How to Cook in a Tiny Kitchen

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Cooking in a tiny kitchen made easy.

leadThis is my kitchen and it’s not the smallest I’ve had. But it’s still pretty tiny, especially when you consider that we work from home, hardly ever eat out and therefore prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner in our kitchen every day.

It’s L-shaped, small, and yet is perfect for us.There are a lot of myths about cooking in small spaces, which I’ll be debunking in this article.

The tiniest kitchen I have ever had was in a cupboard. I’d open two doors and there was a sink with a minuscule fridge below it, a two-ring gas cooker and shelves above. My current kitchen isn’t as bad as that, in fact, I love it. It’s compact, there’s plenty of space and cleaning it is so easy. Something is especially like is that everything is near at hand.

I used to be a kitchen designer when I lived in England and for many years would plan huge kitchens and dream that one day I’d have one of my own. Eventually, I did but I prefer my tiny kitchen!

There’s a lot of advice on the internet about small space living – often from writers who don’t actually have that lifestyle. I enjoy living (and cooking!) in a small space and I also have employed the same principles to prepare meals in boat galleys and tiny RVs. These tips are also invaluable if you’re vacationing in self-catering accommodation – their kitchens are often tiny. They are also great if you have a new dorm room-dweller in your family and want to ensure that they get good home-cooked meals.

The entire room

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Here’s another shot of our kitchen. I’ve included this because it shows the entire room. As you can see our fridge, which is much smaller than the usual American refrigerator is on the left of the room. On the right is the back door; you can just see the black doormat. As you can see, my first rule is:

START WITH A CLEAN AND UNCLUTTERED KITCHEN

The sink is an appliance too

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A SMALL SINK

Our sink measures about twenty inches by sixteen inches but it’s used more than anything else when I’m cooking. You’ll notice that there are two items in the sink. On the right is a plastic rectangular bowl. I do the dishes in this so, when I’m cooking and I’ve finished with an item or utensil, it goes straight in there, ready to be washed.

OVER SINK DRAINER

This is intended to hold the dishes and silverware when they’be been washed. I use it for much more than this.

The first step for cooking a meal is gathering the ingredients from the fridge or cupboard and putting them in the drainer. I carry it to the fridge and add the items from there, then the cupboard for any canned or dried goods. See the next image.

What’s great about the drainer you see here is that it’s collapsible,. When you’ve finished using it you can, if you wish, store it because it folds to just 1½” high. This will slot into a cupboard, or on the top of a wall cabinet easily. It has tons of room too.

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As you can see, I’m making a simple lunch using convenience foods. But no matter what I’m cooking, I always assemble the ingredients here. I am still able to use the sink to wash the salad and the working area on the countertop remain clear.

Decide where garbage will go

WASTE DISPOSAL?

No, I don’t have one. I also don’t have a dog (and dogs can do a pretty good job!) So it’s important to decide what you are going to do with food scraps and peelings while you work. Piling them up on one side of the chopping board isn’t a good idea because they can overflow onto the worktop and make more mess for you to clean.

I USE A GLASS JAR

I simply put a glass jar in the sink and when I trim vegetables, add the trimmings and peelings to it. If I feel a vegetable stock coming on, I store this in the fridge so that I can add them when I make stock. This keeps all the mess under control. If necessary I move the jar from the sink to the countertop if I’m working there.

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SELECT UTENSILS TOO

I know that I’m going to need a plastic or wooden spoon to stir the beans and a spatula to remove the pasties from the oven so before I start to cook I get those out and hang them from the tension rod that’s over my sink. Now I have everything to hand.

Use chopping boards to create extra surfaces

Pull out a drawer, add the board and you have additional surfaces. I keep measurements in my phone. When shopping I buy the sizes I need, One board and fits perfectly over the tiny drawer to the right of my stove. It just holds a pan – convenient for this but so many other things too. These extra small surfaces have so many uses.

This is the newest of the two I use. It’s very good looking and puts the older one to shame. It’s created from sustainable wood and chef-endorsed – even the price is good!

Utensils I don’t use daily

SAVE SPACE IN A TINY KNIFE DRAWER

I need my can opener for the beans but it’s not something I use every day. Neither is my pizza wheel or my ladle. So these live in a plastic box that’s kept in the cupboard below. It’s easy to reach when I need it but it keeps my knife drawer uncluttered.

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Use a Lazy Susan

SO MANY USES

My pasties are cooking in the oven, I have a pan on the stove ready to cook the beans and now I need to get plates and silverware together and make a quick salad. By using a Lazy Susan on the countertop I can easily make use of the wasted space in the corner and it’s protecting my white surfaces too. It can be stored vertically so takes up little space and I also use it on the dining table.

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LOOK, I CAN USE IT ON TOP OF MY TRASH CAN TOO

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Recommended: Made from high-strength bamboo this is a planet-friendly product.

I use mine on the countertop and on top of the trash can but it’s also great at the table so that everyone can reach the salad bowl, the black pepper and any other condiments.

Just a touch of decor

BUT WITH A PRACTICAL PURPOSE

You’ll have seen from the top photograph that I have a lovely ceramic jug and a black and white vase in the unreachable corner of my countertop. Hey, I like uncluttered rooms but I like a little décor too. But they are practical too. If I’m following a recipe, it’s a great place to keep the cookbook and the jug holds it while the vase keeps it in place. As you can see, I use clothespins to make sure that the pages stay open.

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Plating the meal

I’M LAZY

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It’s only steps from the kitchen to the dining table but I like to use a tray so that I don’t have to make more than one trip. I put our meal and its accompaniments on a tray. This protects the surfaces but it’s now also easy to transport everything to the table. Oh and the tray also fits perfectly on my trash can if I need extra surfaces.

