What do I need to have in my pantry?
June 27, 2007 2:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to move into a rented house house- what staples should I use to stock my first-ever pantry?

In about a month, I'll be moving into a rented house with a nice kitchen, and I'd like to be able to cook a lot of my food at home. No more steady diet of Easy Mac and Chinese takeout, which is how I ate in the dorms. Ideally, I would go to the grocery store once a week, just pick up whatever meat and vegetables are on sale, and be able to cook pretty much whatever I want with them at home. The problem is, I have no idea what all of the items I'd need to have on hand to do that are. Things like broth, oil, pasta, and so on- basic, critical things that are used in a large number of recipes.

So, what do I need to have on hand in my pantry? How do you stock your kitchens?
posted by showbiz_liz to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Start with a box of salt. It's supposed to bring good luck when moving into a new home.

That being said, start with a good variety of spices and seasonings. Food staples would be rice, soups or broths, olive oil, whole pepper corns for your pepper grinder.

Congrats on the new home!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 2:25 PM on June 27, 2007

You could start by grabbing 10 recipes pseudo-randomly that you'd actually like to make, and listing everything there that you don't currently have. Fact is, stocking a pantry does take awhile and can be expensive. Lists like this aren't a bad place to start (but who keeps limes around constantly?)

These are some things I'd consider/add to the linked list:
Oil: Small bottle of extra virgin for the good stuff, marinades and dressing. Bigger bottle of cheaper olive oil for sauteing. Larger bottle of veg. oil of your preference. Your preferred vinegar for cooking, plus a big thing of white vinegar for cleaning and some recipes.

herbs/Spices: Again, personal preference and usual recipes will dictate your needs here. I use basil, oregano, garlic powder (and the refrigerated minced garlic), kosher salt, whole peppercorns w/ a grinder, ground mustard, thyme, and dill most often, though I've slowly added pretty much any other spice I could ever dream of (spices are usually expensive).

Good sauce-making ingredients, depending on your taste: deglazing items like wine, vinegar, broth, cream, milk.

If you bake a lot or make esoteric things, you may add baking ingredients beyond the things in that list. Good butter in the freezer, buttermilk powder in the fridge, a big container of plain yogurt (also good for salads or ethnic food), cinnamon, etc. Bisquick is handy to have around for a lot of things in a hurry.

I'll keep thinking about this one.
posted by artifarce at 2:28 PM on June 27, 2007

Pasta/legumes/grains: Big bags of things like barley, rice, beans, whatever you're comfortable making and eating, because they're cheap and tasty. Cans of beans which are also pretty cheap for convenience. Pasta? Whichever kinds you like, really. And a big pan to cook it in, if you also need dishes.
posted by artifarce at 2:32 PM on June 27, 2007

2nding the 'things you'd like to make' suggestion. Figure out menus before you figure out staples, because those menus are going to tell you what your staples are.
posted by lilithim at 2:33 PM on June 27, 2007

You might be well served by picking up a copy of a good starter cookbook like Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For The Food, it's a great starter, goes through why things work in the kitchen, and you can get an idea of what shows up again and again in recipes you actually like.

I've always managed to fill out a pantry bit by bit, buying things as I realize I need them. If you're buying flour, just buy extra and store the rest, etc.
posted by pupdog at 2:35 PM on June 27, 2007

If you bake: unbleached white flour, wheat flour, pastry flour if you want to get fancy, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, pure vanilla extract, white sugar, brown sugar, canola oil, shortening (if you make pies/biscuits) cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, molasses.

For breakfasts: oatmeal, several varieties of cereal, a good omelette pan, a good silicon spatula, and whatever perishables you enjoy (potatoes, eggs, etc.)

Lunch/dinner: a variety of boxed pastas, rice, quinoa, coucous, canned soups, canned beans, corn, chili.

For your freezer: 1 or 2 ice cube trays, frozen berries (for smoothies) ravioli or tortellini, corn, peas, a couple of ice packs.

