Pantry Goals

Why Haven't We Been Storing Canned Food Like This All Along?

12 ingenious ways for organizing your cans—so you can actually see them.

June  9, 2022
Photo by Getty Images

There are a few types of canned goods I always keep stocked in my pantry—I like to have a few jars of black beans and kidney beans (for chili, of course), as well as crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and chicken broth, just to name a few. However, to this day, I still haven’t figured out a great way to store canned food. Stacking in the cupboard is just asking for disaster, and the can dispenser I recently bought takes up a whole lot of space and doesn’t fit cans of different sizes. It left me thinking: There has to be a better way to store canned goods, right?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pinterest had plenty of ideas for me, each more ingenious than the last. There are options that accommodate just a few cans, as well as DIY projects that can hold hundreds of canned goods—after all, they last for ages, so why not stock up? No matter the size, shape, and number of your cans, there’s sure to be a storage solution here that will work perfectly for you. Now why didn’t I discover these sooner?

1. DIY Can Dispenser

How smart is this? We’re absolutely obsessed with this DIY can dispenser—it’s the perfect solution to mount in your pantry or garage. It’s fairly easy and affordable to make, thanks to the instructions provided by Ana White, and we love that the clear glass front lets you see exactly what’s inside.

2. Reversed Wire Shelves

If you have adjustable wire shelves in your pantry, you’ve got to try this cool hack. All you do is flip the shelves over so the little lip is facing up, then adjust the brackets or pegs so each shelf slants downward. BAM! A super simple can dispenser.

3. Wire Baskets

Not big on DIY? No worries. There are plenty of ways you can store cans without breaking out the toolkit. For instance, check out these neat stackable wire baskets—they’re the perfect size to store cans, and they slip right into your existing cupboards or pantry. There are also super-affordable can racks that you can buy.

4. Behind-the-Door Organizer

I’ve written before that the back of doors is prime storage space that many of us are wasting, and if you have a closet or pantry door in your kitchen, you can turn it into a designated space for canned foods. With an over-the-door storage rack, you’ll be able to keep all your cans neatly organized, easily visible, and within reach. Just be sure that whatever rack you choose is sturdy enough to support the cans—they can be quite heavy!

5. Custom Cabinet Built-In

If you like to stock up on canned goods, this solution is the one for you. The built-in organizer is designed to fit perfectly within a kitchen cabinet, and you could easily customize the size or shape to suit your needs. Plus, the self-feeding system ensures that you’re using the oldest cans first and that nothing ever gets stuck in the back where you can’t reach. So smart!

6. Skinny Shelves

Most canned goods are only a few inches wide, so in theory, you only need a few inches of free space to store them. This person installed several skinny shelves along the pantry wall, creating the perfect space to line up canned foods. All the items are easily visible, and there’s a little lip on the shelves to keep everything securely in place.

7. Gutter Storage System

This solution takes the cake in terms of creativity! This person mounted inexpensive vinyl gutters to the wall of the closet under their staircase, and they’re the perfect size to hold small- to medium-size cans. Plus, a 10-foot section of these gutters only costs around $5, so this is a great budget-friendly project.

8. Upcycled Soda Boxes

Wait, don’t recycle those soda boxes just yet! These long, skinny boxes are the perfect size to store soup and canned vegetables. All you have to do is cover soda boxes in pretty paper, and voila—they become lovely upcycled can dispensers. Extra points if you add cute labels to each box to keep things organized.

9. Slide-Out Pantry

It’s no secret that we love a good sneaky sliding pantry, and these skinny storage solutions are the perfect place to store your cans. The slim shelves are an ideal width for canned goods, and they’ll let you see everything with one glance. You can purchase a pre-made pull-out pantry to slide into the gap beside your fridge, or if you’re handy, it could be a fun DIY project—check out this tutorial from Classy Clutter for guidance.

10. Good Ol’ Pantry Steps

Sometimes you just have to keep things simple, and there’s no easier way to organize your canned goods than with a classic tiered-shelf organizer. These inexpensive products look like a set of stairs, and they allow you to stagger cans so you can see what’s going on in the back. Just make sure to get one that’s wide enough for bigger cans—certain organizers are designed for spices, and their steps might be too skinny.

11. Old Magazine Holders

Cleaning out your office? Hold onto those old magazine holders—they’re the Holy Grail of pantry organization! (If you don’t have any, keep an eye out at the Dollar Store—you can usually score them for cheap.) Ones that are wide enough can be used to store canned goods, but we’ve also seen them used to hold produce like onions and potatoes, paper goods like napkins, or reusable water bottles.

