Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, we're sharing our tips for keeping an organized pantry.

Pantry

Amanda's pantry didn't always look like this. After years of recipe testing, ingredients piled up. Every time we removed an item, someone had to play a real-life game of Tetris to put it back so the cabinets would close properly. Obviously, this wasn't the most efficient way to keep a test kitchen pantry. At some point Amanda asked if anyone could organize our chaos and create a system for maintaining it. I volunteered, which was surprising to no one, because I love organizing and putting things in places. After a messy day, and many heavy trash bags full of things past their prime, FOOD52 achieved pantry zen. 

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Want your kitchen to resemble ours? It's easier than you think. I know we don't all have spaces like this (my own kitchen is severely lacking in cabinet and drawer space), but there are basic tips that apply to all kitchens, and that's what I'm sharing here. 

Pantry - Neat

Keep like with like.

Before the big cleanup, sugars, salts, flours and other sweeteners were all mixed up. (The horror!) I dedicated one shelf to flours, one to sugars and chocolates, and the other to salts and sweeteners. Now everyone knows exactly where to look for the chickpea flour, maple sugar or agave nectar.  

Consider  what you use, and how often you use it.

The items on the eye-level shelves are things we use most frequently. This makes gathering ingredients convenient, so think about what you use and place it accordingly. I have a space up at the top for refills (like the extra boxes of brown sugar) and things we just don't use very often (like applewood chips).  

Pantry - Grains and Beans
Pasta, grains, and legumes organized neatly.

Use food-grade airtight containers.

Airtight containers are best for storing dry ingredients. Since nothing can spill out from them, they keep your shelves free of stray grains or dustings of flour. The added bonus is that you can choose different sizes for different ingredients. And doesn't a pantry full of uniform containers look better than one with half-empy bags and boxes? 

Label (and date) things.

We can't tell the difference between AP flour and pastry flour without a label. And I certainly couldn't identify every type of rice we have. Amanda keeps a wet-erase marker on hand for easy labelmaking -- when the black barley is gone, the name on the container will just wash away. You don't have to label every single ingredient in your pantry if you don't want to. I am encouraging you to date things, though. Knowing how fresh your pantry items are is always a good thing. 

Pantry - Oils and Vinegars
Oils and vinegars stay on their sides of the shelf. 

Keep track. 

This one's easy: stay familiar with what you have on your shelves to avoid bringing home any duplicates. When you run out of an essential, add it to your weekly grocery list.

What are your pantry organization tips?

Fridge Before Fridge After
This is the only before and after shot I have -- look at how far we've come! 

Photos by James Ransom

83 Comments

Tammy S. September 6, 2015
My pantry is very organized. Like is stored with like. The very bottom, far back, holds all the back ups for the things in the other shelves. This keeps me from taking up space on one shelf with, for instance, 3 jars of peanut butter. The kids will invariably open up an unfinished jar or never throw away a finished jar. Having this "secret" pantry stash helps keep my daily use stuff more organized. I also have a wide, deep shelved pantry, but a narrow door to it. I use riser shelves for the canned items and a small wire extra shelf on the side hard to reach corners, to increase visibility and useful space. I also use the under cabinet wire basket for paper plates and odd items, like packaged salad dressing mixes and seasoning
 
Rose M. April 18, 2015
I+recently+organized+my+sister's+pantry+(gave+me+something+to+do+when+I+wasn't+performing+caregiver+duties+as+she+recuperated+from+surgery).++I'm+proud+of+myself+that+I+did+the+job+IAW+Amanda's+suggestions.++In+an+effort+to+help+her+with+her+weight+loss+journey,+I+put+all+the+packaged+and+convenience-type+foods+on+a+lower+shelf+(somewhat+'out+of+sight')+and+I+BOLDLY+labeled+boxes,+cans,+and+packaging+with+serving+size+and+points+values.++There+is+even+a+box+(at+eye+level)+of+preferred+snacks+with+PPV+annotated!
 
Soccermom April 6, 2014
Yes, spices do pile up. I organize mine alphabetically or by flavor. For example, the bottom left side has all of the sweet spices, the left door has all the Indian spices, the right door has other ethnic spices and dry rubs, and the general spices are all in alphabetical order. There's a few of us who like to cook in the kitchen, so it's important that we put things back in the same place every time. That way, when the next person goes to grab the smoked paprika, they know exactly where it is. <br />
 
Ken O. March 29, 2014
Square containers are designed for dry storage and round for cold, as I was lead to believe. Square can be stacked more tightly for an economical use of space, as dry storage does not require air flow around the containers. Round containers give more adequate movement of cool/freezing air around and through the containers.
 
Amanda H. March 29, 2014
I've never heard this before -- thanks so much for contributing this info.
 
jo February 23, 2014
im planning a kitchen remodel, and was on the line re: an idea I have to repurpose my 'hall' closet- creating a door into it from the kitchen, closing off the hall door, and making a sort of 'butlers pantry'. This has put me over to the yes column. Great idea. jm
 
Amanda H. February 23, 2014
Glad you've made this decision -- I don't know of anyone who says they have too much pantry space!
 