Misc condiments: a small bottle of good olive oil, a larger bottle of mid-range olive oil (for cooking purposes) soy sauce, tapatillo sauce, ketchup, mustard, at least one or two types of jam, maple syrup,
posted by nerdcore at 2:42 PM on June 27, 2007

things I forgot: ginger, canned vegetable/chicken broth, vegetable buillon cubes.

You didn't mention non-food stuffs but here's a list of things I couldn't live without in my kitchen: pyrex measuring cups (for liquids) dry measuring cups (for things like flour & sugar) a set of measuring spoons, microplane, can opener, cheese grater, a good variety of knives, a couple large wooden spoons, spatulas: one metal, one plastic, one silicone (all for stovetop cooking) several smaller spatulas for baking/bowl scraping, 3 cookie sheets, 2 muffin pans, an 8"x8" square cake pan, a 9"x13" cake pan, several mixing bowls, 2 cutting boards, tinfoil, plastic wrap, waxed paper, several tupperware containers, a salad bowl, salt and pepper grinders.
posted by nerdcore at 2:58 PM on June 27, 2007

Just get what you need for recipes you're making. Except, if a recipe calls for one thing of broth, get two. If a recipe calls for two cans of cut green beans, get four. Don't get the smallest available bags of flour or sugar. Soon you'll have a well-stocked pantry without having to think about it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:41 PM on June 27, 2007

Most people have built up their pantries over time, especially in the spices and sauces depts. You should start with the minimum and then let it expand as you buy needed items/ingredients.

Vegetables: 2 onions, 3 carrots, 2 heads of garlic. 1 knob of ginger and 1 bundle of green onions if you're cooking Asian. Add other vegetables according to menu requirements and what's in season.

Spices/Sauces: cheap table salt for boiling pasta and soups, kosher salt for cooking and finishing, peppercorns + grinder, and soy sauce. I cook pretty light so this is it for me.

Broth: I've found chicken broth is the most versatile. Buy a larger container to save money, pour it into ice cube trays, and freeze to make chicken broth cubes. The better option is to ask the butcher if they have carcasses they can give you or sell for cheap (I pay about $0.80 for 2lbs worth from Chinatown butcher). Put 1-2 carcasses in a pot, fill with water, bring to a boil, then low simmer for a few hours.

For equipment, Mark Bittman created a no-frills kitchen list in the NY Times. For now, pass on the food processor, Japanese mandolin, and the roasting pan (assuming you don't plan on roasting chicken soon). Avoid the expensive German and Japanese knives everyone raves about. While your favorite four-star chef might have a closet full of them, I guarantee you the prep cook who actually prepped the meat and veggies did it with a $15 knife. Just give it a few swipes on the sharpening steel and a rinse before and after using it.
posted by junesix at 3:42 PM on June 27, 2007

I would definitely suggest pasta, both straight (linguini, spaghetti, etc.) and short (macaroni, rotini, etc.). Cheap, versatile, will keep just about forever. Seconding what lithium said, otherwise -- beyond pasta and a few other basics, it depends on what kind of food you like. You can flesh out your pantry as you learn to cook.

A big sack of white rice, some extra-virgin olive oil, and a couple different vinegars will come in handy. Salt and baking soda are both cheap and versatile. Besides using them for cooking, you can also use them to clean pots, soak up spills on carpet, etc.

For learning to cook basic staple stuff, I highly recommend Mark Bittman's _How to Cook Everything_. Odds are good a library nearby will have it. For equipment, I'm partial to Alton Brown's _Gear For Your Kitchen_. It discusses the pros and cons of many different things, with a strong emphasis on getting a smaller collection of things you can use several different ways. That way you aren't stuck digging through a drawer full of ... fish ... zesters ... when you're trying to find a wooden spoon.
posted by trouserbat at 3:50 PM on June 27, 2007

Similar questions have been asked a handful of times here before. This thread was especially fruitful and had lots of good recommendations.
posted by miagaille at 3:58 PM on June 27, 2007

Buy your staple foods as you need them, just buy more than you need at the time. I'm always running out of broth, pasta, etc. because I use them, but when I run out of pasta it goes on the shopping list and I get a month's worth next time I'm at the store.

