Tips for Cooking in a Tiny Kitchen

by Beth - Budget Bytes
Step by Step

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When I started Budget Bytes I lived in a tiny apartment with an equally tiny kitchen, that had only about 12-inches of counter space. The apartment was built in the 30’s and I always wondered how, in a time when people cooked at home far more than they do now, they were able to make do with so little workspace, especially without a dishwasher! Well, I’m here to tell you that it can be done. You don’t need a gigantic gourmet kitchen to pump out delicious meals, you just need to plan, stay organized, and improvise. So for all of you struggling with cooking in a tiny kitchen, here are my tips that helped me survive my small space. #thestruggleisreal

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Tips for Making the Most of Small Kitchen Spaces

Hands cutting a yellow bell pepper with notes, bowls, measuring spoons, and a phone near by.

1. Plan

  • Stay on top of your inventory. You may have heard me say before, “shop your pantry before you shop the store.” Always staying aware of what you have on hand and using those ingredients first helps keep your “inventory” low and reduces the need for storage space (in addition to the obvious benefits of keeping your grocery costs low and reducing waste). Take regular inventory of your ingredients, cook from what you have on hand as much as possible, and buy only what you need and when you need it.
  • Cook one-pot, sheet pan, or skillet meals. These simple all-in-one style recipes will cut down on the number of dishes you have to clean and the amount of activity you have going on in the kitchen while you cook. Keeping it simple is key in a small space. Check out my One Pot Meal recipe category for ideas.

If you're looking for a quick and easy dinner, this Southwest Chicken Skillet is it! Precooked chicken makes this dinner possible in about 30 minutes. BudgetBytes.com

Pictured above: Southwest Chicken Skillet

  • Make a game plan for cooking. Before you begin cooking, run through the directions for your recipe(s) in your head to make sure you won’t need your limited workspace for two things at one time. If you have a sheet pan coming out of the oven, you need a place to put it as it cools. If you’re draining pasta in a colander in the sink, make sure you’ll have space in the sink available. You don’t want to be dancing around your kitchen with a hot pot in hand and no where to set it down!

2. Organize

  • Limit your tools, equipment, and appliances. I’m a huge advocate for keeping it simple in the kitchen, using only very basic kitchen tools, and focusing on multipurpose kitchen equipment. A basic chef’s knife can accomplish hundreds of tasks, while a banana slicer can only do one. A Dutch oven can act as both a soup pot and a roasting pan. A simple cheese grater can shred not only cheese, but a variety of vegetables, frozen butter (for making pastry), or even quickly remove the zest from citrus. Stay away from single use tools and go for the tried and true classic kitchen tools. Here is a list of the basic kitchen equipment that I find most valuable.

Prep Toppings

  • Mise en place (prep first). Since you’ll likely be using your workspace for multiple purposes throughout the cooking process, it can help to do all your chopping, measuring, and prepping before you actually begin cooking. This way you can go as slow as needed and use your one work space for one task at a time, instead of frantically trying to multitask while the heat is on.
  • Clean as you go. Dishes can pile up fast as you cook and quickly encroach on the prep area in your tiny kitchen. Take every spare minute you have to clean a dish or utensil, or put away an ingredient. Instead of watching the pot as you wait for it to boil, clear away a few items. Have something baking in the oven? Put away everything that has already been used. As an added bonus, cleanup after cooking is so much less daunting if half of it has been already been done in small increments along the way. You may have to build this habit over time, but it’s SO worth the effort.
  • Invest in nesting bowls, pots and pans, and containers. Say goodbye to the chaos of random containers in your cabinet whose lids have long been lost. Invest in nesting items so components don’t get lost, you save cabinet space, and your kitchen appears clean and decluttered. Yes, they even make pots and pans specifically designed to nest now! Yay!

4. Improvise

  • Think outside the kitchen. If you have a dining room, dinette, or some other small table and chair set near the kitchen, make use of it! Have yourself a seat and chop away, my friend. Have a closet in another room that isn’t being used to its fullest? Take advantage and make it do double duty for extra pantry items. Just pretend your whole apartment is a giant kitchen (that also happens to have a sofa and bed). ;)

Cut Vegetables

  • Transform your sink or stove top into a prep surface. This was probably my most common technique when I had a tiny kitchen and limited counter space. Place a large cutting board over your burners or straddling your sink and use it as a prep surface. Just be extra careful that the board is sitting even and is stable. There are even cutting boards specifically designed to straddle the sink or cover the burners on your stove top.
  • Try a mobile kitchen cart. Another great way to get extra prep space is to use a kitchen cart. You can wheel that mobile prep surface in and out of the kitchen as needed and most have lower shelves for extra storage, or even hooks on the side for hanging utensils. Some are even collapsable!
  • Utilize wall space and the inside of cabinet doors. Got empty walls? Line up removable hooks on your walls to hang lightweight objects like cooking utensils, measuring cups and spoons, kitchen towels, etc. If you’re handy, install stronger hooks with drywall anchors to hang heavy items like pots and pans. This Buzzfeed article is probably the best round up of ways to add storage in a small space that I’ve ever seen, so check it out for clever ways to add storage to the inside of cabinets and empty wall space.

