07 April 2009

Kosher Kitchens - Why they may be the Greatest Shown on Earth

I'm not the P.T. Barnum of blogging, kitchen design or Jewish dietary laws. But when you're called upon to double storage, clean-up and food preservation capability to meet Kosher requirements, you've got to be pretty darned strategic in your design plan.

That results in a kitchen that uses every inch of its space wisely and well, and some of the industry's latest appliance innovations. And, heck, isn't that good faith design for everyone!

Kosher Basics

The requirement of separating meat and dairy products is the Kosher tenet that has the greatest impact on kitchen planning, as it requires not only separate clean-up and storage of these food groups, but separate dishes, utensils and cookware to prepare them. You can see how this calls for smarter, if not increased, storage capacity.

There are many other facets of this ancient dietary code, including the use of separate materials altogether for the annual observance of Passover, and not working on the Sabbath, which translates to not cooking from Friday evening until Saturday evening in Kosher homes. All of them have an impact on kitchen planning for observant households.

Pots and Pans Storage

Every kitchen design starts with a plan, which includes appliances that meet the homeowners' wants and needs, and storage to accommodate their foodstuffs, food preparation equipment and clean-up gear. As I mentioned above, Kosher kitchens need double capacity storage to accommodate two sets of pots, pans, cooking and eating utensils.

To achieve this, I'm going to ensure that every base cabinet has dual roll-out trays. Substituting a roll-out for a typical cabinet's center half-shelf increases each cabinet's storage by close to 25 percent. Four base cabinets with double roll-outs, then, can accommodate eight standard bases' worth of pots and pans in the same floor space, (without doubling the cabinet cost or moving a single wall). This takes care of the separate pots and pans issues.

Roll-out Trays from Omega Cabinetry

Silverware Storage

Not all cabinet drawers are equal. Some - like Kraftmaid's - are taller than others, which not only makes for friendlier ladle and sandwich bag storage, but can accommodate a two-tiered silverware divider. I'm going to incorporate at least two sets of tiered dividers, one for meat utensils and one for the dairy set, to store the doubled capacity needed for my kosher clients. The larger, bottom tier, will hold their regular forks, knives and spoons. The smaller, upper tier will hold meat- or dairy-specific serving utensils. (Non-Kosher homeowners who have two different sets of serving utensils or extra hostess sets, will appreciate this increased storage, as well.)

Harmony Storage Solution
Wood Tiered Cutlery Divider from Kraftmaid

Cooking Utensil Storage

If the cooktop or range fronts a wall, two separate backsplash organizers can accommodate larger utensils for meat and dairy preparation on either side of the cooking surface. (I'm not a fan of organizers directly behind the burners, as it's easy to imagine someone getting burned in the process of reaching above a hot pot to get something hanging there.) If the homeowner prefers, separate crocks or drawers with tiered organizers can hold these utensils instead, but this takes up valuable counter or drawer space. Backsplashes tend to be under-developed kitchen real estate.

Plate Storage

Kosher kitchens have two sets of plates for every day use, one dedicated to dairy meals, one to meat meals. Most of today's open plan kitchens have fewer wall cabinets, the traditional storage spot for dishes and cups. My suggestion for overcoming this dual challenge in a Kosher kitchen is deep drawers with divider systems for dishware. One pan drawer cabinet with its standard upper drawer - equipped with the tiered utensil caddy mentioned above - and its two tall lower drawers can be a dedicated meat serveware cabinet. Its twin will be the dedicated dairy serveware cabinet.

Large Drawer Peg System from Rev-A-Shelf

This approach has an additional benefit for some clients: It allows their children to take on the dishwasher unloading chore without climbing on counter tops to reach upper cabinets.

Clean-up Needs

As you might suspect, Kosher kitchens call for separate cleaning of meat and dairy serveware and cookware. Not every home can accommodate two full-sized dishwashers. The double dishwasher drawer fits this situation neatly. It fits in the same 24" space as a standard model, but can separate loads by meal type. If the kitchen has extra space, two 18" or 24" dishwashers can be helpful. I would plan a dedicated serveware cabinet next to each for maximum efficiency - i.e., meat dishwasher next to meat cabinet and dairy dishwasher next to dairy cabinet.

GE Monogram 18" Integrated Dishwasher

Some Kosher homeowners require separate sinks; others don't, according to their interpretation of Kashrut, (Kosher doctrine). If a homeowner wants dual sinks, but doesn't want to greatly extend plumbing lines (and plumbing costs), to remodel an existing kitchen in their new home, side by side single sinks can minimize the added cost. If space and budget allow, a second completely separate sink is an extraordinary convenience for a busy kitchen.

I would consider creating separate meat and dairy zones for the Kosher kitchen, each with its own sink, dishwasher and serveware storage, if space allows. This zoned approach will be a time- and step-saver for the Kosher homeowner. It also melds beautifully with the dual island configuration popular in many larger new kitchens.

Cold Food Storage

Fresh and frozen food storage are where Kosher kitchens require extraordinarily increased flexibility, if not capacity. Two recent appliance innovations make the meat-dairy separation easier in this respect.

One is the column. These are individual built-in, full-height refrigerator and freezer units that typically range from 18" to 30" wide. Someone could, of course, have two completely separate refrigerator/freezer appliances in the same kitchen, but this will probably create more freezer storage than is typically desired. The greater need for many households - including the Kosher home - is for fresh food capacity. Choosing fridge and freezer sizes that match the homeowner's specific shopping patterns are ideal. (A non-Kosher homeowner who hunts would find extra freezer storage for boar and venison to be more useful, and could do a wider freezer column than, say, the owner of a home-based day care center who needs a wider fridge for juice, milk and fruit.)

