You may wake up on Thanksgiving morning energized to just start cooking, but don’t turn on the stove just yet. Take some time before cooking the meal to clean the kitchen. You may be about to get it dirty again, but I think better food is produced in a clean space than a messy one. Here are a few tips and tricks for how to clean your kitchen before Thanksgiving—plus, how to clean up just after cooking the meal, and when the meal is over.
Take an hour on Thanksgiving morning to start. Better yet, begin the day before. That way, on the day of the dinner, when your 5 a.m. alarm goes off you can just make coffee and get to work.
Before cooking the meal
Clean out the fridge and freezer. Make room for the impending mountain of groceries and leftovers by emptying any superfluous goods from the fridge and freezer. Toss old takeout containers, mostly-empty cartons of milk, and that frozen pizza from last year.
Empty the drying rack and/or the dishwasher. Take five minutes to put away anything you won’t need to cook with before starting the meal. Wash the spare fork and cup sitting in the sink, dry and put away the dishes from breakfast. You’re about to use a lot of dishes, and the last thing you need is a larger pile.
Clean all potential surfaces upon which food may be prepped. Since Thanksgiving tends to be a larger meal, you’ll probably have the turkey in the sink, stuffing ingredients on the counter, a pie crust on the shelf where your Keurig usually lives, and just-baked sweet potatoes still in the roasting pan on the radiator. Before cooking, wipe down all counters, counter-height shelves and windowsills, stools, and islands with water, and then with a mild kitchen spray. You’ll thank yourself later.
Wash the roasting pans and pie plates you haven’t used since last Thanksgiving. For some, Thanksgiving is the one meal cooked in their kitchen. I know I don’t use a turkey-sized roasting pan more than three times a year—my sink is barely large enough to accommodate one anyway. Wipe out and wash all large serving and cooking gear before filling them with food. Even if the item has been sitting in the closed china cabinet all year, there’s probably still a dust situation. This goes for larger baking dishes, pie plates, fancy wine glasses and dishes, gravy boats, serving platters, huge salad bowls, etc. If you can’t remember the last time you used it, wash it.
After cooking the meal
Tidy up. Don’t leave all the ingredients you cooked with out once your guests arrive. Put food away and make sure anything in a serving dish stays in the fridge until you eat.
Do dishes in shifts. This actually goes for both after cooking and eating the meal. Even if you have a dishwasher, it’ll be hard to wash everything used to prepare and devour a Thanksgiving dinner all at once. However, you don’t want to leave bowls lined with pumpkin pie filling and dishes caked with gravy and cranberry sauce remnants for five hours. Wash dishes in downtime as you cook the meal. Better yet, ask a friend or family member to arrive early to help. I promise, they won’t mind.
After cooking the meal, wipe all dishes and utensils in hot water with a sponge. Stack everything on the counter and return to wash or load the dishwasher after dinner. If you have time, do a load in the dishwasher between dinner and dessert. Note: If your raw turkey was ever in the sink, clean the sink first (see below for instructions).
Put all leftovers in containers and put them in the fridge or give them away. Don’t leave dishes filled with food stacked up on the kitchen counter. After the dinner table is cleared, assemble a team of two or three guests to help you transfer leftovers into containers (have a bunch ready to go). Let your helpers get first dibs on dessert. Put all the leftovers in the fridge or freezer, then offer the ones you don’t want to your guests as they leave.
Clean the sink (as well as every other surface you cooked on). Scrub the sink with hot water and dish soap if you had any poultry or raw meat in the sink. Wash the sponge well, or toss it and grab a new one. Make a paste of baking soda and water and spread it all over the sink, then it sit for 15 minutes. Rinse the sink with hot water and scrubby sponge. Wipe down all the surfaces you cooked on with kitchen spray.
Sweep the floor. If you cooked, you spilled, I promise. Sweep the floor, toss the crumbs, and scrub any sticky areas with kitchen spray or white vinegar.
Feeling ambitious? Clean the oven.