Here are some things I always have in my pantry – I use them constantly and make sure to restock whenever I run out of something. When a recipe calls for an ingredient I don’t have, I usually just substitute with something in my pantry. I’ll only run out to get it if I’m already at the store or if it’s vital to the recipe. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. If you haven’t ever used something listed here in your cooking, don’t go out and get it (unless of course you want to expand your culinary horizons). Many people will find they constantly use ingredients I haven’t included on this list. Overall, however, this is a good guide to stocking a new kitchen or getting together basic ingredients if you’re cooking for the first time.

Stocking Your Pantry

I’ve broken everything up into categories, depending on where things are stored in my house. But you should obviously organize according to your own space and cooking needs!

Spices and Dry Ingredients

  • SaltI keep regular and kosher salt. I prefer the coarse kosher salt for seasoning, but regular for baking.
  • Pepper Whole peppercorns in a spice grinder keep longer and taste better than the powdered stuff.
  • Red pepper flakes and/or cayenne pepperHere when I need to add a little heat to something.
  • Cumin, Coriander, TurmericI love Indian food so these spices are vital to me, but may not be for everyone.
  • Grill seasoningGreat for steak, chicken, lamb, even tofu. A quick and easy way to give your food some flavor without mixing a bunch of ingredients.
  • Dried herbs – What you stock depends on your tastes. I have dried thyme, rosemary, oregano and herbes de provence.
  • Ground cloves, cinnamon, ginger These are useful if you bake often.
  • All-purpose flourFor baking and for thickening sauces.
  • Granulated and brown sugar
  • CornstarchI suggest buying a small container since I only use it every once in awhile to thicken a sauce.
  • Bread crumbsI like panko because they stay crunchy, but seasoned or plain are excellent also.
  • NutsSome of my favorites are walnuts, sliced almonds, pine nuts, or pecans – add a great flavor and texture to meals and also great as a snack.
  • Dried fruit – Raisins, cranberries, figs, or apricots are great to have on hand to snack on or throw into salads and cookies.
  • Rice My favorite is a basmati variety that cooks up in 15 minutes, but brown rice is a great alternative.
  • Pasta Keep one type of small (corkscrew, bow tie, elbow, orecchiette) and one type of long (spaghetti, linguine, lasagne) to keep your options open but not crowd the pantry.


  • Beans A quick and easy way to add substance to a soup, side dish, or  salad. I like cannellini and black beans. Other varieties I like: red kidney beans, black-eyed peas and pinto beans.
  • Pineapple chunks or ringsLove these because they’re great in a stir-fry or on a skewer with salmon or chicken.
  • Crushed or diced tomatoesGreat base for a marinara sauce or a curry.
  • FishTuna, salmon, or anchovies packed in oil are good atop pasta or salads.
  • Chicken and/or beef and/or vegetable brothThe best way to add a lot of flavor to soup or a sauce with minimal effort.
  • Roasted red peppersI love them for salads and sandwiches.


  • Soy sauceFor Asian cooking, or as a salt substitute.
  • Worcestershire sauceA really quick way to add a lot of flavor to a mild fish or chicken dish.
  • Hot sauceMy current favorite is Cholula.
  • Lemon juice It’s nice to have fresh lemons, but bottled juice is practical and less messy.
  • Mild vinegarCider, white wine, or rice vinegar – great for salad dressings.
  • Balsamic vinegar Good for glazes and dark, interesting flavors in baked dishes.
  • Other vinegars – I make my own salad dressings and I have more varieties of vinegar than I care to admit. Some of my favorites are ume plum, champagne, raspberry and fig.
  • Extra virgin olive oilFruity and a little sweet – good for flavoring food or using in dressing.
  • Light-flavored oil Vegetable, canola, or peanut oil – better for high-temperature cooking and allows the flavors of the foods to shine through without overpowering them.
  • HoneyAdd sweetness to sauces and dressings, or just use it in your tea.
  • Mustard I keep dijon and spicy brown – one for cooking and one for topping burgers and hot dogs. That’s a lie; I must have 10 different kinds of mustard in my fridge. But I maintain that dijon and spicy brown are the most vital.


A word on produce: My rule of thumb is to go into the grocery story or farmer’s market with an open mind. I usually pick up whatever looks good and I try to switch it up often. Below, I am listing the things I ALWAYS have on hand. The rest of the veggies rotate depending on season, availability, and how I’m feeling!

Dark, Dry Storage:

  • PotatoesSo versatile and great for any meal of the day. I like Yukon Golds because they tend to hold their shape better when cooked (especially in a stew or curry).
  • OnionsThe base of SO many dishes. I keep red onions, sweet onions, and plain white or yellow onions at all times. I will admit to being a little onion-obsessed.
  • GarlicAnother essential ingredient for so many recipes out there.


  • Fresh herbsMy go-to herbs are parsley and basil, other good choices are cilantro, dill, and rosemary, depending on your taste.
  • Bell pepperAgain, I always have them because they are so versatile. I especially like them in salads and stir-frys.
  • Greens I’m a salad junkie so I always have some kind of greens laying around. Lately, I like to have baby spinach since I can also add it to hot dishes.
  • Anything that looks good at the store


I think the following staples are pretty self-explanatory. If you’re lactose intolerant or keep kosher, there are non-dairy alternatives, like margarine and soy milk, that can sometimes be substituted in recipes.

