How To Stock Your Pantry… The Essentials

How To Stock Your Pantry… The Essentials

While in a discussion this morning about cooking and basically how I learned how to cook, someone asked me about my pantry and what I stock in there. So here we go. Having the basic essentials to prepare a meal is important. And it also helps alleviate a few trips to the store. So for those of you who don’t like grocery shopping, you can make one trip instead of three! First of all, before I even step foot into the grocery store, I make a list. This helps keep me on track and not buying up a bunch of things I think I need versus what I really need. If you feel like getting really crazy, you can categorize your list based upon where it is found in the store… For example, all the produce together, all the dairy together, all the canned foods together, etc. When I am making a big trip to the grocery store I usually have a few recipes in mind to cook within the next couple weeks, that way if it requires any special ingredients that I don’t stock, I can pick those up at the same time. Another tip is don’t be afraid to buy online or in bulk! Often times you can find better deals in larger quantities of items you may use more than others or even find a better deal online! For me, living in rural North Dakota, I LOVE to buy food items I can’t readily find here online! Mark jokes that I provide our UPS man job security! 😉 Amazon has a GREAT online food market!

So without any further adieu here is Jenny’s essential pantry list:


Image courtesy Andy Pasta

Oils, Vinegars, Sauces, Condiments, & Wine:

  • Olive oil: this is a MUST HAVE for me and I try to buy middle of the road olive oil. Nothing super expensive but also nothing generic. I tend to find that generic olive oils make the meal a little more oily than if you were to buy a higher quality olive oil. Lucini makes a great middle of the road olive oil and they offer several varieties of infused flavors from garlic to lemon.
  • Vegetable Oil: some recipes call for vegetable oil versus olive oil so it’s always good to have both on hand. Truth be told, I rarely use my vegetable oil but it’s good to have on hand when you want a lighter oil. And unlike olive oil, I usually just buy generic vegetable oil.
  • Balsamic Vinegar: I don’t use my balsamic vinegar as much as I probably should. But it too is a good thing to have on hand. And as with the olive oil, a more high quality balsamic vinegar will taste better than a generic one.
  • Distilled White Vinegar: just your every day vinegar. Can be used for a variety of things from cooking to cleaning.
  • Red Wine Vinegar: I don’t use my red wine vinegar all the time, but it’s something I always keep in my pantry. I most often use it for some salad recipes/dressings as well as when I make some Greek foods.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: This stuff I use most often in homemade bbq sauces as well as pulled pork sauces. Sometimes it can be added to coleslaw dressings instead of white vinegar too.
  • Sherry: sherry is actually a type of wine. I most commonly use it when I cook Chinese dishes, a lot of stir fry sauces, etc. call for sherry.
  • Red & White Wine: whenever I am at the liquor store, I usually pick up a couple bottles of two buck chuck cheap wine to cook with. I put wine in almost all of my pasta sauces, stews, some soups, etc. I always will use a splash of wine to de-glaze a pan or basically break up all the hard bits on the bottom of a pan! It works like a charm!
  • Dark & Light Beer: Just like I use wine, I also use beer. I LOVE to put beer in my roasts! I feel like it helps tender up the meat. I also love to use dark beer to caramelize onions with a little beef broth and Worcestershire sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce: I put this in my meatloaf, burgers, sauteed onions, gravies. I use it quite a bit!
  • Soy Sauce: This is a must have for Chinese dishes. Stir fries, whatever.
  • Hot Sauce: Tabasco or I use Frank’s. Hot sauce is great to add a little zip to any dish. I put it in my sloppy joes, some pasta sauces, or use quite a bit if I’m making buffalo chicken.
  • Ketchup: I am a LOVER of ketchup. It’s essential to have with my fries and hashbrowns in the morning. But I also use it to cook with. I put it in some of my gravies & especially my meatloaf.
  • Spicy Brown Mustard: We actually go through quite a bit of spicy mustard. I usually don’t stock spicy brown and dijon, so if a recipe calls for dijon mustard I sub the spicy brown mustard for that. I try my best to stream line my condiments so I don’t end up with three kinds of mustards & a million different kinds of salad dressing. Plus I really hate when they don’t fit in the door of the fridge.
  • Salsa: Salsa is a great thing to have around and add to all sorts of things. One of my favorite things is some mixed vegetables with a little salsa over them. Or even an omelet. It’s also just good by itself. If you either want to make your own and store it OR buy it!

