An expert guide to making your kitchenware last a lifetime

Feel like you’re always replacing your wooden chopping boards or wondering how to repair your cast iron pan? We asked a head chef how to buy sustainable kitchenware and maintain it.

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We’re all trying to do our part to slow the corrosive effects mass consumption is having on the planet. No stone is being left unturned in our collective quest for a more ethical existence, and we’re doing everything from buying secondhand clothing to up-cycling old furniture.

If you’re looking for more opportunities to make sustainable choices, the kitchen is the place to be. Although recycling your food packaging and growing your own produce from scraps are impactful things to do, there’s another less obvious task you can add to your list. Emma Rae, head chef at Erpingham House, a 100% plastic-free restaurant, says “The single most sustainable thing you can do in your kitchen is care for your equipment!”

Although the first step to maintaining your commonly replaced kitchen utensils is to buy sustainable materials, Emma Rae says, “If you care properly for your kitchen equipment, it can last years! I’ve got wooden spoons and chopping boards at home that have been passed down through multiple generations.”

Here, the chef shares her tricks for keeping four kitchen utensils in great condition.

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How to maintain a wooden spoon

Tired of your wooden spoon going mouldy or splitting at the tip? This could be caused by how you’re washing it. Chef Emma Rae suggests doing the following:

  • Hand wash wooden spoons with a gentle soap and avoid soaking them as this will leave them waterlogged.
  • Dry it straight away to avoid any excess surface moisture, as this is what often causes mould and discolouration.
  • Use a food-safe, food-grade oil to oil your wooden spoons every six months. Avoid kitchen staples like olive or coconut oil as they can encourage mould.
  • If you’re struggling to get a stain out of your spoons, you can buff the stain away with sandpaper. Once buffed, reseal the newly resurfaced spot with the food-grade oil.
  • Although it’s near impossible to stop wooden spoons from absorbing strong smells, flavours and colourings, you can separate them into sweet and savoury piles so that you aren’t mistakenly using one for the other. 

Cast iron utensils will last a lifetime when cared for correctly.

How to maintain a cast iron skillet

Cast iron skillets are on the expensive end when it comes to kitchen utensils, but they are worth the investment and careful maintenance because “cast iron is very sustainable, and if cared for, cast iron utensils will last a lifetime,” says Chef Emma Rae. Here’s how to maintain one them:

  • Using a five-pence sized dollop of washing up liquid, gently hand wash your cast iron skillet with a sponge.
  • Rather than scrubbing or scraping to remove stuck-on food, loosen it by adding a little water, placing the skillet back on the heat and leaving to simmer.
  • Use a paste of salt and oil to remove any stubborn debris that refuses to shift from the bottom of the pan.
  • Once washed, dry your skillet straight away with a towel. To maintain the iron coating, take a paper towel dipped in a bit of oil and rub it all over the skillet.
  • Cast iron skillets are best stored hanging, but you can also stack them with a sheet of paper towel between each to protect the coating. 
  • When cooking with cast iron, avoid metal utensils which can scrape and damage the pan, instead opt for silicone or wood.

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How to maintain sharp knives

The utensils you use your kitchen knives with have a huge impact on how long they last. According to Chef Emma Rae, “Using a wooden chopping board over plastic or glass makes a huge difference in not blunting your knives.” But, there are other things you can do to prolong their usefulness. She advises the following:

  • Make a habit of sharpening your knives every six months.
  • Clean your knives straight away with hot water and soap, and dry them immediately to avoid them developing rust.
  • Avoid putting knives in the dishwasher or leaving them to soak in the sink as this encourages rusting.
  • When knives start to develop rust spots, the easiest and safest way to combat this is to rub them with the fleshy side of half a lemon, and then buff with a dry cloth.
  • Correct storage is vital, and stacking your knives in a drawer simply won’t cut it. Invest in a good quality wooden block or magnetic strip as these do a good job of protecting the blades from rubbing against each other and damaging or dulling the blades. 

How to maintain a wooden chopping board?

Wooden chopping boards are deceptively humble utensils. Once you start to see “cracks or splits, dispose of them and replace them with some fresh ones.” But, with a little tlc you can avoid things getting that far. Here’s how:

  • Try to quickly prep foods that leak a lot of liquids. Water, juice from fruit, and liquids from meat will eventually be absorbed into the wood and weaken it.
  • Run your board under the highest temperature water you can stand to run off any debris. Once the larger pieces of food are washed off, use a soft bristle brush or sponge to gently scrub the surface.
  • Dry the board immediately with a towel, or you can drip-dry it on its side.
  • Keep the board out of the sun when drying as this can encourage the wood to crack and split.
  • Wooden chopping boards need to be oiled to protect the surface from staining and absorbing excess moisture. Dip the corner of a soft cloth in a food-safe, food-grade oil and rub it all over the chopping board. Leave the board to soak the oil in for a few hours and then buff any excess oil away with a dry cloth.

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Chef Emma Rae’s tips for buying sustainable utensils

  1. Use the utensils you currently have until they need to be replaced – don’t throw them out just because they’re plastic.
  2. Avoid plastics where possible when you’re replacing utensils.
  3. Try to stay away from non-stick pans and baking equipment as the non-stick coating inevitably breaks down and chips off, making them unusable.
  4. Buy cast iron utensils where possible; they will last long enough to be passed down and it can supplement your intake of iron.
  • Chef Emma Rae

    Emma Rae is headchef at Erpingham House, an Edinburgh restaurant that is 100% plant-based, plastic-free and certified carbon free.

    Emma Rae is head chef at Erpingham House in Edinburgh, a 100% plant-based, plastic-free and certified carbon-free dining restaurant. She was born and raised in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Emma has a degree in environmental science and specialised in vegan cooking after returning from travels in Southern Asia. She studied raw food in Bali, cooked alongside families in rural India and ran the kitchen of the New York Farmacy pop-up in London. Combining her passion for the environment with her love of food, she wants to help bring plant-based eating into the mainstream. 

Image: Getty

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