Your freezer is so much more than just a storage space for ice cream, ice cubes, and chicken breasts. Your freezer is your kitchen’s secret weapon, the perfect icy cold environment for extending the shelf life of some of your favorite ingredients and leftovers.
I’m a pastry chef, food writer, and develop recipes for my own blog which means I’m always bringing home lots of groceries for testing new recipes. I often end up with extra ingredients, or lots of leftovers, which bums me out because I also really hate wasting food.
When I first started recipe developing, my freezer quickly became one of my best resources for extending the lifespan of my favorite ingredients so I actually used them before they go bad. It’s not just ingredients, either. There are lots of leftovers or meal components you can store in the freezer for those nights when you just don’t feel like cooking. You just have to know how to freeze them and how to use them once they defrost.
The only problem you’ll have after reading this list, TBH, is finding a freezer big enough to store it all.
You can buy lots of produce already frozen, but you can totally freeze fresh produce too. If you know you won’t use it before it goes bad, wrap it well and store it in the freezer for later.
1. Jalapeños (and other hot peppers)
Freezer life: 9 months, but they’ll start to lose flavor the longer they’re frozen
Freezing jalapeños (and other hot peppers) not only extends their shelf life, it also gives you a fun new way to use them. Use a microplane to grate the still-frozen peppers over your food for a spicy garnish, or into your food for a little bit of a kick. Journalist and cookbook author Priya Krishna once mentioned that she does this and it’s been a truly game-changing tip in my life.
The seeds don’t go through the microplane, so you don’t even need to worry about deseeding them, and because the peppers are frozen you’re less likely to get the spicy capsaicin juices all over your hands (though you still should wear gloves while handling them).
2. Broccoli stalks
Freezer life: 6–8 months
Frozen broccoli florets are not unusual, but how many of you know that after trimming the florets off of broccoli stalks you can freeze just the broccoli stalks? They’re packed full of flavor and perfect for making creamy broccoli soup (I have a recipe for it on my blog, here).
Freezer life: up to 2 months (To extend the shelf life of frozen celery to a year, blanch it first.)
“Oh yes, I bought a head of celery and used all of it without any going to waste,” said no one ever. Stop the cycle of celery waste by breaking any leftover celery into individual stalks, arranging them on a sheet pan, and sticking them in the freezer.
Transfer the frozen stalks to an airtight bag, press out any air and seal. This celery won’t defrost into crunchy sticks, but will still be suitable for cooking down in soups and stews.
4. Fresh herbs
Freezer life: 6–9 months
Fresh herbs can be frozen in ice cube trays submerged in olive oil or melted butter. You can freeze whole leaves, but for bigger or heartier herbs like basil and rosemary, it’s better to mince or chop them first.
To use, toss the whole ice cube into a skillet or pot with your food and let the oil melt into the dish. This method only works with recipes that can handle the additional oil, like pasta and a lot of sauces. You won’t be able to defrost the fresh herbs and mince or dice them, or use them as a garnish.
5. Seedless grapes
Freezer life: 12 months
Okay, frozen grapes are one of the BEST snacks ever. Superior to room temperature grapes in every way. They’re icy and fruity and sweet and so fun to crunch on, especially in the summer. Once you try storing grapes this way, you’ll never want to keep them at room temp ever again.
Freezer life: 4–6 months
With the peels and pits removed, toss the avocado pieces with a bit of lemon juice to prevent browning and freeze them on a silicone- or parchment-lined sheet pan. Then transfer them to a bag, press out any air, and store in the freezer. You can add these frozen avocado pieces directly to smoothies without defrosting first.
You can also freeze mashed or pureed avocado (with a bit of lemon juice) in an ice cube tray or container — whatever is easiest for you.
Just think of how many houses you’ll be able to afford by extending the shelf life of your avocado toasts! (*millennial eye roll 🙄*)
When you think of your pantry you probably think of cupboards and shelves or maybe even a drawer. But there are plenty of “pantry staple” ingredients that can go in the freezer, either to extend their shelf life or as a way to store extras until you’re ready to use them.
As a pastry chef I always have lots of butter on hand. I keep one or two boxes in the freezer “for emergencies” and usually have another one or two in the fridge. I’ve found that if you ever find yourself with extra butter, pop it in the freezer.
It can extend the shelf life by several months if you freeze butter prior to the “use by” date on the package. After that it’ll start to lose some flavor, but it’ll still be safe to use.
8. Parmesan rinds
Freezer life: indefinitely
Parmesan rinds are entirely natural and edible, and not, as many people believe, made of wax. Stash these in the freezer and drop one or two into soups, stews, broths, and sauces — basically anything that cooks low and slow. The rinds add a nice umami flavor and they get super soft and melty, making them a real treat for whoever finds them in their bowl.
Freezer life: 6 months
The freezer is the best place to keep your flour free from pests and extend its shelf life. Of course, most of us don’t have the freezer space to keep all our flour in the freezer all of the time, but this is particularly handy for whole grain and other specialty flours that you don’t use regularly.
Make sure it’s in an airtight container so it doesn’t absorb any funky freezer smells, but otherwise this can extend the shelf life of your flour for up to a year.
