How Real Chefs Keep Their Kitchens Organized And Clutter-Free

From pantry to countertop, here’s how to streamline a kitchen fit for a cook.

Different organizational food containers stacked

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Real chefs know their way around a kitchen, and not just because they’re good at assembling ingredients — it’s because their workspace is likely really, really organized. When everything is labeled, dated and properly stored, putting a meal together is way more streamlined (and safer).

“It’s highly important to stay organized in a kitchen, from beginning to end,” said Rāsheeda Purdie, a chef instructor with CUNY Hostos Community College in the South Bronx and host of ラーメン Byrā ramen pop-ups across New York City.

When Purdie talks about cooking, she describes a big task made up of a million smaller tasks. “A kitchen or pantry has so many moving parts,” Purdie said. “You’re working with appliances, tools and equipment that involves food that you’re prepping, cooking and serving. For your day to run smoothly and remain that way, you must implement structure and organize.”

To help you utilize your cooking space and keep your kitchen clutter-free, we asked our favorite professional chefs for their tips, hacks and favorite tools for storing food.


Micromanage your drawers

drawers with bamboo dividers

That random junk drawer collecting lost doodads is cute in a living room or hallway. But in your cooking space, Alma Fernanda, a Le Cordon Bleu chef and gastronomic cultural attaché at the Mexican embassy in Washington D.C., says you want your drawers extra organized.

"Bamboo kitchen drawer dividers are amazing for keeping gadgets and utensils organized," Fernanda said. "These are a game changer to have a place for every single thing in your kitchen. Keeps your drawers organized and helps with categorizing as well to have everything within reach."

This set of bamboo divers contains eight slots you can adjust to fit from 13 inches long to 19.5 inches long.

You can buy Bamboo Drawer Dividers from Amazon for around $30.


Take advantage of vertical space

A blue metal peg board

You can't snap your fingers and have all your kitchen clutter magically disappear. You can, however, install a peg board (like the late, great Julia Child), to store your cooking equipment vertically on the wall instead of all over your tables.

"My steel peg board creates a functional opportunity to store and showcase my favorite kitchen tools," said Will Coleman, a cooking show host, food stylist and freelance food journalist. "Having items like my favorite utensils, measuring cups and antique cookware allows me to create an exciting and multi-purpose space on a budget."

This two-panel steel peg board comes in nine colors and measures 32 inches square. It can hold up to 400 pounds and has quarter-inch pegs.

You can buy a steel pegboard from Wayfair for around $578


Have a centralized spot with smaller removable containers

A metal container that holds smaller metal containers

After cooking an elaborate meal, it can feel daunting to put every ingredient back in its place. Low-waste vegan chef Priyanka Naik (author of "The Modern Tiffin" and The Washington Post’s EcoKitchen columnist) recommends using a masala dabbis, an Indian steel spice container, to organize herbs and to create a centralized location for all your favorite spices.

"Traditional in pretty much every Indian household, these masala dabbis are used to store spices [and] keep them fresh," Naik said. "The steel doesn't absorb any odor, and the container is dishwasher-safe. It's a great way to organize dry spices [and] keep them accessible."

This double lid masala dabba has seven mini removable spice containers and a tiny spoon.

You can buy a King International Stainless Steel Indian Spice Box from Amazon for around $29.


Keep your spices in line

a white, plastic, ridged spice organizer. It is tiered and holds spices at an angle

If you're low on counter space or just hate having things out, you may prefer keeping your spices in a drawer. As you can imagine, Fernanda recommends instilling some order to your spicy space, instead of letting the small jars roam free.

"[My spice drawer] is by far my favorite drawer in my kitchen," Fernanda said. "My acrylic spice drawer organizer is super easy to clean and makes my spices easy to find and see to get my creative juices flowing."

Moore also loves these spice shelves, saying they help with getting recipes together.

"I like to identify all my spices and keep them in alphabetical order and organized, especially when making my own spices as well," he said.

This set of eight clear spice rack draw organizers are completely adjustable and can be stacked and overlapped to fit your drawers.

You can buy a Spice Drawer Organizer from Amazon for around $19.


Synchronize your spices

24 glass spice bottles with named stickers and a funnel

Of course, getting all your spices to fit neatly in your drawer or rack is difficult if they're all in different bottles and containers. Though it can feel like a pain to move your spices from their original jars into new ones, chef Jordan Farnum of MoreSeasoning says it's worth the meticulousness. With all your spices in the same size and shape container, they're super easy to store and move around. (They'll look nicer, too.)

Farnum recommends this set of 24 spice jars that come with both blank and prewritten labels.

You can buy 24 Glass Spice Jars from Amazon for around $25.


