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I enjoy cooking but have a seriously small kitchen. There is only about 3 ft of work surface and that has kettle and toaster on it. I have a fair amount of shelf space but still need to larder goods and plates in another room.

I find it almost impossible to keep the kitchen clean and tidy while cooking. With more complex dishes becoming almost impossible.

Are there any good techniques for cooking in a small space?

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9 Answers

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Do what professional chefs do: clean constantly.

Put all of your ingredients out in an organized place. Use them. Put them away. Clean the station.

If you can, prepare. Put stuff that is prepped back in the fridge until you need it.

Try to use the same few tools for the whole meal--cutlery, mixing bowls, cutting board. Quickly rinse and re-use rather than multiplying utensils.

Aim for dishes that can be cooked in stages in the same pot rather than needing multiple pots or saucepans.

Try out dishes with fewer ingredients. Great chefs can do wonders with 3, 4, or 5. Maybe you don't need more complicated?

Put non-essentials away. Move the kettle and toaster to a shelf until you're done. Use the sink as a repository for anything you're not using but might still need.

Use another room, too. A nearby table could become your staging area, a place to put ingredients that are prepped, finished, or waiting to be used (so your work area isn't cluttered with them).

Just some ideas.

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Could not have said it better, organization and cleanliness will go a long way in a small kitchen (err any size kitchen). –  Chris Jul 29 '10 at 14:40
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All good answers, but this one seems the best for me. I'll have to be more diciplined. –  Jeremy French Jul 30 '10 at 8:53
    
Great advice. Especially about constantly cleaning. –  Sean Hart Feb 3 '12 at 17:02
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If you can get them, chopping boards or just some sort of board that covers either the sink or the hob are really useful, giving you extra space on a work surface. If you can put up a rack on the wall that you can hang pans and other utensils off I also find that really useful. Having to bend down and reach deep into a cupboard is a real problem for me in a small kitchen so if you can keep things up high I find that really useful.

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Try and cut down on the amount of equipment you have and use. Do you have room to put away your toaster and kettle when not in use? That will help you free up some work area. Try to keep out only what you currently need, so that you are not wasting precious counter top space for storage.

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Some anecdotal ideas I have witnessed and attempted:

Placing a large cutting board over the trash can and use it as a side table.

Using the dishwasher or oven for storage (which of course only works if you aren't going to use the appliance for its intended purpose).

Stackable cooling racks, such as those for cookies, to hold bowls or plates of prepped ingredients.

If you have a double boiler, use the pans separately and then stack (sauce in the bottom pan, veggies in the top pan). Good for cooked side items that need to be put on stand-by until the main course is ready.

For storage, collapsible measuring cups, prep bowls, colander, etc. Or an over-the-sink colander/cutting board.

Magnetic storage tins for spices that can be stuck to the fridge or freezer (if your refrigerator is not in a spot that gets direct sunlight...which can cause the spices to lose flavor).

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You have space for a trash can? Wow, that's luxury for apartment living. –  Joe Jul 28 '10 at 17:42
    
@Joe: Really? What would you use otherwise? –  hobodave Jul 29 '10 at 22:37
    
Magnetic storage tins FTW. I've got a low, steel roof and have all my spices overhead. Not sure about the trash can idea as the trash can is needed constantly. –  jontyc Feb 3 '12 at 3:06
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Go hang.

That's right, hang stuff from the ceiling and walls. Wire hanging baskets, wall mounted spice rack, a shelf or ceiling rack to hang pots and pans. Don't let any vertical space go to waste.

If you own the place, you can build a fold-away table into a wall.

If you have floor space, get a kitchen worktable with storage and fold-up counter space.

Get rid of any single purpose items. Consider storing appliances in a cupboard when not being used.

As far as cooking techniques, look for recipes where everything is cooked in a single pot or pan.
Buy some cheap tupperware. Cut and/or measure all your ingredients at once, put each in it's own tupperware, and stack them in the fridge or on the counter.
Stagger meal items by cooking length so that only one needs counter space at a time. Between each item, wash and dry used dishes and utensils.

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As someone who's gone through a similar situation (I don't even think I had 3' of work surface), a few recommendations, many of which have been stated by other people:

  • Keep the toaster at the very least stowed away when not in use. My grandmother stows hers every day, even though she's not hurting for space enough to justify it. (she's just obsessive compulsive about things being tidy)

  • Get a cutting board that can span your sink. You'll need to occassionally move it so that you can get access to the sink, so you'll want it stiff, light, and not overly thick. As I had a really narrow sink (about 12" wide x 18" (30cm x 45cm), small enough that I had to wash my largest pot at the time in the bath), I used a 12" x 18" board, so I could throw stuff into the sink as needed for later cleaning; I had to move the board if I needed water, though.

