Say you cooking beef steak:

You have to unwrap the beef from its packaging, lay it down, get blood on your hands, wash hands, sprinkle salt, wash hands, grind pepper, rub the seasoning into the beef, wash hands, grab the tongs etc..

Is it normal to wash hands after every step or is there a trick to avoid getting all the tools dirty?

If you watch TV, they don't ever wash as much as I do.


Bad news first:
Frequent washing is part of clean cooking. And while the TV chefs might seemingly ignore this step and simply wipe their hands on a towel, note that they a) typically don't serve these meals and don't do the cleanup after the show and b) the shows are heavily edited - no viewer wants to watch the chef wash their hands again.

But the good news is that you don't have to wash all the time. With a bit of practise, you can use the fact that you have two hands - keep one hand clean and dry, actually touch the meat only with the other one. I did a longer explanation for a very similar question about seasoning steak.

This might need a bit more conscious planning and a mise en place for the first time, e.g. opening spice jars or chopping herbs before unwrapping the meat, but unless you are dealing with very large and heavy pieces of meat, the "dedicated hands" method works pretty well.


One clean hand and one dirty hand? Only touch the meat with one hand.

I guess you need two hands for pepper grinder but you could use a towel or not grind the pepper.

You see a lot chefs with a towel over their shoulder to wipe their hands and they use the apron to wipe their hands. In handling raw meat you need to worry about contamination so should wash your hands when you are done handling raw meat.

Another option is to hold the spice with a towel. Out at the BBQ there is no sink.

If I am going to BBQ a steak I open it at the BBQ on the paper. Season one side. Place that side down on the grill and then season the other side. Throw away the paper and then wash my hands.

If you are going to cook later then I like to season as soon as I get home before the paper gets bloody. Season and then put it in a sealed container in the fridge so you don't get odor contamination. Basically you should not be in a position that you need to handle really bloody meat in the first place.

In the professional shows they are pulling fresh meat that is not (typically) bloody and will just prep it and then wash their hands.

If frozen same thing. I will season lightly frozen and place it in a sealed container to thaw in the fridge. Then add more seasoning on the grill to taste. Professional kitchens (not high end) with frozen meat will typically do it that way.

I sense the need to cover food contamination general

  • Raw meat should not cross contaminate with cooked meat
  • Raw meat should not cross contaminate with raw or cooked fruits or vegetables
  • You should even avoid cross contamination of most different meats (e.g. chicken and beef)

In a small kitchen you should be prepping one or the other and never both. A commercial kitchen will be large for separate prep areas. Most restaurants have dedicated separate prep areas. I like to prep meats first as they are either going on the grill or if not go back in the fridge easily. A salad is something you want to prep last. Clean the kitchen and clean your hands. Vegetables you need for the meat is first like garlic and parsley and put them in small bowls. Pull your spices. Pulls your meats (one at a time) and prep. Going to a different type of meat (e.g. red to chicken) clean the prep area. I easily get away with just cleaning my hands once per meat.

Clean the kitchen and all prep pots and utensils before moving on to vegetables and fruits. You can still be working on cooking your meats as you are not handling raw meat.

  • you can pre grind it into a bowl as well, or buy an electric pepper grinder which grinds with one hand
    – Batman
    Feb 10 '17 at 17:47
  • 1
    @Batman Valid point but there is not a single meat that I would bother with ground pepper or salt in prep.
    – paparazzo
    Feb 10 '17 at 18:03
  • ...steak? makes it so much better.
    – Batman
    Feb 10 '17 at 19:42

I also use the one clean hand / one dirty hand technique. My clean hand is the one that I hold a knife in.

To avoid getting both hands dirty while opening the packaging, I'll use a paring knife to cut the packaging, and then my 'dirty' hand to unwrap it. I can then grab salt with my 'clean' hand. If I'm going to be using a spice blend, I'll loosen the lid ahead of time, so I can do it one handed. If I forgot, for the containers with large lids (that aren't flip-top and easily opened one-handed), I can put it between my arm and side to hold it while I remove the lid.

I don't tend to use just black pepper at this stage -- if I did, I'd either wash my hand, pre-grind some and sprinkle it on like the salt, or use tongs so I'd never get either hand dirty. (I always use tongs when grilling, as I'll need them at the grill, and I need two clean hands to open the door while holding the plate of meat).

