What Is a Kosher Kitchen?

Keeping a kosher kitchen goes well beyond just avoiding certain foods

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To keep a kosher (kashrut) kitchen, you must only buy kosher food and follow strict Jewish dietary laws in preparing it. Kosher dietary laws are found in the Torah, which is part of God's covenant with the Jewish people.

Most people are familiar with the idea that pork and shellfish aren't kosher, and that Jews shouldn't eat pork products or shellfish products. But keeping a kosher kitchen involves much more than simply eschewing ham, bacon, sausage, shrimp, and clams.

You also must keep separate dishes, utensils, cooking tools, and table coverings for meat and dairy products, which are forbidden to consume at the same time. You'll need to wash dishes and other items used with meat separately from those used with dairy.

Food in a Kosher Kitchen

Kosher kitchens are used only to prepare kosher food. Therefore, any food you bring into your kosher kitchen must be kosher as well.

To be kosher, meat must only come from an animal that has "cloven hooves" and which "chews the cud." This allows cows, sheep, and goats, but rules out pigs and camels.

Meat must be sourced from an animal that was humanely slaughtered under supervision by a rabbi. In addition, as much blood as possible must be removed from the meat prior to cooking, since blood is a source of bacterial growth. Finally, Jewish law forbids the consumption of animals that have lung abscesses or other health problems. Meats marked kosher will meet these restrictions.

Jews only can eat poultry that is not birds of prey, so chickens, ducks, and turkeys are allowed while eagles, hawks, and pelicans are not. And they only can consume fish that have fins and scales, which rules out shellfish. Most eggs are kosher, as long as they do not contain blood, Insects are not kosher.

All kosher milk products must come from kosher animals, and dairy products can't contain animal-based ingredients. The Torah states that "You may not cook a young animal in the milk of its mother," and therefore Jews do not consume milk and meat together in the same meal, and use different plates, utensils, and cooking tools for milk and meat.

Cookware in a Kosher Kitchen

In order to keep kosher, your entire kitchen—from cooking spaces to dining spaces and storage spaces—must be kosher.

Most importantly, you must have separate dishes and cutlery for meat and dairy. Under Jewish dietary law, even a trace of meat on a dairy dish (or vice versa) will render the dishes and your kitchen non-kosher.

This extends to the pots, pans, cooking tools, and even the surfaces you use to prepare and serve meals with meat and dairy. Observant households will have separate counters for meat and dairy food preparation and separate cabinets to store meat and dairy dishes and cooking equipment.

You'll also need separate meat and dairy tablecloths, cloth napkins, and placemats, and you'll need to take care that open containers of meat and dairy food are stored in a way that they cannot touch each other in the refrigerator. Don't use the oven or the microwave for meat and dairy foods at the same time, and make sure to clean up any spills quickly and thoroughly.

You shouldn't wash meat and dairy dishes together, and if you have a porcelain sink, you should use dish tubs for each set of cookware and dishes. If you have a dishwasher, it should have a stainless steel interior that's cleaned between loads of meat and dairy dishes. In fact, Orthodox rabbis maintain that you can't use the same dishwasher to wash meat and dairy dishes, even if you run them at different times and clean the machine in between.