Image Courtesy Ultra Source

Spices & Seasonings:

  • Salt & Pepper: This is pretty much a given. And it goes into any and all dishes I make. You simply cannot cook without salt & pepper. My salt & pepper grinder actually sit out on our counter.
  • Garlic Powder: if I’m not adding actual garlic to something, I am using garlic powder. I LOVE garlic, I think it adds great flavor to all kinds of dishes. Garlic powder is a must have, especially for roasts & other meat dishes.
  • Thyme: I use thyme in my roasts some of my soups.. It’s a great mild spice to add to all sorts of dishes.
  • Oregano: From Italian to Mexican dishes, I use quite a bit of oregano. I put it in my beef burritos, tacos as well as my spaghetti sauce!
  • Chili Powder: I use A LOT of chili powder! I try not to use the pre-packaged taco seasonings anymore so in turn, it means I use the heck out of chili powder. It’s really the base for anything taco-spice like OR my homemade chili.
  • Cumin: If you’re going to be making ANYTHING Mexican, cumin is a must have spice. I add it to ALL my Mexican dishes, salsa included.
  • Paprika: There are a variety of different kinds of paprika you can buy. I’d start with just a generic regular ole paprika. My new favorite has been a Hungarian Sweet Paprika.
  • Basil: I love basil. I’d actually like to grow some in our house. But since access to fresh basil is hard for me, I often times have to use dried basil. I put it in my lasagna sauce.
  • Parsley: I add parsley to all kinds of dishes. It’s a great mind addition to pasta sauces or on top of mustard cream sauces.
  • Ground Mustard: I use ground mustard in basically anything I bred.. chicken tenders, pork chops, etc.
  • Bay Leaves: These not only go well in some ethnic cooking like Thai or sometimes Chinese, but I also put bay leaves in my spaghetti sauce and some pork chop dishes.
  • Cinnamon: Using cinnamon is a rare occasion for me, but if you bake it’s great to have on hand.
  • Curry Powder: I LOVE making curries so this is a must have for our household. If you aren’t into ethnic cooking or don’t like curry, it can be omitted from the list.
  • Cracked Red Pepper: Adds a great zip to pasta sauces, etc. I use it sparingly because we aren’t big “spicy” people.
  • Montreal Steak Seasoning: In this house, we can’t cook a steak without this. It’s a necessity.
  • Lawry’s Season Salt: This is also a must have in our house. From meat loaf to burgers or steak sandwiches. We love Lawry’s season salt!
  • Garlic Salt: A good garlic salt is great to add to roasts or use on top of french fries. But be careful when using this AND salt because you CAN over season things.


