If you’re trying to cook at home as often as possible, it’s time to stock up on the essentials. We’ll walk you through a complete list of everything that needs to be in every at-home chef’s pantry. We’ll cover everything from the basics like condiments and spices to some items that might not have crossed your mind.
What’s in Your Freezer?
There’s nothing wrong with cookies with frozen meat, poultry, fruit, or vegetables. In fact, using frozen ingredients can often save you money – and you can still get your meals to taste great with them! Let’s take a look at the most important staples to keep in your freezer at all times.
A Simple Dessert
It’s always a good idea to have a treat handy for when you need it. We recommend keeping a quart of chocolate or vanilla ice cream in the freezer for any time you have guests over. A few scoops of a timeless treat, paired with coffee or tea, is the perfect end to a dinner party!
You can easily make several of our favorite recipes with frozen veggies instead of fresh ones. Our pan-fried cod with mashed peas, for example, is made with frozen peas, which are a fiber-packed, inexpensive veggie that definitely needs to be in your freezer!
We also recommend stocking up on frozen corn and carrots, which can be added to dishes like fried rice or curry.
Sliced bread has a reasonable shelf life, but it’ll last much longer if you keep it in the freezer. If your bread tends to get stale – or even moldy – before you can finish it, make sure to start freezing your loaves instead of leaving them in the cupboard or putting them in the fridge.
Dough for Desserts and Pizza
Store-bought frozen dough can save you loads of time when you’re cooking and baking, and we highly recommend keeping some in your freezer. If you cook and bake frequently, aim to keep pie crust and pizza dough handy at all times.
Freezing poultry, beef, seafood, and other meats can increase shelf life by a wide margin, leaving you with more time to use your food in recipes. If you’re vegetarian, you can stock your freezer with meat alternatives, like the chick’n used in our veggie wok recipe.
The Spice Cabinet
Spices are your best friends. They add character, life, and complexity to your dishes, and many of them can be stored dry for several months. These are our picks for the spices to keep in the pantry year-round.
Made from a blend of garlic powder, crushed red pepper, thyme, oregano, black pepper, paprika, and a few other spices, cajun seasoning can take your potatoes, chicken, and more to the next level. It’s one of our favorite spice blends ever, and we love to sprinkle some into dishes that need an extra kick.
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
These spicy little bits are made from dried, crushed chile peppers, and they add the perfect amount of heat to any dish. Crushed red pepper flakes are an ideal topping for homemade pizza, and they’re also an excellent addition to chili, curry, and other sauce-based meals.
You can also keep cayenne pepper on hand if you like an extra kick of spice.
This spice is a staple in Italian cooking, and it’s known for its bold, earthy taste. You should always have some on hand for pasta sauce!
This is another spice that pairs perfectly with Italian cuisine. Chefs typically recommend cooking with fresh basil instead of dried, crushed leaves, and we wholeheartedly agree.
You’ll be amazed by all of the times you need a sprinkle of cinnamon while cooking or baking. This flavorful spice can bring both sweet and savory dishes to life, and you can use it in its whole form or buy it ground.
Cumin is often used in Indian cuisine, and it’s one of the most important ingredients for curry. If you love cooking Indian food frequently, make sure to stock up on curry powder as well!
This herb pairs with roasted vegetables incredibly well, and it also tastes fantastic with roasted chicken. We love it sprinkled on this homemade goat cheese and honey pizza!
Thyme is another herb you’ll want in the cabinet for roasting vegetables, meats, and other foods.
This warm, wintery spice is perfect for baking or sprinkling on oatmeal.
Garlic is one spice that is best used fresh rather than dried in most cases. You can buy garlic cloves for cheap from the grocery store or pick up minced garlic in a jar instead.
Meat and Fish for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
If you eat meat, keeping a few different types in your fridge or freezer is always a good move. Start with these:
- Beef or steak
- Ham or pork
The Most Important Condiments
Condiments, both sweet and savory, are essential for a well-stocked pantry! Let’s cover the most important ones to keep handy at all times.
- Soy sauce: Salty and savory, this sauce pairs perfectly with Asian cuisine. You’ll definitely want to have some in your fridge next time you make fried rice or pho.
- Pickles: Sliced pickles are an excellent topper for a sandwich, and they’re cheap as can be. You can find plenty of pickle varieties at your local grocery store, and they’ll stay fresh for months.
- Sriracha: This quintessential hot sauce is one of the most versatile condiments out there. It’s perfect for dipping, adding to sandwiches, or stirring into your next batch of chili.
- Ketchup: Everyone needs a bottle of ketchup!
- Mustard: There are plenty of mustard varieties, and each of the different versions of this condiment will get you a unique flavor profile. We recommend sticking with dijon or classic yellow mustard to start.
- Mayo: Mayonnaise is an excellent sandwich ingredient, and it’s also more useful for cooking than you might think.
