Kitchen Hack: Stock Your Pantry Like a Pro
Stocking your kitchen with these chef-approved must-have means you’ll always be ready to make a delicious meal. Check out the essentials you need and our pro tips on how to store them below.
Salt (Kosher and Fine Ground)
Salt goes in almost everything. It plays an important chemical role in baking, and accentuates the natural flavors of meats and vegetables. Use coarse kosher salt for roasts and grilled meats, and save the fine ground salt for baking or sprinkling on popcorn and potatoes.
Keep dry in a sealed container to hold flavor.
Whole Black Peppercorns
Get your spice grinder out and set it to work! Black pepper perks up everything from salads and pasta to steak and fish and there’s nothing like the flavor of freshly ground.
For all the robust peppery flavor without any change in texture, place a teaspoon of peppercorns in a cheesecloth and tie it closed with kitchen twine. Toss this sachet into a soup or sauce on the stove until the spice level is to your liking. Just remember to discard before serving.
Store peppercorns at room temperature in a dark, dry cabinet. To keep things fresh, replace any that last longer than six months.
The warm smell of cinnamon is unmistakable. It’s certainly one of the most versatile spices: Coffee, oatmeal and even buttered toast benefit from a dash or two.
Ground cinnamon is so fine that it’s hard to reproduce at home in a grinder, so keep some on hand. Store just like peppercorns and use within six months for the best flavor.
Cinnamon sticks infuse slowly into dishes without adding the texture of ground cinnamon, making them perfect for mulled cider, soup and hot chocolate.
When you’re ready to channel your inner pastry chef, you’ll need this extract handy. Vanilla’s familiar flavor is a keystone ingredient in desserts of every kind.
The standard brown bottle is designed to keep out light; storing vanilla extract in a dark, dry cabinet will help keep it fresh. Extracts are alcohol-based so they keep well, just make sure the cap is tight or they’ll start to evaporate.
For ultra-rich flavor, seek out some vanilla bean paste. It will add those black specks found in gourmet ice creams and bring items like whipped cream or custard to the next level.
You never know when you’ll want to whip up a batch of cookies, so it’s best to always have granulated white and brown sugar on hand.
Sugar keeps very well—just keep it in sealed containers, away from moisture, at room temperature. Invest in a terra cotta “sugar keeper” to stop your brown sugar from becoming hard as a brick (and impossible to measure out).
Balsamic, apple cider and white distilled are some of the most common vinegars. And not only is vinegar a great flavor enhancer, it’s also a handy solvent. Try using distilled white vinegar to clean bamboo cutting boards, stained coffee pots and even windows.
Just be sure to check the bottle—some vinegars need to be refrigerated, while others are OK at room temperature.
Dressings usually need refrigeration after opening—check the label for storage and best-by dates.
If you saute, fry, bake or grill, you’re going to need oil. Vegetable oils have a higher smoke point that’s best for high cooking temperatures and milder flavor than others like olive oil.
Always store oils in a dry, dark cabinet away from heat. Some even need to be refrigerated.
Garlic and Onions
Garlic and onions are the savory workhorses of the kitchen. They’re the starting point for hundreds of dishes used in kitchens all over the globe.
Store garlic and onions in a dry, dark place. Investing in a breathable storage basket helps keep them from rolling around, while allowing for much needed air circulation. Only buy enough fresh garlic and onions for one week to keep spoilage to a minimum.
Whether you’re dredging chicken for frying or whipping up a batch of biscuits, all-purpose flour is a must-have ingredient. Thicken soups and sauces like Grandma by combining equal parts oil or butter with all-purpose flour to create a roux.
All-purpose flour keeps best in airtight containers, instead of the original packaging. This extra step will cut down on common pantry pests like moths or meal bugs.