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pantry essentials

10 Pantry Essentials Every Cook Should Have

You may have taken the first key step towards a month of great eating and ordered a ButcherBox, complete with high-quality grass-fed beef, heritage pork, and free-range, organic chicken.

But do you know what else completes a kitchen? Pantry staples, like high-quality oils, a few kinds of vinegar, dried herbs, and more.

This guide details the pantry essentials that make all the difference when preparing the delicious meals at home. The essentials that all cooks have a hands-length from their stoves include condiments like assorted vinegars, Dijon mustard, and soy sauce or their gluten-free variants. With a few of these, you can make everything from vinaigrettes and dressings to sauces, rubs, and much more.

Other necessary kitchen staples include canned tomatoes, which add richness to stews and soups, and dried herbs like oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

The best part? None of these staples are prohibitively expensive, and your individual purchase will probably last you quite a while.

1. High-Quality Oils

You can’t cook many meals without a cooking fat, and while grass-fed butter, ghee, or tallow might be an option, you should always keep a solid selection of healthy, high-quality cooking oils at hand.

These oils might include high heat friendly options filled with healthy fats, like avocado oil or coconut oil. For lower heat preparations, a solid bottle of olive oil should always be handy. You can even use good olive oil as a finishing touch, like a drizzle over salad or hummus.

Neutral oils like avocado oil or olive oil are also excellent bases for homemade salad dressings, and, if you’re really looking to up your pantry game, keep finishing oils like sesame oil or walnut oil on hand.

2. An Assortment of Vinegar

A good vinegar will take a good dish to great, and thankfully there are many options to choose from.

If you need to add acidic sweetness, reach for balsamic vinegar. In fact, dousing some caramelized red onions with balsamic vinegar and sugar is a sure-fire way to make a quick and delicious topping for burgers and steaks, while aged balsamic vinegar makes the perfect coating for grilled veggies.

Don’t stop at balsamic vinegar. Champagne vinegar adds a sweet note to homemade vinaigrettes, while apple cider vinegar boasts so many purported health benefits it’s hard to keep count. You can even throw it into homemade barbeque sauce for a unique bite.

Even plain old white vinegar has its place in a pantry. It’s as useful for making crispy pickles as making homemade kitchen cleanser.

3. Dijon Mustard

Yellow mustard has its place, but nothing heightens a dish more than a dollop of Dijon mustard. The traditional French mustard is made with brown mustard seeds, white wine, and a verjus made from unripe grapes. This verjus is what gives Dijon mustard its distinct, tart flavor.

Use Dijon mustard in a homemade vinaigrette for a crisp salad, or as part of a rub for various cuts of meat. These rosemary brined pork chops are a perfect example.

The best part about Dijon mustard? While it sounds fancy, it’s a pretty affordable condiment, with the store brand bottles rarely costing more than $3 and the fancy stuff only clocking in at $5 or less.

4. Soy Sauce/Tamari/Coconut Aminos

What’s the best way to build umami into your dishes? Soy sauce, a sauce made from fermented soybeans, roasted wheat, and cultures, is the ultimate, inexpensive umami condiment.

Of course, many people question the nutritional impact of soy sauce. If you’re gluten-free, a specific type of soy sauce, tamari, can be made without gluten.

If you avoid soy and grains entirely, coconut aminos, a sauce made from coconut tree sap and salt, is a great alternative. While a bit less pungent and a tad sweeter than traditional soy sauce, it still packs umami flavor into dishes.

Use soy sauce or any of its alternatives in Asian-inspired fare, like this ginger pork noodle soup.

5. A Solid Hot Sauce

While the hot sauce category is vast, your favorite hot sauce is a kitchen essential. Why? Because it can be doused on most anything and elevates the flavor of whatever you’re noshing on.

Do you prefer Asian flavor profiles? Reach for the less hot, slightly sweet Sriracha, or pack in the chili garlic flavor with sambal.

Mexican and Latin America hot sauces are another great category: The options are many, but most sauces feature some kind of vinegary heat and potentially a kick of citrus like lime.

Channel pure Americana with Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce. There are, literally, thousands of hot sauces to choose from.

Use your favorite hot sauce to jazz up a simple breakfast of eggs and bacon, or incorporate it into vinaigrettes and sauces for a little kick.

