The Kitchen Habits That Fill Us With Rage and Fury

An open refrigerator door revealing shelves full of products

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik, except where noted]

Sharing a kitchen with others, whether in your childhood home, in college, at your office, or with a significant other, is a basic part of growing up, a necessary experience that teaches you how to set boundaries, resolve disputes calmly, and, if you're lucky, appreciate the joys of creating a meal as a team. It's educational. It's horizon-expanding. It's...a frickin' pain in the ass, honestly, and if we never had to share another kitchen again, it'd be like Christmas all year long.

What, do you think that we'd miss accidentally bumping butts with our roommates because we made the mistake of trying to open the dishwasher while they peered into the oven in a teeny galley space? That we'd look back fondly on playing yet another round of angry refrigerator Tetris, shuffling out a half dozen old takeout containers to make space in the back of the fridge, where our just-purchased chicken and heavy cream rightfully belong?

Tragically, a kitchen space all to ourselves is but a fantasy for most of us, so we'll settle for the next best thing: griping. And, occasionally, acknowledging the ways in which our own maltreatment of knives or laissez-faire attitudes toward dish pileups might be responsible for our kitchen-mates' involuntary eye twitches. But mostly, the griping.

Daniel Gritzer, Managing Culinary Director

I am a little too comfortable with clutter—I'm one of those people who lose things only when they've been put away. That, I admit, is not the best kitchen habit, and I'm endlessly thankful that my culinary colleagues aren't too judgmental about it. At least, not to my face. If only I could be so forgiving of what I perceive as true and intolerable filth: food itself. You know, crumbs, grease splatters, a countertop splotch of peanut butter left after a midnight snack.

As Kate, my now-wife, once wrote on this site, my obsession with eliminating all food remnants can be a little overbearing, exemplified by her threat of self-harm if she had to hear me say "A single crumb is a full meal for a cockroach" even one more time. Kate also loves to tell people that we live under a long-running household fiat, issued by yours truly, banning a toaster oven because of how crumb-strewn they inevitably get.

I'm working on it, though, and frankly, I have little choice. With a one-and-a-half-year-old at home, my dreams of pristine tabletops, Cheerio-free floors, and walls that aren't marred with sticky palmprints are just that—dreams. Ah, but how it relaxes me just to imagine it.

Edison Cummings, Social Media Intern

If you don’t rinse your dishes as soon as you put them in the sink, I don’t know if we can be friends. I’ve had an unfortunate string of filthy roommates ever since I moved to New York two years ago. While that’s about to change, I’ve experienced too often the heartbreak of easily rinse-able grime turning into concrete through the sheer laziness of my roommates. It takes zero work to put your bowl in the sink, rinse off the bright-orange vodka sauce, and put it in the dishwasher. I can’t wait to move out.

Maggie Lee, UX Designer

Home cooking, for me, must spark joy. A disorganized work station does the opposite. What could be a zen #self-care ritual quickly descends into chaos when dirty dishes hog up the entire sink, the trash can is beyond full, and your flour-egg-panko breading station seems more like a tar-and-feather situation.

I am a huge proponent of mise en place and decluttering early. If I'm being honest, my dream dinner guest would clean as I cook, so that by the time the meal was ready, all that was left would be the dishes we ate off of. Life can be sloppy, and your roommates might be sloppier. Maintaining order is my way of remaining chill while whipping up a meal in a tiny galley kitchen.

Joel Russo, Video Producer

A chef's knife resting in the top rack of a dishwasher, next to a plate and a mug

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Any knife (hell, even a butter knife) should never know what the inside of a dishwasher looks like. If you can't be bothered to hand-wash your expensive blades, you'll meet the sharp end of mine—okay, too far, but honestly, I will steal your chef's knives and give them the care and home they deserve.

Miranda Kaplan, Senior Editor

You know those plastic or foil seals underneath the lids of yogurt containers, sour cream tubs, and the like? Well, here's a fun tip: Once you've peeled them halfway off, there is no benefit to leaving the remaining flap of seal hanging out over the opening like a swinging door. None! It's a seal! That means that once it's broken, its usefulness is gone. That dangling seal half's only purpose is to obstruct my spoon, get sour cream on my fingers, and make me want to throw my husband the whole tub in the garbage (this is hyperbole, of course; I am also perpetually annoyed by food waste).

