Essential Tools

The One Cooking Tool You Need During a Kitchen Renovation

August 23, 2017

Kitchen renovations are never easy. Throw in a lengthy three-month timeline and a set of toddler twins, and you are really in for a challenge. Read on for one intrepid dad’s firsthand account as he juggled the demands of work and family—eating out less than a handful of times!—and the one affordable tool he leaned on throughout the entire process.

When our twins started to crawl, we found that our capacious Boston apartment shrunk in the most adorably cute and dangerous ways. We really had to move.

While house hunting in the New England suburbs in 2014, every house we saw seemed to have a kitchen that I would just pick apart, often focusing on wants and not needs. Since really getting into cooking about 10 years ago, I can sometimes (a lot of times) be over-analytical when it comes to this kitchen stuff. Six months later, we finally found the house that fit all of our must-haves. As a bonus, it also had my ridiculously-outdated-but-with-tons-of-potential ideal kitchen. When we moved in, this was what our kitchen looked like:

Kitchen, pre-renovation Photo by Brian Crowley

Generally a great space, but terribly used and wicked outdated. See those missing cabinet doors and that 1982 range? Yeah, this kitchen is gold!

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Top Comment:
“We had four months with our two young kids without a stove, sink, or at some point, refrigerator (that involved a thermometer in our mud room during winter...), and the portable induction burner and a 5-gallon contractor's bucket were everything. We set up a large door we had salvaged from the side of the road on sawhorses, and got down to business. We didn't use a single disposable dish or utensil--dishes went in the bucket, which was carried down to the basement for wash in a utility sink. I put a colander on top of the bucket to drain pasta, and dumped that water into a toilet. We used our moka pot coffee maker by putting it into saucepans that were induction-compatible. We saved thousands and thousands of dollars over eating out (and who would ever choose eating out three times a day with two kids, anyway?), and now have a dream kitchen.”
— Erin A.
Comment

Then, we lived for 15 long weeks—more than 100 days!—without a kitchen, a proper sink, dishwasher, pantry, or cabinets (and did I mention 3-year-old twins underfoot?). And, get this: We ate out less than five times! I think about that now and realize that’s insane. But it’s true.

How?

Reorganizing a new pantry prior to demo was key. Planning, shopping, and list-making were obvious. Using tons of disposable aluminum trays and plates was unfortunately a necessary evil. These are all indispensable practices during a remodel. But what was the “IT” product that did it for us? What was the magical appliance? Was it the new propane grill I bought, thinking it was a must-have prior to a kitchen renovation? Nope. Was it the over-researched slow cooker purchase that I’ve used all of three times? Nope. Was it the undersized portable induction cooktop that I happened to land for free many years back due to uninteresting circumstances? Yes! This little guy was the key (a true relic, as I don’t even think they make this brand anymore).

For all he did for us, the stress he was under, the amount of tasty meals he cranked out day after day, he’s an official part of our family now. Sadly, we don’t use him all that much anymore. (Well, not so sadly, because our kitchen really came out great.) But now he’s like the older family dog—best dog ever—that comes out to see everyone on the holidays to get some extra love. And when he comes out, he kills it as usual, keeping soup warm for parties, or as a hot plate for broth. He’s just a winner; he’s a hall of fame caliber gadget in my life and I always feel like it's cheating when I use him.

For all he did for us, the stress he was under, the amount of tasty meals he cranked out day after day, he’s an official part of our family now.

If you are preparing for a kitchen renovation, I implore you to organize your house in advance. Figure out where the temporary pantry will be, where you can prep, where and how you’ll do dishes, and purchase disposable plating and cutlery to give you the assist. But most importantly, get your own portable induction cooktop. Pick one that has the following criteria:

  • About eight to 12 power levels
  • Capabilities up to 1500 or 1800 watts
  • Heating surface of about 10 inches to transfer heat to a 12-inch pan

Before purchasing, make sure your equipment works. In short, if a magnet sticks to the bottom of your favorite cooking pans (not including woks), they will work. There’s a ton more science behind this, but this is the general rule and should satisfy the demand of a portable device. To name a few, cast iron, most stainless, and most enameled cast iron pans should work.

What did I make?

Tons of soups, stews, and salads; dozens of hard-boiled eggs; pounded and seared meats (chicken and pork, mostly) with reduced pan sauces; heaps of sautéed vegetable to serve alongside store-bought rotisserie chicken or turkey; and crazy amounts of random one-pot experiments. I also employed the “same pan twice” technique with a wash or wipe in between. For example, grilled cheese browns very nicely in a pan pre-greased from sautéed peppers and onions, asparagus, or green beans. And almost all leftovers became burritos or quesadillas crisped on the cooktop. This induction cooktop took everything I threw at him.

How did I cook?

The cooktop you know about, but prep-wise? The goal was to maximize output in limited space, producing the least amount of washable dishes. My big revelation early on was learning to lean on prepared vegetables from the grocery store when needed. That mixed pint of diced carrots, celery, and onions, for one example, was a lifesaver. If I was going to prep ingredients myself, as I often wound up doing, I prepared a lot at once and stored them in bags in the fridge and scooped when needed. I made large bags of salads with veggies and nuts and cheese and scooped out side salads about three nights weekly. I blanched a lot of vegetables, like broccoli and asparagus, which really gives them legs in the fridge and allows for quick cooking or serving raw.