12. Corner Lazy Susans

The far corners of pantries or kitchen cabinets often become no-man’s-land, filling up with forgotten ingredients. You can make use of this underappreciated space with oversized lazy susans, which you can load up with all you must-have canned goods. You can get 18-inch lazy susans from the store, but if you need something bigger, you can easily make your own—all you really need is a set of lazy susan bearings.

Which clever storage idea is your favorite? Let us know below!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate and Skimlinks affiliate, Food52 earns a commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

This article originally appeared in January 2019. We’re re-running it because we are always looking for clever ways to store our canned goods.
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Debsd November 11, 2023
The Slide out pantry! Genius! Followed by the corner lazy Susan and then the soda can boxes! I would have never thought of that !Thanks!
DMStenlake April 9, 2023
I don’t have a pantry and th kitchen is very small. We have a beautiful server built from repurposed wood from an old house tear down. It’s deep and to get on my hands and knees to find whatever. I’ve been coveting pantries but we have no space for one. So I thought hard on rearranging. My husband installed beautiful wood pullouts. THE best ! Also, I store canned goods face up in one small cabinet and I use a lazy Susan in my fridge for dressings etc and one of the drawers we use for pickles, condiments etc. we shop almost daily for fresh. We’re lucky as we are able to walk to the market. Save the earth, exercise and fresh goods too! ; )
Duskmirror March 25, 2023
I bough a package of 3 inch hardwood flooring 33 square feet, almost 90 linear feet of bords, it was discontinued and on sale for $40 at the hardware store, i built shelfs in my pantry with it. It covered a full wall that i couldn’t use, it can hold about 100 cans and takes no room because it’s only 3 inch deep. All my cans, spice, cereal box, pasta box etc. are on these shelves.
Tara K. April 9, 2023
Would love to see a picture!
judy February 1, 2023
We had very little kitchen space in the home my folks bought when were were young. My dad was very ahoy with wood and nails and glue. And my Mom was great cat painting. he built a can cupboard that was floor to ceiling and as wide as the counter. It was too cereal boxes deep (his shredded wheat size boxes. That was because he ate 1 1/2 boxes a week and needed room for two boxes at a time. We could see verything in tue cupboard, and was easy to rotate. Mom seat a rule that one putting cans away, you put the new ones in front of the old ones. It was also very easy to see shat needed to e replaced. Never saw one as efficient since. This was in th 1960's....
johnnie0212 June 13, 2022
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johnnie0212 June 12, 2022
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Jan June 10, 2022
What are others doing? I'm going to re-organize (!) my array of stuff and was considering storing them by date of expiry to avoid having to keep shifting things around. Eg. one shelf 2023, 2024, etc.
What do you think? Any ideas from others on how they organize their cans and items?
Donna January 19, 2024
Hi Jan, I put my newest canned items in the back of what I already have that way the oldest items are used up first and easy to see what you need to repurchase.
Leila June 10, 2022
Where do people live where their pantries are this big to have all this extra space? I've moved and moved and moved and this is my first place with a sizeable pantry.. yet none of these solutions would work for us. Do you live in a mansion? Outside the city on a nice farm?
[email protected] June 10, 2022
I get it. My apartment pantry is 15” wide. Installed pull out shelves, which makes things accessible, but had to convert a hall closet to a storage pantry for the overflow.
bluegoose53 June 9, 2022
Magazine holder - but I label the cans on each end with content (BB for black beans, for example). Sharpie works fine.
Gina U. June 9, 2022
My favorite storage helper is the Rubbermaid snack size containers. They come in a 6 pack. I use them for my herbs and spices. Each container holds 1/2 cup so it is the perfect size for buying specialty spices in bulk and saving money. I also love that in most cubords you can stack them 3 high. I generally use m ptouch and label the outside of the container and then I snap them into one another by category so that depending on what I am making it is easy to find what I need. I live in a small 2 bedroom apt and love to cook so it is imperative to be organized if I want everything wonderful in limited space. Give it a try.
Cracker June 9, 2022
In the first days of pandemic lockdown I built new shelving in my pantry. It took me a few weeks because I did it alone & was channeling my woodworker husband (I’m a widow). I used mostly 8” shelves & put more shelving down low than up higher. Now this 5’ 2” old lady can see everything easily … no hidden cans or boxes & my kitchen appliances are easy to reach & store. Best part of my kitchen …😆
Janis O. February 13, 2021
Pre-pandemic comments from folks questioning why anyone would stock so much in their pantry seem almost quaint now. Those tiers look great and the visibility they provide may almost make it worthwhile not being able to stack cans (if you have enough space).
russeaime June 17, 2022
Post-pandemic and in a small apartment these still look like shelves for someone who needs to feed a lot of people or regularly shops at Costco, not those of us in small apartments.