6. Dried Herbs

Like hot sauce, the selection for dried herbs is vast. And while it’s great to build out your spice cabinet and experiment with various herbs, there are a few essentials we’d recommend always having on hand.

Dried oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme — commonly sold together as an Italian seasoning blend — lend bright flavors to any dish you whip up and are much more convenient in a pinch than fresh herbs.

Other dried herbs we’d consider staples include dill, which is perfect in anything from pickles to salads, and dried bay leaves, which lend depth to soups and stews.

If you’d really like to pad out your spice cabinet, add dried marjoram, ground coriander, dried mint, dried sage, and dried tarragon.

7. Coconut Milk

Canned coconut milk is a treasure, and not just because it’s suitable for most diets. The silky, fatty substance lends richness to any dish it touches, and won’t spoil as quickly as refrigerated alternatives like heavy cream or milk.

Despite it including coconut meat, coconut milk is a fairly neutral, non-dairy way to add creaminess and heft. Use coconut milk to add creaminess to soup, braise meats, or add silky texture and flavor to rice.

Pro tip: Stock up on cans of coconut milk. Whichever ones you don’t use for savory dishes, use them to make dairy-free sweets like no-churn ice cream.

8. Nut and Seed Butters

What’s your favorite? Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, tahini? Whichever nut or seed butter you prefer, it’s bound to serve many uses in your kitchen.

You can, of course, use nut butters to spread on toast, add protein to smoothies, and bake up some delicious cookies. But nut butters have serious culinary uses, too.

Peanut butter or almond butter both make excellent Asian-inspired sauces, like in this Thai almond soba noodle salad. Tahini tastes delicious in Mediterranean fare. Try it drizzled over these Mediterranean meatballs.

9. Canned Tomatoes

Whether you’re whipping up a sauce for pasta, throwing some chili in the crockpot, or cooking up beef stew or pot roast low and slow, canned tomatoes are so useful.

You can find canned tomatoes in many forms, from canned tomato paste to whole, peeled tomatoes in a can. It’s good to have a variety of these options on hand for whatever you may need. They’re inexpensive and can add flavor to nearly any dish, like this fennel and tomato Italian pork shoulder.

10. Good Salt and Black Pepper

It’s a bit of a given that you should have salt and pepper on hand. It’s rare to not add it to a dish in the kitchen. But not just any salt or pepper will do.

Iodized table salt is the most common option, but it’s not exactly the healthiest one. It’s bleached, devoid of trace elements, and often contains additives. Also, it just doesn’t taste as good as sea salt crystals.

Sea salt comes from the ocean, and is evaporated to separate the salt crystals from the water.

(Another option: ButcherBox Chef Yankel always recommends having Kosher salt on hand for seasoning steaks.)

For pepper, whole peppercorns that can be cracked in a pepper mill lend the best flavor.

chicken and waffles

Chicken and waffles: A history and our easy recipe

Don’t miss our ButcherBox recipe for “Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Gluten Free Waffles (Organic Free Range Chicken)” at the bottom of the page.

Many of our favorite modern dishes are the product of culinary cultures colliding.

“Pizza Margherita,” a flatbread that featured tomatoes and cheese, is believed first to have been served in Naples, Italy in the 18th century — only after the introduction of tomatoes from America. Cheeseburgers are the result of German-American immigrants taking a traditional “Hamburg steak” and placing it on bread for convenience. Spaghetti noodles’ arrival in Italy by way of China, Korean tacos with kimchi and bulgogi…the combinations are endless.

Which brings us to the fantastic delight that is “Chicken and Waffles.”

Fried chicken — boneless or not — piled on top of a fluffy waffle with some melted butter and maple syrup is as American as it comes.

First, having bacon, sausage, and ham — or Canadian bacon — isn’t enough for us, so we had to come up with a new way to jam some more meat into our breakfast. Innovation!

Second, even though a breakfast food, we’ve found a way to incorporate chicken and waffles beyond the diner. It has evolved into something with a bit more cache than your standard quiche or breakfast burrito. For instance, chicken and waffles is a regular pass around dish at many cocktail events these days. At places like the Lower East Side’s Root & Bone and Brooklyn’s Sweet Chicks in New York, the dish can be found on dinner menus for between $17 and $25. Boston’s well-known Myers + Chang features their own take on chicken and “ginger” waffles, which is one of the hotspot’s more popular dishes.