Just make sure you put something on the list as soon as you run out if you're forgetful like me.

But from experience, my first grocery trip in a new home or apartment includes bread, butter and jam, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and pepper, pasta, rice, oil, milk, and cheese. Then meats, vegetables, sauces, and spices as needed.
posted by rossmik at 4:41 PM on June 27, 2007

Plenty of suggestions already, so I won't repeat. But i have a suggestion for your freezer:

I always keep a bag of frozen chicken tenderloins. Not the breaded, processed stuff, just plain chicken tenderloins. You can cook them many ways: boil, grill, stir fry, bake, etc. I prefer these to breasts because they cook faster and you have better control over how much chicken you prepare.

Also get some frozen veggies. Cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, corn, etc.

For a quick meal, I wok-cook the tenderloins in a small amount of oil, add my favorite seasonings, then add veggies and stir. You can also add whatever sauce you want, or add them to some pasta.
posted by The Deej at 5:02 PM on June 27, 2007

The Real Simple website tends to have lots of lists of this type of thing:
- checklists of pantry staples for various cuisines
- essential ingredients (and all the recipes you can make using them).
posted by gingerbeer at 5:40 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

AWESOME link gingerbeer! (Hey... I just used you in my cheese fondue!)
posted by The Deej at 5:56 PM on June 27, 2007

Speaking of fondue... get several quarts of vegetable stock. Useful for tons of stuff.
posted by The Deej at 5:59 PM on June 27, 2007

AWESOME link gingerbeer! (Hey... I just used you in my cheese fondue!)

aw, shucks! but really, gingerbeer in a cheese fondue? care to share the recipe?
posted by gingerbeer at 7:04 PM on June 27, 2007

Ginger beer, sharp cheddar, pepper jack, mustard powder, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, heavy cream, and just enough flour or corn starch to reduce stringiness. Can't tell you the measurements, I just mix until it seems right.
posted by The Deej at 7:19 PM on June 27, 2007

Sounds delicious. I've made it with beer, but never gingerbeer. Will have to try.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:29 PM on June 27, 2007

Canned tomatoes. They are far superior to store-bought most of the year. I use the diced ones mostly myself.
posted by O9scar at 10:12 PM on June 27, 2007

Get some good quality basic spices. Penzeys has great spices, at good prices. What you need will depend on what you like to cook, but some good basics are:

Basil, Oregano, Garlic, Garlic Powder, Salt and Pepper, Chili Powder, Red Pepper flakes

They also have a nice collection of starter sets.

Other good things to have on hand:
Worcestershire Sauce, Soy Sauce, Olive Oil and vegetable oil, Vinegar, Broth, Sugar (White and Brown), All Purpose Flour, Pasta, Rice

Not exactly a Pantry item, but a good set of Knives will make cooking much more enjoyable.

A great book to get you started is Help! My Apartment has a Kitchen

Good Luck, and Have Fun!
posted by nalyd at 10:13 PM on June 27, 2007

I'm a little late to the fold, so you may not read this, but I love Donna Hay cookbooks, in particular my favourite is Off the Shelf: Cooking From the Pantry. It's beautiful to look at (there are colour photographs for every recipes), has nicely defined sections & she gives you a list of what to keep in your pantry... some of them aren't traditional mainstays, but she explains her reasons & gives plenty of recipes to use these staples regularly. There is also recommendations for refrigerated basics. I have a collection of cookbooks & this is the one I keep going back to.
posted by Laura in Canada at 6:32 AM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

The first chapter of Bittman's How to Cook Everything is called "Equipment" and is pretty good at making distinctions between the really cool stuff and the stuff you actually need---look for the ones printed in red.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 7:21 AM on June 29, 2007

Go through someone else's pantry who has a similar diet and see what they have that you think you'll need
posted by HotPatatta at 7:30 PM on July 4, 2007

Please note that this AskMe question is featured in the MeFi Wiki's EatMe collection of helpful food-related posts. Specifically, in Pantry Planning. Readers consulting this post may also wish to see EatMe.
posted by mumkin at 1:04 AM on November 19, 2007

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