It's almost as bad as leaving a pot or pan handle sticking out from the stove into the middle of the room, which fuels nightmares of smacking into the thing and knocking it to the floor. I want a functioning kitchen, dammit, not an obstacle course.

Sasha Marx, Senior Culinary Editor

Plastic food containers labeled with blue painter's tape

I can’t stand kitchen clutter and messiness, something that's a lot easier to manage, on both a logistical and an interpersonal level, in a professional restaurant kitchen than when you're cooking at home with friends, family, and partners.

Restaurant cooks don’t look at you like you’ve got three heads when you get annoyed that the contents of a half-empty quart deli container in the fridge weren't consolidated into a smaller one, or that the edges of the tape labeling that container were torn instead of neatly cut. Does the label thing really matter? No, but when it’s been drilled into you, it’s hard to let go of. In a restaurant, it’s not "being extra" to need your pepper grinder to be in the same exact spot on the counter, every time you reach for it.

I try to let some things go, but there are plenty of habits that result in my shoulders automatically tensing up and “the look” taking over my face. When someone uncorks a bottle of wine and leaves the foil wrapper on the counter instead of throwing it away. Scraping the blade of a knife along the surface of a cutting board to move a pile of prepped vegetables. Leaving knives in the sink. Or leaving cast iron pans to “soak.” Sauce-covered rubber spatulas and wooden spoons left directly on a counter between rounds of stirring. These are only a few of the things that make my brow furrow just to write about them. Now I need to go take a walk.

Paul Cline, VP of Product

Screenshot of a Slack conversation in which Paul gently scolds the staff for not replacing chilled seltzer in the fridge

Grace Chen, Office Manager and Associate Podcast Producer

I hate when people halfass-wash their dishes. They’ll miss a spot on a bowl, and that bowl will just exist for months with that tomato sauce stain on it. Inevitably it's completely ignored and left behind as other bowls are chosen over it. Then comes the day when you’re in a hurry, guests are over, you're running out of bowls, and you're forced to rewash said bowl while in the middle of a dozen other cooking tasks. Same goes for people who only wash the interiors of dishes—the exteriors and bottoms of pots and pans are just as important! Nobody wants a greasy bottom!

Ed Levine, Founder and Overlord

A ball of fresh mozzarella with several slices cut from it

[Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]

Lord knows I've tried to teach my wonderful wife, Vicky (and my son, Will, when he still lived with us), that fresh mozzarella can and should be left overnight on the counter, not in the fridge. Why? Because it turns rubbery in the fridge, and it can never return to its ideal state. As an old mozzarella-maker once told me on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, “If you put my mozzarella in the fridge, it’s on you. I am not responsible for what happens to it.” I've told Vicky and Will that story countless times, but what do they do? After I go to bed, they put the fresh mozzarella in the fridge. They can’t help it—they’re both germophobes, Will especially.

Fresh mozzarella does not spoil when it’s left out overnight. It might get a little sour, but so what? I don’t know what the solution to my problem is. Maybe I'll have to try hiding the fresh mozzarella. Stay tuned to find out what happens.

Sho Spaeth, Features Editor

I hate watching anyone use a knife improperly—solely from a safety standpoint; it's not knife snobbery at all. But it also happens to be personal. Not that long ago, I filleted my left index finger with a boning knife while stripping the skin off a slab of pork belly, an injury that required 18 stitches, two of which were internal. (Email me for pics!) While healed, my finger is still messed up, and every time I see someone use a knife in an unsafe way, I experience what I can only describe as mild PTSD—my blood pressure rises, I get short of breath, my vision blurs. It's awful.