Adam H. February 22, 2014
My mother taught be to organise tinned goods alphabetically...<br />so tinned garbanzo beans are never near tomatoes
 
hl July 21, 2013
Wide mouthed canning jars make wonderful containers, without exposing yourselves to plastics,with uniform lids, clear for easy visibility, and relatively inexpensive. And though it's not as pretty as labels, use inexpensive masking tape for marking contents and dates.
 
Barbara L. April 23, 2013
a drop of eucalyptus oil will dissolve the sticky residue from labels
 
Amanda H. February 23, 2014
Good tip -- thank you. Do you get this at health food stores, or elsewhere?
 
Barbara L. April 23, 2013
a bit of eucalyptus oil will dissolve the sticky residue from labels
 
ssalamander January 1, 2013
Thank you for this inspirational post. I am wondering what is your source for the plastic jars with white screw tops? It looks like there are 3-4 sizes used. There are a lot of them on the bean & grain shelves. I looked on the Cambro website for them, but only found the round storage containers w/ measurements w/ the snap on covers. Thanks for your help!
 
Amanda H. January 1, 2013
The ones with the white tops come from Consolidated Plastics: http://www.consolidatedplastics.com/
 
meet Y. August 4, 2017
Anyone know of a place that sells these in slightly smaller quantities?? 140 jars of one size is a little overkill for a home cook!
 
jlm October 14, 2012
As much as I would love to have a great matchy set of containers, they're expensive, and there are so many things that can re-used. But I always keep a supply of peel and stick address lables; they are just the right size for the info you need. And if you are concened that your recycled containers aren't airtight, a layer or saran or other wrap between the contents and the lid will make them so. Re-use, re-purpose, re-cycle. Also, turntables are an excellent way to store small jars and cans in those deep corners or high shelves.
 
babs October 10, 2012
Do you make house calls?
 
Author Comment
Kristy M. October 10, 2012
Ha!
 
babs October 10, 2012
Do you make house calls?
 
lorigoldsby April 20, 2012
This inspired me to go and clean out my pantry...it started out organized and had accumulated so much junk i was just throwing stuff in and closing the doors! I found 9 cans of black beans and 7 cans of northern beans! I will share the doubles (triples, quadruples!) and extras with the local food pantry. Last year Jenny's in the Kitchen inspired me with her column about a "baking closet" (truely life changing to have 3 shelves in the laundry room!) and now this...keep up the good work, but keep it to once a year--I'm exhausted!
 
Katie S. April 19, 2012
Inspiring and doable. I've got some work to do...but did enlist my 7 year old to help me organize snacks. Her spelling could use a little work but her organization is right on: <br /> <br />http://www.momskitchenhandbook.com/eating-on-the-run/between-meal-burnout/
 
Author Comment
Kristy M. April 23, 2012
How great!
 
Alessandra Z. April 19, 2012
My pantry is pretty well organized, the problem is that I use a lot of recycled tins and containers that are not see-through and I never remember what I put inside what and spend lot of time opening the wrong containers! Lol!! Maybe I should label them....
 
Author Comment
Kristy M. April 19, 2012
Labels are a game-changer!
 
swanderl April 18, 2012
I often cut out instructions for cooking an item from the cardboard box that it came in. I use clear packing tape to cover it, leaving a little bit of extra tape around all of the edges of the cardboad to help it stick well, fold over a tab on one edge of the tape, and then stick in on a clear plastic or glass storage container that I have transferred my ingredients to. The tab makes it very easy to remove and keeps it fairly waterproof (although I imagine that it would come off in the dishwasher). The packing tape isn't as gummy as many other tapes and removes cleanly from many surfaces.
 
AntoniaJames April 19, 2012
I like this idea. I just use a piece of tape on the bottom of the storage container with a ratio and time, as that seems to be the primary critical data.I'm thinking though that this is the kind of info that I could easily put into an address book incorporating one of the earlier organization post tips. When I find a recipe on a bag or box that looks promising, I scan it and it goes into my digital file. Such recipes are typically very reliable, because they've been thoroughly tested, given the huge impact on the manufacturer's "brand" if the recipe doesn't work. Some have been there for years, too. ;o)
 
swanderl April 18, 2012
I often cut out instructions for cooking an item from the cardboard box that it came in. I use clear packing tape to cover it, leaving a little bit of extra tape around all of the edges of the cardboad to help it stick well, fold over a tab on one edge of the tape, and then stick in on a clear plastic or glass storage container that I have transferred my ingredients to. The tab makes it very easy to remove and keeps it fairly waterproof (although I imagine that it would come off in the dishwasher). The packing tape isn't as gummy as many other tapes and removes cleanly from many surfaces.
 
jeanmarieok April 22, 2012
I do this,too. Works really well.
 
jeanmarieok April 22, 2012
I do this,too. Works really well.
 
jeanmarieok April 22, 2012
I do this,too. Works really well.
 
Dconstantinople April 18, 2012
where did you get the airtight containers - including the ones with the measurements in red?
 
Author Comment
Kristy M. April 19, 2012
They're all from Cambro, like I mentioned in another comment. Here's the link: http://cool.cambro.com/Storage.ashx
 
Mrs W. April 18, 2012
I want a ladder in my kitchen! I literally have to use tongs to reach things on the top shelf. Or ask my husband who is exactly a foot taller than I am. <br />Love the containers too. <br />Nice!