The Kosher Kitchen
A kosher home is an important element in the foundation of Jewish life. Whether you are embarking on the exciting step of setting up a newly kosher kitchen or have been keeping kosher for years, the following step-by-step guide will prove most helpful.
The decision to make one’s home kosher is indeed a big one, but it need not be overwhelming. Help is available at all stages. Before long, “keeping kosher” will be second nature to you, an integral part of your life as a homemaker and as a Jew.
Becoming Kosher: Any kitchen can be made kosher. Whether your kitchen is up-to-the minute in fashionable design or a relic of the 1920’s, whether you have a spacious “great room” or a tiny galley kitchen, you can readily adapt it to kosher practices.
Read the following guide and the preceding pages carefully. Then contact a qualified person to answer any questions you may have and help you take the next steps. The Chabad representative in your area will be happy to assist you in transforming your kitchen, as will most Orthodox Rabbis. Often it is the Rabbi’s wife or a knowledgeable woman with the practical, hands-on experience of keeping kosher who will provide the most help.
How to Begin: Even before your kitchen is made kosher, begin preparing for the change. Buy only foods which are certified kosher. Begin to keep meat and dairy separate. Many people use disposable utensils just before going kosher. Remove all questionable foods. Before making the kitchen kosher, discard all foods prepared in the pre-kosher kitchen.
Inventory of Kitchen Items: One of the first things that the person who is helping you to become kosher will do is divide all the items in your kitchen into two categories: those which can no longer be used in a kosher kitchen, and those which can be used after undergoing the various procedures of koshering (making kosher). Some new purchases will undoubtedly be necessary. New items may include dishes, some additional pots, plastic drain boards, and basins for the sink.
Many dishes and utensils require immersion in a Mikvah before being used. Decide which cabinets you will use for the newly separated meat and dairy dishes. Labeling these storage areas is a good idea.
Koshering Utensils: Many of the utensils in your kitchen will continue to be used after undergoing a process called koshering. There are several methods of koshering, including heating the item with a blowtorch or immersing in boiling water. The method used depends upon the type of utensil and how it has been used. After deciding with your Rabbi which utensils will be koshered, an appointment should be made for him to come and kasher your kitchen.
To prepare for the procedure, clean all parts of the kitchen well. Counters, tables, ovens, stoves and refrigerator should be perfectly clean. Scrub utensils and set them aside. Twenty-four hours prior to koshering, the stove, oven and broilers should not be turned on, and hot water should not be poured into the sink.
While a kitchen remodeled or designed for kashrut observance with two sinks, two stoves, and separate working areas is certainly a great convenience, it is by no means a necessity.
“Milchigs” and “Fleishigs:” In keeping with the total separation of meat and dairy required in the kosher kitchen, separate sets of dishes, pots, silverware, serving dishes, bread trays and salt shakers are needed. These different sets should be kept in separate cabinets. Also necessary are separate sets of draining boards, draining racks, dish sponges, scouring pads, dish towels, and tablecloths. Dish soap, cleanser, and scouring pads used for dishes and pots must have a hechsher (kashrut certification).
A very practical and widespread practice in Jewish homes is to plan the different sets of meat and dairy utensils around a color scheme. A traditional example is red for fleishig (meat) and blue for milchig (dairy). Draining racks, sponges and dish towers are key elements in this color system. Choose your own color scheme and use it as a reminder for yourself and anyone else who will be working in your kitchen. (The dishes themselves need not conform to a strict color scheme, but should be readily distinguishable.)
One must be especially careful to mark utensils that look similar for both meat and dairy, such as knives, ladles or wooden spoons. Distinguish between such utensils by having a different color or design, or paint a line on the handles according to the color scheme. Plastic tape, color-coordinated sings, or paint of the same color may be used to mark other items.
The separation of meat and dairy must be maintained throughout the kitchen. Consult you Rabbi as how to clean and kasher surfaces or appliances that were non-kosher.
The Sink: Separate sinks for washing dishes and preparing foods are recommended. If the two sinks are adjoining, there should be an effective separation between them so that no water or food splashes from one sink to the other.
If there is only one sink, it may be used after it has been completely cleaned, but the inside of the sink should be regarded as non-kosher. No food or dishes should be put directly into non-kosher sinks. There should be separate dish pans and slightly elevated racks under the dish pans for both meat and dairy. Similarly, two sinks which were used before the kitchen was kosher should also be regarded as non-kosher, unless they are stainless steel and were koshered. If the two sinks were koshered, one should be designated for meat and one for dairy.
