After over 15 hours of researching and testing dry storage containers, we found that Rubbermaid’s Premium Modular Canisters were the clear winner of the nearly 30 models we considered and eight models we tried.
The sturdy containers held up through multiple drop tests and trips through the dishwasher. The lids are airtight and interchangeable across multiple sizes. A narrow design allows the containers to stack nicely and fit efficiently into kitchen cabinets. They also pour easily and fit a measuring cup well. You can buy them individually or as a set, and they’re less expensive than some of the far-more-fragile models we tried.
For this guide, we spoke with three experts: Sarah Carey, the editorial director of food and entertaining for Martha Stewart Living; Toni Hammersley, the founder of the home organizing blog A Bowl Full of Lemons as well as the author of The Complete Guide to Home Organizing and the forthcoming Complete Book of Clean; and Maria Speck, author of Simply Ancient Grains and Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.
We also consulted reviews from Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required), Real Simple, and Good Housekeeping, and combed through forum posts on Chowhound (also here and here) and the Kitchn. Finally, we scoured Amazon, Target, The Container Store, and Bed Bath & Beyond for the best-rated sets.
I used to work as a baker in professional kitchens, where I spent a fair amount of time scooping flour, sugar, and other dry ingredients. I’m a regular home cook and have also reviewed everything from cake pans to waffle makers for The Sweethome.
Without a good set of dry storage containers, a kitchen pantry can quickly get out of control. Conversely, a good set of dry storage containers can whip disorganized cupboards into shape. If you currently keep your pantry goods in a collection of random jars and Tupperware, a uniform set of containers will keep cupboards neat and easy to navigate. And in the long run, an organized pantry not only looks good but also saves time and money. It makes it easy to see what you have (and how much of it) at a glance, to grab ingredients quickly, and to scoop or pour anything from flour to dried beans without making a mess. And it can keep ingredients fresh and pest-free longer.
Frequent bakers will also find it’s much faster and less messy to scoop and level ingredients like flour from a wide-mouthed container than from the original packaging. Even if you already have a set of dry storage containers, consider upgrading if you find yourself struggling to measure baking ingredients (or anything for that matter) neatly and easily.
A good dry storage container should be sturdy, airtight, simple to clean, and easy to scoop or pour from. It should stack easily, fit efficiently in kitchen cabinets, and come in a few different sizes.
“You want the container to seal tightly,” says Sarah Carey, the editorial director of food and entertaining for Martha Stewart Living, and our other two experts agree. An airtight seal is important if you want to protect cereal or snacks from staleness or keep brown sugar or tender raisins from turning rock hard. Even certain grains will keep better and longer if kept in a dry, sealed container. Also, says Carey, she wants something that’s “airtight enough that we feel like things won’t get in there.” Pests, particularly pantry moths, can be a real problem. They can squeeze through surprisingly small spaces, multiply rapidly, and as Maria Speck, author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals points out, they’re occasionally hiding in store-bought bags of grain or flour. “I’ve heard from so many people about how their cabinets are now infested,” she says. But if you make a habit of transferring all dry goods to containers with secure lids, those tiny stowaways can’t get out of control.
For Speck, it’s also “key to be able to see what we have.” Clear containers make it easy to take stock of what you have and how much of it. (Even better if measurements are marked on the outside.) With opaque containers, you have to go to the extra trouble of making labels, and you’re still likely to forget about those expensive heirloom beans you bought. You also can’t see when you’re out of something. For that reason, we chose not to test any metal, ceramic, or otherwise opaque containers.
Dry storage containers should fit nicely in a kitchen cabinet. We chose square or rectangular containers over round when possible, since they use space more efficiently, but we didn’t eliminate round containers from the running, since they can be easier to pour from. We also looked for sets with a range of sizes, since not all ingredients come in the same quantities. To keep things looking neat, Toni Hammersley, author of The Complete Book of Home Organization, recommends sticking to three sizes: large for bulk ingredients like flour, medium for snacks like pretzels, and small for things like nuts. Those with an extensive pantry may want one or two more sizes. There’s no consistent range of sizes from brand to brand, but we only tested models that came in a size large enough to hold a 5-pound bag of all-purpose flour, which is somewhere between 4 and 5 quarts in volume (it varies based on how compact or aerated the flour is).
The experts were divided on whether containers should also be able to stack easily. Hammersley thinks stacking “can get in the way,” making ingredients “not as easily accessible.” Carey, however, thinks it can be useful “if you have a lot of stuff.” We think it’s good to at least have the option of stacking securely, especially if you have limited pantry space, and we only tested containers that appeared stackable.
Depending on what you store, you may not need to wash dry storage containers often, but a container should still be easy to clean. Ideally, both the lid and base should be dishwasher safe, though we did test some models that weren’t. We didn’t consider hand-wash-only a dealbreaker only because these containers don’t need to be washed on a daily or even weekly basis.
Though testing glass containers wasn’t out of the question, we ultimately only tested plastic models. Since the European Food Safety Authority published a massive assessment of BPA in 2015, we’re not worried about any negative health effects from using plastic containers for dry storage which doesn’t involve heat or acid that might degrade the material. If you’re uncertain, our guide to food storage containers has more on choosing between plastic and glass. In the case of dry storage, glass tends to be heavier and can break easily, which makes pouring a full container or pulling it from a high shelf risky. The glass containers on the market are often more decorative than practical, and only come in smaller sizes meant for countertop display. All the experts we spoke to did recommend some version of a basic canning jar for its tight seal. But we chose not to test any jars because they don’t stack, their opening is often too narrow to scoop from, and the larger sizes are unwieldy to pour.
