Pantry Goals

A 10-Minute Pantry Refresh You Can Tackle Anytime

Gross shelf, begone!

January  6, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

Welcome to Pantry Goals, your destination for all the practical tips and need-to-know tricks to get your space in tip-top shape (and keep it that way).


If I had to choose a VIP in my kitchen I’d have to go with my pantry. Humble and unsung, the pantry has saved me on bare, lonely nights when I have nothing in the fridge but shouldn’t splurge on takeout. It has provided me with countless pasta dishes, slapped-together salads, and slow-cooked, warming bowls of soup.

But it’s also sometimes really gross and annoying. The other day I stood on my tiptoes and blindly tried to grab for the cumin off the top shelf of my pantry where I keep my spices (why???) and ended up sticking my hand smack-dab into an opened container of honeycomb. Very unpleasant.

Thankfully, it’s easy to do a quick pantry revamp without investing a whole day or hiring professionals (yes, professional pantry organizers exist). In fact, you can do a pretty good refresh in just 10 minutes. Or during a few consecutive TV commercial breaks. For real.

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Top Comment:
“When I remodeled my kitchen, I wound up with a blank 6 foot wide x 6 foot tall and a 6 inch deep wall, behind the back door. Too shallow for cabinets, etc. It was even too shallow to put up pegboard for pots and pans. I'm pretty handy, so I built a "VISUAL PANTRY" (yes, myself) with 1" x 4" maple lumber. After much careful diagramming and math, Home Depot cut all the boards precisely to size. I screwed together the outside frame and then added shelves. (Think of a tic-tac-toe board with lots of horizonal lines). One row of bottle height (olive oil, vinegar, salt, etc). Three rows of canned goods height, One row of condiments height, and the remainder whatever you want. Could have had a spice jar row too. I added wire guards so nothing would topple out and a step stool for the top rows of seldom used items and duplicates. Then, with help, I screwed the whole thing to the wall studs. I wound up with an open pantry, ONE CAN DEEP, 6' wide, 6' high, with lots of shelves, that hid behind the open door. I could SEE exactly what I had and what I needed to get at the grocery. And it freed up TONS of cabinet space.”
— Bonnie B.
Comment

Here’s how:

1. Toss out the old & unused

To make room for new shiny condiments/spices (be they gifts or impulse buys), old ones must leave. Sorry, it’s the circle of life. Go Marie Kondo on it and toss things that don’t bring you joy. Or finally wave goodbye to that bottle of vinegar with only the teensiest tiniest drop left (make a vinaigrette right now!).

Go through and check expiration dates of everything, from flour to olive oil to spices. (Yes, all three of those things actually have expiration dates). If it’s super past its prime, plan some cooking projects over the next few weeks to use it up. Maybe chicken paprikash for that that lingering jar of paprika, or a loaf of sturdy Swedish bread to take advantage of that half-bag of rye flour.

2. Combine like with like

Did you find out you accidentally have two bags of half-empty quinoa? And three opened vanilla extracts, since you kept forgetting you actually had some hidden way in the back? Combine ‘em!

3. Give your worst, messiest shelf a refresh

First, take everything out. Yes, everything. Every spice container and cracker sleeve and bag of beans. Every bit or bob you shoved in there because it had no other place to go. Then wipe everything down. This part is gross but can also be very satisfying. Grab a spray bottle of cleaning solution (or make your own!) and a towel and give everything a good wipe down.

Bonus level: Invest in jars & labeling

This is next-level and might put you over the 10-minute mark, but if you really want to feel like a winner, invest in a dozen sealable glass jars from IKEA or Goodwill (or, you know, the Food52 shop), to store your dry goods. They’re perfect for things like flour, rice, beans, and brown sugar. Bonus: Since they look so fancy in the jars, you can store these ingredients outside the pantry on your counter, thus freeing up new pantry space.

Want to really take things to the next level? Label! Because sometimes you might forget which jar is farro and which is barley. You can use a dry-erase marker or grease pencil, but you could also put a label maker to use and be really snazzy.

