An organized and well-stocked pantry is fundamental to an efficient kitchen. Here’s our guide to the essential staples of a complete pantry. Just one trip to the market and you’ll have the makings of a score of healthy meals for weeks. For maximum flavor and freshness, store well and replace often.
Vinegars add acidic balance to foods, especially vinaigrettes and sauces, but can also be used to brighten flavors in soups and to season rice.
- Everyday: Red wine, balsamic, white wine, sherry, apple cider, rice.
- Specialty: White balsamic, fruit-flavored, infused, malt.
- Store: In a dark, cool, dry place. Avoid direct sunlight or heat.
- Replace: Vinegar keeps indefinitely.
The well-stocked pantry contains a variety of oils for different functions. Olive oil is great for sauces, browning and sautéing; grapeseed or corn oil is good for deep frying; canola or vegetable oil is used in baked goods. Use specialty oils like premium extra-virgin and nut oils when you want to taste the flavor of the oil, in a vinaigrette or over vegetables.
- Everyday: Extra-virgin olive oil for salads and a neutral oils for cooking like grapeseed, canola and corn.
- Specialty: Infused oils, sesame oil for Asian dishes, milder olive oil for cooking, nut oils like walnut or hazelnut.
- Store: Store unopened bottles of oil at room temperature in a cool, dark place. Don’t keep your bottles of oil by the stove; heat will turn the flavor rancid.
- Replace: Oils will keep for up to 1 year, but their flavor diminishes over time. Smell or taste oils to make sure they are still good. Store opened bottles for 3 months at room temperature.
With these pantry staples on hand, healthy weeknight dinners (and lunches) like pastas, soups, salads, and stews can be made quickly and easily.
- Everyday: Pasta (strands like spaghetti and smaller shapes like penne), long-grain and short grain white rice, brown rice, dried black beans, dried navy beans, dried lentils, rice noodles, cornmeal, breadcrumbs.
- Specialty: Flavored pastas like spinach, wild rice, sushi rice, dried heirloom beans, split peas, couscous, additional whole grains like quinoa, farro or spelt, dried noodles like soba and lo mein.
- Store: Store dried beans and grains in airtight containers. Once you open packages of pasta or grains, transfer the remainders into airtight containers.
- Replace: Dried beans and grains can be stored for up to 3 months. Beyond that, they will toughen, take longer to cook and lose their flavor. Although the shelf life of most dried pastas is 1 year, they too will lose their flavor after a few months.
With the right ingredients on hand, bread, pizza dough, cookies, muffins, cakes and more can be mixed up easily. Stock your pantry according to how much you bake; if it’s only occasionally, stick to the everyday essentials.
- Everyday: White and whole-wheat flours, white and brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cornmeal, cornstarch, yeast.
- Specialty: Cake flour, bread flour, rye flour, powdered sugar, decorative sugars, shortening, molasses, chocolate chips.
- Store: Store flours and sugars in airtight containers. Baking powder, cornstarch and less-frequently used items can stay in their original packaging.
- Replace: Whole wheat flour has a shorter shelf life than white flour and can go rancid quickly; to extend its shelf life, you can store it in the freezer for up to 6 months. White flours can be stored in the pantry for up to 8 months.
Essential to bringing out the best flavor of food. Make sure to buy in smaller quantities and replace often for maximum freshness.
- Everyday: Kosher salt, black pepper, herbs like basil, dill, tarragon, rosemary, parsley, oregano, thyme, sage and bay leaves, spices like cinnamon, cumin, allspice, paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, curry, vanilla extract, honey, maple syrup.
- Specialty: Smoked paprika, additional salts like sea salt and Maldon salt, whole black peppercorns, dried red peppers, dried chiles, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, cardamom, saffron, whole nutmeg, vanilla beans, almond extract.
- Store: In a cool, dark place in airtight containers. Don’t leave spices near a heat source, it will diminish their flavors.
- Replace: Dried herbs and spices start losing flavor after about 6 months, so buy in small quantities and replace often.
Delicious salsas and sauces help bring add new flavors to meats and vegetables.
- Everyday: Dijon mustard, ketchup, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, soy sauce, mayonnaise, salsa.
- Specialty: Fish sauce, hoisin sauce, varieties of hot sauce like sriracha, black bean sauce, barbecue sauce.
- Store: Unopened in a cool, dark place. Once sauces have been opened, store in the refrigerator.
- Replace: Most condiments last for up to 1 year in the refrigerator.
Pasta sauces, soups, sandwiches and salads can come together in a flash with the right assortment of canned goods. Cured or brined goods like capers and olives are great flavor boosters.
- Everyday: Canned tomatoes, canned beans, canned tuna, canned (or packaged) chicken and vegetable stocks, olives, jams, tomato paste.
- Specialty: Canned chipotles and other chiles, olive paste (tapenade), capers, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes.
- Store: Unopened canned and jarred goods can be kept in a cool, dark place. Once opened, transfer unused foods into airtight containers and store in the refrigerator.
- Replace: Unopened foods canned foods can keep indefinitely in the pantry; throw away any canned good that starts buckling. Use canned or jarred goods within a few days once they have been transferred to the fridge.
Fruits and nuts make excellent snacks and also add texture and flavor to salads, couscous and rice.
- Everyday: Raisins, almonds (whole or slivered), walnuts, peanuts, apricots, pecans.
- Specialty: Currants, pine nuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, dates, cashews, pistachios, cherries.
- Store: Once their packaging is opened, store all fruits, nuts and seeds in airtight containers.
- Replace: Dried fruits and seeds have a long shelf life of up to a year; shelled nuts lose their freshness sooner, so store in the pantry up to 4 months.