So many recipes, cookbooks, and TV shows focus on how to cook meals in less time, and the solutions are usually centered around the recipes themselves: things that can be prepped and assembled quickly.
But another way cooking can be easier and sometimes faster: a kitchen that’s set up for success. While I tend to think that means having a spot for everything in a drawer or cabinet, there are some things that you use so often, they just belong on the counter. But I also don’t particularly love keeping out giant containers with store labels on it, so in the spirit of uncluttering your counters while still keeping more essentials at hand, here are 10 minimalist (but still useful) things you can leave out and use:
In general, most things are best stored in the containers they come in: coffee bags with air vents are going to be much better than a cute cannister that says “coffee” on it. And dry goods that don’t get used every day, like flour or dried pasta, are probably best stored in the pantry. But for things that get used every day, like sugar for coffee and tea, an attractive canister that you’ll want to leave out and look at is a must.
Room temperature butter, and how deliciously it melts on bread, is one of life’s great joys. It’s also perfectly safe to keep salted butter out for up to two weeks. You can also easily use the softened buttter to grease a skillet for scrambled eggs or grilled cheese. Now you just need a nice, air-tight container to store it in. Enter the Sweese butter dish, which is sized to fit sticks of butter like Land O’Lakes, as well as those fancy European brands that come in big blocks.
And while we’re on the subject of animal-based fats for cooking, let’s talk about grease. Bacon grease shouldn’t go down the drain, both because it’s perfectly good to save and use later and because it’s capable of gumming up both your pipes and the sewer systems of the municipality you live in. Bacon grease actually lasts even longer at room temperature than butter: up to six months. It can eventually go rancid, but keeping it in a cool place (away from the oven) will help with this. Keeping it on the counter makes it easy to collect and use grease, but you can also use it as a way to collect and dispose of grease in the trash. Once it’s full, you can also put it in the fridge to solidify and use it for a really good bacon-y pie crust. Oh, the possibilities.
You don’t need a salt grinder because there’s no taste difference in freshly-ground vs. pre-ground salt. But it is worth investing in some good coarse salt, sea or otherwise, for finishing off dishes or for creating a delicious, crusty crunch on meats like roast chicken. A little salt cellar is great by the stove and can easily be transferred to the table as needed. This also gives your fancy, more expensive salt a special home.
Before shelf-stable bread and plastic bags, bread boxes helped create a moist, dark environment to keep bread better longer. While this isn’t necessary for a storebought loaf of white bread, if you do frequently pick up artisanal loafs or make your own, it’s a bit of retro-chic that actually works.
There are lots of fruits and vegetables that we’re better off not refrigerating. Plus, what better reminder to eat more of both of those things than by keeping them out where you can see them? Most people probably have a decent-sized bowl for holding fruit. (Mid-sized mixing bowls work great.) But if you want something purpose-bought, this enamel bowl has a classic French farmhouse vibe and will look lovely with whatever you toss in.
Here’s the thing about those classic, inexpensive oil dispensers: they let in a lot of light, one of olive oil’s biggest villains. Ideally, an olive oil dispenser should be opaque, which drastically cuts down on your options. Enter, once again, ceramic: classic, useful, and attractive.
Sponges! Gross. But necessary. Drying them out also goes miles to keep them from stinking up your hands, dishes, and kitchen. (My evidence: the smell of the sponge at my last office, which lived in the sink, versus my sponge, which I religiously dry out between uses.) While you can get sponge caddies that suction to your sink, those don’t work well on all sink shapes. They also aren’t exactly the fanciest thing out there. If you want something truly fetching for your humble sponge, get a ceramic sponge holder meant to live outside your sink. It’s so nice looking, you’ll never abandon your sponge to the damp sink again.
While this technically doesn’t go on your counter, it’s an elegant kitchen storage solution for something that usually does: paper towels. The middle rack can hold paper or cloth towels, and the top shelf can be a slot for oils, spices, and more. Bottom hooks are great for pot holders, more towels, measuring spoons... whatever you can think of. Surprisingly versatile, you can figure out your own perfect combination of kitchen essentials to hang and store there.
A salad plate will make a great spoon rest as you stir chili or sautee onions, but if you can leave out a plate this fun, why wouldn’t you? Cheeky with vintage vibes, it’s subtle enough while still bringing a little bit of fun to your oven.