  • Consider storage outside the kitchen. I managed to acquire an IBM 7171 (about 30" x 30" on top, 4' high), that I gutted for use as a pantry for canned goods. This freed up space in the cabinets and gave me a place I could set the cutting board when I needed access to the sink. If you're not lucky on the scavaging, there's a few companies that sell small kitchen island type things. You could also move the kettle here, if need be. (no crumbs to clean up from a kettle, I'd still keep the toaster in the kitchen)

  • If you have a dining table outside the kitchen, make use of that, too. You might just need to stash a plate of stuff you've chopped up for later addition to the meal temporarily to clear room in the kitchen.

  • (addition) : downsize your pots / pans / kitchen gear. Food processors, blenders, more than a dozen pans, etc. They take up a lot of space that could be better used by things you use often.

  • (addition) : consider how much you're keeping in your larder/pantry. I didn't stock up nearly so much when things went on sale as I do now, because I just didn't have space to store things. Also, I was walking to the store which wasn't all that close, so I'd have to carry it, which reduced how much I'd get in any one trip.

  • Consider changing the menu. One skillet / pot meals without complex prep are your friend. There were plenty of dishes that I'd never even consider cooking while I had my tiny kitchen. (anything that required rolling things out? hell no, I didn't have space.)

Now, luckily, as I was in college, just the fact that I was a guy who cooked impressed my (now ex-) girlfriends enough; I didn't have to cook any fancy / complex dishes.

You'll also note I didn't mention hanging the pots / pans. This is because (1) there just wasn't room. (I kept mine stashed in the oven, and would have to clear it out when I wanted to bake anything), and (2) it was an apartment, and we weren't allowed to put holes in the walls or ceiling that I'd need to mount anything.

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Employ cooking techniques that don't require a kitchen (as you'd expect it). Not meant to be snarky, but, for instance:

  • Heat outdoors (if you have any): hello barbeque!
  • Cook using acid content (ceviche as an example): a bowl can be placed anywhere in the house
  • Cook using the freezer / fridge
  • Use your oven a lot: on (lots of stuff in the oven) at low and/or high heat, or off.
  • Pre-cut or otherwise partially prepared ingredients usually are more expensive, but they don't have to be - especially if the portions match and will cause less waste. Any activity you don't have to do yourself...
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I live in a studio with a very small kitchen. I also frequently observe my mom when she cooks meals in a tiny boat galley. All of the tips that have been previously mentioned here are excellent, and there's only one that I feel is missing: prepare as many things ahead of time as you possibly can!

(In my mom's case, this means doing as much of the prep work as possible in her roomy kitchen at home. For me, and I expect for you, this means doing prep work in the same tiny kitchen as the 'real cooking' - but oh well.)

From just chopping vegetables to actually completing any dishes that don't need to be served immediately, doing prep work ahead of time means you can work on one element of the meal at a time, so you can spread out a little bit - even in a tiny kitchen. This might mean you're spending all afternoon in the kitchen working on dinner, but it will feel more relaxed and it will lack the clutter that can make cooking feel like a chore.

In short: if you can't spread out in space, spread out in time!

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  1. Minimize the need for lots of measurement cups and spoons (which like to hide and dirty the benchtop) and scales which take up a lot of space:

    • Get good at approximating weights and measures and learn which ingredients it's important to be precise on and when a good approximation is good enough.
    • Use the can of produce just emptied to approximate further similar measurements of liquid rather than scrambling to find a measuring cup.
    • Measure out dry ingredients before wet so the same vessel can be used without constant rinsing and drying or finding another.
    • Learn how many teaspoons in a tablespoon, how many quarter cups in a full cup (it's amazing how many people ask how many quarters in a basketball game) so less cups and spoons can be used.
  2. If possible, reposition the fridge so the door opens without blocking you from the kitchen. A few fridges have doors that can be swapped to the other side.

  3. Peel vegetables with the peelings falling onto newspaper on top of the stove or other equipment, even the floor. Rapid cleanup too.

  4. Learn the love the Chef's knife rather than having an avocado peeler, egg slicer, an assortment of mincers and crushers, a mandoline, 'As seen on TV' food choppers... and advise relatives not to buy you such.

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