Mr. Clean | Alton Brown
A mad scientist with a deep knowledge of cooking, Alton Brown uses his Atlanta test kitchen to experiment with recipes for his Food Network show Good Eats and his cookbooks, including I'm Just Here For the Food. In the process, he's learned a lot about keeping things clean and organized. In his most recent book, Gear For Your Kitchen, Brown even dedicates a chapter to safety and washing up. His most important cleaning supply? Bleach. He mixes it with water and sprays the solution on everything from cutting boards to countertops.
Brown sanitizes a cutting board every time it comes in contact with raw meat by washing it in hot soapy water, then spraying it with a bleach solution. The formula: 1/2 teaspoon of chlorine bleach mixed with 2 cups of water.
When Brown buys spices, he color-codes the jars so he knows when to toss them. Using dot stickers, he assigns each month a color (January is blue, February is red, etc.; he keeps a chart to help him remember). Brown recommends throwing out ground spices after six months.
To keep root vegetables like carrots and beets fresh, Brown fills a crisper drawer with play sand (available at hardware stores and toy stores) and buries them. The sand creates an environment that's cool and dry, like a root cellar. In another drawer, he places a rack so air can circulate around greens, which helps prevent rotting. To keep lettuce from wilting, he washes the leaves, wraps them in a slightly moist paper towel, then puts them in a plastic bag and sucks the air out with a straw.
To remove an oily film from the butcher block, Brown spreads "a thickish layer" of kosher salt on it and leaves it overnight so the salt can draw the grease out of the wood—an old butcher's shop trick. Brown scrapes it off the next day with a sheetrock tool from the hardware store called a taping knife.
Wooden Cutting Boards
Brown sands his wooden cutting boards once a year to get rid of stains and nicks. He wraps the sandpaper around a block of wood, which works more evenly than using the paper alone. Then Brown rubs the board with a food-grade mineral oil from the drugstore. (Don't use furniture oil, he warns; it's poisonous.)
Food in the freezer rarely goes bad—few microorganisms can hack the cold—but quality does deteriorate. When you open the door too often, food thaws slightly then refreezes; the water that's released doesn't get reabsorbed, causing freezer burn. Don't buy bags of frozen vegetables that have solidified into a block, Brown says; they have probably thawed and refrozen.
Brown puts items that can be stored flat, such as chicken breasts or batches of waffle batter, into labeled plastic bags and slides them into hanging-file folders to make them easier to find. In horizontal freezers, he uses InterMetro wire baskets so things aren't crammed together and air can circulate (from $15 from the Container Store; 888-CONTAIN or www.thecontainerstore.com).
Pots and Pans
To remove the gunk on the backs of pans, Brown sprays on Easy-Off, lets them sit overnight and cleans them in the morning. (Using brute strength is a waste of time, he says, and steel wool can gouge metal.) This strategy won't work for old cooked-on grease, because the polymerized fat has bonded with the metal: It's one of the toughest things on earth, Brown says.
Brown puts a layer of baking soda under the bag in the trash can to absorb spills and odors.
Sponges are magnets for bacteria. Researchers at the University of Arizona found that two-thirds of the used sponges they tested contained salmonella, E. coli and other bacteria that can make people sick. Brown prefers green Scotch-Brite scouring pads, which dry faster.