Shallow focus of cooking utensils in a white canister in a kitchen (with logo overlay)

7 Quick and Easy Steps to Perfect Cooking Workflow

When it comes to cooking, it helps to have a workflow that you go to every time you make a meal to maximize the quality of food you cook.

Over the years, I have (almost) perfected my cooking workflow. Whether I’m working on a new recipe or something I’ve made hundreds of times, my steps for cooking are the same.

If you are a beginner cook, then this is a great place to start your food preparation journey. For those who have been cooking for years, this may help you if you are struggling with a recipe. If you are a pro cooker, well then maybe you can leave me a comment if I’ve missed something here that you’ve learned working in a commercial kitchen with professional chefs. 

Working in a Small Kitchen

I find it helps to have a cooking zone set up so you are prepared for your recipe. For me, most of that happens on the kitchen island. Having a well-organized kitchen makes the cooking process go smoothly, even in a small kitchen space. 

My dream kitchen would have a well-designed kitchen layout with all the storage solutions you can think of, including pull-out shelves in the cabinets. But right now, my storage area is limited so I have to have an efficient workflow plan to make it work for me. 

While you can’t easily change your kitchen design, having the ideal kitchen work triangle between the refrigerator, stove, and sink makes meal preparation easier. Have a clear path and clean countertop space for efficient kitchen workflow. 

Originally Published On: November 14, 2017

Last Updated On: April 8, 2020

Read Through the Recipe

This is probably my biggest piece of advice for someone who is just starting to cook more often. Always read the recipe. Read it through the entire way, all the ingredients, all the steps, all the tips. And if it’s on a blog or online, read the comments. See if anyone has made some suggested changes or figured out any hidden tricks to make the recipe easier. By reading the recipe, you will have an idea of what you are doing and avoid unnecessary steps. You’ll know when there is a step that requires you to be quick or constantly stirring so you can plan accordingly.

Get Ingredients Ready

Prepare all your ingredients and have them in your prep area. A lot of recipes will have things in the ingredients list such as 1 onion, chopped. Before you even start cooking, chop up that onion so it’s ready when the time comes. Or maybe it’s butter, softened. I even made a few things that call for heavy cream or cream cheese to be at room temperature. That takes some time so it can’t be rushed. Not only will this help you get everything ready, but you will also be double-checking that you have all the ingredients you need before you are in the middle of cooking and have to figure out a substitute (been there, done that!). You will also have easy access to all of your ingredients if they are out and ready. 

Stainless steel bowls with flour, sugar, cinnamon, and baking powder on a wooden surface

Prep Your Utensils/Cookware

Same with the ingredients, I find it helps to prep your utensils and cookware as well so things are within easy reach. Are you going to need a large skillet and a medium saucepan? Then go ahead and get those out and set them on the stove. If you need a pasta spoon and a whisk, set them on the counter so they are close at hand. I hate when I am working on dinner and realize the pizza cutter is in the dishwasher. Now I have to either stop what I’m doing and wash it or ask Justin to come to help me and wash it for me.

Determine The Cooking Order

If you are making only one recipe, then just follow the instructions. But if you are making a meal with a main dish and a few side items, then you want to decide what order you need to cook it in so that everything is warm and ready at about the same time. Also, look for any downtime you may have in a recipe, such as while something is baking, and use that to get something else cooking. Don’t put too much space between your cooking so your delicious meals come together perfectly. 

Plate Food As Needed

Sometimes, while you are cooking, there’s nothing to do except to plate some of your food. For example, if you need your saute pan to cook the main dish, but need the same one to get the vegetables sauteed, then you are going to have to move the food somewhere. At this point, go ahead and start to plate your food and just cover it with a paper towel or similar to keep it warm.

Sweet and sour chicken in rice with a scoop of coleslaw in a white round bowl on top of a white round plate with bamboo chopsticks on the plate and a white and brown towel behind all on a wooden surface

Keep Foods Warm

Think about what will get cold too quickly, and make that last. If you are making a vegetable with dinner, more than likely that will get cold quickly, so you want that to be one of the last things you make. On the other hand, if you have something in the slow cooker then it can sit on warm while you finish up your other foods.

Set the Table

Last but not least, set the table. Whether you are just having some grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup for dinner or having a full holiday meal, some things will need to be brought to the table. Set out the plates, utensils, and cups at the least. Most nights, that’s all that’s really set at our table. When we have a larger meal or have people over, we usually set the table a little nicer. No matter what meal you are working on, there will be some table setting that needs to be done before you can sit down to enjoy the yummy food you’ve made.

Wooden table set with plates and silverware with metal chairs around it

Working in the Kitchen

40 thoughts on “7 Quick and Easy Steps to Perfect Cooking Workflow”

  1. I’ve never thought to read through the comments, that’s a brilliant idea. I also gather all my ingredients and I tend to measure everything out before I even mix. Great tips!

  2. Prepping is such an important step! And it’s what the pro chefs swear by. One time we were in the middle of cooking and realized we ran out of a key ingredient lol.

  3. This list makes cooking so much less overwhelming- thank you! As someone whose go-to recipes include frozen meals and a microwave, this post is totally what I need to find some order in the kitchen chaos!

  4. These are great tips. Get Ingredients Ready is the key here. When I miss one or two ingredients, I just stop cooking or buy the missing ingredients. Missing one or two ingredients will ruin everything.

  5. Preparing a meal is our thing, we take care of it so much that every meal we do a good looking table. Awesome tips, gonna help to share this with family!

  6. Sounds good to me! You need to read the recipe before you get the ingredients in order. Nothing worse then starting a dish and not have all the ingredients.

  7. I love how you go through this routine. I don’t cook a ton but I would absolutely follow this plan!

  8. I am sharing this post with my older daughter since she is not working, she’s been cooking and this will help her.

  9. I’am starting to do cooking since quarantine days and this perfect cooking workflow would help me a lot I will save this post Thanks to this 🙂

    1. So many people are getting in the kitchen that haven’t before. It’s so helpful to have a routine when you’re cooking, especially if it’s something new.

  10. Great post, Stephanie! (I usually try to get the last step knocked off as early in the process as possible, sometimes in the AM while emptying the dishwasher, because that job is one the girls take turns on – sooner they get it done, less I have to worry about reminding them!). You hint at my biggest suggestions some in your 4th step, but the most challenging things I’ve observed in less experienced cooks (and even some who are more experienced) are realistically thinking about TIME on two different levels: one, planning a menu that will work with the time you have, and two, syncing all the parts of the cooking process so that the dishes are done at roughly the same time whenever possible. For example, if you’ve got a casserole that takes an hour of baking time AFTER a half-hour of prep, you can’t make that on a night when you only have 45 min between your last meeting/getting home and supper time, and you’d better get that casserole in the oven before you even THINK about starting the salad!

    1. Yes! The order and amount of time makes such a difference in cooking a meal properly. It’s also why I try really hard to make sure my times are accurate. I sometimes overestimate since I know others may not cook as fast as I do.

  11. I have failed to fully read the recipe prior to starting more than once. It was disastrous! Lesson learned. I’m still working on timing so this post was so helpful!

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