Freezer life: Officially, unopened yeast will stay good in the freezer for a year or 2. Once opened, official word is yeast will stay good in the freezer for 6 months, but my personal experience is that both instant and active dry yeast can stay good in the freezer for 2+ years.
Yeast has a reputation for being delicate and easily damaged, but that’s really only at high temperatures. In the freezer, this living organism will go dormant until you’re ready to use it. You can extend the shelf life of your yeast up to a year or more just by storing it in the freezer instead of in the back of a drawer or cupboard.
No need to defrost or let it come to room temp first, you can use instant or active dry yeast right out of the freezer.
A note on fresh yeast
Fresh yeast (aka cake yeast) is harder to find. It looks like a crumbly foam brick and while it can be frozen, it’s a bit tricker to do so properly. For that reason, it’s usually kept refrigerated, and has a short shelf life of about 3, maybe 4 weeks.
11. Egg whites
Freezer life: 1 year
If you’ve ever made something that only uses egg yolks, you know how annoying it can be to end up with a bunch of egg whites and no plan for how to use them. The good news is egg whites freeze beautifully, so you can put off making that decision for another day.
Defrost in the fridge and use them for egg white omelets, whip them up to leaven sponge cakes, and you can even use them to make crispy meringues and pavlovas.
You can freeze egg yolks and whole eggs too, but my experience is they can have a kind of odd texture when you defrost them, so I generally don’t do this. To freeze whole eggs, beat them first so that the egg and yolk freeze together.
12. Tomato paste
Freezer life: 3–6 months
Yep! If you’ve got an open can of tomato paste (because you needed a mere tablespoon for a recipe and couldn’t bring yourself to toss the extra) and you know you’re not going to use before it goes bad, freeze it.
This is another scenario where ice cube trays are the best freezing vessel. Freeze premeasured portions, then pop them out of the tray and stash them in a bag or airtight container for future use.
Made extra sauce? Freeze it! The best dinnertime shortcut is a premade frozen sauce. Just defrost and serve.
Freezer life: 3–6 months
See: fresh herbs, above. Okay, I’ll give you a bit more detail. Next time you make fresh pesto, pack it into an ice cube tray or into an airtight, freezer-safe container, cover it with a layer of olive oil to prevent the basil from oxidizing, and freeze it.
Best practices say pesto will last 3 to 6 months before it starts to loose flavor, but in my experience pesto can stay good in the freezer for up to a year and still be super delicious.
Freezer life: 4–6 months
Make things easy on yourself at Thanksgiving by making a batch of make-ahead turkey gravy and freezing it. Or, freeze any leftover gravy from Thanksgiving (or from any other time you make gravy). A good gravy can really tie a meal together, but they can be finicky and time consuming to make. Freezing it is a great way to save time and stress and in the future.
Saving your leftovers from your fave meals in the freezer means less work making dinner later.
This totally revolutionized the way I use my freezer space — I used to think I had to freeze whole meals, but now that I know how to freeze specific components, I can defrost and transform them into all sorts of easy dinners when I don’t feel like cooking a whole big meal.
15. Cooked meatballs
Freezer life: 3–4 months
Of course you can freeze meatballs, you know that. My tip for freezing meatballs is actually this: next time you make spaghetti and meatballs, don’t put all of the meatballs into the sauce right away. Count out the number you actually want to eat, then freeze the rest, sauce-free for maximum versatility.
They’ll stay good in the freezer for several months and next time you want meatballs for your spaghetti sauce you can let them defrost right in the sauce.
16. Pizza dough
Freezer life: 3 months
Most pizza dough recipes make enough dough for three or four, or even seven or eight, pizzas. That’s a lot of pizza! Drizzle some olive oil into a baggie or airtight container, gently place the pizza dough ball inside, press out as much excess air as you can, and transfer to the freezer. They’ll stay good for several months, and you can defrost in the fridge for your next pizza night.
17. Carnitas or pulled pork
Freezer life: 2–3 months
Fatty shredded meats like carnitas, pulled pork, or pork belly are ideal for freezing. If you’ve ever made a huge batch and have enough left over that you’d feel guilty throwing it out, freeze it instead. You can defrost in a pinch for use in grilled cheese, scrambled eggs, fried rice, stir-fry, and even as a way to dress up your boxed mac and cheese.
Freezer life: 3 months
As soon as bread comes out of the oven and cools to room temperature it begins the process of going stale. Some breads go stale faster than others, but the only surefire way to prevent your bread from spoiling before you can eat it is to wrap it well (as airtight as possible) and pop it in the freezer.
The same goes for store-bought bread. If you bought sliced bread for sandwiches but realize you aren’t going to finish the loaf — wrap it well and pop it in the freezer!
Freezer life: 2–3 months
We all know to freeze chicken and veggie stock, but not enough of us know to be freezing our soup bases. Pop your soup base in a resealable baggie, lay it flat on a sheet pan and freeze it.
Then remove it from the sheet pan and you can have a whole library of soup bases lined up in your freezer for when you’re feeling hungry. Just add some fresh herbs or toppings and you’ll quickly forget you’re eating leftovers!
Rebecca Eisenberg is the freelance food editor at Greatist. She’s the voice behind the food blog The Practical Kitchen and recently earned her Certificate in Pastry Arts from Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (Class of January 2021). She lives in Boston with her husband and two cats.