Tables: A table can be used at different times for meat and dairy if one uses different tablecloths or placemats. A new table or a table surface that was koshered can be used for one category and a tablecloth or placemats used for the other.
Countertops: Designate separate countertops or work areas for meat and dairy. If one area must be used for both, separate coverings must be used.
Refrigerators and Freezers: These may be used for all food types. However, separate areas should be designated for meat and dairy foods. Sometimes a shelf or the door of the refrigerator or freezer is kept for dairy. If dairy is kept on a shelf inside the refrigerator, one should cover the shelf with aluminum foil or a plastic liner to prevent leakage onto other foods. If dairy drips on the foil, the foil must be carefully removed and replaced. Similar care must be taken with meat products inside the refrigerator.
One should avoid placing hot meat or hot dairy foods in the refrigerator as this may affect the other foods in the refrigerator and cause kashrut problems.
The stove top: Where heat is involved, the laws concerning the accidental mixture of meat and dairy foods become much more complex. Therefore, strict precautions are taken concerning the use of the stove and oven for meat and dairy products.
The ideal set-up in the kosher kitchen is to have two separate stoves. A practical alternative is to use the full size range for meat, and a portable gas or electric range or cook top for dairy. Where one stove is used, separate burners designated for milk or meat use are preferable if this is not possible, extra care must be taken to keep the burners very clean.
It is best to avoid cooking both types of food at the same time since the steam or food in one pot might splatter or escape to another, creating serious kashrut problems regarding the food and pots involved.
If it becomes necessary to cook both meat and dairy foods in separate pots at the same time, utmost care should be taken that the lids are secured tightly at all times and that an upright sheet of tin or other metal separates the pots. Be careful to avoid lifting lids of both meat and dairy pots at the same time. If the lids must be lifted to check the food or add any ingredients, raise the lid only slightly off the pots, tilted away from the opposite pots. It is best to have the meat and dairy pots well separated, to keep the steam or liquid from coming in contact with each other.
The Oven and Broiler: It is best to use the oven for only one type of food: meat, pareve or dairy. If only one oven is available, the use of portable broilers or toaster-ovens for other food types is advisable. Meat and dairy foods can never be baked or broiled in one oven at the same time, even in separate bake ware.
If you wish to keep the oven pareve, then meat or dairy foods cooked in that oven (at separate times) must be tightly covered all around, including the bottom. It is advisable to place a piece of foil under the pan and to change it for meat or dairy use. The pan may be opened for testing only when it is completely removed from the oven.
Dairy foods should not be baked in a meaty over, and vice versa. Pareve foods baked in a meaty oven (or broiler) should not be served on dairy dishes or eaten with dairy foods, unless the following conditions are met:
*The oven, racks, and broiler are thoroughly clean. (It is helpful to put a piece of foil under the bake ware to ensure the cleanliness of the oven racks.) This might be difficult to achieve without a self-cleaning oven.
*24 hours have elapsed since the oven was used for meat. For example, if meat is baked in the oven, and then you wish to bake a cake which can be served with milk, first be sure the oven and racks are clean, then wait 24 hours before baking the cake. The same conditions apply if one wishes to bake pareve in a dairy oven. It is advisable to have separate bake ware for pareve.
If the oven is clean, the waiting periods between milk and meat is not required for pareve foods baked in a meat or dairy oven.
To use an oven for both meat and dairy at separate times, consult an Orthodox Rabbi.
All of the above also applies to broilers which are on the bottom of the oven. Regarding the use of self-cleaning and microwave ovens, consult and Orthodox Rabbi.
Portable Electric Broilers: These must be used for either meat or dairy exclusively because they cannot be properly koshered.
Small Appliances: An electric mixer, blender or grinder to not require a separate motor in order to be used for meat and dairy. However, one must buy separate attachments if the appliance is to be used for more than one food type (meat, dairy, or pareve). Even when using separate attachments, the machine should be cleaned well on all sides after each use.
Dishwashers: These should preferable be designated for the exclusive use of either meat or dairy. If you have further questions, consult and Orthodox Rabbi, as there are many factors involved.
KASHRUT QUESTIONS IN THE KITCHEN
In any kosher kitchen, it is only natural for questions to arise. What happens if you stir a pot of chicken soup with a dairy spoon? How are the spoon, pot and food affected? Can you kasher a particular type of pot, and if so , how must it be done? Whether one has just begun to keep kosher or has been doing so for years, it is important to ask a sha’alah (question in halachah or Jewish Law) of a Rabbi competent in halachic matters each time a situation in kashrut or any other area of Jewish life needs clarification.
