27 Pantry Staples You Should Always Have on Hand (and How to Cook with Them)

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“What’s for dinner?” feels a lot less daunting when you know your pantry is stocked with all the fixings for a proper last-minute meal. Keeping a supply of essential ingredients is a convenience in the best of times and a must in the worst—plus, who wants to run to the grocery store every night anyway? Here, a master list of 27 pantry staples to always have on hand, plus how to cook with them.

A Food Writer’s Tips on How to Cook from Your Pantry

pantry staples chopping onions
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1. Onions

Onions are the unsung foundation of many a delicious meal, and thankfully, they’ll last for weeks in a cool, dark pantry. Yellow onions (aka Spanish onions) are the most versatile, but we like to keep a rotation of all kinds of alliums, such as red onions and shallots.

Recommended recipe: Slow-Cooker French Onion Soup

2. Garlic

Just like onions, garlic adds a little somethin’-somethin’ to pretty much any dish. Forgo the pre-peeled stuff for whole heads of garlic, since they’re fresher, cheaper and will last longer. Store them in a cool, dark corner of the pantry for optimum shelf-life. (And yes, you can still use them if they start to sprout—just trim away the green shoots before cooking.)

Recommended recipe: Garlic Breaded Roast Chicken Breast

3. Olive Oil

You won’t get far with a dry skillet, so cooking oil is a must. We prefer olive oil for its versatility in everything from sautéing to salad dressings, but it’s also nice to stock a neutral oil (such as canola) for frying and roasting. Ensure you’re always prepared by signing up for an olive oil subscription from Brightland.

Recommended recipe: Naked Lemon and Olive Oil Layer Cake

4. Kosher Salt

Let’s face it: Without salt, you’re in for a bland ride. It’s the only true flavor enhancer, so make sure you have some form of it in your kitchen at all times. Kosher salt (specifically, Diamond Crystal) is our go-to because its crystals are larger, making it harder to accidentally over-salt. Flaky salt (like Maldon) and sea salt are a true luxury for garnishing anything and everything.

Recommended recipe: Salt and Vinegar Roasted Potatoes with Feta and Dill

5. Black Pepper

If you choose a single spice to keep in your kitchen, make it black pepper. Why? Because it goes with everything. Just do yourself a favor and make it freshly ground. That pre-ground dust doesn’t taste like anything, but whole peppercorns and a grinder will get you far.

Recommended recipe: Cacio e Pepe

pantry staples cooking rice
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6. Rice

Rice is relatively cheap and easy to buy in bulk, plus it will last a long time and serve many people. For nutrition, we like brown varieties (like long-grain and basmati), but risotto is also creamy, comforting and a great way to make lingering leftovers or produce feel fancy.

Recommended recipe: Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Leeks

7. Grains

Don’t limit your pantry carbs to just rice: There’s a whole world of grains fit for soups, salads and bowls. Farro and barley have a delightfully nutty taste and firm texture, while quinoa—technically a seed—is a gluten-free complete protein. Polenta and oatmeal are great for porridges and filling breakfasts, and all of these ingredients will keep for months in a cool, dark pantry.

Recommended recipe: Roasted Squash and Farro Salad with Avocado Dressing

8. Beans

Ah, beans, how we love thee. They’re packed with fiber, protein and healthy carbs, and they’re practically a meal in and of themselves. Canned beans are convenient, but dried beans will last much longer. We fill our shelves with a variety of legumes, like kidney, pinto and black beans (for chilies), white beans (for soups) and chickpeas (for hummus, salads, curries, you name it). If you choose canned, seek out the low-sodium option so you can adjust the seasoning on your own.

Recommended recipe: Tomato and White Bean Stew on Toast

9. Canned Tomatoes

Pick your poison, whether it’s whole peeled tomatoes, tomato paste, diced tomatoes or tomato sauce. Any of these ingredients makes a flavorful base for soups, sauces, braises, pastas, stop us anytime. Just make sure to cook your canned tomato product (read: don’t eat it straight out of the can) to get rid of any metallic aftertaste.

Recommended recipe: Red Shakshuka

10. Dried Pasta

Pasta keeps for months without going stale and it’s our favorite form of comforting carbs. Need we say more? Pick a few different shapes to keep things interesting. Our favorites? On team long we have bucatini and spaghetti; team short includes heavy-hitters rigatoni, medium shells and orecchiette.

Recommended recipe: Spicy Bucatini Amatriciana

11. Hot Sauce

Pantry meal or not, it’s good to spice things up. Hot sauce will keep in your pantry or fridge pretty much indefinitely. Choose a few different types, just for fun: Tobasco is vinegar-y; sriracha is a crowd-pleaser, buffalo sauce is versatile and green Cholula is fresh and bright.

Recommended recipe: Spicy Roasted Brussels Sprouts

pantry staples soy sauce
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12. Soy Sauce

Soy sauce isn’t just for dumplings and sushi. It’s an easy and flavorful way to add umami and salt to all kinds of foods, and it will keep in your pantry for years. Whether you choose regular or low-sodium is up to you; tamari is an excellent gluten-free substitution.

Recommended recipe: Roasted Squash and Tofu with Soy, Honey, Chili and Ginger

13. Vinegar

You’ll need at least one type of vinegar for salad dressings, sauces, marinades, pickling and to toss in a dish when it needs a hint of acid. White vinegar is versatile but can taste harsh, so supplement with other more mellow types, too. White wine, cider, rice wine and balsamic vinegar are all in our pantry.

