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Walking into the dry storage — aka the pantry area of a professional kitchen — can be a daunting experience due to the sheer volume of items. In order to keep everything organized, there has to be a strict system in place, or else it would be total chaos. Some professional kitchens have hundreds of employees, and things can get messy fast, with 30 people all rummaging through the stock simultaneously. In nearly every kitchen, you’ll find the dry storage area neatly organized with every loose item in Cambros, labeled with masking tape and Sharpie noting what’s inside. “Cambro” is the name brand of every professional kitchen’s favorite food storage container. They come in sizes ranging from one quart all the way up to 24 quarts. When prepping huge batches of stock, soup, or salsa verde for brunch, these huge containers make it easy to store everything in the large walk-in refrigerators in a restaurant. But, in the dry storage area, you’ll also find Cambros — just usually in smaller sizes. After working in professional kitchens for years, I’ve come to love this system in a way usually reserved for beloved family pets. It’s the cornerstone of restaurant efficiency, a place for everything and everything in its place, and it’s about to make your life as a home cook much easier.
Like many home cooks, my pantry was not the well-oiled machine that the dry storage at work was. I had three half-used bags of the same beans, open flour bags that always made a mess, and brown sugar that had calcified into a mass harder than diamonds — it was a disaster. Then, one day at work, I had a revelation. Why not model my home pantry after the one at work? After my shift, I stopped by the restaurant supply store and got down to business.
I emptied every errant bag and box of odds and ends into their clear Cambro container and labeled it with masking tape and a Sharpie — exactly how I would at work. I could finally use all the space in my pantry! Gone were the days of playing a losing game of Tetris with boxes and bags that were never designed to fit next to each other. And, one of the best features of Cambros is that they can be stacked. (Utilizing the vertical space on my pantry shelves has saved me so much space.) The best part? Switching my organization method from absolute chaos to an actual system has saved me a ton of time and money. Plus, now I can quickly glance at my pantry and know exactly what I have — no more accidentally doubling up on lentils because I couldn’t see the half-used bag behind the mountain of breadcrumbs. This system is also incredibly easy to upkeep: After one initial hour or so of work, it takes just a minute or two after each grocery trip to combine or refill containers.
So, here’s my secret to totally streamline your pantry: Set aside an afternoon, grab more Cambros (in varying sizes, I like the 2-quart and 4-quart varieties) than you think you’ll need, take a deep breath, and put on your “get-pumped” playlist. Start by pulling everything out of your pantry — I mean everything. Set aside things that can’t go into containers, such as vanilla extract or anything that’s just too small for it to make sense, and throw away things that you know you won’t use. Then, start by grouping your ingredients. (Beans and grains go over here, boxes of pasta there, flour and sugar here, you get my drift.) Next, get to dumping! Put everything in the smallest container it’ll fit in and place it back in your pantry by group. After that, voila! Total pantry harmony.