We also lived without bacon and limited the other high grease, prolonged smoke ingredients during the renovation. Since I was cooking in an area that was not properly ventilated, I tacked thick poster board to the wall behind the cooking area and on the ceiling, and I would change these periodically. Seeing how much grease accumulated, I’m glad I did this in order to avoid a splatter-stained corner of my living room.

Now?

So now I have the kitchen of my dreams—and one that our budget afforded. The renovation is a blur, but seemed like an eternity when we were in the middle of it. When ranking the personal value of every line item we put into the new kitchen itself and into the logistics during the renovation, I hold my portable induction cooktop at the top of this list, without question. This is a never-regret purchase. Get one. Give one.

You’ll be happy to know the MVP has a comfortable spot tucked away in his new home, and he's always ready to go when I need him.

Happy kitchen, post-renovation Photo by Brian Crowley

Have you gone through a kitchen renovation? Let us know if you had any MVP tools or gadgets to help you through the process.

9 Comments

Lou S. August 23, 2017
Great article Brian! I never thought about a portable induction cooktop. Our kitchen renovation is scheduled for next year and I will make sure i grab one beforehand. Also, great advice w/ the splatter guard & cooking prep tips! I have a feeling we'll be eating out a bunch but I do feel a little more at ease w/ all your advice! Thanks!<br />p.s. Your new kitchen looks great!
 
Timothy J. August 23, 2017
Soup and stew is always a good idea. As is chili. I can make some damm good chili. Perhaps I can make it even better with your cooker. Sold!!
 
Gail A. August 23, 2017
I don't believe there is any one magic answer for situations such as this. Depending upon diet and food preparation styles, what works well for one person may not be as magical for the next. What worked best for us was to take stock of the equipment we had and how we could best make it work. We had a small toaster oven which stepped in as a broiler, an electric wok which became our sauté pan/saucepan and a miniscule crockpot which was used for braising. Food prep was done on a cutting board on the floor of my dining room, dishes were washed in the garage sink or the bathtub. The fridge had been temporarily relocated, but was still usable. I took care not to prepare meals which required the multiple cooking vessels I couldn't use, but we ate exceptionally well.
 
Erin A. August 23, 2017
Yes! We had four months with our two young kids without a stove, sink, or at some point, refrigerator (that involved a thermometer in our mud room during winter...), and the portable induction burner and a 5-gallon contractor's bucket were everything. We set up a large door we had salvaged from the side of the road on sawhorses, and got down to business. We didn't use a single disposable dish or utensil--dishes went in the bucket, which was carried down to the basement for wash in a utility sink. I put a colander on top of the bucket to drain pasta, and dumped that water into a toilet. We used our moka pot coffee maker by putting it into saucepans that were induction-compatible. We saved thousands and thousands of dollars over eating out (and who would ever choose eating out three times a day with two kids, anyway?), and now have a dream kitchen.
 
Author Comment
Brian C. August 28, 2017
Good stuff. And not a single disposable utensil? Wow! I tip my cap to you, as does Al Gore.
 
Aderck August 23, 2017
My husband and I lived 3 months without a kitchen. We have no children living with us but then we don't have any good restaurants nearby so eating out or carrying out was not an option. My three cooking devices were the microwave, a crockpot, and the outdoor gas grill. Breakfast was either oatmeal or eggs in the microwave. Lunch was salads, leftovers, and soup, and dinners were grilled or crockpot meals with plenty of leftovers. But the grill was the workhorse so we were able to prepare about any meal as long as it wasn't raining. The most difficult part was not having a sink as ours needed to be moved to a new location. No dishwasher, no sink to clean dishes in. The guest bathroom was converted to my dishwashing area with tubs for washing, tubs for rinsing and one for drying. It was a tiny bathroom with a tiny sink, so cleanup took much longer than cooking. Paper plates, cups, and bowls helped along the way. My new kitchen was worth the wait. It is beautiful and tailored to fit my cooking needs.
 
Author Comment
Brian C. August 28, 2017
Exactly! I love the creativity. The dance we do to clean dishes, sometimes on different floors, is non-stop. But you have to be committed, right? Good stuff. I honestly thought the big bad grill I got would be my anchor during this thing, but I got into a real groove with the cooktop, as you can tell. Also, the real reason I never opted into the slow cooker is due to my own personal paranoia. I know it's just me, but I have an issue with setting a cooking device "on" for hours and leaving the house. Especially during the remodel in question which had a lot of exposed flammable stuff laying around. I know I am discounting the exact benefit of the slow cooker...again, it's just me.
 
Kim W. August 23, 2017
Beautiful results! My family will be embarking on a kitchen renovation in early 2018 and I've been planning the temp kitchen space for awhile but had not thought about protecting the surrounding the walls and ceiling in the temporary space. Thank you!
 
Author Comment
Brian C. August 28, 2017
Awesome, good luck! For the wall/ceiling protection I went to one of those office supply stores and went with a thicker board with a glossy finish...basically temporary/cheap white board. I was contemplating using a bunch of thinner poster board but thought better as these would be prone to absorption and potentially trapping moisture and grease between them and the wall. The thicker stuff I replaced 2 or 3 times and nothing got through.