- Jelly: Peanut butter and jelly is the ultimate quick lunch, and it’s ideal for busy days when you don’t have time to cook. Keep your favorite type of jelly, jam, or preserves in the fridge for the next time you need a speedy sandwich.
Make Sure You’re Ready to Bake
Whenever you’re thinking of baking, make sure you have all of the following ingredients ready in your pantry:
- Chocolate chips
- Baking powder and baking soda
- Condensed or evaporated milk
Don’t Forget the Canned Foods
Canned goods can last for years without going bad, and they don’t require any refrigeration. That makes fruit, vegetables, beans, and other canned foods pantry staples. Here are some of the most important canned goods to keep in your pantry.
While you can definitely opt for dried beans when cooking, canned ones tend to be easier to work with – and the price isn’t much different. While dried beans often need to be soaked overnight and then cooked before use, canned beans are already pre-cooked, which makes them easy to add to any recipe.
Anytime you’re making pasta sauce, chili, or a wide array of other dishes, you’ll need lots of cans of tomatoes.
We recommend keeping multiple cans of diced tomato in your pantry for days when you’re not sure what to cook. You can also stock up on tomato paste, another canned ingredient that is sure to come in handy.
We love cooking with tuna – our couscous salad with tuna and tomato is one of our favorite recipes – and it’s incredibly easy to use.
While you can use fresh tuna for just about any recipe, the fish in canned form is cheaper – and often just as good of an ingredient. It’s a quick and easy way to add more protein to your meals.
Grab Some Snacks
Everyone needs a good snack from time to time. While we love focusing on eating three square meals a day, it’s always helpful to have snacks available in your pantry when you’re hungry in between your meals. Here are our top recommendations for snacks to keep in the cabinet.
- Popcorn: Easy to make, cheap to buy, and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, popcorn is one of our favorite go-to snacks. We recommend getting just the kernels and cooking them on the stove as opposed to buying pre-packaged bags. It’s better for the environment – and it’ll taste better, too!
- Cereal: Milk and cereal is a classic breakfast – but it tastes fantastic at just about any time of day. Keeping classics like corn flakes or cheerios in the cabinet is an excellent way to make sure you always have something to eat in the morning.
- Nuts and seeds: Peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and the like all make tasty snacks, and they’re also very good for you. Packed with protein, plus a solid serving of fiber, nuts and seeds will keep you full in between meals and provide you with the energy you need to conquer the day.
- Crackers: If you’re a fan of cheese, you know how important it is to stay stocked up on crackers. Instead of loading up on tons of different varieties, try sticking with just one you love – you’ll save money in the long run and avoid ending up with boxes of stale crackers.
Visit the Dairy Aisle
If you’re okay with eating dairy, we highly recommend keeping these staples in your fridge.
- Milk: Poured in cereal, enjoyed on its own in a glass, or used as an ingredient, milk always comes in handy in the kitchen. You can choose between whole, 2%, 1%, or skim, or opt for a dairy-free alternative like almond or oat milk.
- Eggs: Eggs are a breakfast standard, and they’re also an often-used ingredient for cooking and baking. Keeping at least a dozen eggs in the fridge at all times is always a wise move for any at-home cook.
- Cheese: You always need high-quality cheese in the fridge for topping crackers, slicing for sandwiches, or eating on its own. We’re fans of the basics – cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, and parmesan.
- Butter: Butter is another dairy product that you’ll always be grabbing when cooking or baking. You can spread it in a pan for high-heat cooking, top your toast with it, add it to baked goods, and much more.
- Yogurt: Yogurt is a protein-packed snack that also serves as a key ingredient in many sauces and glazes. If you’re planning on making Greek food anytime soon, you’ll need yogurt for homemade tzatziki sauce!
Grains, Glorious Grains
Cooking with whole grains gives you plenty of complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. We recommend stocking up on these ones:
- Pasta: Any kind of noodles make excellent additions to your pantry. You can pair them with a simple sauce for a quick and delicious dinner or go for something more extravagant (but still easy) like our pasta ragu recipe.
- Rice: White or brown rice definitely needs to be in your pantry. It’s one of the most versatile grains out there, and you’ll find yourself reaching for yours all the time. Rice is a key ingredient in Thai, Indian, Chinese, South American, and Central American cuisine and recipes from countless other parts of the world.
Get Those Fruits and Veggies
Make sure to keep a few of the following fruits and vegetables in your fridge for snacks or for use in recipes.
- Lemons and Limes
Get Ready To Take Your Cooking to the Next Level
If all this talk about ingredients is getting you excited to cook, you’ve come to the right place. Our cooking page is packed with inspiring recipes from all of the world’s cuisines, so get ready to put all of those ingredients to good use! In addition, make sure to visit our blog for more helpful tips and advice for aspiring at-home chefs.