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15 Life Hacks to Make Doing the Dishes a Breeze

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Whether you’ve got a top-of-the-line dishwasher or have to scrub everything by hand, there’s always room to improve your dishwashing game. Because you’ve got better things to do than spend your time chiseling away at that caked-on lasagna.

1. DO THEM RIGHT AFTER YOU EAT.

After cooking and eating a meal, dishes are probably the last thing you feel like doing. But all those stains and that stuck-on food will be easier to scrape away while they’re still fresh. Get it done and save yourself the trouble before bedtime.

2. DON’T PRE-SOAK IF YOU USE A DISHWASHER.

Some people don’t trust their dishwasher to clean away crusted-on food. But according to experts—including an engineer interviewed by Woman’s Day—detergents today are formulated to attack food particles, and can actually wear down dishware that goes into the wash too clean. You’ll want to scrape off large food chunks first, of course, but after that, go ahead and stack it.

3. USE A PLASTIC BIN.

To pre-soak those pots, pans, and other dishes that need hand washing, fill up a plastic bin with lightly soapy water, and drop them in. This will keep the rest of the sink free, especially if you keep the bin on the counter. And, it’ll prevent those precarious stack jobs that can take over a sink.

4. USE COLD WATER ON DAIRY AND STARCHES.

Hot water can turn these two ingredients into sticky messes. If you’re washing by hand, you’ll want to use cold water to clean away dairy and starchy foods (so, this would be a must after you feast on cheesy mashed potatoes).

5. CLEAN POTS AND PANS WHILE YOU COOK.

To stay ahead of the game, use any downtime during cooking— i.e., while the pasta’s boiling—to wash some dishes. Master this part of the game, and you’ll only have the serving ware to deal with after each meal.

6. IF YOU’RE HANDWASHING, GO FROM LARGEST TO SMALLEST.

To save yourself from constantly rearranging dishes on the drying rack, clean and stack the largest pots and pans first, then work the smaller dishes in around them.

7. AN OVEN RACK IS GREAT FOR DRYING.

If you’ve run out of space on your drying rack, simply rig up another one using an oven rack. The grates allow air in and water to drain away, and many have turned-down ends that will keep dishes elevated. Just don’t forget to slide a dishtowel underneath.

8. SECURE STEMWARE INSIDE THE DISHWASHER.

There’s nothing worse than opening the dishwasher to find a broken wine glass or two. To keep fragile stemware from jostling around, secure them to the tines using a rubber band or twist tie.

9. USE A LAUNDRY BAG TO HOLD SMALL UTENSILS.

This tip, courtesy of Real Simple, lets you run bottle caps, measuring cups, and other small items through the dishwasher without having them fall through the grates. Place everything inside a laundry bag, and slide it onto the top rack.

10. USE THE SPACE ABOVE THE SINK.

Because water never stays in the sink where it belongs, make sure to keep paper towels and dish towels high and dry. Hanging hooks and dowels are easy to rig up, and if you’re even slightly handy, you could hang a drying rack over the sink.

11. PUT OTHERS TO WORK.

Washing dishes is a burden no one should have to bear alone. Kindly ask your spouse/friends/houseguests/visiting dignitaries to scrape their plates and stack them on the counter, in the sink, or in the dishwasher.

12. BOIL WATER AND SALT TO GET RID OF BURN MARKS.

Save yourself loads of scrubbing and follow this tip from lifestyle queen Martha Stewart. Fill the offending pot or pan with cold water and 2 to 3 tablespoons of salt, and then let it sit overnight. Next day, bring the water to a boil, drain and wash with soap.

13. THERE’S A RIGHT WAY TO LOAD THE DISHWASHER.

A dishwasher is an amazing invention, but it won’t magically clean plates that are sandwiched together. Stack dishes so that they’re properly spaced and facing the center of the unit, where the spray valve is located. Also: Place cups around the tines, not on them; and make sure spoons and other utensils are arranged so they don’t nest.

14. CLEAN THE GARBAGE DISPOSAL WITH LEMON AND VINEGAR CUBES.

It’s easy to neglect the whirring, grinding appliance that toils away beneath your sink—that is, until you start to notice a foul odor emanating from the depths. To keep your garbage disposal clean and odor-free, throw in a few lemon and vinegar ice cubes. Just fill ice cube molds with a small lemon slice and some vinegar (no water), then freeze overnight.