Give Yourself a pat on the back

You did it! Way to go―I knew you had it in ya. Now move on to your fridge.

How do you tackle a quick pantry cleanup? Let us know below!

This post contains products independently selected by our editors, and Food52 may earn an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Adrienne Boswell
    Adrienne Boswell
  • janet
    janet
  • Bonnie Bateman
    Bonnie Bateman
  • BerryBaby
    BerryBaby
  • orit rosen-yazdi
    orit rosen-yazdi
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A kitchen scientist and dog-lover. Someday I want to have you over for dinner.

8 Comments

Adrienne B. January 17, 2020
For those that store dry goods in Ziploc backs, don't. I was unfortunate enough to get pantry moths from a bag of dry pet food. Pantry moths have no problem getting through Ziploc bags to feast on whatever is inside, and they are very difficult to get rid of.

The only way now that I store things is in a) metal containers, b) glass containers, c) thick plastic containers, d) heat and vacuum-sealed bags. I printed labels for all my storage containers, bulk spice preserve jars, and handmade spice mixes I keep in used pimento and mushroom jars.

Small, empty Amazon boxes also play a part in my pantry to hold boxes of pasta and group some things together. I love having an organized pantry.
 
orit R. January 17, 2020
So true... had them from a rice pack I got at the store. It was terrible!! Found warm walking everywhere 😮that is when I purchased the sealed boxes. Finally got rid of them when renovated the kitchen.... lol
 
janet December 20, 2019
Ziploc bags take up much less space than the glass jars I was using for things like beans and rice. I also use them to corral small envelopes of things like mixes, both premade and homemade. I line these bags up in plastic organizers so I can pull the whole tray out at once. I use a similar tray/organizer type of system in my refrigerator
 
Bonnie B. February 3, 2019
When I remodeled my kitchen, I wound up with a blank 6 foot wide x 6 foot tall and a 6 inch deep wall, behind the back door. Too shallow for cabinets, etc. It was even too shallow to put up pegboard for pots and pans. I'm pretty handy, so I built a "VISUAL PANTRY" (yes, myself) with 1" x 4" maple lumber. After much careful diagramming and math, Home Depot cut all the boards precisely to size. I screwed together the outside frame and then added shelves. (Think of a tic-tac-toe board with lots of horizonal lines). One row of bottle height (olive oil, vinegar, salt, etc). Three rows of canned goods height, One row of condiments height, and the remainder whatever you want. Could have had a spice jar row too. I added wire guards so nothing would topple out and a step stool for the top rows of seldom used items and duplicates. Then, with help, I screwed the whole thing to the wall studs. I wound up with an open pantry, ONE CAN DEEP, 6' wide, 6' high, with lots of shelves, that hid behind the open door. I could SEE exactly what I had and what I needed to get at the grocery. And it freed up TONS of cabinet space.
 
Katekooks January 17, 2020
I'm having trouble visualizing it, but it sounds genius. I am about to redo my kitchen. Wish I had a picture! I have an overflowing pantry and a separate cupboard, three shelves for spices. I've been throwing things out, but I still have too much!
 
janet January 18, 2020
I like pictures, too, but as a reply, I keep my spices (usually alphabetically..) in a see through plastic container, the size of a sweater box, in my refrigerator. I pull the whole thing out when I'm cooking/baking and it's handy for me. I also make some spices which I put in the small plastic containers (Rubbermaid? Tupperware?) also in the aforementioned box in the fridge.
 
BerryBaby January 6, 2019
Great advice! I keep mine kitchen up-to-date and weekly cleanout the refrigerator on Sunday (Monday is trash day). One tip that I do is write the date I opened the oil bottles right on the label with a black marking pen. It may have an expiration date, but once opened the clock starts ticking on being not so fresh. BB💐
 
janet January 18, 2020
great idea. I will use it. Also, I buy smaller bottles than I used to - before I knew oil goes rancid.