Other than that—and this is about snobbery—it drives me crazy whenever I see jarred tomato sauce, bottled salad dressings, or store-bought chicken, vegetable, or (dear god) beef stock in someone's fridge. You can make a better tomato sauce in 40 minutes and at a fraction of the cost. Ditto for salad dressings, but sub in five minutes for 40, and you may as well use water (or dashi!) instead of store-bought stock. Seriously, making stock is super simple, and you should do it on the weekends, like I do, even if it's just throwing vegetable scraps in a pot of boiling water for 30 minutes.

Final one: My wife leaves her coffee cup on the (my, really) large wooden cutting board that sits on our counter basically all the time. It's a holdover from when we had a kitchen the size of a small closet, one that had literally no other counter-type space. But we've lived in our current apartment for about two years now, and she shows no signs of ever not leaving her dang, stupid, really annoying coffee cup on the cutting board.

John Mattia, Video Editor

"Those disintegrating, shriveled, black bananas you see in my freezer door? Someday—soon—they will be transformed into delicious banana bread!" No, they won't. Come on.

Stella Parks, Pastry Wizard

A hand closing the lid on a plastic quart-size deli container, holding cilantro stems standing in a small amount of water

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Opening the fridge only to get slapped in the face with the sharp scent of raw onions or the lingering funk of fish drives me up the wall. I'm not such a diva that I won't let my precious pastry fridge share space with pungent savory dishes as well, but for god's sake, wrap it up. Low-key draping a sheet of plastic over a bowl of bagna càuda isn't going to cut it.

I live and work in kitchens well stocked with lidded storage containers and heavy-duty wraps and foils, so there's no excuse not to store these dishes properly. Aside from helping the fridge maintain its neutral status as a safe space for both sweet and savory, minimizing exposure to air will also extend the shelf life of these foods.

Another major peeve is finding bags of supermarket herbs left to wilt, forgotten and alone, in a dark drawer. Out of sight, out of mind! If the original buyer doesn't have a plan to use those herbs up in short order, they at least ought to store them upright in a jar of water so other cooks in the kitchen can see the abandoned purchase, and make use of the herbs before it's too late.

Elazar Sontag, Assistant Editor

I live alone now, but several memories are still burned into my mind from last year, when I had three housemates. Apart from an occasional argument about who had finished whose croissant—the one that had been tucked into the back of the fridge for more than a week—or where the rosé I kept restocking was disappearing to, we all got along decently well. But when we all ended up in the kitchen together, all hell would break loose. I could, and just might, write a book about the nightmares that manifest when you try to cook at the same time as your three roommates in a small kitchen.

Despite all that mayhem, though, that's never what really got to me. No, what really started my blood boiling was when one of my housemates peeked into the crisper drawer in our fridge, saw the rotting onion they'd left there the week before, shrugged, and closed the drawer. That cursed fridge always held a number of festering mystery ingredients, and the house approach seemed to be something along the lines of "If I pretend I didn't see that pulled pork that's been sitting in a pool of its own rotten juices for two months, it's like it isn't there!" My nostrils disagreed.

I told myself that when I got my own apartment, I would never live like that. Then, just last week, while I was searching through my refrigerator for leftovers on a lazy Sunday night, I noticed a half cantaloupe starting to gather mold, shrugged, and closed the door. I didn't see it.

Kristina Bornholtz, Social Media Editor

Pierogies, frozen-yogurt base, and ice cream, among other products, in a cluttered freezer

Please, dear lord, spare me from another deer season in which my boyfriend gets a buck and fills our freezer with vacuum-sealed venison. Nothing gets me going more than a freezer packed with forgotten food. Perhaps I’m traumatized by the three jammed-full freezers in my parents' Midwestern home, or the freezer-burned peaches that sat in my college fridge while my roommate swore she would make a pie with them.

Don’t buy more than you need. Freeze your food for a while, sure. But it’s not your storage unit, and you’re taking up space where my chicken stock could be!

Ariel Kanter, Director of Commerce

My boyfriend, bless him, is incredibly conscious of food waste. I know deep in my heart that it's a good thing, but sometimes it drives me absolutely insane.