Until the question is answered, set aside the utensils and/or food in question. For example, if a dairy knife was used to cut meat, remove the knife from the meat and wipe off all traces of meat from the knife, then set aside both the meat which was cut and the knife which was used. When there is a question, use only cold water. Never rinse these utensils with hot water.
Consulting A Rabbi: When a question regarding a utensil or food arises, consult an Orthodox Rabbi as soon as possible.
Keep in mind the circumstances and details involved in the situation. The Rabbi will tell you whether the utensils need to be koshered, and how to do it. (See Kashering Utensils above.) He will also indicate if the food is permitted. Some of the circumstances to describe to the Rabbi are:
*type(s) of food involved,
*type(s) of utensils, dishes or pots involved,
*the manner in which food was prepared (cooking, frying, broiling, etc.),
*whether the mix-up occurred in dishes or in cookware, and before or after the cooking process,
*the temperature of food or utensils: whether hot, cold, or room temperature,
*when the utensil was last used prior to the mix-up, and for which foods it was used,
*the amount of food involved.
Another type of question that can arise is when a pareve utensil comes in contact with hot meat or dairy foods, in which case it may become fleishig or milchig. In this situation, a sha’alah should be asked.
With each situation that arises, a new question should be asked, for the answer to each case is determined independently. One should not draw one’s own conclusion based on an answer to a previous sha’alah.
TEVILAT KAILIM – IMMERSION OF VESSELS
The Jewish table is likened to an altar, its holiness compared to that of the Beit Hamikdash. Before dishes and utensils can be used in the kosher kitchen, they must acquire an additional measure of holiness which is conferred through the ritual immersion in a pool of naturally-gathered water, or Mikvah. A Mikvah is a specially constructed ritual pool connected to a source of pure rainwater. Vessels may also be immersed in certain natural bodies of water such as the ocean. The procedure is known as toiveling (derived from the Hebrew tovel, to immerse).
Immersion in a mikvah is required only for utensils that were manufactured or ever owned by a non-Jew. Even those that were previously used without having been immersed still require immersion, after thorough cleaning, and koshering if necessary.
Preparation for immersion consists of the removal of any substance that would intervene between the water of the Mikvah and the surface of the utensil, such as dirt, rust, stickers, glue from labels, and price markings. Steel wool and/or acetone (nail polish remover) are sometimes needed to remove all traces of surface markings.
Types of Vessels Requiring Immersion: A vessel made of metal or glass with which one eats, drinks, cooks, roasts, fries, or heats up water for drinking, requires immersion with a blessing. Examples of vessels requiring immersion with a blessing include: Correll dishes, silverware, pots and pans, glazed china, kettle, and those parts of a mixer or blender which come into direct contact with food.
When immersing several items at the same time, only one blessing is said. If one is unsure as to whether or not an item requires immersion with a blessing, it should preferable be toiveled together with utensils requiring a blessing is:
BA-RUCH A-TAH ADO-NOI ELO-HAI-NU ME-LECH HA’O-LAM A-SHER KID-SHA-NU B’-MITZ-VO-TAV V’TZI-VA-NU AL TE-VI-LAT KE-LI (KAI-LIM).
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the immersion of a vessel (vessels).
Items Made of Two or More Materials: When a utensil is made of two different materials, only one of which requires immersion, immersion is usually required. (Examples include glazed earthenware, pans with a non-stick coating, wooden-handled utensils and Thermos containers.) However, the blessing is not always said. Consult an Orthodox Rabbi for information about immersing any of these types of utensils.
Utensils Made From Plastic: As regards to plastic items, the need for immersion varies according to the type of plastic. Therefore, it is preferable to immerse plastic items without a blessing.
Utensils that do not require tevilah are: (1) those made of wood, paper, bone, or unglazed earthenware; or (2) disposable utensils such as plastic cups or plates which are not fit for long-term use and which one normally discards after using.
Immersion of vessels may be done by a man or a woman and during the day or night, but may not be done on Shabbat or Yom Tov.
THE KOSHER KITCHEN ON PESACH
A new dimension is added to kashrut observance during Pesach, when we may not eat, derive any benefit from, or possess any chametz, leavened food. Only kosher for Pesach foods may be eaten for the eight days of the holiday.
The kitchen is extensively prepared before the holiday to conform with the Pesach laws. All leavened foods are removed from our possession, and all dishes and utensils used for chametz are stored away. Special Pesach dishes, cutlery, and cookware are used exclusively during the holiday and then stored separately until the following Pesach. The laws of Pesach are complex, requiring further study, and the guidance of an Orthodox Rabbi.