9 Kitchen Organizing Tips That Will Make You a Better Cook

Confidence in the kitchen starts before you reach for any ingredients. Where you store your spoons, spices or spatulas could be the difference between a successful meal and a flop.

Location, Location, Location

We keep our toothpaste above the sink and check the mirror on the door of the closet when we get dressed, yet we don't always apply the same logic and efficiency to how we arrange things in our kitchen. Employ these clever organizing ideas to streamline your cooking routine and inspire great meals to come.

Set Up a Cooking Station

Put the staples you use daily — olive oil, a pinch bowl with kosher salt, a pepper grinder — on a small tray or basket within arm's reach of the stove. Do the same with a crock (or nearby drawer) and fill it with must-haves like tongs, wooden spoons, a whisk, ladle and spatula. This way, you can grab what you need at just the right minute, assuring that your brown butter won't turn black and your gravy is silky smooth.

Cabinets: Cabinets To Go, Shaker style in Knob Hill Espresso

When It Comes to Containers, Think Simple

A mish-mash of containers (and ill-fitting lids) will slow you down while meal prepping — but you don't need a fancy storage system to fix that. The chefs in Food Network Kitchen swear by plastic cup, pint and quart containers like the kind you get with your favorite take-out. They're airtight, so they're great for food prep. Plus, you can see through them — a good thing when you need to ID leftovers. And they nest inside each other, making them easy to store. Cook up a batch of grains on a Sunday, stow them in a quart container, and you are set for salads and sides for the week. The pint size is handy for toting lunch to the office; smaller sizes can hold rubber bands, paper clips and other junk-drawer odds and ends.

Designate a Drawer for Kitchen Towels

It might feel excessive to fill a whole drawer with towels, but there are dozens of uses for these workhorses, and the more you have on hand, the better. Just a few examples: Put a damp towel under a cutting board to prevent it from slipping, use one to pat delicate herbs dry, wring out riced cauliflower or wipe a knife clean between cutting tasks. Use a folded towel in place of a hot pad or wrap one around an ice pack to soothe a bruise — and, of course, a clean kitchen towel is the fastest way to dry dishes.

Create a Coffee Station

Follow the kitchen mantra to store your equipment where you use it. In this case, commandeer the cabinet above the coffee maker (or the drawer below it) for mugs, coffee cups, stirrers and sweeteners. Mornings just became a tiny bit easier.

Corral and Cull Your Spices

Hunting and pecking to find the right seasoning among dozens of little out-of-date bottles ("Why do we have 3 bottles of oregano?!") is a waste of time and energy. Gather the offenders and toss any ground spices and herbs older than 2 years or whole spices older than 3 years. Then choose a storage system where you can clearly see your stash — like a carousel in a cabinet, a tiered spice rack or shallow drawer — and use it.

Cabinets: Cabinets To Go, Shaker style in Knob Hill Espresso

Organize Equipment by Season

You cook this way, and it makes sense to stock your kitchen this way, too. In the winter, when you're making big roasts, holiday cookies and apple pies, you need easy access to roasting pans, gingerbread cutters and apple corers. But come spring, they should be shifted to the higher shelves or back of the pantry so you can position your summer equipment — ice cream machine, grill gear, margarita glasses — at a grab-and-go level.

Sort Your Pantry by Category

When you have a bag of chips sitting on top of the tomato sauce, and the honey is lost among the cans of pumpkin puree, you can't work at optimal speed. Worse, you've probably forgotten about that bottle of sherry vinegar that could give your salad a magic boost. Imagine this: Neat shelves of your essentials in baskets arranged by use. Pastas up here, breakfast supplies in the middle and kids' snacks where they can reach them. Heavy lifters like bottled water and juice can remain down low. Refills and rarely used items go in the more hard-to-reach areas.

Keep Cookbooks Close

You want them accessible (though not in splattering range of the stove) and available for inspiration. But be selective; you don't need to shelve every fundraiser recipe collection or souvenir cookbook. When every inch counts in the kitchen, bring the books you use the most — or can't wait to try — and leave the others in the den or bedroom.

Label Everything

In the frosty haze of the freezer, that leftover container of pea soup could be pureed broccoli, homemade pesto, tomatillo salsa — aka pretty much anything. Tuck a few permanent markers and a stack of white labels in the drawer where you store your resealable plastic bags and it'll be a cinch to keep track of what you're saving and the date you did.