12 Kitchen Organization Tips From the Pros

When you spend all day in the kitchen, you learn how to keep things running smoothly. Here's how professional foodies find a place for everything — and keep everything in its place — to make cooking and entertaining easier.

By: Susan Kleinman

Photo By: Michael Sporer

Photo By: Michael Sporer

Photo By: Faith Durand ©© Elana's Pantry

Photo By: Debroah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Photo By: DK - House Works ©2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Photography by Fap Ceramiche

Photo By: Debroah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Store It Where You Need It

To make cooking and baking most comfortable, make sure your kitchen itself is laid out for maximum efficiency. "Locate everything in your kitchen near where you will use it," says Matt Sporer, a cook who has worked in several top New York restaurants.

Stay Well Stocked

"I keep at least one backup of every item in my pantry," says blogger and cookbook author Elana Amsterdam of Elana's Pantry, "and as soon as I pull it out for use, I am sure to add the item to my grocery list so we aren't ever out of inventory."

Keep Tools Within Easy Reach

When setting up this residential kitchen, Sporer put the pots and pans in drawers directly below the stove, and the tools in drawers adjacent to the stove, to make cooking easy.

Organization is Key

Cookbook author Sheri Castle, whose most recent book is The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Recipes for Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers' Markets, Roadside Stands and CSA Farm Boxes, has organized her kitchen into task-oriented work zones. "For example," she says, "I keep all of the items I use for baking in one drawer, all items for measuring and mixing in one drawer, and all knives and cutting tools together in another drawer. When I'm ready to cook, everything I need is in one spot, ready to grab and go. This organization makes prep work quicker because I don't have to dig around for things. It also makes clean up quicker, because I know exactly where everything should go when I'm done.

Protect Delicate Tools

"Covering the bottom of kitchen drawers with a piece of non-adhesive shelf liner keeps items from shifting and sliding when you open and close the drawers," says cookbook author Sheri Castle. "It also cushions delicate items, like the microplane graters I use to zest the lemons for my lemon curd." Get Sheri's Citrus Curd recipe.

Label It

Whatever recipe you're whipping up, having a well-organized pantry means you can find what you need when you need it. To keep her ingredients well-organized and handy, gluten-free cookbook author and blogger Elana Amsterdam uses different size glass jars and labels them with a label maker. "I put the higher jars in the back and the shorter ones in front," she says. "That way you can see everything at once without moving the jars around."

Use Double-Duty Containers

Glass jars make great serving dishes, as well. Annette Joseph, author of Picture Perfect Parties (Rizzoli, 2013), serves her olive tapenade in a glass jar. The casual presentation helps a party feel friendly and laid-back, and any leftovers can be stored right in the serving container. Get Annette's Olive Tapenade and Crostini recipe.

Opt for All-White Dishes

Another serving-dish space saver: Instead of bowls and platters in lots of different patterns, buy everything in white. "That way," says caterer Bruce Soffer of The Chefs Table, Ltd., "the things you have can be used for any sort of party, and any color scheme." For a more casual look, compliment the white china with rustic baskets or to dress things up, add candlelight.

Keep an Eye on Freshness

To help keep track of your perishables, do what Arlen Gargagliano, chef/owner of Mambo 64 in Tuckahoe, NY, does to make sure the ingredients in recipes like her chimichurri are always fresh. "Label items not only with the content," says Gargagliano, "but with the date they were opened."

Contain Bulk Purchases

If you buy ingredients in bulk, as Arlen Gargagliano does not only for her restaurant, Mambo 64, but for her own home use as well, transfer things from floppy bags and large boxes to more manageable, smaller containers. It's easier to keep the containers right at hand, and they're less likely to spill, too.

Chalk Up a Checklist

If you’re planning a party with lots of dishes to prepare, each with lots of prep steps, take a tip from caterer Bruce Soffer of The Chefs Table, Ltd., and keep a chalkboard, white board (or even a large piece of paper taped to your wall) with the steps for every day written out, day-by-day.

Plan Ahead for Parties

When you're cooking to entertain, remember to schedule in your table setting, in addition to the food. "Set your table and do your flower arrangements and tablescape a day in advance," says Annette Joseph, author of Picture Perfect Parties (Rizzoli, 2013). "And label your platters, trays and serving bowls with sticky notes, identifying the items to be placed in each of them."