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Entering the dry storage area — also known as the pantry of a professional kitchen — can be a daunting experience due to the sheer number of items. To keep everything organized there has to be a strict system, otherwise it would be total chaos. Some professional kitchens have hundreds of employees and things can get messy quickly, with 30 people all rummaging through the stock at once. In almost every kitchen, you’ll find the dry storage space neatly organized with every single item in Cambros labeled with tape and Sharpie noting what’s inside. “Cambro” is the brand name of every professional kitchen’s favorite food storage container. They come in sizes ranging from a quart to 24 litres. When preparing large amounts of stock, soup, or salsa verde for brunch, these huge containers make it easy to store everything in the large walk-in refrigerators at a restaurant. But in the dry storage area, you’ll also find Cambros – just usually in smaller sizes. After years of working in professional kitchens, I’ve come to love this system in a way usually reserved for beloved 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 wasn’t the well-oiled machine that 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 shouldn’t I model my home pantry after the one at work? After my shift, I stopped by the restaurant shop and got to work.
I emptied every errant bag and box of odds and ends into their clear Cambro container and labeled them with masking tape and a Sharpie – just like 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 side by side. And one of the best features of Cambros is that they can be stacked. (Using the vertical space on my pantry saved me So lots of space.) The best part? Switching my organizational method from absolute chaos to a real system has saved me a lot of time and money. Plus, I can now quickly look in my pantry and know exactly what I have — no more accidentally doubling lentils because I couldn’t see the half-used bag behind the mountain of breadcrumbs. This system is also incredibly easy to maintain: after an initial hour or so of work, it only takes a minute or two after each grocery trip to combine or refill containers.
So, here’s my secret to completely streamlining your pantry: Set aside an afternoon, grab more Cambros (in different 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 getting everything out of your pantry – I mean everything. Set aside things that can’t go in containers, like vanilla extract or something that’s just too small to make sense, and throw out things you know you won’t be using. Then start grouping your ingredients. (Beans and grains go here, boxes of pasta there, flour and sugar here, you know what I mean.) Then go dump! Put everything in the smallest container it fits in and put it back in your pantry in groups. Then, voila! Total pantry harmony.