Our trays are also made of eco-friendly bamboo. I have two so if we’re going to eat watching TV, we have one each.

We often eat outdoors with friends and the two trays are excellent for serving drinks, snacks and buffet foods. We use these every day and they store vertically in my narrow cupboard. They’re stylish too.

Doing the dishes

AFTER THE MEAL

When items are used during cooking, I put them straight into the washing up bowl in the sink. Just before we eat, I fill the bowl with warm soapy water so that the used items are soaking. After the meal, we simply add the plates and silverware we’ve used and doing the dishes takes about three minutes tops.

DRYING THE DISHES?

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I like to use a cloth but I’ve learned over the years that ‘people’ (guys) are likely to grab cloths and use them for just about anything. We don’t have a draining board but our drying mat is placed on top of the ceramic hob, the dishes are piled there and they air-dry themselves. (Once the stove top is cool of course!)


This is one of those simple, but brilliant ideas. We don’t have a draining board so where are we going to leave out dishes to dry? On this fantastic mat! It’s very absorbent and dishes, silverware, glasses and pans dry quickly.

It’s machine washable but I just rinse it in the sink and hang it out on the line. To store it, it folds and I have it on the side of my fridge using its loop and a magnetic hook.

More tips for a small kitchen

STORE CREATIVELY

You may not be able to store all your kitchen equipment in the room itself. We have a small storage area in our apartment building and if anything isn’t used on a regular basis, it goes into the storage area. If your pressure cooker that you only use at the holidays lives in your clothes closet, so be it.

YES, YOU CAN BUY IN BULK

Many people who have small kitchens complain that they can’t take advantage of special bulk-buying offers to save money. There’s nothing wrong with having a twelve pack of canned tomatoes under your bed! We have a suitcase stored in one of our cupboards for when we go traveling – at the moment, it contains bulk-bought cans of soda. I’ve even stored bulk purchases in the car for a few days until I’ve found them a home in the apartment. A wine rack can live in the lounge.

UNUSUAL USES

Our fresh bread lives in the halogen oven. Why not? It keeps it close to hand and when we use the oven, we just put the bread into the basket on the shelf above.

HOW MANY [INSERT ITEMS] DO I NEED?

When I first moved to the tiny apartment I found that I had seven egg whisks – seven! We don’t even eat eggs very often. And even if we did, how many egg whisks can I use at one time? It was the same with mixing bowls. I only need one medium sized bowl. For small items, I use a cereal bowl or even my jug.

PANS

I have five. Two skillets and three saucepans. They live in the drawer underneath the oven. I only really use two of them. If I really needed more space, I could give away a couple. It’s a good idea to consciously inventory your kitchen equipment to see what you really use regularly.

DOWNSIZE

When we moved to the tiny apartment I grandly declared that we’d downsize to two plates, two cereal bowls, two knives, two forks, two wineglasses and so on. This was a little impractical because we do have guests from time to time. But nevertheless it’s a good idea to donate any items you don’t use to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. The less clutter in your kitchen, the better.

ORGANIZE FOOD STORAGE

The more organized your store cupboard and your refrigerator are, the easier it will be for you to cook quickly and efficiently in a tiny kitchen.

BACK-TO-FRONT SHOPPING LIST

I can’t claim that this is original – I read it on the internet and loved the idea. Instead of keeping a shopping list of what you need keep a list of what you have. I started to do this and you can immediately see what’s in stock and what foods you should be using up.

Some small kitchen myths

I’ve seen these items of advice on the internet. They may or may not work for you but here’s why they don’t for me.

  • USE A KITCHEN CART, ISLAND OR FOLDING TABLE
    My kitchen is way too small for any of these. If you have the room for them, you don’t have a small kitchen 🙂
  • USE OPEN SHELVING
    Another bad idea if it can be avoided. Unless you use the items on your shelves every single day, they will attract dust and dirt and create a mammoth clean-up job. If you fry an onion, the grease gets into the air and attaches itself to items on open shelves – yuck.
  • HANG PANS FROM A RACK
    This creates the same cleaning problems. I’ve seen photographs on the internet with lovely racks holding a dozen or more pans. I’ve never used a dozen pans for making a meal. Keep handy only what you need.
  • UTENSILS, KNIVES…
    Home editors and journalists also like to recommend that utensils such as spatulas, ladies etc. are hung on racks and that the best place to store knives is a magnetic knife rack. Again, there’s the cleaning problem, plus I rarely use more than one knife per meal – one good knife is all you need,
  • PULL OUT TABLES
    Home editors love these as a ‘solution’ for small kitchens. If a kitchen has an area for a table to pull out to then it’s not what I’d call a small kitchen!
  • BUY A CHOPPING BOARD TO FIT OVER YOUR SINK
    There was a time when I thought this was a good idea and, if you have a double sink, they normally automatically arrive with a board. That’s fine but remember that if you have a kitchen sink that has a single bowl, which most small kitchens have, then your sink is out of action when the board is in place. How are you going to strain the spaghetti or wash the salad? These boards can be more trouble than they’re worth.

Final tip

KEEP CERTAIN INGREDIENTS TOGETHER

For example, I often cook curries and foods that need certain spices. I keep all of these in a tray in the cupboard. That way I don’t have to search for my curry spices, just get the tray out. For example, if you regularly bake keep flour, baking powder and other similar items in a specific basket or tray.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

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Author: Jackie Jackson

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2 Comments

  1. Wonderful tips! And I complain about my kitchen. Goodness. I especially like your idea of putting everything in a ready tray before you begin.

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    • Thank you, Kathryn. Years of practice in tiny kitchens!

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