The other day, for example, I grabbed the jar of peanut butter from the cabinet and found it completely scraped clean, save for maybe a quarter-teaspoon-sized nugget left at the bottom. He left that tiny speck in there for next time! The thing is, I know that at some point he really will scoop up that minuscule bit of peanut butter and eat it. But in my head, that's an empty jar and should not take up space in our kitchen.

To his credit, he puts up with me leaving plastic seals half on containers (sorry, Miranda); letting good knives sit dirty in the sink (sorry...everyone); and putting things in the dishwasher that should definitely only be hand-washed. So really, I'm the monster, and it would be best for all of us if I just let this one go.

Oh, one more thing: I am super freaked out by all the old condiments in people's fridges. I went to someone’s house the other day and found stuff that had expired in 2015! I completely understand that some things can last far beyond their expiration date, but if you use it so rarely that it's lasted in your kitchen for over four years, it's time to toss. I recognize that this may come from a deep personal paranoia of getting food poisoning, so, to be clear, it's mostly okay with me if you keep expired stuff in your kitchen—just don't feed it to me.

Vicky Wasik, Visual Director

People who put empty, or almost empty, containers of milk back in a communal fridge—or, even worse, leave an expired milk container in there—are sociopaths. Same goes for those who refuse to take the last bite of something, or leave one cookie in a sleeve. The kitchen is no place for your weird social experiments.

Tim Aikens, Front-End Developer

I'm generally pretty easygoing in the kitchen. I have a few common gripes, such as roommates not cleaning communal pots and pans after use, leaving you to clean them before (and after) you cook your own dinner. Leaving a bag of chips, et cetera, open to the air to get stale is another obvious crime. Someone else mentioned incomplete washing of dishes, leaving baked-on bits of crud for eternity—ugh.

One thing I haven't heard much talk of so far is putting garbage in the sink along with your plate. This frequently includes bones and other large food items that could have easily been scraped into the trash en route to the sink. Less commonly, I've seen napkins and paper towels, which is worse, since they get soggy and break apart, leaving a shredded mess. In both cases, you're left to pick out the soapy, sodden particles by hand, often after they've clogged up the sink stopper and you've had to reach your hand down into the greasy abyss to swipe it clear.

Niki Achitoff-Gray, Executive Managing Editor

A hunk of cheese partially wrapped in plastic

Many of my kitchen pet peeves have to do with cheese, and my husband’s ill treatment of it, which is why I wrote an entire rant about cheese crimes. But worry not! I have plenty more to complain about (him), and I can tell you right now that you should 100% ignore my husband’s inevitable comment about my unique talent for seeing right through wobbly towers of dirty dishes or leaving piles of crumbs in bed, because, well, as we’ve established in the aforementioned cheese crimes article, as well as this sad bit on microwave cooking for one and this horrifying Valentine’s Day aphrodisiac post, he’s wrong about more or less everything—except the bed crumbs, because I do in fact eat in bed—and therefore all statements of his should be dismissed.

ANYWAY. Pet peeves! Putting stuff in the freezer without first prepping it for said environment is high on my list—why you wouldn’t preportion your food and then insulate it against freezer burn continues to boggle my mind. There have been many tutorials in our home, many far-reaching conversations late into the night, and yet, as I stand before my freezer at this very moment, I have uncovered not one but four glued-together salmon fillets wrapped in nothing more than paper, just crusting away in the back.

Also, though we may have solved the “Thou shalt not return unwrapped or partially exposed cheese to the fridge” problem with regard to cheese, somehow my brilliant, PhD-possessing husband does not care to extend this same logic to other foods. Such as, say, a once-shrink-wrapped package of smoked salmon that now just sort of has its plastic casing smooshed back down against the salmon, giving the appearance of a sealed package until the surface tension breaks and—onomatopoeic peel-away noise—the plastic curls back from the salmon, leaving you, once again, with crusty-ass salmon. Salmon, a great love of mine, once again foiled by the man I once called a great love of mine, only to discover he was a goddamn salmon criminal.

And finally: Wood. In. The dishwasher!?! Just...no.

PS, my marriage is great, and my husband is thriving in the cage of judgment and public humiliation I have so generously appointed for him.