Kitchen Work Zones

Moving Beyond the Basics

Now that you've mastered the three main kitchen work zones, you may find it useful to establish one or more additional zones in your kitchen.

Here are some examples:

Preparation Zone

This area is for cutting, slicing, peeling, mixing and otherwise preparing food for use.

What to store in this zone:

  • Utensils for preparing food such as knives, graters, peelers, mixing spoons, spatulas, whisks, garlic press, can opener, etc.
  • Cutting boards
  • Mixing bowls
  • Small kitchen appliances used for preparing food (mixer, food processor, blender)
  • Canned & dry goods

Where to locate this zone:

The preparation area should be adjacent to the cleaning zone where you will have easy access to water for washing and mixing as needed. Depending on the configuration of your kitchen, it can be helpful to have this zone situated between the clean-up and cooking zones.

Mixing Zone

The mixing zone is closely related to, and most likely overlaps with, the preparation zone. It is for mixing baked goods and assembling everything from salads to casseroles.

It may seem redundant to establish this as a separate kitchen work zone, but doing so allows more than one cook to work simultaneously without getting in one another’s way (too much). For instance, one person can be mixing cornbread while another is chopping vegetables for a salad.

The zones may be side by side and some of the tools may be shared, but thinking of them in terms of separate spaces and planning accordingly can create a more functional kitchen as activities flow from one work area to the next.

What to store in this zone:

  • Mixing bowls
  • Mixing spoons
  • Spatulas
  • Measuring tools (spoons, cups, etc.)
  • Electric mixer
  • Baking pans

Where to locate this zone:

As mentioned, the mixing area should be next to or overlapping with the preparation zone.

Serving Zone

More often than not we eat buffet style at our house. If that’s true for your family as well, you may find that it’s nice to have a section of counter space designated for serving prepared food.

What to store in this zone:

  • Plates and bowls
  • Flatware
  • Serving utensils
  • Toaster
  • Breads
  • Cold cereals
  • Snacks

Where to locate this zone:

The serving zone should be near the cooking zone so that prepared food can go straight from the stove top or oven to the serving location with as few steps as possible.

Storage Zone

While you may not do much actual work in this kitchen work zone, its value can’t be underestimated as a centralized location for storing food and supplies.

If you are fortunate enough to have an established pantry, then you’ve already got a ready-made storage zone. If you don’t have a built-in pantry in your kitchen, you may be able to create your own from a free-standing armoire, pie safe, or other versatile piece of furniture.

What to store in this zone:

  • Dry goods (pasta, cereal, crackers, snacks, baking supplies)
  • Canned goods
  • Bottled goods (juices, extra condiments, etc.)
  • Some produce such as potatoes or onions
  • Disposable plates, cups, and flatware
  • Less-frequently used small kitchen appliances

Where to locate this zone:

Some pantries are built into the kitchen; some are separate but adjacent to it. Then there are those of us who are forced to be creative, sometimes storing extra food and supplies in the basement, in a hall closet, under beds, or behind the sofa.

Ideally a food storage zone should be located within or adjacent to the kitchen, and preferably near the preparation zone. Sometimes, though, you have to make the most of what you've got. This is where adding a free-standing cabinet of some sort can really do wonders, if you've got the space.

Quick Cooking Zone

If your idea of cooking is heating frozen food in the microwave, it may be useful to establish a separate kitchen work zone around that appliance.

What to store in this zone:

  • Microwave
  • Microwave safe dishes and plates
  • Flatware
  • Serving utensils
  • Scissors for opening food packages
  • Access to trash disposal

Where to locate this zone:

A quick cooking zone should be located near the microwave.

Drink Zone

A drink zone can be a great way to reduce congestion in the kitchen.

What to store in this zone:

  • Coffee maker
  • Coffee filters
  • Ground coffee
  • Tea bags, hot cocoa packets, other drink mixes (whatever you like to drink)
  • Creamer
  • Sugar or sugar substitute
  • Spoons for stirring
  • Mugs
  • Small trash can
  • Nearby access to water (preferable)

Where to locate this zone:

A drink station should be located on the outskirts of the kitchen away from the main activity area. This way guests or non-cooks can help themselves whenever they like without getting in the cook’s way.

At this point you may be wondering where you’re supposed to fit all these zones. Remember that kitchen work zones typically overlap. In some cases, they may share certain tools or supplies making it practical to locate them adjacent to one another.

The image below shows a sample kitchen with various zones identified. Notice that almost all of them overlap.

Below is an elevation view of a portion of the same kitchen with the general contents of each cabinet and drawer identified.

Key to Kitchen Work Zone Elevation:

A – Infrequently used serving dishes (cold foods)

B – Drinking glasses, pitchers

C – Bottle opener, ice cream scoop, serving/salad utensils, freezer bags

D – Food storage containers, colanders & strainers

E - Baskets to hold dish cloths & dish towels, additional serving dishes

F – Dish washing supplies, scrubbers, dish drainer (when not in use)

G – Blender, food processor, electric mixer

H – Knives, peelers, graters, spatulas, mixing spoons, misc. food prep utensils, measuring tools

I – Mixing bowls & baking pans/sheets

J - Coffee filters, coffee grounds, tea bags & drink mix packets, creamer, sweetener, spoons, mugs

Not every kitchen will have every kind of work zone presented here. Pick and choose those that make the most sense for you based on your needs and plan accordingly. I think you will find that rethinking the organization of your space with kitchen work zones in mind will greatly enhance the functionality of this vital room of the home.

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