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The Best Way to Organize Massive Holiday Grocery Lists

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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: Doing the big holiday shop the Type A way.

The holidays are here, and you've got a lot of cooking to do. With all the roasts and sides and sweets you've got in the pipeline, you don't just need a game plan. Your grocery list needs a game plan.

Jotting down on post-its is fine for your weekly grocery list, but faced with a taller-than-normal stack of recipes, it's easy to miscount, underestimate, or plain forget. We should know -- we shop for the equivalent of a Thanksgiving feast every week for our photo shoots at Food52. So we rely on a simple system to save us from last minute dashes to the store.

Below is the super satisfying -- and effective -- grocery list method I learned when I interned in the Saveur Magazine test kitchen, and brought with me to Food52. All you need is your favorite word-processing program (Word, TextEdit, or even a blank email).

Your lists will be cleaner and shorter, and you'll always buy as much as you need (and not more). For the Type As among us, it makes everything make sense.

grocery list

1. Categorize. Start listing off sections of the grocery store you know you'll have to hit: Produce, Dairy, Spices, Booze, and so on. (Bonus points: List them in the order you'll see them in the market.) List any specialty stores separately: Butcher, Cheesemonger, Greenmarket.

2. Gather. Paste in the ingredient lists of all your recipes. (If the formatting gets crazy, try the command "Paste & Match Style" -- you'll love it!) Type in any ingredients from cookbooks or hand-written recipe cards.

3. Re-group. Start cutting and pasting! Herd all the ingredients into their appropriate sections. Creme fraiche, butter, milk -- head on over to the dairy section.

4. Combine like ingredients. A little culinary math helps, but when in doubt (or in a hurry), round up. 5 sticks of butter + 6 tablespoons of butter + 1 1/2 cups of butter becomes 3 pounds of butter.

5. Check your stash. Now that you know you need 11 cups of flour for all your holiday baking, you can more easily check against what you already have on hand. 5-pound bag of flour lurking in the pantry? Now you can decide if you really need to buy another.


Now you're well-armed to hit the grocery store with confidence and conviction. You can print your list and bring a pen for the soothing cross-off experience (and the ease of tearing the list in half, if you're bringing a buddy). Or go paperless -- email yourself your list or use a handy app.

While other shoppers are staring at the spice aisle, blank-faced, you'll be skating around them -- that much closer to home, your couch, and a nice hot toddy.

Grocery store photo by Sarah Shatz. All other photos by James Ransom.

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Tags: Holiday, Tips & Techniques, Burnt Toast Dinner Brigade, DIY Food, Holiday Entertaining, How-To & Diy, Kitchen Confidence