I can then put the meat in the pan seasoned-side down, and then season the other side. (if grilling, I'll season both sides first, so I'm not trying to throw salt at the ones in the back without burning myself).


But just as likely is that I'll marinade the meat -- put it in a zip-top bag, wash hands, then add in the spices, oil, acid, herbs, whatever garlic qualifies as, etc. And then wash up, seal the bag, throw it in the fridge and wait 'til it's time to cook. I then use tongs to grab them out and put them on a plate w/ paper towels to dry off the surface, and then cook them.

  • What I have not figured out is when to swap out the tongs. If I'm grilling, I'll just shove them in the grill to bake off (yes, I have strange colors on the end of the tongs now), but when inside ... when do I switch from raw tongs to clean tongs? Before I flip? After I flip?
    – Joe
    Feb 10 '17 at 15:51
  • So, more dishes, but I usually just use two pairs of tongs, one to put the raw meat on the grill and flip when it's time and another to remove the cooked meat. Sometimes I even use a fork to put the raw meat on the grill and to a flip (I know, I know... I shouldn't pierce the meat).
    – lspare
    Mar 29 '18 at 14:38
  • @lspare : I suspect that piercing the meat when it's raw is not as bad as when it's cooked or cooking ... sort of like how you can get away with smashing a burger when it's just been put on, but not after it's been cooking. If that weren't the case, then I wouldn't be able to get away with my 'stab it repeatedly with a fork before marinating' technique
    – Joe
    Mar 30 '18 at 0:52

If you overcomplicate, it gets messier. My process:

Unwrap steak, drop in hot pan (possibly using a fork to transfer from package, which minimzes blood on the hands), put wrappings in garbage, wash hands, turn with a fork, wash the fork, turn again or remove. Salt and pepper can be applied at table if you feel a need for them. I don't think a half-decent steak has any such need...

Or unwrap steak, drop in small container, dispose of packaging, wash hands, add wine, garlic, etc. seal, place in fridge. Remove container from fridge, fork out the meat, drop in hot pan, as above...

Why do you need to wash your hands between salt and pepper? - Use a utensil to turn the meat if that's your issue.


The TV part of this question: Apart from obvious edits and cuts (save in a live show), take a look again, are they using a pepper grinder or salt grinder, probably not, they have their seasonings in little pots, so can just grab a pinch as and when needed. It's not a problem to wash a small pot!

And to the washing of your hands... You are handling raw meat - now go and wash your hands! I don't mean to come across as bossy here, but that is the only thing you can do to stop cross contamination.

I personally hadn't appreciated how much I wash my hands until you posted this - and yes I do a lot of hand washing - it's just one of those things.

  • On TV they always touch cooked food with bare hands especially during plating. I assume it's not a common habit to wash hands in their culture?
    – Jake
    Feb 12 '17 at 11:41

The big difference between you and a restaurant cook is that you are doing everything at once. A cook does all the prep work in advance, handling all of the vegetables at once, then prepping all of the meat, and only washing hands between tasks.

Once service begins, they'll be at a single station, so they don't have to wash their hands between every step. Salads are handled at a different station from saute, for example. (At some restaurants salads are finished by the wait staff, whose hands won't be the cleanest but they will at least not have been handling raw meat.)

They are careful to ensure that they handle cooked food and serving plates only with clean utensils, or with a clean hand. That's part of the reason for tactics like the "chef's flip" in sauteeing: it's not for flash, or even because it's more effective, but just because it means that they don't have to touch another tool with a dirty hand. Worse case, they may use gloves when they absolutely have to handle something raw in in between handling meat.

You don't get to have the same level of organization as a restaurant brigade, since you're doing all of the work by yourself. But a bit of prior planning can minimize hand washing.

Doctors and nurses, by the way, tend to use alcohol hand sanitizer rather than washing their hands all the time. It's just as effective, and takes a lot less time, though it's murder on your skin. To my knowledge restaurants never do that, but it might be worth adopting at home.

  • 1
    In a pro or home kitchen it is not just wash your hands and move from meat to vegetables I hope. The entire prep area and all equipment should be cleaned and sanitized. Most restaurants have separate prep areas.
    – paparazzo
    Feb 10 '17 at 17:56

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