CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

How to Use the Random Ingredients in Your Pantry

Turn those dusty cans sitting in the back of the cupboard into tonight's dinner.

Molly Price Former Editor
David Watsky Senior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's spent more than a decade covering all things edible, including meal kit services, food subscriptions, kitchen tools and cooking tips. Since earning a BA in English from Northeastern in Boston, he's toiled in nearly every aspect of the food business, including as a line cook in Rhode Island where he once made a steak sandwich for Lamar Odom. Right now, he's likely somewhere stress-testing a blender or researching the best way to make bacon. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
Expertise Kitchen tools, appliances, food science, subscriptions and meal kits.
David Watsky
4 min read
pantry ingredients in cupboard

Some helpful tips for using random pantry ingredients and making meals using only what you have.

Angela Lang/CNET

If you're headed out for an extended vacation or moving to a new home but don't feel like lugging all your nonessentials, you might be wondering what to do with the stuff left in your pantry. And even if you're not going anywhere but ready to get organized for fall, it's time to root out all the odd ingredients that have been squatting in your pantry for years; perhaps holdovers from that strict five-point diet that never materialized or a meal kit recipe you forgot to add a packet of seasoning to. 

Donating unopened and nonexpired pantry items is a great idea and a quick search should turn up food bank options in your area. But there are good ways to use up all those half-consumed bags of rice or dusty cans of beans to feed yourself and your family, too. 

Below you'll find tips and ideas to help you get the most out of all the random food relics that you can't quite remember buying but are taking up precious space in the pantry. 

Read more: Olive Oil, Brown Rice and Other Foods that Spoil Faster Than You'd Think

hand holding empty spice jar

Don't throw out those half-empty jars of spice until you read this. 

Molly Price/CNET

Recipe ideas

Stumped on what you could possibly pull together? These sites and apps can suggest recipes that include only what you have on hand. Check your expectations, because if you've only got bread and hot dogs there's only so much we can do. Still, these may help spark an idea or two.

MyFridgeFood.com: If you're stuck trying to think up a recipe idea, and you're convinced there's nothing you can make with two chicken drumsticks, some cheese and a can of mushrooms, this is the site for you. Check the boxes for everything you have on hand and you'll get recipe suggestions. Mileage may vary. 

MyRecipes.com: The ingredients page of this site has a "build a recipe" feature. Start by typing in three ingredients you already have, and you'll get a list of recipes that fit the bill. You'll also be able to see recipes that would work if you have a few more items. 

SuperCook: The SuperCook app for iOS and Android is built around finding recipes for what you have on hand. However, it will probably show some results that need just one or two more ingredients. The app also suggests items by saying, "Do you also have..." with a selection of common ingredients to bring you more options. 

Yummly: Whirlpool acquired Yummly in 2017 and incorporated the recipe platform into its smart kitchen appliances. The app kept much of its original appeal, and it's an excellent place to find recipe ideas. You can filter by ingredients and dietary restrictions, too.


If you have a smart display, you can get visual instructions and demos to help you through even the most basic recipes. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Missing an ingredient?

These sites will help you figure out just what to do when you've got almost everything to make a recipe. In a lot of cases, you'll be able to leave out a spice or two or swap in a different vegetable or side item. You might not have taco seasoning, but if you have the spices that go in taco seasoning, you can mix up your own.

Foodsubs.com: Titled The Cook's Thesaurus, this old-school-looking site still has all the info you need for finding a good substitute. The site has detailed notes about how to sub for each ingredient and the technique you should use to get a good result.

Heart.org: Even if you're not missing an ingredient, the American Heart Association's guide is a valuable resource. It will help you swap ingredients for healthier ones that will work just as well. No time like a pandemic to level up your health!

AllRecipes.com: AllRecipes is the perfect place to find recipe inspiration, and its extensive substitution chart is really helpful if you're missing pantry essentials like butter, oil, cream or baking soda. 

Read more: Best Meal Delivery Deals for September


Food Network Kitchen offers live cooking classes from celebrity chefs. 

Food Network

Online cooking classes and videos

If you've got spare time on your hands, why not learn a few new skills in the kitchen? Online cooking classes, live or prerecorded, are great ways to entertain yourself, pick up a few new cooking skills and even do a little socializing.

Food Network Kitchen offers live cooking classes from celebrity chefs. America's Test Kitchen also has more than 230 cooking classes. You will need to pay for a subscription for these, however. 

You can always search YouTube for quick how-to videos on kitchen basics. Also, check out CookSmarts.com. This site covers the basics in a simple, helpful way.

Also take a look at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street. The former Editor-in-Chief of America's Test Kitchen is dishing out free classes in everything from understanding how spices work to making the perfect pasta at home. The entire library of Milk Street courses are free through April 30.