock or the water. This method enriches the taste by allowing the flavours to blend, and reduces cooking time by 5 to 10 minutes.”
14. Grate Parmesan cheese at room temperature. The cheese is softer, which makes it easier to grate and less likely to cause a cut on the grater, advises Chef Mirko Paderno, Exective Chef at Oliverio. He also offers this other time-saving tip:
15. Cook dried beans in mineral water. Apparently, the added elements in the water help the beans cook faster.
16. Beat egg whites before the yolks. Waltzing Matilda’s bakery also says:
“If a recipe — such as sponge cake or fluffy omelets — calls for beating yolks and whites separately, beat the whites first. That way you don’t have to wash the beaters in between. (If you beat the yolks first, the residual yolk may cause the whites not to increase in volume as easily.) Then give the whites a quick whip when you’re ready to use them to re-inflate them. At this point, any residual batter on the beaters won’t make a difference.”
17. Roast beets whole. Yay, no peeling! Recipe developer Pamela Braun MyMansBelly.com says:
“A big time saver in the kitchen is roasting beets whole. Wrap the beets in foil with a bit of coarse salt and olive oil. Toss them in the oven to roast. When they’re done, the skins will slip off easily. This saves lots of time peeling and keeps your hands from getting stained”
18. Time how long it takes to heat oil in a pan (and then use a timer going forward). Grace Young tells The Kitchn:
“Use a timer to preheat the wok. My wok preheats in 1 minute on my gas stove and to save having to test the wok’s heat, I just set my timer.”
She also offers this multitasking tip:
19. Use leftover hot water to kill sponge germs. “After boiling water for my cup of tea, I pour the remaining water from the kettle over the dish sponge.”
20. Skip browning meat before adding to your slow cooker by “using a little soy sauce and tomato paste (secret weapons) to add the same meaty depth of flavour,” according to America’s Test Kitchen/The Blade.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.