If you have been spending more time than usual at home lately, chances are much of it has been spent in the kitchen. The fresh surfeit of cooking time has likely brought to your attention one or two key tools or pantry ingredients that seem to have escaped their usual parking place. Now, there is organizing and then there is kitchen organizing. And, while the two equally involve thoughtful planning and strategy, the difference with kitchen organization is that it needs not only be practical, functional, aesthetically pleasing, but also make you an even better cook.
Belle English, our Test Kitchen Cook, believes that key kitchen organization should be tackled in the five following areas in your kitchen: Pantry, refrigerator and freezer, countertop; tools drawer; spice drawer (or rack). In addition to using a label maker to mark things or just old-fashioned masking tape and a Sharpie, here are some tips so you too can have the most organized kitchen ever.
Your Tools Drawer
A drawer organizer isn’t just for your utensils: Tools, which include work-horse items like wood spoons, spatulas, graters, peelers, and more, should be organized into slots by category. Think spats in one place, spoons in another, and peelers in yet another. This keeps them not only visually appealing when you open the drawer, but also makes things easy to put away and find them when you need them.
Belle’s favorite tools are rubbers spats of all sizes, and a fish spat, which can be used for so many things (not just fish!), a microplane for ginger and hot peppers; and a citrus squeezer.
Your Spice Drawer (Or Rack)
You may keep your spices in a traditional spice rack, which is totally fine. At the Test Kitchen, however, Belle prefers to store spices in a drawer. And while she’s not dogmatic about alphabetizing everything, when it comes to spices it’s a huge help. Another key tip? Plastic deli containers.
“They hold more and they’re flat so they stack easily. Plus, you can add a lot more spices than you can to a traditional spice jar,” she says.
What are the essential spices to stock in your newly organized spice drawer? In addition to cinnamon, Belle swears by cumin, fennel seed, smoked paprika, chipotle powder, and Chinese 5 spice.
With dozens of recipes being tested every week, clean countertops are key in the Williams Sonoma Test Kitchen to maximize prep and cooking. For this reason, Belle suggests only keeping out what you need. She keeps squeeze bottles for oils, salt and chili flakes in glass dishes for easy access, and flour and sugar in clear glass jars.
“Don’t keep electrics, like blenders or Instant Pots, on your countertops. Just bring them out when you need them,” she says.
The key here is to make sure nothing in your pantry is too far out of reach (that’s an easy way to let it sit there until it expires) and, for the extra-calming look, be sure all labels face forward. To organize shelves, keep what you use the most front and center at eye level. For Belle, this includes oils, stocks, salts and peppers, and honey. Canned foods, which are generally heavy, are organized at the bottom, along with flours and sugars.
And while you don’t need to stock up on everything, Belle recommends stocking up on the items you use the most. Things like olive oil, salt, sugar, butter, and eggs.
Your Refrigerator and Freezer
The refrigerator can sometimes be the most challenging area to keep organized, simply because it’s a constantly changing environment. Embrace the change here and keep things simple. Keep eggs on the same shelf (or tray), and always utilize the drawers. Cheeses in one drawer and meat in the meat drawer and separate from everything else to avoid contamination. Greens and other vegetables of course go in the crisper drawer, but if you run out of space a produce saver bin can come in handy.
When it comes to condiments that are constantly getting cluttered, Belle says, “It is what it is. Just accept that it’s going to get a little messy.” Coralling all your condiments into one refrigerator storage bin is an easy way to calm the chaos. Her favorite go-to condiments are dijon mustard, fish sauce, and squeezable tomato sauce.
Same approach goes for your freezer, but here it’s good to label meals and expiration dates. And one tip that Belle swears by is keeping all your nuts in deli containers to prevent them from going rancid.