15. RUN SOAPY WATER THROUGH BLENDERS AND FOOD PROCESSORS.

If you’re (understandably) hesitant about reaching in to clean the blades, just run some soapy water through the blender. The power that purees can be the power that cleans.

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Food
Brine Time: The Science Behind Salting Your Thanksgiving Turkey
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At many Thanksgiving tables, the annual roast turkey is just a vehicle for buttery mash and creamy gravy. But for those who prefer their bird be a main course that can stand on its own without accoutrements, brining is an essential prep step—despite the fact that they have to find enough room in their fridges to immerse a 20-pound animal in gallons of salt water for days on end. To legions of brining believers, the resulting moist bird is worth the trouble.

How, exactly, does a salty soak yield juicy meat? And what about all the claims from a contingency of dry brine enthusiasts: Will merely rubbing your bird with salt give better results than a wet plunge? For a look at the science behind each process, we tracked down a couple of experts.

First, it's helpful to know why a cooked turkey might turn out dry to begin with. As David Yanisko, a culinary arts professor at the State University of New York at Cobleskill, tells Mental Floss, "Meat is basically made of bundles of muscle fibers wrapped in more muscle fibers. As they cook, they squeeze together and force moisture out," as if you were wringing a wet sock. Hence the incredibly simple equation: less moisture means more dryness. And since the converse is also true, this is where brining comes in.

Your basic brine consists of salt dissolved in water. How much salt doesn't much matter for the moistening process; its quantity only makes your meat and drippings more or less salty. When you immerse your turkey in brine—Ryan Cox, an animal science professor at the University of Minnesota, quaintly calls it a "pickling cover"—you start a process called diffusion. In diffusion, salt moves from the place of its highest concentration to the place where it's less concentrated: from the brine into the turkey.

Salt is an ionic compound; that is, its sodium molecules have a positive charge and its chloride molecules have a negative charge, but they stick together anyway. As the brine penetrates the bird, those salt molecules meet both positively and negatively charged protein molecules in the meat, causing the meat proteins to scatter. Their rearrangement "makes more space between the muscle fibers," Cox tells Mental Floss. "That gives us a broader, more open sponge for water to move into."

The salt also dissolves some of the proteins, which, according to the book Cook's Science by the editors of Cook's Illustrated, creates "a gel that can hold onto even more water." Juiciness, here we come!

There's a catch, though. Brined turkey may be moist, but it can also taste bland—infusing it with salt water is still introducing, well, water, which is a serious flavor diluter. This is where we cue the dry briners. They claim that using salt without water both adds moisture and enhances flavor: win-win.

Turkey being prepared to cook.
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In dry brining, you rub the surface of the turkey with salt and let it sit in a cold place for a few days. Some salt penetrates the meat as it sits—with both dry and wet brining, Cox says this happens at a rate of about 1 inch per week. But in this process, the salt is effective mostly because of osmosis, and that magic occurs in the oven.

"As the turkey cooks, the [contracting] proteins force the liquid out—what would normally be your pan drippings," Yanisko says. The liquid mixes with the salt, both get absorbed or reabsorbed into the turkey and, just as with wet brining, the salt disperses the proteins to make more room for the liquid. Only, this time the liquid is meat juices instead of water. Moistness and flavor ensue.

Still, Yanisko admits that he personally sticks with wet brining—"It’s tradition!" His recommended ratio of 1-1/2 cups of kosher salt (which has no added iodine to gunk up the taste) to 1 gallon of water gives off pan drippings too salty for gravy, though, so he makes that separately. Cox also prefers wet brining, but he supplements it with the advanced, expert's addition of injecting some of the solution right into the turkey for what he calls "good dispersal." He likes to use 1-1/2 percent of salt per weight of the bird (the ratio of salt to water doesn't matter), which he says won't overpower the delicate turkey flavor.

Both pros also say tossing some sugar into your brine can help balance flavors—but don't bother with other spices. "Salt and sugar are water soluble," Cox says. "Things like pepper are fat soluble so they won't dissolve in water," meaning their taste will be lost.

But no matter which bird or what method you choose, make sure you don't roast past an internal temperature of 165˚F. Because no brine can save an overcooked turkey.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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