|Part of my haul from the food warehouse|
A GFS Marketplace just opened in my neighborhood. I’m excited; this means I don’t have to make a cross-town trip to stock up my kitchen.
Now, I’m a buy local kind of guy. I try to support the food businesses around me. I shop at my local farmers market, and I’m a member of a CSA. I’m the kind of person who worries about sustainable seafood and food miles.
But I’m also trying to balance my food budget with a family of five. I make an occasional trip to a warehouse store to stock up on bulk items. It helps keep my costs down. That is, as long as I don’t have impulse purchases. Like Chris Rock’s famous “five gallons of mayonnaise!”, I can be lured in by a deal that I later regret.
GFS is the store that opened near me; they’re a food warehouse that is open to the public. Traditional warehouse stores (Sam’s Club, Costco, and BJ’s) carry some of these items some of the time. Costco in particular has a reputation for cheap gourmet items, but I’ve never been in one. Restaurant supply stores are also worth a look, especially for kitchen tools.
What do I stock up on?
1. Kitchen consumables
I love jumbo rolls of aluminum foil and plastic wrap. They're cheaper, and I think the bigger rolls (with their large cutters) are easier to use. I also keep an eye out for paper towels and aluminum foil drip pans.
2. Professional kitchen tools
Pro tools assume they’ll be used hard, and replaced when they wear out. They’re about maximum function for minimal price.
Now, don’t assume professional tools are better than the home versions. For basic items - silicon spatulas, metal turners, and half sheet pans - I prefer the cheap, functional pro versions. But I spend money where I think it matters. For example: a great chef’s knife, microplane zesters, or OXO peelers.
I especially like professional turners with holes in them. The hole pattern reminds me of whiffle balls.
I like to buy spices in bulk. Especially when they're things I use a lot, like chili powder, paprika, black peppercorns, and kosher salt. I try to be selective about bulk spice purchases, though. I won’t buy 16 ounces of ground cloves; I use a quarter teaspoon once or twice a year.
A great source for spices in small amounts is the bulk aisle of your local grocery or health food store. You can scoop out a couple of tablespoons if that's all you need.
4. Pantry basicsAll purpose flour, sugar, dried fruit, nuts, mustard, and other basic ingredients - all are cheaper in large sizes. Again, I only buy stuff with a high turnover in my kitchen, and that lasts for a long time before it goes bad. I had a jumbo pouch of hazelnuts sitting in my pantry for years. I don’t want to go through that again.
Be sure to shop carefully. These stores can be a great source of supplies…or a money sink. Look out for:
1. Prepared food
Pre-made foods frighten me. I make fun of barbecue purists and chili traditionalists from time to time, but a bag of “barbecued pulled pork”, vacuum packed and pre-cooked? Suddenly, I’m one of those purists, railing against dumbed down cooking.
Meat can be a great deal at these stores, but tend to I stay away from it. I’d rather buy better quality, locally raised meat. I will occasionally give in, though, especially for a large party - that catering package of Johnsonville brats is always tempting around the 4th of July. Beware of enhanced meat at all costs. Read the labels, looking for enhanced, basted, brined, or marinated. In other words, the meat has been pumped up with saline. I’d rather brine it myself. It tastes better, and I don’t pay an extra 15 percent for water weight. And the yard long tube of ground beef? That’s…that’s…I don’t know what that is. Other than terrifying.
3. Bulk doesn't necessarily mean a deal
Keep track of the prices at local stores. Sometimes there’s a big savings in buying in bulk. Other times, buying in bulk just means getting more, not necessarily a better price. And, don't forget - it’s only a deal if you’re going to use it before it goes bad.
What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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I've found that Amazon has great pricing on stuff like Anchor wrap and food service foil, and you can usually find pro-grade tools, too. I feel like I'd get in all the trouble if I wandered into a restaurant supply warehouse, though - "Look, honey, a 20-quart stockpot!"