Favorite Things: Bar Towels


When I took the knife skills class at Whole Foods last year, I picked up a bunch of new good better habits (Confession: I’m still lazy about keeping my knife sharp. Terrible!) and added a few essentials to my kitchen arsenal, including a massive cutting board that I leave on my countertop at all times, a knife sharpener (ahem), and — perhaps the least sexy but surely my favorite purchase — a stack of bar towels.

I cannot over sell how completely freakin’ great it is to have a stack of clean towels on hand when I’m doing a Weekly Cookup, prepping for a dinner party, or even just throwing together my breakfast. Bar towels are different than the average dish towel. They’re smaller, square instead of oblong, and super-duper absorbent. In no particular order, here are some of the ways these towels help me in the kitchen:

  • wringing the excess moisture out of zucchini noodles, defrosted frozen spinach (for Meat and Spinach Muffins), and spaghetti squash
  • providing stability under spaghetti squash during the somewhat terrifying process of cutting in half for roasting
  • protecting me from splatters when puréeing hot soup (like sweet potato, zucchini, or cauliflower) in the blender
  • mopping up my many messes
  • soaking labels off glass jars
  • subbing for a hot pad when removing stuff from the oven (If you do this, make sure your towels are dry; wet towels will conduct the heat.)
  • wiping down my knife and cutting board between ingredients
  • removing hot lids from simmering pans
  • covering just-out-of-the-oven or just-off-the-grill food while it rests


Here’s the deal: you need a lot of towels. I bought a stack of two dozen, and I go through about 8 to 10 during a cooking session. When I’m about to start cooking, whether it’s a multi-hour chop-and-stir extravaganza or just a quick lunch of tuna and raw veggies, I grab a clean stack of towels from the cabinet and put them in easy reach. When I’m really on fire, I leave them in strategic locations around the kitchen — next to the stove, on the far counter top, next to the sink, on the center island, next to the cutting board — so that no matter where I am in the kitchen or what I’m doing, there’s a towel right there.

Seriously, people. This might be my most favorite kitchen trick. Towels! Who knew?

They’re more absorbent than paper towels, they’re less wasteful, and they give you the edge and flair of a kitchen pro. Plus, it’s very satisfying — when the last container of food has been stashed away in the fridge — to collect all the dirty towels, toss them in the washing machine, and reflect on the good food waiting to be eaten.


Get your own stack of towels

I bought this 24-pack of basic white from Amazon, and they’re great! Then I found the cute green-and-yellow-striped numbers in the photo above at Target. (They’re not listed on the Target web site right now, but you might find them in your local store.) The fruit-colors (yay, pink and orange!) are a recent find at our neighborhood grocery store. If you want a little color in your kitchen, Amazon has this 8-pack of primary hues or you can go classic white with thin black stripes.



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  • Cathy says:

    I have a family if 5, but what determines a laundry emergency is not the overflowing laundry basket, rather the second to last towel getting pulled out of the drawer.

  • Jenny says:

    Cutting spaghetti squash in half is especially terrifying when your knife is dull. (wink) (says the girl whose knives are embarrassingly, frustratingly dull)

  • Suzi Q says:

    I’m neurotic about sharpening my knives. Of course, this means my fingers are a mess because I’m not good about that whole “curl your fingers” maneuver thingy that experienced cooks seem to do with ease… 😉

  • Heather says:

    Great trick! I’ve been using dish towels and then I run out and have nothing to dry my hands on! I think bar towels may go to the top of my kitchen supplies list.

  • Lisa says:

    I buy terrycloth “shop” towels at Costco that are square, and exactly the same size as bar towels but without the stripes. Costco’s bale of these towels is about $25 for 60 of them. I use these for everything under the sun, just as you suggest, and have been for years. I can’t have enough of these towels. And, when one dies or my husband uses it for some kind of solvent and it cannot be washed, it isn’t the end of the world. These bar towels are the BEST tip!!

    • Kimberly says:

      I was going to say the same thing!
      We’ve used the shop towels for years now. I keep a big stack of them on the counter in a basket right next to the sink. I then stashed the paper towels out of sight. I automatically grab the cloth towels now and only use the paper when it’s really a job for paper. Saves $$$, too!

  • Mom says:

    Your Dad always keeps our knives sharpened. On Saturday while prepping cabbage for our traditional St. Patty’s Day meal I cut the tip of my index finger on my right hand. The knife was so sharp that I didn’t feel it slice my flesh. I only realized I was wounded when I saw red polka dots on my cutting board. I really could have used some of you bar towels!!

  • Therese says:

    Completely OT but an easy way to cut spaghetti squash: use a narrow blade boning knife to cut around the stem of the squash (Nom Nom Paleo suggests this for cutting Kabocha squash), pop out the stem, continue using the boning knife to cut the squash in half. The thin blade goes through the tough outer skin of the squash much easier than a butcher knife.

  • Isla says:

    I love the bar mop towels! I even have bar mop wash cloths for the kitchen. My husband relishes when I ask him to sharpen the knives. He has 3 different kinds of knife sharpeners and even takes them to his mom’s and sharpens her knives!

  • Karen B. says:

    How do you keep your towels absorbent? I use regular no scent detergent and do not use dryer sheets and my towels repel liquid. Drives me crazy.

  • NMG says:

    Cut-up old pyjamas work well too, for the stingy/broke among us. I like having enough towels/rags to make a full laundry load, so I can wash them all in a batch without softener etc.
    I’m a lot more careful with knives and techniques since slicing through a tendon last year!

  • Margaret says:

    Great tip for the bar towels – I use them all the time! I am also terrified to cut open any kind of hard squash…so I just roast it whole, THEN cut it. Usually I do a it with some sweet potatoes when I am baking something else. About 1 to 1 1/4 hours at 350 usually does it. No digits or limbs are compromised 🙂

  • Cate B says:

    I have the ones from Traget and I LOVE them!

    Yeah – cutting the squash is still just as terrifying. We eat squash pretty much every other week and have been paleo for about 6 months…still scary!

  • Amber says:

    Bahaha! I thought I just sucked at cutting spaghetti squash! I break out in a cold sweat upon addressing the beast and throw in a few hail Mary’s for good measure. Can’t wait to try out some bar towels!

  • Amber says:

    Hail Marys, stupid auto correct.

  • Chris says:

    Stumbled across this post, and funny that this is exactly the same setup I’ve been using recently. I have a stack of those utopia 48 bar towels, and go through 8-12 of them when I cook. Have made cooking so much more pleasant and productive!