Culinary School Lesson: The Surprising Utility of Take-Out Containers

In my “What I Learned in Culinary School” series, I’ll be sharing tips and tricks that I learned from two years of working with some of the country’s best chefs. This will include big things like learning to work efficiently, and small things like how to cook bacon perfectly. All of them will be applicable to your home kitchen, making you a faster, better, and more confident cook.

If culinary schools and restaurants bulk two things in bulk, it’s butter and plastic deli containers. The butter part is obvious, as it’s basically the foundation of classic French cooking. But the deli containers? They’re just plain convenient.

Ask any chef you know – they LOVE deli containers for many reasons. They’re see-through, making it simple to quickly find and grab what you need. They’re stackable, so they’re perfect for organizing crowded pantries and refrigerators.

Culinary School Lesson: The Surprising Utility of Take-Out Containers (plus a fun party trick!) |

They’re re-usable, recyclable, microwavable, freezer- and dishwasher-safe. They’re also cheap (or even free), meaning you can use them to send leftovers home with family, and you don’t have to worry about getting them back. To my friends’ amusement, I even occasionally use them as drinking water cups.

And the benefits don’t end there. They can be used as improvised measuring cups in a pinch. The most popular sizes – quart, pint and half-pint – equal four, two and one cups, respectively.

My favorite alternative use for these little containers is using two of the lids to quickly halve grape tomatoes. Place 5 to 6 grape tomatoes between two lids. While gently pressing down on the top lid to hold everything in place, carefully slide a serrated knife between the lids to quickly cut all of the tomatoes in half. Fun party trick, right?

Culinary School Lesson: The Surprising Utility of Take-Out Containers (plus a fun party trick!) |

Deli containers can be purchased at most restaurant supply stores and bulk food stores. Containers and lids are purchased separately, and prices vary based on amounts. The lids are interchangeable between all container sizes. A set of 50 half pint containers and their lids can usually be had for under $10. You can also simply wash and re-use containers you receive from delis, restaurants and grocery stores.

Make like a professional chef and get a stack of these for home use. Come to my house, and you’ll see them throughout my fridge, freezer and pantry. I use them to store prepped ingredients and dry grains, freeze homemade ice cream, package up homemade soup and just about everything else!

For more tips and tricks from my school days, be sure to check out my culinary school archive.

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  1. Oh! Do you remember weighing everything out for mise en place?

  2. Oh, we had entire reach-in’s that were just tray upon tray of mise’d ingredients!

  3. I totally keep these, but my mom is the QUEEN of being thrifty and green before it was cool. Since my parents didn’t have much money growing up, it was out of necessity.

  4. Being thrifty is cool, even when you’re doing it out of necessity, Sophia. And honestly, I like these cheap/free containers better than the more expensive disposable kinds they sell.

  5. Ooooh fun party trick! Those get me every time. Heading over to read your post now!

  6. Oh my goodness! My MIL is obsessed with these little deli containers! She’s a retired baker and they used them all the time at the bakery. Handy little buggers!

  7. Your MIL is a smart lady, Kirsten 🙂 Can’t wait to meet you tomorrow!

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