Put it on wheels

A three-tier cart on wheels

To keep essentials close and to have more space when you need it, Coleman suggests putting your favorite items on rolling carts.

"My rolling carts from The Container Store serve as the perfect tool to store my abundant spice collection," he said. "The smooth, moving carts allow me to have my spices right at the hip while cooking while also allowing me to roll them away to store them out of sight."

This three-tier rolling cart comes in eight colors and can hold up to 6.6 pounds per shelf.

You can buy a 3-Tier Rolling Cart Mint from The Container Store for around $40.


Consolidate and color-code

Colorful plastic bins that are stackable that have slots and hand holds

Another hack for keeping your cupboards organized? Put similar items in easily removable bins, so you can take out and put back the entire thing without rummaging through the cabinet and removing individual ingredients.

"The Hay color crates are a fun and functional way to put my favorite pantry items on display while also being able to reach for them in a jiffy," Coleman said. "Other than the stylish appeal, they're a great way to declutter your kitchen space and create a designated area for your most-used items."

These stackable crates from Hay are made from 100% recycled materials and come in 19 colors and three sizes.

You can buy a Recycled Color Crate from Hay for around $7.


Elevate your pantry

clear containers with vacuum sealed lids

When celebrities do tours of their home kitchens, they often have remarkably styled pantries and display food in gorgeous clear containers. Chef Lamar Moore, who's opening up a new restaurant in Chicago in 2023, says the key to a luxurious-looking pantry is storing everything in high-quality, airtight containers.

"I love having OXO... container sets," Moore said. "I am not a fan of boxes. These help keep my cereal, flour and dry goods organized and extends the shelf life."

Fernanda also loves OXO brand food storage containers. "They keep my pantry looking super organized and keep my ingredients fresh," she said. "Love that you can easily label them and make them look clean and pretty. Can't live without them."

This set contains 10 different-sized containers.

You can buy this OXO Good Grips 10-Piece POP Container Set from Amazon for around $90.


Make your most-used ingredients easy to reach

Two clear lazy susans

For Fernanda, the best way to keep your kitchen from getting messy is to never make a mess at all. Rather than tearing through the cabinets looking for sea salt or olive oil, or rearranging the fridge trying to find the gochujang, Fernanda keeps her most-used things on mini lazy Susans, making them super easy to grab and then put back. While you can keep these spinning tables in your cabinets or on the counter, you can also put them in the fridge, keeping perishable items handy.

This set of two 9-inch clear acrylic rotating shelves will do the trick.

You can buy a 9 Inch Lazy Susan Spice Rack Organizer from Amazon for around $17.


Keep it clear and contained

Clear cylindrical containers

If you've ever worked in a restaurant (or if you've loving "The Bear" on Hulu) you've likely seen professional chefs store things in (or drink water out of) plastic deli containers.

Jeanne Chang, chef and co-owner of Lil' Pop Shop, a small-batch artisan popsicle and pie shop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says using these clear, stackable containers helps bring some order to her fridge and pantry.

"I use clear pint and quart containers for keeping prepped ingredients," Chang said.

Chef Adam Witt, better known as Omnivorous Adam, also loves deli containers and suggests using them at home even if you aren't a professional cook.

"I just recently posted an entire YouTube video dedicated to deli containers and why I love them," Witt said. "They’re affordable, stackable, expendable and see-through, which makes purposing the pantry or examining which ingredients you do/don’t have a lot easier."

This set come with 44 containers in 8-, 16- and 32-ounce sizes. They're freezer- and microwave-safe, leak-proof and airtight.

You can buy DuraHome Food Storage Containers from Amazon for around $23.


Keep a highly visible list of what you have and what you need

A magnetic whiteboard on a refrigerator

To stay mentally organized, Alex Dill, culinary director at Tabla, a farm-to-table tapas bar and restaurant in Tannersville, New York, recommends putting a dry-erase board in an easily accessible and visible place. It's a centralized way to keep track of what leftovers you have, what you plan to make later in the week and what ingredients you need if you have run to the store.

"Whiteboards [help with] organization, prep lists and to keep everyone informed," Dill said. "They’re big and everyone can see them; keeps everyone on track with the day."

Dill recommends putting your board in a centralized location where you (or whoever else cooks and eats in your home) can easily check it. This whiteboard sheet is flexible and magnetic and comes with four markers and an eraser that all stick to your fridge. You can also get ones that hang on your wall or come with a little stand.

You can buy a Magnetic Dry Erase Whiteboard Sheet from Amazon for around $15.


Keep your produce stacked and ready

A two tear wireframe basket

A giant ceramic produce bowl may look nice in a catalog, but for busy people living real lives, it can be a recipe for forgotten fruit and misplaced garlic.