Recommended recipe: Balsamic Cranberry Roast Chicken

14. Root Vegetables

Surprise! A well-stocked pantry isn’t just about canned goods. Plenty of root veggies are hardy enough to earn a spot on your list of pantry staples. Potatoes, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes will all stay fresh for weeks if stored in a cool, dry place away from onions and garlic, and while not technically root vegetables, all types of winter squash will last for months without refrigeration.
Recommended recipe: Charred Sweet Potatoes with Pistachio-Chili Pesto

15. Dried Herbs

When fresh herbs aren’t an option, their dried equivalents will more than suffice. Dried thyme, oregano and bay leaves are the three we reach for most often, but dill and mint are also nice to have on hand. Use them to jazz up a jarred pasta sauce or as a quick quicken rub.

Recommended recipe: Chicken Kebabs with Garlic Lemon Yogurt

16. Spices

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need every spice known to man to make a flavorful meal. And since they’re expensive, we recommend buying only the spices you actually use and love. Start with the basics (like red-pepper flakes, chili powder, ground cayenne, curry powder, cumin, garlic powder, ground ginger and ground cinnamon) and build from there. Burlap & Barrel and Penzeys are our two favorite spice retailers for their selection and quality.

Recommended recipe: Roasted Indian-Spiced Vegetables with Lime-Cilantro Butter

pantry staples rolling out pie crust

17. Flour And Yeast

Aside from the usual sweet treats (cookies, pies and cakes), flour is a necessity for thickening stews and whipping up homemade rolls, if that’s your thing. And unless you plan on making sourdough bread—go you!—you’ll want yeast to make those rolls rise. All-purpose and bread flour are the two essentials; buy a gluten-free substitute like Cup4Cup if needed.

Recommended recipe: Scallion and Chive Flatbread

18. Sugar

Just like flour, sugar is necessary for almost all baking recipes. Stock up on a few types if you can: granulated, confectioners’, light brown and dark brown. Will all four, you can make any dessert your heart desires.

Recommended recipe: Brown Sugar Cookies with Dulce de Leche

19. Baking Soda and Baking Powder

You’ll need these essential leaveners for almost any baking project, so stock up on both to be prepared. And keep an eye on those expiration dates, because they’ll lose their power over time.

Recommended recipe: Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

20. Canned Coconut Milk

Say hello to the secret weapon of our pantry. Canned coconut milk will keep for years on the shelf, is creamy and rich (and dairy-free!) and works in sweet and savory recipes alike. When buying, spring for the full-fat kind for the best texture and flavor (we like Aroy-D).

Recommended recipe: Chickpea and Vegetable Coconut Curry

21. Chicken Stock

Consider chicken stock liquid gold in your pantry. While homemade stock is delicious, store-bought is an easy swap and will last a lot longer without refrigeration. It can be used as a base for a cheater’s chicken and noodles, a flavor booster for rice, a liquid for pan sauce and a blank slate for plenty of other soups. The boxed kind is tastier than the canned kind (we prefer Swanson Unsalted), but either will do in a pinch; choose vegetable broth if you don’t eat meat.

Recommended recipe: Pan-Roasted Chicken with Shallots and Dates

pantry staples squeezing a lemon

22. Lemons

When life hands you lemons, stockpile them in your fridge like no one’s business. Seriously: Nothing brightens up a boring dish quite like a splash of citrus, and lemons will last a pretty long time in your refrigerator (about four weeks, to be exact). And psst: If you happen to have yogurt on hand, you’re halfway to a magical lemon yogurt sauce. The only caveat? Lemons will only last about a week when stored at room temperature (and don’t freeze well), so keep them in your fridge and stock up after a month.

Recommended recipe: One-Pot, 15-Minute Pasta Limone

23. Breadcrumbs

All our favorite meals have a crispety-crunchety element. Breadcrumbs are an easy way to get there. Keep a box of panko on hand for quick, kid-friendly chicken cutlet and as a last-minute addition to pasta and roast vegetables.

Recommended recipe: Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders

24. Crackers

Fresh bread, while delicious, goes stale quite fast. Crackers are a great substitute because they have less moisture and will last much longer. Choose a few when stocking up: We like classic, buttery Ritz for almost everything, and hearty Triscuits as a vehicle for cheese.

Recommended recipe: Ultimate Cheese Plate with Roasted Grapes

25. Tinned fish

Some might say it’s an acquired taste, but we would argue that tinned fish (like anchovies and sardines) are a pantry’s best-kept secret. They’re basically flavor bombs, so they don’t need a lot of seasoning or extra bells and whistles. Add anchovies to tomato sauce for a hint of umami and serve sardines on crackers for a protein-rich snack. (And canned tuna is a no-brainer.)

Recommended recipe: 15-Minute Mediterranean Couscous with Tuna and Pepperoncini

26. Peanut Butter

Sometimes, you want to whip up a chef-level meal from the canned goods you’ve carefully chosen. Other times, you just want a PB&J…best to stock up on a jar (or two). Personal preference will dictate whether you choose creamy, crunchy, natural or a nut that’s not peanut, but if you want our two cents, Jif Creamy is where it’s at. (Oh, and you can make sauces and dips with it, too.)

Recommended recipe: Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce

27. Eggs

We know, we know: Eggs aren’t *technically* a pantry item. But they’ll actually last up to five weeks in your fridge, so they’re a smart addition to your pantry staples. (That said, it’s always a good idea to sniff out any bad eggs when you crack them open—you’ll know.) Eggs are a good source of protein and endlessly versatile for breakfast, lunch and brinner, which is why we love them so much.

Recommended recipe: Squash and Squash Blossom Frittata


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...