How to Stock Your Home Kitchen With Staples
While you’re working to get all of your basic cookware in order, the other main focus that helps you have longterm success in the kitchen is stocking your kitchen with staples. I’ve been mulling this post over for a while because it’s hard to define a “staple” since your cooking style and tastes might be way different than mine, but the main point of this post is that you should be working towards keeping your most used ingredients in stock so you never run out when you need them.
What Are Kitchen Staples?
For home cooks, a kitchen staple is an ingredient you use weekly or bi-weekly in multiple recipes that isn’t perishable in that timeframe.
Let’s break this down for you… typically your kitchen staples for home cooking aren’t going to be main ingredients, but they'll be important components in creating a variety of dishes. Eggs and flour are two great examples if you’re baking. You’re going to need them in one way or another for most baking recipes, but they’re not a headliner in your famous “chocolate chip cookie crumble” recipe.
Perishables… I do not consider meats and fresh produce to be a staple for most home cooks. For chefs in restaurants, their laundry list of kitchen staples they keep in stock is going to expand into all kinds of produce and meats because they have a set menu and customers ordering from all over it.
As a home cook, you’re probably cooking for yourself, a significant other, and family or housemates so you can leave the fresh produce and protein to your weekly meal planning and shopping list.
The challenge with writing a general post is that everyone is different. Maybe you're vegetarian or vegan and use cauliflower as a substitute for god-knows-what. In that case... yeah cauliflower is going to be a staple for you on a weekly basis.
What Kitchen Staples Do You Need?
Kitchen staples allow you to create multiple recipes well, so this is going to depend on your cooking style and preferences but this list should serve you well:
Salt is the most important ingredient in western cooking. It literally unlocks your tongues ability to taste. You’ll want to make sure you have Kosher or similar sized salt by your cooking station.
Vinegars & Acids
Acid is a key flavor profile that can vastly improve a dish, and vinegar is a shelf stable acid. Lemons and limes are other good sources, but can go bad if you’re not using them frequently. Have these five vinegars in stock:
- Red Wine Vinegar
- White Wine Vinegar
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Rice Vinegar
- White Distilled Vinegar
Hopefully this is obvious, but flour will be in almost everything if you're baking. But flour is also an important staple in cooking where it’s used to make roux, gravies, sauces, batter, and plenty of other uses. Be sure to have at least a few cups of general purpose flour in stock. If you start making bread regularly, you'll want to get some bread flour in larger amounts.
Another key ingredient in baking, but a spoonful of sugar doesn’t just help the medicine go down, it will help balance out a dressing, sauce, soup, stew, and other things you whip up.
Granulated sugar is the most widely called for but other sweeteners and/or sugars are good to have as well if you're conscious of that. Really you just want a way to impart sweetness into dishes where necessary.
Eggs aren't just for breakfast, but they're worth having on the list just for that. If you’re just getting into cooking eggs are a great, cheap ingredient to build your skills in the kitchen. You’ll learn about heat control, flavor profiles, and make great food without ruining an expensive cut of steak. Plus, they’re used in many recipes, especially baking.
Or dry beans if you have an Instant Pot or pressure cooker... or time...
Canned beans can be worth buying in bulk at Costco or on sale as they're very shelf stable and you’ll use them in more ways than you realize. Garbanzo (chickpea), black, and kidney are the main ones I keep on hand. Recipes call for them regularly, but you can whip up sides or other dishes like hummus with these on stock.
Canned Tomatoes - Whole or Diced
Most tomatoes you find in the produce section are going to lack flavor because they're picked green and ripen while they ship. While canned tomatoes are picked at their peak freshness and preserved, so you get maximum flavor.
I suggest having at least a few 28oz cans of whole plum tomatoes or diced tomatoes in stock as tomatoes are used as a base for many sauces, stews, chilis, and just key ingredients for a variety of dishes.
Yellow onions are the cheapest and most versatile onion to cook with that you’ll find in grocery stores. Onions are one of the most common aromatics and find their way as a key first ingredient to many dishes. Plus they’re pretty shelf stable so you have some room for error if you don’t end up using them within a week, or two sometimes.
White and red onions are more recipe specific as they have sharper flavors, so buy those ad hoc when your meal planning calls for it.
Always have a head or two or three of garlic. Always. Like… non-negotiable. You’ll be mincing garlic every time you need to dice an onion if not more often and they're very shelf stable to boot.
Cooking Oils & Fats
Fat is another key flavor profile that you want to control when you’re cooking, and while most of the flavor will come from the proteins, the oils you use can add another dimension. Oils probably deserve an entire post, but you’ll want to make sure you have these on hand...
I use way less butter than I did when I first started cooking, but I always make sure to keep it in stock as it's key for baking and for making finishing sauces or other cooking applications.
- High Heat Cooking Oil
Not all oil is the same! They all have different smoke points and are better suited for varying tasks. Canola or vegetable oil is the common high heat cooking oil you’ll hear about. If you’re health conscious, ghee, avocado, and coconut oils are good high heat options to pan fry or sear with.
- Finishing Oil (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
Many people only have extra virgin olive oil, and then complain when they sear chicken or steak and their kitchen is smokier than Idaho in August. EVOO is best used as a finishing oil or in dressings because it has delicious flavor, and a very low smoke point which means it’s breaking down and losing the flavor when you cook at high heats.
Oils and cooking fats is a topic worthy of it's own post. If you have any questions don't hesitate to reach out. You can also check out this expansive post by Nina over at Foodal for more information on different types of oils: https://foodal.com/knowledge/paleo/vegetable-oils-varieties-flavor-uses-for-the-home-cook/
What Tools Do You Need?
Really all you need is a way to keep your kitchen staples organized and accessible which boils down to two things...
Pantries are just closets for your kitchen, and like a closet they can quickly become disorganized and cluttered. Once a month or two, take time to tidy up your pantry where most of the staples listed above will probably all be.
Keep like minded ingredients together. Oils and vinegars are natural shelf mates, as are any of the canned items. Then keep all of the dry bagged baking ingredients like flour, sugars, and salt together.
If you’re tight on space in the kitchen, see where you could put some shelves to keep canned goods and other staples. Our laundry room in the basement is where the extra staples wind up for us.
Organizers for Dry Ingredients
Within your pantry or other areas you'll need some organizers and containers for different ingredients. Why can't you just use the bags, boxes, and cans that the ingredients come in?
Well you can, but putting at least the dry ingredients like flour, sugar, brown sugar, coffee, etc, into sealable containers help keep pests out, and keep your pantry and kitchen cleaner. Bags will get ripped, and trying to scoop out ingredients from the bags can get messy in a hurry.
I’ve ended up buying the flour, sugar, brown sugar, and coffee containers from Prepworks and will probably end up with containers for rice and and powdered sugar soon. I got mine from the corner Fred Meyer, but it looks like I could have saved some money by getting them on Amazon.
Check them out here, amazon.com/prepworks-food-containers , or by clicking on the image below:
Don’t Let an Un-stocked Pantry Stop You From Cooking!
You do not need to go out and buy all of this at once! Build up your pantry with staples over time as you plan your weekly meals and they call for one or several of the above items. You’ll end up adding or subtracting to this list as you figure out what you use daily or weekly in the kitchen.
The goal is to build this up over a month or two until you have these staples on hand - then your meal planning and grocery shopping becomes a breeze as you go through a recipe and go… “Have that… check… yep…. Need to get a chicken… cilantro… habanero… yep have that…”
And let me know how I can help! What are you struggling with when it comes to stocking your kitchen? Let me know in the comments below, or shoot me a message on Facebook.