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.
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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.

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Micromanage your drawers
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 told HuffPost. "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.
Take advantage of vertical space
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.
Have a centralized spot with smaller removable 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 told HuffPost. "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.
Keep your spices in line
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.
Synchronize your spices
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.
Put it 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.
Consolidate and color-code
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.
Elevate your pantry
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 told HuffPost. "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.
Make your most-used ingredients easy to reach
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.
Keep it clear and contained
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 told HuffPost. "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.
Keep a highly visible list of what you have and what you need
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 told HuffPost. "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.
Keep your produce stacked and ready
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 told HuffPost. "I use it everyday!"
Don't let clean dishes take up space
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.
Bring some order to your baking sheets and cutting boards
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."
Embrace magnets
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.
Keep your fresh herbs together and in eyesight
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 told HuffPost. "I love it because my herbs last so much longer."
Label and date everything
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 told HuffPost.
Keep everything central and visible
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.
Swap to reusable food storage
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.
Keep your cords close
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 told HuffPost.
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Before You Go

Chef Matty Matheson From ‘The Bear’ On Stuff He Uses To Cook With His Kids
Kids cut-resistant safety cooking gloves(01 of 05)
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Matheson loves these kids' safety gloves for when they're practicing chopping in the kitchen.

"Rizzo's... not even four, and she loves cutting up vegetables. She has these little pink gloves [that] look like winter gloves ... but you can't cut them. They're kids' chain mail gloves, kind of."

These gloves are highly elastic, lightweight and also come in blue.
(credit: Amazon)
8-piece safe plastic cooking knives for kids(02 of 05)
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"We [also] have those little plastic knives, so she can just work away on vegetables and make a little Rizzo salad. She chops up the cucumbers and tomatoes and green onions, and she just macerates everything and does whatever."

Matheson recommends this 8-piece safety knife set from Jovitec. The nylon serrated edges are safer for kiddos' hands, and the handles are easy to grip.
(credit: Amazon)
An adjustable kids standing platform and step stool with safety handrail(03 of 05)
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"Mac's a little older, so he can help me over on the stove and whatnot. I still get very scared every time I lift a pot of boiling water or I'm frying bacon. We have those little step stools that kids use to come up and look and cut and play. It's a little nerve-wracking at times, but you find the sweet spots every day with it."

Matheson uses this 35-inch kids step stoop with adjustable stairs and a safety rail. It can hold up to 150 pounds.
(credit: Amazon)
Anti-splash protective glasses(04 of 05)
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"I try to teach my kids how dangerous stoves and ovens [can be], how dangerous food can be with splattering and whatnot and the way you stir... You don't want to stir counterclockwise, it can make it splash more. You want to always stir in one direction."

To ensure little eyes stay safe when stirring or near the stove (and to help when cutting onions) Matheson recommends these anti-splash protective glasses.
(credit: Amazon)
A 9-pack of dishwasher-safe plastic cutting boards(05 of 05)
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"Mac is always like, 'What part of the animal is this?' 'What is beef?' 'What is pork?' 'What [are] all these things?' You can have those conversations about life and death and ... about eating and why do we eat meat, or why not."

For chopping meats and veggies — and setting the stage for some meaningful conversation about the circle of life — Matheson suggests these dishwasher-safe flexible plastic cutting boards that can be color-coded for different ingredients.
(credit: Amazon)
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