Stocking your pantry with basic kitchen staples makes it easy to explore a variety of recipes and whip up a home-cooked meal. Whether you use cupboards or have dedicated pantry space, keeping food organized helps you know what's in the pantry so you don't run out.
This list includes the shelf-stable pantry items that most home cooks need. Some need to be refrigerated after opening but can otherwise be stored at room temperature. You may not need everything, and your pantry essentials' list should be customized to what your family eats. Also, keep in mind that almost every food has a shelf life, so you don't want to stock too much because some may go to waste.
- Use plastic or glass storage containers and reusable labels to keep your pantry more organized.
- For items without a "best by" date on the package, write the date you purchased or opened it on the package. Some things, like baking powder, are more sensitive. Noting its shelf life (e.g., "6 months") as well makes it easy to remember when it needs to be replaced.
- When you notice something getting low in the pantry, add it to your grocery list right away so you don't run out.
- When restocking the pantry, rotate items. Move older items to the front so they get used first.
Oil and Vinegar
Not everyone needs multiple types of oil and vinegar, but it's good to have at least a couple of options for each. Both are used in countless recipes, including dressings, marinades, and sauces, and most keep for up to two years. Oil is essential for greasing pans and frying food as well.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Perfect for cold and low-heat applications, such as salads, pasta, dressings, and dips. It will smoke when heated too much and has a one-year shelf life.
- Frying Oil: Whether you choose canola, peanut, vegetable, or another type of oil, have at least one option with a high smoke point. Use it for sautéeing, deep-frying, and other high-heat cooking.
- Cooking Spray: A convenient item that quickly greases baking pans.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Useful in marinades, this lightly flavored vinegar is also found in sauces, condiments, and healthy beverages.
- Balsamic Vinegar: With its sweet, smoky flavor, balsamic vinegar has many uses in the kitchen.
- Distilled White Vinegar: Used in small quantities, this ordinary vinegar is an economical addition to the kitchen that doubles as a cleaning product. Don't buy "cleaning vinegar" because it's not for food.
- Red and White Wine Vinegar: Red wine vinegar is great for hearty food and dark meats, while white wine vinegar is excellent for chicken and fish dishes.
- Rice Vinegar: The mildest vinegar, it's often used in Asian recipes. It's versatile and adds a gentle acidity and sweet flavor to marinades.
Every kitchen's spice cupboard essentials are a little different. It's important not to overstock herbs and spices because they lose flavor after about six months.
- Pepper: An essential seasoning, black pepper is available ground and as whole peppercorns.
- Salt: Also necessary, consider stocking both table salt and coarse-grained kosher salt for a well-rounded selection.
- Dried Herbs: Basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme will handle most dishes. If you like, add sage, dill, and fennel.
- Spices: The essentials include garlic powder, paprika, and chili powder or cayenne pepper. Red pepper flakes, onion powder, and dried mustard are useful, too. Add bay leaf, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and turmeric when you'll put them to good use.
- All-Purpose Flour: The most versatile type of flour, it's used for baked goods, thickening sauces, and a variety of food applications. Keep flour dry, and it will last for up to nine months.
- Baking Powder: In baked goods that don't use yeast, baking powder causes the rise and adds an airy texture. Only buy what you'll use within six months and mark the date on the container.
- Baking Soda: The household uses of baking soda are numerous, and it never goes bad. Reserve one box just for baking and use others for cleaning and other needs.
- Chocolate: Desserts are easy with a good selection of chocolate. Unsweetened baking chocolate squares, semisweet chocolate chips, and cocoa powder are staples.
- Cornmeal: Deep-fried batters and cornbread are the most common uses for cornmeal. In an airtight container, it will keep for up to a year.
- Cornstarch: Used in baking and to thicken soups and sauces, cornstarch lasts indefinitely as long as it's not exposed to heat and humidity.
- Gelatin: Powdered, unflavored gelatin can last forever, so it's good to have a packet or two around in case a recipe calls for it.
- Sugar: White granulated and brown sugars are the most often used varieties. If you bake, keep confectioners' sugar in stock. Stored in an airtight container, sugar lasts indefinitely.
- Vanilla Extract: The go-to flavoring ingredient for multiple baked goods and desserts, it has an indefinite shelf life.
- Yeast: Having active dry yeast on hand ensures you can bake all sorts of bread items. Once opened, keep it in the refrigerator or freezer and use it within four to six months.
Keeping your pantry stocked with condiments is always a good idea. Not only are they toppings for food, but many can also be used to make specialty condiments, marinades, and sauces when needed.
- Barbecue Sauce: It's convenient to have a bottle available for grilled food. If you run out, making it from scratch is simple.
- Fruit Preserves: From a quick breakfast or snack to sweet sauces, there's always a use for jam, jelly, and other types of fruit preserves.
- Honey: A universal sweetener for food and beverages, honey doesn't go bad.
- Ketchup: Beyond a hot dog and burger topping, ketchup is a key ingredient for things like barbecue and cocktail sauces.
- Maple Syrup: Popularly drizzled over breakfast foods, maple syrup is also used in homemade sauces and has a one-year shelf life.
- Mayonnaise: From a sandwich spread to a versatile ingredient, mayonnaise is an essential condiment and one you can make as well.
- Mustard: Similar to ketchup, mustard is extremely useful in the kitchen.
- Peanut Butter: Sandwiches and baked goods are just two reasons to stock up on peanut butter. Once open, use it within three months.
- Salad Dressing: Choose your favorite dressings and you can top salads or toss it with pasta for a quick meal.
- Salsa: Essential for Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes, salsa is the quickest way to add spice to anything.
- Soy Sauce: Essential for Asian food, a bottle of soy sauce will last for three years.
- Worcestershire Sauce: A universal liquid flavoring ingredient, be sure to check the "best by" date.
A pantry stocked with canned goods offers many meal options. Many are shelf stable for a few years, too.
- Beans: Black beans, red kidney, Great Northern, lima, lentils, and pinto beans are good options. Add them to chili or simply heat beans for a quick side. Dried beans are good, too, as long as you remember to hydrate them overnight.
- Broth or Stock: Whether dried or canned, keep a selection of beef, vegetable, and chicken broth or stock on hand for homemade soups and other dishes.
- Soup: A quick dinner is super easy with a few cans of soup in the pantry, and it keeps well for two to five years.
- Tomatoes: With canned tomatoes, you can create many types of meals. It's good to have a few options, including tomato sauce, paste, and crushed or whole canned tomatoes.
- Tuna: There are many dinner ideas you can pull off quickly with canned tuna in stock.
Pantry staples include a number of dry goods that have numerous uses. The key to storing these is to keep them in a dry place or inside containers that prevent moisture.
- Breadcrumbs: A binder for meatballs and a topping for casseroles, breadcrumbs are always nice to have around. You can also save stale bread and make your own.
- Coffee: Beyond a favorite morning beverage, coffee is an ingredient in many delicious desserts.
- Crackers: As a quick snack, soup additive, or casserole topping, a box of crackers will never go to waste.
- Dried Fruits: Raisins and apricots are two favorites, though many fruits are available in dried form and great as a snack or in desserts.
- Milk: With a box of powdered milk in the pantry, you can often eliminate a run to the store. It's not great to drink, but it's perfect for recipes in a pinch.
- Nuts: If you like to bake, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, and pine nuts are good to have around. They also make healthy snacks.
- Pasta: Staples like spaghetti, linguini, angel hair, fettuccine, penne, and egg noodles can often be interchanged in recipes.
- Rice: While it's used in many recipes, rice also makes an easy side for any meal. It's inexpensive and most varieties last for two years.