  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese


  • PeasThese are perfecting for adding to a pan in the last minutes of cooking. Residual heat thaws the peas and they add a great touch to hot dishes.
  • CornI like to put some on salads.
  • BerriesGreat for topping ice cream or a pre-made dessert, or pureeing into a sauce
  • Ginger rootKeeps forever in the freezer and you can take out and grate it into your food without thawing.
  • BaconGreat alone or as a base flavor for another dish. It lasts longer and is much easier to cut if frozen.
  • SpinachThe frozen packs can get kinda mushy when thawed and served as a side dish, but it’s great to put into soup instead of buying huge packs of fresh spinach and stuffing them into a pot waiting for them to wilt down.

Again, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list, more of a guide and jump-off point. Take the time to go through the pantry every once in awhile, both to find what the heck you have stored in there, and to throw out old or expired food.

Is there anything you keep in your pantry that isn’t on this list? Any tips on pantry organization? Let us know in the comments below!

Leave a comment


  1. Nice list! I like the idea of keeping frozen berries in the freezer; I’ve only bought them twice (thank you, Shoprite…), but they were for specific recipes instead of just to have around. Hmm, I like the idea of thawing berries to stir into yogurt … or to top cereal … in winter!

  2. Texas Girl

     /  February 28, 2010

    My pantry is full…

    Oatmeal, flax seed, bran, King Arthur’s white whole wheat flour…

    I also keep low-fat evaporated milk, milk powder, cocoa, and some type of chocolate-baking, chips, syrup-yikes they are all good!

    I have two Lazy Susan disks with goofy stuff like orange marmalade, jalapenos, hot sauce, raspberry chipotle sauce (great for snacks-grilling-etc. Capers, assorted olives, and little crackers, toasts along with canned artichoke hearts, bruschetta topping . All of this is in a section of the pantry I think of for emergency cocktail parties etc…

    Peanut butter is always in the pantry.

    And, because it is Texas you will always find a section with fat free re fried beans, taco sauce, enchilada sauce, tortilla chips, canned green chili’s, and other spices. I am always ready for a margarita and nachos!

    Fiesta ready in Texas! Texas Girl

    • Love that you keep a stock for “emergency cocktail parties” — this sounds like the best kind of emergency 🙂 Also, that tex-mex stash sounds awesome.

      I’ve never been one to keep tons of different things around for baking — just some spices, A.P. flour, powdered/granulated sugar, and maybe a bag of chocolate chips. I figure I’ll be too tempted to make desserts ALL THE TIME if I have everything available to me.

  3. Great idea to have a list of pantry items on your blog. Makes me want to set up a page on mine for what i keep in stock!

    • Thanks Evan! It also doubles as a checklist before I go to the grocery store. I printed it out and stuck it on my fridge so I can quickly mark off things I’ve run out of and need to restock.

  4. I actually set up a page on my website…i gave you proper credit 🙂

    • Thanks, Evan. Love the concept! They always say one of the keys to creative impromptu cooking is having a well-stocked pantry. So as bloggers, if we are sharing recipes, why not also share our pantries? 🙂

  5. Hi Liza, I am so glad to finally get to your blog. I am totally addicted to balsamic and the 18 year sold here : is incredible. I got it as a gift and now have to keep a supply in the house. The Tuscan olive oil is also great! We cook a lot of ethnic dishes and I keep spices orgainzed in boxes that are a bit thematic, such as spices for curries, or Italian and Spanish (the curry box has the most stuff, because my husband cooked in an Indian restaurant for awhile and it’s our favorite). We can stuff from the garden, so there is eggplant caponata (great on pasta or crudites) and a base sauce for curry on the shelves of our pantry right now. I like rice the way you like mustard and have wild, basmati, brown (get this frozen from Whole Foods, the people in my life who “hate” brown rice can’t tell, LOL!), and jasmine in my pantry. I have a great recipe for a hot cereal for the winter, so there is quinoa and steel-cut oats, currents, dried cranberries and nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts) on the shelf for making that. Always canned broths (vegetable, beef, chicken, and clam) on the shelf, especially as fall and winter approach. This is also the time of year where I want oven simmered beans. Do you feel a pull to eat differently as the seasons change? I don’t mean availabilty, because I think anyone who eats local and sustainably eats seasonal veggies, but I feel a real pull to eat beans and seaweed as fall approaches. Laurie

    • Hi Laurie, I am so sorry that I am just getting to your comment now. I wish I could afford to keep some 18 year old balsamic on my shelf at all times, but we go through the stuff so fast that it wouldn’t be practical. I love to grill asparagus with just a drizzle of oil, salt, pepper, and a generous dousing of balsamic. I put the spears on top of a piece of foil and turn the edges up a little so that the vinegar doesn’t leak out. Leave it on the grill for 10-15 minutes and it’s the tastiest asparagus!

      Love the idea of sorting spices thematically, that makes a lot of sense for when you’re cooking. I am always lifting bottles and looking at the labels in my cabinet.

      Very interesting thought re: eating seasonally. I didn’t realize it until you mentioned it, but I do start to crave apples in late summer and get very excited when they arrive at the farmer’s market. Same with acorn and butternut squash. Back in New Jersey, my parents have raspberry bushes in the backyard and I always instinctively knew when they were ready to be picked and enjoyed in mid-summer.

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