We already told you the best plastic and glass storage containers to use for your make-ahead cooking, but there’s a lot more to food storage. Keeping an organized and well-stocked kitchen is key to successful make-ahead cooking, so it's important to have the right wraps and zipper-lock bags on hand in addition to containers. These items will help you store food easily and safely and prevent contamination and off-flavors.
When you want to stash a dish in the fridge or freezer without transferring it to a storage container, covering it with plastic wrap is the simplest way to keep the dish airtight. Plastic wrap can be made from two distinctly different substances. Some manufacturers use a food-safe version of PVC; others use low-density polyethylene (LDPE).
The main difference? PVC clings but is not impermeable; LDPE is impermeable but has far less cling. Clingy PVC wraps are preferable if you are transporting food or are worried about spills and leaks, but to keep foods fresh longer, select plastic wraps made from LDPE. If the plastic wrap doesn't adhere easily to the dish, dampen the edge of the dish with a wet paper towel to help the plastic stick. Our all-around winner is Glad Cling Wrap Clear Plastic. [Read Our Review | Buy on Amazon]
We reach for aluminum foil constantly in the test kitchen. We use it to line baking sheets for easy cleanup, to cover dishes when baking to prevent them from drying out, to wrap food in a pouch so it will steam gently in the oven, and to protect dishes from off-flavors in the freezer.
We find heavy-duty foil easier to work with and recommend you stock extra-long rolls as well as standard 12-inch rolls. While parchment is typically used to cook food en papillote, or in a pouch, we find aluminum foil easier to work with. See instructions below for making a foil packet for chicken and vegetables cooked en papillote. These packets, prepared through step 3, can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
Plastic zipper-lock bags are a must in the make-ahead kitchen. They are great for holding meat and marinade in the fridge overnight and handy for freezing sauces so you can store them flat—a bonus if you are short on freezer space. You can also use them to freeze individual items like breaded cutlets or veggie burgers, making it easy to take out and defrost just what you need.
We recommend buying freezer-safe zipper-lock bags because they are made of thicker plastic than standard bags, making them sturdier and better at protecting food from off-flavors in the fridge or freezer. Readily available, the best supermarket option is Ziploc Brand Freezer Bags with Easy Open Tabs [Buy on Amazon] but we highly recommend Elkay Plastics Ziplock Heavy Weight Freezer Bags as the best all-around option (order at webrestaurantstore.com).
When storing food in a zipper-lock bag, be sure to press out as much air as possible before sealing the bag. When transferring raw meat to a zipper-lock bag, it can be difficult to keep the opening from coming in contact with the meat. To guarantee a clean seal, fold back the last 2 to 3 inches of the bag into a cuff. And to make filling the bag with soup or sauce easier, place it in a measuring cup and fold the cuff over the sides of the cup.
Storage Tip: Remember to Label It
It's easy to lose track of what's in your freezer and when you put it there, so it's essential to label everything. Some storage bags have a place for just this task, so keep a permanent marker to use on these; masking tape is handy to have around for all sorts of other labeling.
We also like to place a sticky note on top of the wrapped food that lists the finishing ingredients and instructions; even better, we photocopy the recipe and place it on top of the wrapped dish. Wrap the whole thing in an extra layer of plastic wrap. In the rush before dinner you'll have all the information you need to finish the dish without having to dig up the recipe again.
The Complete Make-Ahead Cookbook
How many times have you wanted to make lasagna or chicken pot pie in advance, only to be discouraged by recipe after recipe that doesn’t tell you how? Should you make it, then store it, or vice versa? The experts here at America’s Test Kitchen have eliminated the guesswork of cooking in advance with 500 recipes that spell out all the make-ahead options.
What's your favorite way to store make-ahead meals? Let us know in the comments! And for more on make-ahead cooking, read these posts: