We've had a couple of epic failures during holiday dinners in our family. There was the time someone forgot to defrost the turkey and it was still rock-solid frozen when dinnertime rolled around. There was also the time when the cook forgot the real use of the stove—to cook the turkey—because she didn't even turn it on.
The last thing you need when planning for a holiday dinner is stove problems—even if it is from user error—or other appliance fixes and oven repairs. Cooking dinner at the holidays should go off without a hitch.
The folks at Angie's List, leading provider of consumer reviews on local contractors and service companies, sent me a tip sheet called "Don't Let Appliance Repair Top Your Holiday Wish List." It included many dos and don'ts for appliance use over the holidays and good advice overall.
The tip sheet came out of a recent survey of Angie's List members about cooking holiday dinners and the kitchen appliances that are most likely to cause problems. That's because when you're cooking for a big group of people, you are likely putting your oven, refrigerator, and garbage disposal to the test with maximum use—possible setting yourself up for stove problems, oven repairs, dishwasher fixes, refrigerators on the fritz, and garbage disposals spewing gunk.
"If your machine is 10 years old or older and the repair bill will be more than half the cost of a new unit, you're probably better off replacing it," says Angie's List founder Angela Hicks.
Here are some dos and don'ts of popular kitchen appliances so you can avoid a broken stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, or garbage disposal when you least need the headache.
- Don't use the self-cleaner setting if you want use of the stove for holiday meals. Self-cleaning cycles require ovens to run at extremely high temperatures, and often cause the oven's electronic components to fail.
- Do hand clean the oven if you have grease or debris buildup. The cleaner it is, the more efficiently it will operate and the less likely you are to need oven repairs.
- Do check your oven's temperature gauge. An easy way to do this is to bake a cake by following the directions on a basic mix exactly as written. If the cake isn't perfectly baked, you may have stove problems and need a service call to fix them.
- Do bake in batches when you can, to make the most of your energy usage, rather than one-time use several times over the week.
- Do use other appliances in addition to your stove, oven, or range. Crock-pots, slow cookers, and microwave ovens can help get food cooked and take some of the pressure off an overly taxed oven.
- Do clean the condenser coils. They are located behind the appliance, and it's an easy cleaning job for most of us with a vacuum cleaner. You may have to pull the refrigerator away from the wall to get to the coils so get help if you think moving the appliance will cause an injury. Built-ins might require a service call.
- Do check the door seal. If it's not tight, you're losing efficiency and not keeping food properly chilled. Close the door on a thin sheet of paper. If you can slip the paper out, your fridge is wasting energy. Replace the seal or adjust the door latch if needed.
- Don't stuff the disposal full of food waste and then turn it on.
- Don't use the disposal for rice, pasta, bones or stringy vegetables like celery—they're often the cause of backups. Read how pasta caused a problem in my garbage disposal.
- Do let cold water run for 10 seconds before feeding in small bits of waste while the water runs, and let the water run 30 seconds after it's all gone.
- Do rinse dishes first. Despite what those commercials say—that you don't have to rinse dishes before putting them in the washer—a quick rinse is always a good idea.
- Do clean your dishwasher's filter to remove particles and debris. Remember my DIY dishwasher fix?
- Do use the right amount and type of soap. Powdered soap tends to work better than liquid. Perhaps that's why my homemade dishwasher detergent has been working so well for me.