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How to shop for the top 4 pantry staples

Learn what the key items of a well-stocked pantry are. Plus, find out what to look for when buying your pantry staples.


Most pantries have salt, pepper, oil and butter. But there are tons of choices even when it comes to these kitchen essentials. Here’s how to stock your pantry for maximum effect. 

1. Salt

The Test Kitchen develops and tests recipes with readily available fine free-flowing iodized table salt, unless otherwise specified. Other salts to consider stocking in your pantry include coarse kosher salt and a specialty sea salt or finishing salt. Always taste food before adding salt at the table; it should be used sparingly, and a little goes a long way.

2. Pepper

Get the most punch from your pepper by investing in a good pepper mill and purchasing whole peppercorns. Freshly ground pepper brings a more complex flavour to dishes than the preground version. You can store whole black peppercorns in your spice cupboard for up to a year.

3. Oil

Various oils have different smoke points (the temperatures at which they begin to smoke when heated), which means you’ll want to use different oils depending on how you’re cooking. To get the most from your oils, consider stocking these three in your pantry:

• A vegetable oil, such as canola, sunflower or grapeseed oil. Vegetable oil is relatively flavourless and has a high smoke point, making it perfect for frying, sautéeing and general cooking. 

• An extra-virgin olive oil. This big-flavoured oil has a lower smoke point, and it’s perfect for salad dressings.

• A finishing oil, such as walnut, avocado, sesame or chili oil. Finishing oils are meant to be drizzled over finished dishes, adding a big boost of flavour. They are typically the least stable at room temperature, so refrigerate them to prevent rancidity.

4. Butter

When it comes to baking and sautéeing, you can’t beat butter. It’s worth keeping both salted and unsalted butter on hand. Stock up when it’s on sale and keep it in the freezer for up to six months. Salted is best on bread; unsalted is great for cooking and baking, allowing you to adjust the salt content according to your tastes and dietary needs.

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