Spring might be the season for cleaning—but why can't fall have some... um... fun, too? As you say goodbye-for-now to summer salads and hello to burbling stews and wintry pies, you have an opportunity to scoot your kitchen back into shape.
While Racked's comprehensive guide to overhauling a closet gives me hives, the thought of reviving my kitchen for its time in the spotlight sends waves of excitement through my body. (Does this make me a weirdo? Is this why I don't work in fashion? Rhetorical questions.)
If you, too, are excited by the idea of a fresh start for your cooking workspace, or if you've neglected your pantry and range this summer, distracted by "need-nothing" tomatoes and too many weekends on the road, we've got the checklist for you. Follow these 11 steps for "winterizing" your kitchen—that is, getting it ready for all the fall foods you'll be baking, roasting, and braising before you know it.
1. Take stock of what you have in the pantry—and get rid of anything that's expired.
A thorough and satisfying, albeit time-consuming, way to do this is to empty all of the contents of your pantry and group like with like. This way, you'll realize that you have three bags of farro or a jar holding just two lentils (soooo roomy). Consolidate, regroup, and make note of where you're running low. Now's your chance to check expiration dates and dispose of any food that's no longer good (did you know, for example, that baking powder loses its potency?).
2. Before you reload, wipe down those shelves.
You'll be surprised by the rogue grains of rice and flour dust you'll find. (If you're wondering what to use to clean your pantry, you may be delighted to know that you can use the very items in your pantry to do just that! These 9 pantry items work as cleaning tools in their free-time).
Once your pantry is spic and span, you might consider outfitting your shelves with a fancy-looking, dirt-repellent liner, or transferring spices and dry goods to glass containers. You could even allocate your most-used pantry MVPs to a special shelf on the side of your fridge—prime real estate.
If you're the type to follow an hour-by-hour guide, we've got that, too:
3. Make a master pantry (wish)list.
What are the cans (chickpeas, coconut milk), tins (anchovies, tuna, clams), boxes (pasta, cornmeal), and bags (lentils, couscous) that will help you make a meal out of "nothing"? Make a list of these items and tape it somewhere convenient (the inside of your cabinet door, perhaps?). You can even channel a restaurant kitchen and specify your "par"—that is, how many of each item you like to keep on hand to feel prepared.
Not sure where to start? Here's our guide to stocking a vegan pantry and our community-generated list of must-haves.
Free Up Your Fridge
4. Remember how you emptied, consolidated, and cleaned your pantry? Do that to your fridge, too.
Be honest with yourself and with your condiments. Are there lots of near-empty bottles and jars? We have ideas for using up fridge-door dregs, from buttermilk to mustard to pickles. (And if you have a lot of jams that won't make it onto PB&Js, swirl them into a butter cake or dollop all over a shortbread tart and invite the neighbors for dessert.)
You probably won't want to, but sniff your dairy products, cheeses, and herbs that somehow shuffled to the back of the shelves. You know what do with them if they smell too funky to eat.
Remove the shelves and give them a wipe down, too. Begone, maple syrup drippings and tomato sauce stains.
5. Devise a meal-planning system.
This is more of a bonus task, but one that I'm aspiring to tackle as the seasons change and it becomes more difficult to magic a meal out of raw vegetables. I want to know what I'm having for dinner, when I'm having it, which components to make ahead of time, how the leftovers will get used, and which stragglers hanging out in the fridge and freezer are ready to be put into the game.
Maybe your system is a dry erase board (or, like in the photo from designer Alex Kalita below, dry erase contact paper that adheres right to your refrigerator), a notebook, or a weekly calendar pad.
Ready, Ready, Ready, Ready... Ready to
6. Clean your oven.
Start roasting and baking season on a fresh foot by giving your oven a scrub-down, either by using your oven's self-cleaning function or with cleaning solution—the Kitchn has advice on using a paste of baking soda and vinegar.
7. Get to know its temperature and quirks.
First, buy an oven thermometer (we've said it before, we'll say it again). Now's also a good time to check that thermometer—and any probe thermometers you'll be using to monitor meat, fish, bread, and candy—for accuracy.
Take the time to check it for hot spots—your future cakes and cookies will thank you—and stash a pizza stone or baking steel on the lowest rack for more even heating.
8. Before you buy anything, declutter.
Okay, yes—it's much more fun to buy new things than to give away the old, but just think: Limited space means having to make room for each new addition.
Here's Alice Medrich's guide to trimming the clutter and—spoiler alert—her approach isn't exactly like Marie Kondo's (sample: "How many plastic containers without lids do you need?").
But if you are a Kondo disciple, we've also got a bit of advice on how to follow her method (and how to succeed at tidying even if you break most of the rules).
Once you give away (or sell!) your less-loved or less-used items, make a list of what you do need: a rolling pin (for all of the doughs you rolled out with a wine bottle), a mandoline (for all of the gratins and shaved vegetable salads), a bundt pan, and no-nonsense baking sheets for roasting. See if any fellow home cooks want to participate in a kitchen tools swap with you—you may trade out your citrus press for a friend's oft-forgotten food mill.
9. Scrub your pots, pans, and appliances.
But before you buy, clean: A newly-clean pan can feel nearly as exciting as an actually new pan. Spiffy up your stainless steel, re-season and clean your cast iron, and restore your enamel cast iron back to its original luster.
Your blender, food processor, and coffee grinder could use a cleaning, too—and it's easier to do than you might think!
Bonus points if you send your oven mitts through the washer-dryer (something I have never ever done before).
10. Fine! Now you can buy.
Now that what you don't use is gone, and what you do use is clean, you'll be able to see the gaps—and start planning for new equipment that will help you thrive during the cooking-intense months. Maybe it's a fairly large time, space, and money investment, like an Instant Pot, or something smaller but just as critical, like a new nonstick pan that can turn out beautiful fried eggs and the most delicate omelets, or a milk frother.
11. Write down all of the recipes you're excited to make.
The only thing that makes saying farewell to the summer produce bearable? Looking ahead to your fall bucket list. (But please, no one utter the P.S.L. words aloud until it's October, okay?)
What's on my list? Teddie's apple cake, slow-cooked kale, and roasted acorn squash.
How do you prepare—mentally, emotionally, and in the kitchen—for the departure of summer? Tell us in the comments below.
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