What are your favorite tips for cooking in a small kitchen? Share them in the comments below to help your fellow tiny home dwellers! :)

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  1. I never figured mise en place for being a bonus for cooking in a tiny kitchen, but Thank You very much for cluing us in on this. Woo Hoo!

  2. Use your refrigerator sides and door for more than just artwork. The one side of our refrigerator has the counter, but it also had a gap. We picked up magnetic utensil bins that we attached to that side, and barely fit the gap (lip is actually on the counter). Two of those store our utensils and free up counter/drawer space. Above those is a magnetic paper towel rack. The other side of the refrigerator faced the dining room. We got strong magnetic hooks, and use that to hang our coffee cups and pans. I had to play around with the spacing on the hooks to get a visual effect I liked. But now there is a place to store them where they are at hand, and we can use our limited cupboards for other items.

  3. I like how you said to cook one-pot meals. I need some new cooking equipment for our new home. Thank you for the tips on cooking in a small kitchen.

  4. When I first discovered your blog [and decided I would try a new recipe at least once a month], I was living in a 125 sq ft studio apartment with a narrow hallway of a kitchen that also barely had enough counter space to put a small cutting board. The only appliances I had were a small microwave, toaster oven, and an old George Foreman grill. I had to move the microwave out of the kitchen in order to roll out dough. The toaster oven didn’t even fit in the kitchen. Your tips are excellent – I used a lot of these practices while I was there. Something I didn’t have but that the previous tenant did – she put in a foldaway table – the kind that attaches to the wall and folds flat against it. She used that for a bit of extra prep area while cooking. She also had one of those tool pegboards on the wall above it, which she used to hang her spatulas and spoons and things to save drawer space (there was only 1 drawer).

    1. 125 sq ft!! Now that is seriously TINY! Bravo for making that work and being able to cook in that small space!

  5. Hi BETH. That’s a great idea for a tiny kitchen! I’m am a new cooker and practicing to cook many recipes. I’m thinking about basic kitchen tools. Your article is very helpful to me. By the way, I’m practicing a recipe of sausage which I have to cook and grind meat. I have just bought a Meat Grinder from here https://www.eathealthyandthrive.com/best-meat-grinders/. I works very well and fit my tiny kitchen. I have just arrange my new kitchen so I haven’t supply a basic kitchen tools any more so I’ll follow your idea. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I have a tiny “kitchenette” as I like to refer to it. I have found that hanging things like pots and pans, storing items on top of the refrigerator and inside the oven is the way to go. I use a toaster oven much more than a real oven since my kitchen gets so hot in the summer . Also, the Instant Pot takes the place of so many appliances. I was lucky to get it for about half price during the Amazon Prime sale.

  7. I truly appreciate BudgetByte$, Beth, and your lively writing style! My main tip, as a Canadian lighthouse keeper who gets groceries delivered once a month, is to plan menus and use up leftovers. I keep a running grocery list on the fridge and add to it all month long. I use a day planner and write down menus as well as everything else major on the to-do list for at least a week ahead. I keep a big page taped to our deep freezer with an ongoing list divided into protein, which is then divided into meats and seafoods, plus veggies, fruit, and ‘other’ (pestos, broths, glazes, phyllo pastry, etc). When I take anything out, I amend the numbers and refer to it before doing our grocery order online. I also grow a big garden and rely on a greenhouse to keep us in fresh greens year round out here in the north Pacific. Taking the extra time to plan and keep track of food prevents mindless waste which is my pet peeve. I am so lucky to have a big pantry so I can keep flours, pastas, dried beans and grains, canned goods and my preserves in there. My main tip for tiny kitchens is to find three-tiered hanging baskets in which you can store onions, bananas and kiwis, to name three in one of mine right now. They free up counter space and I find they look pretty as well as being functional.