Gaggenau Refrigerator and Wine Columns

The other innovation that helps the Kosher homeowner is point-of-use refrigeration. These under-countertop models come in single drawer, double-drawer and full-height versions. They can be dedicated to meat or dairy, as needed.

Taking this concept a mile farther is Fisher & Paykel. Its innovative CoolDrawer debuted at the 2008 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show and serves as either a refrigerator or freezer, depending on the homeowner's changing needs. That's right: For Thanksgiving, it can be an extra freezer for your turkey and pies. For Fourth of July it can be a refrigerator holding your picnic treats. For Passover, it can store your Seder meal. How flexible can you get!

Fisher & Paykel's CoolDrawer

Point-of-use refrigeration in general is handy for most households. It can add a drink station near the family room, or a vegetable crisper in an island. It can help out in a game room, morning kitchen or even a garage.

Cooking and Reheating

Kosher homeowners don't cook on the Sabbath, following one of the other tenets of Judaic observance. To meet their families' desire for a hot meal on Saturday, they can employ the convenience of a warming drawer. This allows them to cook before sundown on Friday and warm the food for breakfast, lunch or dinner the next day. How convenient this appliance is for families with divergent work, school and extra-curricular schedules, too. There are many ranges with warming drawers, even microwaves with warming capability, or they can be installed as a separate appliance.

"Kosher" Countertops

Kosher homeowners who select granite, marble or wood countertops subject those them to a complex "Kashering" process. Quartz (aka engineered stone) countertops do not undergo this process. Nor do they require the sealing or maintenance that granite and wood tops entail. For this reason, I recommend them to seniors who want an easy lifestyle or parents of active children who need the convenience.

Cambria Quartz Countertops are UMKosher-certified

Sabbath Settings

There is a very extensive set of appliance guidelines relating to Sabbath modes for appliances that don't apply to non-Kosher kitchens. The best source of information on this topic is the Star-K web site. The site offers extensive information for the Kosher homeowner, and a "Kosher for the Clueless but Curious" guidebook.

Kosher for Passover

Passover involves additional rituals that Kosher homeowners observe. Among them are an extra set of dishes and glasses. Since they're only used during the annual Passover observance, I recommend storing them outside the key kitchen work areas. I suggest the same storage principle for non-Kosher homeowners with small appliances and serveware they use only infrequently. Find a location convenient to the kitchen, but not in this everyday work zone.

Built-ins, like these from Fieldstone Cabinetry,
create ideal storage for occasional use kitchen items

Final Thoughts

When I was growing up in New York City, I used to see ads on TV for Levy's rye bread. Their tag line was, "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's." If this blog posting had a tag line of its own, that would be pretty close! So... Happy Passover. Happy Easter. And so very happy to be enjoying life as a designer of kitchens and baths for everyone!

Coming Soon on Gold Notes:

4/22 Green Design for Earth Day
5/5 First reports from the 2009 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show


  1. I just came across your blog. Very nice! I'm really enjoying your insights and ideas and may implement some in our house in"Brownstone Brooklyn" (as it's now being called)...I think it was smily called "the old neighborhood" when I was younger ;-)...now, despite the downturn, a lot of NYC is "fancy shmancy" as they say.

    I just wanted to point out on the above article that Jews aren't supposed to hunt for sport and animals killed in a hunt are not considered edible--shouldn't even be touched in fact. Plus, boar is basically swine. Yes, I know there are Jews who hunt and eat what they've killed, but I've never come across one who knew much about kashrus dietary law beyond the very basics of basics.

    In fact, they're a whole Jewish-based movement for the humane treatment of animals that has been around for a long time with the newer changes in the US food industry marketing to the relatively new wider-societal niche market. More and more, milk products, eggs and meat at supermarkets will have the "Humane Raised" label on them. The extent to which these statements on product packaging are true is up for debate apparently. It's always best to do one's own research.

    Have a look at http://www.star-k.org/cons-keep-basics-101.htm:

    "Poultry and meat are permissible from animals that are slaughtered by humane methods dictated by Jewish Law and carried out by specially trained ritual slaughterers. "


    "Sports hunting violates the mitzvot against cruel treatment of animals (tzaar baali chayim). If hunting is the only alternative to dying oneself, then it is permitted.
    A hunted animal is not kosher (trayf) because it was not killed in the strictly humane way that Jewish Law mandates. If the home doesn't follow the laws of kashrut, then this argument against hunting is harder to make. Best Wishes, Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner"

    "Kosher slaughter
    Animals must be slaughtered in accordance with Jewish ritual by a shohet (kosher slaugterer) with a precise understanding of the complex laws governing shehitah (slaughtering) in order to qualify as kosher. The kill must be made by slicing across the esophagus and jugular with a perfectly smooth blade in order to cause instant death without pain to the animal. For this reason, animals killed by hunting are not acceptable. Thus, while a deer may be kosher if raised on a farm, it is not permissable to eat a deer that has been killed while hunting. "

  2. Thanks for taking the time to respond and forgive the ridiculously-belated response.

    I'm very well aware of the swine/cloven-hooved restrictions in Kashrut. That's why I started that reference with: "non-Kosher homeowner who hunts..."

  3. Hi!
    I think your pics help a lot to see wich way to take to organize the house.
    God Bless

  4. Brilliant!!! This time of year cooking equipment is turning into an avalance. I'm certainly going to take your idea and run with it. Thank you.

    Cooking Equipment

  5. thanks for sharing with us.. nice blog.. nice idea...Cooking Equipment


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