I love a good bulk shopping trip to the grocery store or Costco. Wholesale clubs might be going the way of online shopping, like the recent shuttering of Sam’s Clubs across the country, but there are still plenty of household supplies offered there at unbeatable deals. Though you might sacrifice your favorite brands for a bulk buy, like Kirkland Signature paper towels and trash bags, as a smart shopper you know that you’re getting your dollar’s worth. However, bulk buying isn’t a good fit for every item on your store list.
Of course perishable items aren’t smart bulk purchases, but have you ever considered that cooking oil isn’t a smart buy, either? We take a look at the five best things to buy in bulk, and the five worst.
The Best Bulk Buys
To make a good bulk buy in meat worthwhile, freezer space is a necessity. If you don’t have the space, it’s best to reconsider this purchase until you can store it effectively. To save even more money on bulk meat buys, take advantage of sales, like turkey prices right before Thanksgiving or ham sales right after Easter. With a full turkey, you can roast that baby up for meal prep to use in lunches and dinners all week for the family. The same goes for huge hams.
Meat in bulk also works well if you enjoy making your own bone broth or stock at home. Save the bones of that turkey and the hock of that ham, and you’ve got delicious flavors made for soup season. In the heart of winter, there’s nothing more comforting than that.
If you have an Instant Pot or a pressure cooker, then let me encourage to say goodbye to canned beans forever. While they’re excellent for convenience and the starchy liquid inside is great for thickening soups, dips, and other spreads, dry beans are often the best deal you can find. And that pressure cooker can cook your beans in 10 minutes or less, guaranteed. This is the model I use, and I love it.
With a shelf life of up to two years if stored in a dark, dry place, beans are a staple that lend themselves to every kind of cuisine. Grab black beans and lentils by the bundle, and don’t forget to spot deals on Great Northern beans or kidney beans.
3. Rolled Oats and White Rice
The best prices for rolled oats and white rice are found in the bulk aisle. Whether or not you belong to a warehouse club, you can often take advantage of these deals in local stores like Whole Foods and even H-E-B. If you consider oats part of your everyday items, then it makes even more sense to shop in bulk.
Good for homemade granola bars, slow cooker oatmeal, and about 10 million other kitchen uses, these items store well. Rice in particular has an indefinite shelf life, so just store in a cool, dry place to extend its shelf life. It’s important to note, however, that brown rice only has a shelf life of about six months.
The one caveat is to consider how quickly you go through your bulk buys, that should determine how much you bring home on each trip.
If you’re a teetotaler, you can skip this advice. However, alcohol bought from places like Costco, where it’s rumored that Kirkland Signature vodka is really Grey Goose, is offered an unbelievable deal. For about 15 percent less than name brands, you can find everything from wine to rum at wholesale clubs.
I like to stock up on alcohols I cook with frequently, like vodka, white wine, and red wine. This way, I’m not concerned about using a less-than-fancy bottle of wine in a stew or risotto, and I know that I always have bottles on hand for that purpose.
5. Boxed Macaroni and Cheese
I’m not always so proud to admit this, but I always have a box of macaroni and cheese in my pantry. For those nights when I don’t feel like cooking, it becomes the base of my meal. I’ve been known to throw shredded rotisserie chicken, buffalo sauce, and broccoli into a bowl of it for a makeshift Buffalo Chicken Macaroni meal. I’ve also added asparagus, frozen shrimp, and peas for a fresh springtime pasta.
Boxed macaroni and cheese lasts for about 2 years at room temperature in your pantry, and there’s always some sort of major bulk deal on it.
The Worst Bulk Buys
Now I have read that some people swear by bulk cheese, but I just don’t buy it. I’ve tried to buy cheddar in bulk, and after shredding it and pre-bagging it for storage, I found that when I defrosted my first bag, the cheese left an awful lot to be desired.
It’s possible I did it wrong, but I like to stick to fresh cheese buys. Besides, I change up my variety each week based on what meals we’re having. Is one week more Tex-Mex than another? Pass the queso fresco, the cotija, and the Monterey Jack! Are we going Italian-themed this week? Ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan are on the list. I enjoy the freedom of choice with cheese.
I can hear the gasps already! Step away from the McCormick section, y’all. While spices don’t go bad, they do go stale quickly. Ground spices, those that you’d most often buy in bulk, lose their flavors after only six months and considering how long it takes to go through spices, that’s simply not an economical decision in my book.
My advice is to buy only what you can use in the next three to six months to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
A common misconception about cooking is that cooking oils last forever. That is simply not the case. Whether you’re talking about olive oil, vegetable oil, or coconut oil, oils tend to go rancid between three and six months, the same with your spices. It’s also true that we don’t typically run through oils at a fast pace unless you make our Pickle Brined Chicken every night.
Oil is something I tend to buy as I go, and I tend to add to my shopping list about once every three months. This is just the rate we run out of the regular store sizes at home, so it works for me.
That giant 10-pound bag of flour might seem appealing, but unless you’re baking up treats for the whole neighborhood, chances are it’ll go rancid before you use it all. Whole grain and nut flours typically last about four months before they begin to turn, while refined flour will keep for about a year.
Why does flour go bad so quickly? Well, it attracts moisture. You can store small quantities of it in a dark, cool spot or you can opt for the refrigerator.
5. Nuts and Seeds
As much as I want to tell you that your bulk bag of almonds will indeed last for years, it’s just not the case. Nuts and seeds contain oils, and from what we know about oils going rancid, they tend to follow suit in only a few months. They typically go stale before turning fully rancid, but you can combat such a quick turn by storing in the refrigerator for about six months or a year.
My best advice is to buy in bulk, but only in small quantities. Figure out how much you’d reasonably need for about three months, and start there to see how you end up.