No Scrubbing Required: Tips and Techniques for Mess-Free Meals and Easy Cleanup

Goodbye, steel wool! Get the best strategies for quicker cleanup.

Learn to Cook: Fish in Parchment

Learn to Cook: Fish in Parchment opens in a new tab

Scouring pots and pans is a hard chore to relish. When I was a kid my family’s solution to baked-on food and grease was determined scrubbing with a ball of mercilessly scratchy (and often rusting!) steel wool. Either that, or soaking the offending pans overnight in hopes that time and soapy water could at least lighten the grubby work; this was probably as much procrastination as it was kitchen science.

It’s no wonder that I’ve spent a good amount of time searching for delicious meals that clean up without a lot of pan wrangling. Here are some of the very best techniques around for maximizing your enjoyment and minimize scrubbing. It’s been years since I’ve had to resort to steel wool!


The gentle heat of steaming means no baked-on grease or food. In fact, steam creates an entirely non-stick environment. This is one of the reasons steaming appealed so much to me when I started cooking in my first kitchen after college; even with no dishwasher I had the dishes washed and drying in minutes.

Don’t think that steamed food has to be bare-bones or bland. This Lemongrass-Steamed Barramundi opens in a new tab is big on flavor and brings together some really interesting ingredients. Barramundi is a firm, flavorful fish that’s particularly suited to steaming, but any fairly thick fillet like sea bass, halibut or cod will work beautifully too.

Lemongrass-Steamed Barramundi

Lemongrass-Steamed Barramundi opens in a new tab

Slow Cooking

The best slow-cooker recipes have your food luxuriating in mellow heat, blending flavors and tenderizing ingredients for magical results. And you’ll feel some enchantment at cleanup as well: The cooker’s even heat means you won’t be scrubbing off sticky or baked on food, the result of high heat and hot spots, after your meal.

This Slow Cooker Chicken and Sage with Stuffing opens in a new tab is packed with casserole flavor but free of casserole scrubbing. And it uses skinless bone-in chicken thighs, one of my favorite cuts for slow-cooking.

Baking in Parchment

By folding your meal into a parchment or foil parcel and then baking it you’ll seal in all its delicious juices, and that means moist and delicious results as well as just about no washing up. It’s a super-simple technique, as you can see from this video opens in a new tab.

Fish is the standard for cooking with this technique, as in our recipe for Learn to Cook: Fish in Parchment opens in a new tab, but you can use the same technique for vegetables, chicken breasts and more. This wonderful recipe for Simple Parchment-Roasted Turkey Breast opens in a new tab gives you an entire roast without having to deal with a greasy, grimy roasting pan.

Lining Baking Trays

Use parchment or aluminum foil to cover the surface of a baking sheet or roasting pan before putting your food on it: This one simple technique has saved me hours of scrubbing. Once cooking is done you can just discard the liner and simply wipe your pan clean with a soapy sponge.

As a rule, don’t use parchment for broiling or very high heats that might cause paper to char or brown, and avoid very acidic foods coming in direct contact with foil. Parchment lines the baking sheet for these delicious roasted Tuna Bites with Tahini-Yogurt Dipping Sauce opens in a new tab and helps make cleanup pretty effortless.

Gluten-Free Blondies

Gluten-Free Blondies opens in a new tab

Easier Brownies!

And I’ll end on a very sweet cleanup suggestion: If you’re baking brownies or other bar cookies, try lining your pan with parchment paper, letting the the parchment hang over two sides of the pan by a few inches. After the brownies have cooled a bit you can lift the whole block right out of the pan, no sticking, no breaking, no baked on batter.

That’s the technique that’s called in two of my very favorite brownie recipes: Cinnamon Chili Chocolate Brownies opens in a new tab, an absurdly delicious combination of chocolate and spice; and moist and irresistible Gluten-Free Blondies opens in a new tab, studded with white chocolate chips.

What are your secrets to easy cleanup?

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