Lynn H. May 26, 2020
If you use something like the magazine holders or soda can boxes, you need to make sure to rotate your cans each time you make a purchase so that newer ones are at the bottom/back and older cans are on top/front where they can be used first.
Lynne April 12, 2020
For me, this system doesn't work. This individual has sacrificed valuable storage space by using risers. I stack cans on top of the other to maintain adequate supplies. A pantry design depends on how much space you have. I have a dedicated pantry that I converted from a water tank closet. Albeit smaller than this pantry, it does a great job. We use the entire backside of the door for spices. I can appreciate how pretty this pantry is, love the image.
Diane V. February 13, 2019
The most versatile is the pull-out storage next to the fridge I think.
I also like the upside down wire shelving idea, if you have a space that accommodates that idea (with the a wall at each end), assuming you have a storage closet available to begin with. Great for like a coat closet!
Steven W. February 10, 2019
I don't have that many canned products! Not a problem!
Matt February 10, 2019
Food52's top 10 must haves if you're the cook for a doomsday cult.
Gina U. June 9, 2022
Deanna June 10, 2022
This comment didn’t age well.
russeaime June 17, 2022
Or are my Italian grandmother. She just stacked flats of canned goods in her garage
Dani February 6, 2019
This is going to transform my pantry, and my mom's pantry, and my neighbor's pantry, and my best friend's pantry, etc. We all take advantage of case lot sales whenever possible. We end up with 6-months-worth of black beans, tomato sauce, and cream of chicken soup at a time. And we get bulk canned goods through our church, so we have several #10 cans full of dehydrated fruit, rice, pasta, flour, and sugar. #10 cans take up a lot of space, and these solutions will help maximize what's left! To those being judgmental about "processed" food and canned goods: may we all, one day, have the time, energy, money, and access to fresh, locally grown and raised food stuffs that you do. May you never know the limits of feeding yourself or your family on a fixed income, or with a disability that makes it near-impossible to replenish your energy levels, or while living in the middle of a food desert, or in a constant state of food insecurity, or while working multiple jobs to put food on the table that you aren't home to cook. Your lifestyle is the exception in this world, not the rule. Have some compassion.
Athena P. February 13, 2019
Very well put, thank you so much. Those who judge others by the foods they eat are every bit as bigoted as those who judge others by their clothing, or their religion, or by whom they love.
Gina U. June 9, 2022
Not sure why a person would not understand having canned goods. I for one am very fortunate to be able to use fresh goods but I still need canned goods. How do I make pasta sauce without canned tomato products. How do I make hummus without garbanzo beans-canned. How do I make a quick canelinni bean salad without, yes, canned beans. I also cared for my late husband while he was going through als. Without the ability to make quick food that was also fresh, and without preservatives, I would have been out of luck.
Claudia T. February 5, 2019
Nowadays I really don't keep a lot of canned goods around but I do keep coconut milk (that's not really a thing I can buy fresh) and a few things. I think I ate a lot more canned goods as a kid because my mom worked two jobs and while she made us dinner from scratch almost every night, my brother and I were just really into canned clam chowder I guess. I had it again as an adult and didn't understand my fascination 😂 I never understood needing this much canned food storage until I moved to Montana- I lived in a medium sized town with a 24-hr supermarket, but plenty of people I knew lived out on farms or more rural towns and they make like one grocery store run a month, stocking up so they can save on gas (especially in the winter, when you want to avoid getting on the roads if you can). I don't know why there are such judgemental comments on this post. If you don't need the tips here, great for you, close the tab and move on to another article.
Dani February 6, 2019
I know you can't see me, but I'm giving you a standing ovation right now. A lot of folks don't have access to fresh food, or the time or ability to prepare and use it. People deserve to eat. Canned goods literally save lives.
Beehive A. February 3, 2019
For me, the biggest game-changer was companies starting to redesign cans so that the bottoms are molded to fit nicely into the top of the can below it, making stacking really safe and convenient. Like others have mentioned, although I have quite a few cans, I don't stock more than one or two of any particular item.
Dani February 6, 2019
I had a friend who did baskets by general theme, or by meal-component. So, cans of things that would be sides went in one basket. Cans of things that were part of a sauce or the main dish went in another. Another friend did a roll-out pantry where she kept not just canned goods (she doesn't have many) but boxes of pasta and rice, unopened sauces/jams, and jars from her home canning as well. So many ways to expand these beyond just having 10 cans of the same item!
bellw67 February 25, 2019
Yes about the can stacking. The worst cans to try and stack are tomato paste. And I have dodged runaway cans trying to mangle my toes more than once.
mdelgatty April 28, 2020
The only drawback to the nesting cans is that they're harder to flatten for recycling. The regular ones I remove both ends...