History of “Chicken and Waffles”

Before digging into the background of this delectable combo, first we need to trace the origins of waffles and fried chicken in the U.S.

According to lore, waffles in America can be traced back to the arrival of the Pilgrims in Plymouth. As the story goes, the Pilgrims were introduced to the dish while exiled in Holland before heading to the New World. Waffles became more prominent after the Dutch populated what is now New York, bringing with them “wafles.” However, the figure credited with the widespread popularity and acceptance of the breakfast treat in America is none other than founding father Thomas Jefferson, who is believed to have brought one of the first waffle irons to the U.S. after discovering the apparatus in France.

The story of fried chicken’s birth in the U.S. is more complicated and entwined with the history of slavery in the South. A recent Atlantic feature, “As American as Fried Chicken,” does better than I could at digging into the complex background of the dish and its place in soul food traditions.

How Southern soul food and Dutch/Belgian culinary traditions came to be conjoined in one delicious dish is not necessarily agreed upon by food historians. Some point to the popularity of something known as Dutch “waffle frolics” in the South, at which African-Americans fused many of their cultural cooking traditions — including spiced chicken — with waffles or pancake-like crepes. Others believe that jazz-age Harlem was the birthplace of chicken and waffles as we know the dish today.

There is also another completely separate tradition of Pennsylvania Dutch chicken and waffles that uses a pulled or stewed chicken dinner as opposed to fried chicken piled on top of waffles with gravy.

While the origins are disputed, the popularity of the dish is undeniable.

How to cook “Chicken and Waffles”

These days, you can find many different takes on chicken and waffles. In Nashville, the dish is combined with the city’s signature “hot chicken,” and versions of chicken and waffles with Buffalo chicken can be found at gastro pubs and restaurants in almost every city in America. Chicken and waffles with chocolate, gravy, variants of maple syrup, hot sauce, and more are widely available, and recipes abound for the dish. You can use a whole chicken, chicken tenders, or chicken breast, and can prepare it southern chicken-style or how ever you wish. Just make sure your chicken is golden brown and that you follow a fluffy, crispy waffle recipe.

Our in-house ButcherBox chef Yankel Polak has his own take on the dish. His “Gluten-Free Chix ‘n Waffles” recipe is one of the most popular among our ButcherBox recipes. You can check Chef Yankel out in the video below and find the recipe at the bottom of this page.

Chef Yankel suggests pairing this delicious, healthy dish with “a smoky maple syrup for the ultimate flavor bomb.” And make sure to have your waffle iron and a Dutch oven or a deep skillet handy!

Chef Yankel’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Gluten Free Waffles (Organic Free Range Chicken)”

Prep time is about 30 minutes and cook time 40 minutes. This recipe serves six.


  • 1 ButcherBox Whole Chicken, cut into 10 pieces


  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tsp dry thyme
  • 1 tsp dry sage
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt


  • 2 c almond flour
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 3 c gluten-free 1-1 flour
  • 2 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 c coconut oil, for frying
  • 1 c ghee, for frying


  • 2 eggs
  • 2 c gluten-free 1-1 flour
  • 1 ¾ c milk
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ c coconut oil
  • ¼ c chives, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 vanilla bean, just seeds



  1. Place chicken pieces in a large or medium bowl with buttermilk and all marinade ingredients. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 8 – 24 hrs.

Fried Chicken

  1. Place 1 c ghee and 1 c coconut oil into Dutch oven. Place on medium flame and preheat oil to 350°F.
  2. Place almond flour, egg and 1-1 flour in 3 separate dishes.
  3. Remove chicken from buttermilk mix and place on wire rack to drain.
  4. Gently coat each piece of chicken, first in almond flour, then egg, then 1-1 flour and set on pan.
  5. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  6. Place 4 pieces of chicken in fat and fry for 2-3 min on each side or until lightly golden brown. Move to baking sheet. Repeat for remaining chicken.
  7. Place chicken in the oven and continue to cook until thermometer inserted into thickest part registers 165°F, about 20 min.


  1. Crack eggs in medium to small bowl and whisk until frothy, about 3 min.
  2. Add remaining waffle ingredients and whisk gently until just mixed. Don’t overmix the batter – it should be chunky!
  3. Grease waffle iron and cook waffles as directed or until golden-brown.
  4. Serve with your favorite maple syrup and a little sriracha or other hot sauce!