If my rural-South Carolina-born-and-raised grandmother has taught me anything about cooking, it’s that no single bite of food—even the very last dregs of grits in the pot or that last little bit of chicken on the bone—should ever, ever be thrown away. If there’s not much to save, well, that goes to Roamer out back. If there’s enough left over for a few more reincarnations of today’s honey ham or rice pilau (which we pronounce “per-low”), that goes in an old Country Crock container or an even older piece of Tupperware in an olive-y green hue that I’m pretty sure they don’t make anymore.
While my dear grandmother has taught me a thing or five about the myriad ways to repurpose leftovers, her storage methods—and my own—could use a little lesson in efficiency.
And chefs have efficient kitchen organization down to a science. After all, it’s hard to cook quickly for dozens of people if you don’t have your ingredients at your fingertips. The folks at Food52 compiled a list of organization tips from chefs, and we’re definitely planning on stealing a page or two from their pantry playbook.
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One of our favorite chef-approved (and cheap) tricks? Using deli cups in place of more expensive food storage containers. First things first, you can’t beat them on price: You can find a 44-piece set for $15 on Amazon, or just save them (for free!) whenever you pick up takeout from the neighborhood Chinese joint or your local sandwich shop. You can’t beat them on efficiency either. With airtight lids, they’ll keep food fresh in the fridge or freezer, and they’re great for stacking, so you can pile those leftovers high. The deli cups also come in a variety of sizes, from bitty 8-oz. cups to hefty 32-oz. containers, so they’re as well-suited for lunchboxes as they are for the pantry. Still not sold? They’re also dishwasher and microwave safe, so washing and reheating are a breeze.
And if you really want to do as the chefs do, take your deli cup game one step further, and label all of them with blue tape marked in Sharpie. (Extra points if you date your ingredients.) Voila! Pantry organization made easy—and inexpensive. My grandmother will be so proud.
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What's your tried-and-true kitchen organization hack? Share it with us in the comments.