  8. Four months out of the year we live in a 31-ft. motorhome with no slideouts. My “kitchen” is much smaller than tiny. Both my propane stovetop and my wee double sink are fitted with wood and Formica covers because my existing countertop is only 14 inches wide. I do most of my prep work sitting at the small bench dinette. My pots and pans are nestable with clip-on handles and items such as colanders and measuring cups are collapsible. Many containers are Pyrex so they can be used in either the oven or microwave. Storage containers are thick plastic with airtight lids with corners so they save space. My efficient cupboards contain lazy susans and racks to not only to maximize space, but make things easier to find. And, yes, my spices are arranged alphabetically. I use a small dishpan in one sink and a draining rack in the other. I wash and dry items as I use them because there’s no room to stack dirty dishes. Believe or not, I like my RV kitchen better than my regular one in our house.

  9. I’m currently living in a tiny bachelor apartment in Korea with next to no counter space (like maybe 10 inches). Honestly…I’ve taken to cooking on the floor :P It’s the only way!!!

  10. Hi Beth, love your site. I love that your recipes are not super complicated, and I have heard of most of the ingredients. :)

    I used to have an apartment with a small galley kitchen with two six inch counters. No other counters. :) I still managed to make bread and pizza from scratch, at least until the door fell of the 1950’s gas stove (with no pilot light). :)

    It can be done!

  11. I used to live in a 440 square foot studio apartment for almost two years. The kitchen was kind of on the small side, but I was fortunate enough to have plenty of cabinet space. I stored some of the appliances, such as my sister’s slow cooker, rice cooker, blender and toaster on the counter so I had easy access to prepare meals. Since the entire studio apartment gets hot while the oven is turned on, I cooked at night because it was cool. I made sure that the kitchen was clean because I didn’t want to worry about cooking in a dirty kitchen, which happens to be my biggest pet peeve.

    I did what you’ve done by shopping in the pantry before doing some grocery shopping. I would write down the items I had available, and use recipes as a guide to save money. For example, I had half tomato paste saved in the freezer from a previous recipe. If I had proteins available, such as chicken breasts and ground beef, I can put together some homemade enchiladas. When I stop by at the grocery store, all I had to do was purchase tortillas, refried beans and shredded cheddar cheese. Or, if I have celery, carrots, salted butter, Better Than Bouillon chicken base, milk, onions and garlic, I can make chicken and dumplings. I prepared my meals on my days off, so during the week, all I had to do was heat up some leftovers in the microwave or on the stove. At least I had something hot and good to eat during the week.

    I moved back in with my sister six months ago after being a victim of a crime at my apartment. We’re living in a two storied house that’s suitable enough for four people when it’s only the two of us. There’s plenty of room in the kitchen with an island and we’re fortunate to have space where we can prepare meals. We still have to put our brains together and plan everything accordingly.

    You have to learn how to improvise while cooking in a small kitchen. At least I had the pleasure to experience living in a studio apartment.

    1. Hi Latrice, I’m sorry to hear about the bad incident. :( It sounds like you and your sister get along, so hopefully she can help you recover. Cooking together can be good therapy! :)

      All the best.

      1. Hi, Wendy. Thank you so much for your kind words. My sister and I are extremely close and she’s been helping me recover from what happened a few months ago. Cooking together is good therapy for the both of us because all we have is each other now. With both of our parents gone, it has been a challenge but we’re doing the best we can to be strong. :-)

  12. Although my kitchen is not especially tiny, I don’t have a lot of counter space – house built in 1910! I use my toaster oven a lot – especially in the hot months so I don’t have to heat up the oven in my stove/range. But I use the toaster oven as a cooling rack all the time for breads, muffins, cookies, small pies, whatever will fit on the toaster oven rack.

    Tip from my grandmother: roll up your kitchen towels and drying cloths, then put them in their appointed drawer. You can fit more towels in one drawer by rolling them up tightly.

  13. Clean as you go is my number one rule! It can get out of control fast if you don’t! That’s something I remember my dad even telling me when I was learning to cook when I was younger!

    Paige
    http://thehappyflammily.com

  14. This kind of goes along with clean as you go, but cooking in a 1920s kitchen with no dishwasher, whose only counter space is a Hoosier cabinet  plus a very small area next to the sink where we tend to put dirty dishes, it pays to have a small dish bin where you can consolidate dirty dishes. This both keeps the sink clear and gives you a free portion of the counter next to the sink. 

    And on the plus side, not having counter space mean dishes have nowhere to pile up so you do them more often. I usually make it my goal to leave only what fits in the bin if I’m feeling lazy, which means there’s never actually that many dishes to do. 

    1. Haha, I agree! Living with a super small kitchen almost trains you to keep things washed and tidy because there is no where to let the dishes pile up!