Canned, Jarred, & Boxed Goods

  • Tomatoes (Diced, Crushed, Sauce & Paste): I try to stock tomatoes of all sorts in my pantry. From pasta sauces, to pizza sauce, and even chili.. I add canned tomatoes to all kinds of dishes! 
  • Beans (Black & Kidney): For my chilis I use black beans and kidney beans as well as use black beans for some Mexican food dishes. You could also stock pintos or garbanzo beans too.
  • Canned Tuna: When I was looking up lists for ideas, tuna was on almost every single one.. Although I don’t use tuna to cook with ever. I do enjoy a nice tuna sandwich so it’s always in my cupboard.
  • Cream of Mushroom Soup: this is an all around good soup to have. I’ve been known to make it from scratch but in a pinch, this soup works great for all kinds of casseroles.
  • Olives (Black & Green): I’m not a lover of olives but I know many great dishes call for olives and my farmer happens to like them. So they are a staple in our house.
  • Broth (Beef & Chicken): As much as I’d love to make this from scratch I rarely ever do. I use A LOT of broth, both chicken and beef. It’s nothing for me to buy three or four of the big containers of broth every time I grocery shop. If you make soup, sauces, or gravies these are MUST HAVE items.
  • Jarred Pasta Sauce: Rarely ever do I use a straight jar of pasta sauce for spaghetti.. I just like to make my own. BUT it does help to have these on hand to bump up a sauce you may be making!
  • Bread Crumbs: Either make them from your stale bread/ends of bread yourself our buy them. I use breadcrumbs ALL the time for breading things like pork chops or chicken tenders.
  • Corn Meal: This is great to add to flour or even your bread crumbs when breading things mentioned above.
  • Corn Starch: my number one thickener used for gravies, sauces, or even soups. Just mix a teaspoon or two with a little water and pour in to thicken.
  • Cooking Spray: Although it’s not a food item, I use cooking spray all the time to either make sure my meals don’t stick to the dish OR even to crisp up fries or enchiladas
  • Oatmeal (Oats): Not only do I love oatmeal.. I also put it in my smoothies. It’s a great thing to add to breads, muffins, cookies, or smoothies.
  • Rice (White, Brown, Wild, Arborio, & Jasmine): Depending on what you are making, some of these can be omitted. My two staples are definitely white rice and arborio because I love risotto.
  • Pasta (Spaghetti, Fettucini, Elbow & Penne): I always have spaghetti noodles on hand. I use fettucini noodles for things like my chicken parmesan. I love pasta and really you could stock all kinds. I like to have some long noodles as well as some other different, smaller pasta on hand whether it be elbow, penne, or even bowtie.
  • Ethnic Food Items: Some other more ethnic food items I stock are: El Pato (Mexican tomato sauce), Diced Green Chilis, Refried Beans, Chipotle Chiles in Adobo Sauce, Sliced Water Chestnuts, Baby Corn, & Coconut Milk.

You may have noticed here that I didn’t put canned veggies or fruits. I’m not really much of a lover of canned veggies besides corn and we put up enough sweet corn last year in the freezer I don’t really need any canned corn. I much prefer frozen vegetables & fruit over canned.


Photo Courtesy Fine Art America


  • Onions: I can’t really think of any meal that I don’t use onions. Most of the time I am using yellow onions. Rarely ever do I stock red onions but they are good to have.
  • Garlic: Garlic is a staple. I buy it constantly. It’s best when I can find the already peeled and bagged garlic, otherwise just whole cloves of garlic work.
  • Potatoes: Potatoes last forever and store well. We keep them on hand all the time, usually red potatoes. But if you want to stock some sweet potatoes, russets & yukons those are all good too.
  • Ginger: If you are a lover of stir fry or Chinese foods, ginger is a must have in your fridge.
  • Butter (Salted & Unsalted): I bake quite a bit so it’s not uncommon for me to stock both types of butter. I love cooking with butter over oil, it just gives things such a better flavor.
  • Lemons & Limes: I always keep lemons and limes on hand for a variety of reasons. They last a long time so it’s always easy to keep them in case something calls for lemon or lime juice.
  • Eggs: Whether I am baking or breading, eggs are always in our fridge.
  • Dairy Products (Milk & Heavy Cream): I use milk and/or heavy cream quite a bit for making sauces or adding a splash of cream to a pasta sauce. Heavy cream has a long shelf life on it so it’s easy to stock in your fridge.
  • Cheese: whatever kind suits your fancy, keep it on hand. Cheese makes everything better!

Image Courtesy Betty Crocker

Baking Essentials

  • White Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Flour
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Honey
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Semisweet Chocolate Chips
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Yeast
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Graham Cracker Crumbs

So there you go. The essentials I need to have a well stocked pantry to be able to make almost anything on the fly! I hope this helped some of you out there who struggle on what to buy when it comes to your pantry! If you have any questions or feel like there is something I missed, leave a comment below! I have also typed up and attached a printable below so it makes for easy grocery shopping! Happy Cooking everyone!

Pantry Essentials


  1. March 22, 2013 / 6:09 pm

    How do you decide whether to use salted or unsalted butter? Do you use one for baking and another for cooking? I like using it over margarine sticks (can’t believe I ever used those) but I’m always confused on which one I should use!

    • March 22, 2013 / 6:12 pm

      I usually use my unsalted butter for all my baking… I guess just because I don’t really know how much salt is in salted butter…? In a pinch I have used salted butter in cookies and other things! 😉