Farnum encourages you to upgrade your produce and herb storage to something vertical and transparent. These sorts of containers let you see all the good stuff you have, without taking up a ton of precious counter space.

"A two-tier vegetable and fruit rack from Crate and Barrel definitely changed my life in the kitchen," Farnum said. "I use it everyday!"

You can buy a Bendt 2-Tier Iron Fruit Basket from Crate & Barrel for around $48.


Don't let clean dishes take up space

Silver, slatted, rollable rack with round metal dowels

Even if you have a dishwasher, you likely have that one special mug or plastic spatula you need to wash by hand. Rather than keeping a drying rack out at all times, White suggests switching to a roll-up rack.

"I hand-wash a lot of my cake pans and food props, and I love having a roll-up drying rack," she said. "It helps free up my counter space and I love how easy it is to store when I’m not using it."

This stainless steel rack has a silicone border, so it's gentle on your sink. It's also heat-resistant and durable, so you can rest heavy pots on it.

You can buy a Kibee Dish Drying Rack from Amazon for around $14.


Bring some order to your baking sheets and cutting boards

A metal organizer

If you keep your baking sheets in lower cabinets, it may always feel like a struggle to pull them out.

"Before I had this baking sheet rack, my cabinets felt like a game of Jenga every time I tried to pull out a pan," White said. "It makes it so much easier to find and pull out the right pans and baking sheets for different recipes."

You can buy a pantry rack from Amazon for around $14.


Embrace magnets

A magnetic strip with knives, a whisk, and scissors stuck to it

Another tip for keeping your counters clear? Leave your knives on the wall.

"Knife blocks take up counter space," Witt said. "Wall magnets are also a pretty cool way to show off your knife collection. It’s the epitome of functional decor."

This self-adhesive magnetic knife holder comes with a sticky back for easy install.

You can buy Self-adhesive Magnetic Knife Holder from Amazon for around $14.


Keep your fresh herbs together and in eyesight

a container with herbs

In a busy fridge, lonely sprigs of mint or rosemary are asking to be forgotten. Vivian Aronson of Cooking Bomb, author of "Asian Market CookBook," uses a fresh herb keeper from Cole & Mason to keep her herbs together.

"I have this in my fridge to keep my cilantro, green onions, basil and other fresh herbs I use every day," Aronson said. "I love it because my herbs last so much longer."

You can buy a Fresh Herb Keeper from Amazon for around $20.


Label and date everything

A pack of sharpies

A great way to keep old and moldy food at bay? Label and date everything, from last night's leftover chicken to Green Goddess salad dressing you made from TikTok. Mike Woodard, a line cook at Tabla, suggests keeping permanent markers in your kitchen space to help you tag everything as you're putting it away.

“Sharpie, specifically the industrial one. I can write notes and label things," Woodard said.

You can buy Sharpie Industrial Permanent Markers from Amazon for around $13.


Keep everything central and visible

A kitchen island with shelving underneath. It is industrial style with wood and metal

When it comes to kitchen organizing, you may want to throw everything haphazardly in a drawer or cabinet, close the door and call it a night, but Naik urges you to embrace open space. Having your daily essentials in an accessible and visible place helps you put them back where they belong and lets you see everything you have.

"I use the open shelving in my kitchen island for storing frequently used dishes, plates, bowls, pans, air fryer, etc." she said. "It frees up space in the cabinets and makes everyday items easily accessible and visible."

This multifunction kitchen island has eight shelves as well as hooks and towel racks to store everything at once.

You can buy this Multifunction Kitchen Island from Overstock for around $163.


Swap to reusable food storage

Colorful plastic, semi-transparent reuable storage containers

Naik says reusable food storage means less clutter around the kitchen.

"I use Stasher bags to store leftovers, food prep (chopped produce, etc)," Naik said. "They're dishwasher-safe, easy to clean and minimize the use of 'one-use' zippie bags."

This mixed 6-pack of reusable silicone bags from Stasher contains three smaller bags and three larger ones. They're waterproof, leakproof and safe to go in the freezer.

You can buy 6 Stasher Silicone Reusable Storage Bags from Amazon for around $65.


Keep your cords close

A chord organizer that is attached to the back of a stand mixer with the chord wrapper around it.


Whether your kitchen is huge or teeny-tiny, a snarl of twisted appliance cords is enough to make anyone call for takeout. Chelsey White of Chelsweets swears by these little plastic cord wrappers that attach right to your tools.

"I always have my mixers and appliances out on my counter, and it’s nice to be able to wrap up the cords and have them out of the way when I’m not using them," White said.

You can buy cord organizers from Amazon for around $11.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.


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