Price varies widely among containers, depending on size and make. For a container large enough to hold 5 pounds of flour (somewhere between 4 and 6 liters) prices mostly range from $10 to $20. Since most people will want to buy quite a few containers, $20 was at the high end of anything we considered. Containers that come in a set are usually a better value per piece, but it should be noted that most sets count lids and bases as separate pieces, so an “eight-piece” set usually includes four containers.
We took the lids on and off each container multiple times and looked for signs of wear. We also filled each container of the appropriate size with 5 pounds of flour to see how easy it was to do so. Using our favorite 1-cup measuring cup, we tried scooping flour from each container (not just the largest) both when it was full and when it was nearly empty.
To test sturdiness, we filled each container with 2 pounds of beans and slid each off a counter onto a tile floor so that it landed sideways. We also dropped them all from waist height at other angles—upright, upside down, and on a corner—to see if they cracked or if the lids popped off.
We think the Rubbermaid Premium Modular Canisters are the best dry storage containers for most people. The Rubbermaid modular canisters’ lids are sturdy and fit tightly, even after multiple runs through the dishwasher. They stack securely, fit neatly in kitchen cabinets, and are still wide enough to fit a full-size measuring cup. They come in four different sizes, including 5-cup, 10-cup, 16-cup, and 21-cup, the last of which easily fits a 5-pound bag of flour. All have the same rectangular shape and can be bought individually or as an affordable set.
One of the best features of the Rubbermaid modular canisters is their tight seal. The lids have a silicone grip that snaps down tightly around the edge of the container. They never allowed more than a few stray drops to escape in our leak test, while others, like the OXO Big Square Pop Containers or Click Clack Cube Storage Containers, dribbled steadily while their vacuum-sealing lids filled with water.
Rubbermaid’s modular containers were one of only a few models we tested to also include measurements—in both cups and liters—marked on the outside, which make it easy to see not only what you have but exactly how much you have of it. The only other containers to do so were the ones designed for restaurant kitchens: Cambros and Rubbermaid Commercial Space Saving Containers. But compared to these, which have a wide, square shape, Rubbermaid’s slender modular canisters are better designed to fit in a home kitchen cabinet, where they can line up like books. They also have a clear lid, making it easy to see what’s in them even if they’re in a deep drawer or on a low shelf.
Stacking was also easy because all of the Rubbermaid modular containers have the same rectangular shape, no matter what their capacity. Other models, like the Click Clack containers, shrink their footprint with capacity. Or, like Lock & Lock Rectangular Food Containers, they come in a dizzying array of lengths and widths, so you can only stack like with like. That kind of variety not only makes organizing more difficult, it can also leave you scrambling to find the right size lid. With the Rubbermaid modular containers, one lid fits all sizes.
Rubbermaid’s modular containers are completely dishwasher safe. They are also as simple in design as possible: no multi-piece vacuum lids to disassemble, no locking clips like the Sistema Klip It Containers, no top-heavy, awkward, hinged lids like on the Oggi canisters. Instead, the lids simply snap on. Best of all, the lids are interchangeable between the different-sized containers. That means no scrambling the right lid amidst a jumble of similar-but-not-quite-the-same options, as we had to do with containers like the OXOs.
Rubbermaid passed the drop test with flying colors and emerged without a scratch, while other, pricier containers like the OXOs didn’t survive one fall. Though restaurant-grade models (Cambro and Rubbermaid Commercial) and the Lock & Lock containers held up well, none of them have the compact, modular design of the Rubbermaid modular containers.
These containers are easy to find in stores like Target or Walmart. They’re also inexpensive; at the time of publish, Amazon sold the 21-cup size for about $12 ($15 on Rubbermaid’s website), and a set of four containers for $30. Except for the restaurant-grade containers (which are hard to find outside of restaurant supply stores) and the flimsy Sistema Klip Its, everything else we tested hovered around $20 for a similarly large size.
The containers come with a one-year warranty from Rubbermaid and have a stellar Amazon rating of 4.8 stars out of about 100 reviews.
Though the lid seals tightly enough to keep water in, the force of a drop can occasionally cause it to pop off. In our drop tests, this only happened once, when the container was dropped upside down. But a couple other times we noted one corner starting to lift up. It’s not a dealbreaker, since it doesn’t happen every time and since the containers themselves are so sturdy, but it’s something to be aware of.
The measurements on the side of the containers, which are stamped into the plastic (not painted), can be difficult to read, especially when the container is filled with something white like flour. But they’re better than no measurements at all and more durable than painted measurements, which can wear off over time.
Rubbermaid’s narrow containers are not quite as easy to scoop from as some of the wider-mouthed models. But we think the advantages of the narrow shape will outweigh this flaw for most people. For one thing, it’s easier to pick up with one hand and pour. You can also fit more containers side by side, and even being that narrow, the largest size is about 10 inches long and 11 inches high (tall enough to fit a box of dry spaghetti), which should fit nicely into most standard kitchen cabinets. For any kitchen without a walk-in pantry, that kind of efficiency is key.
The Rubbermaid commercial containers have a few features that make them better than the Cambros. The lids on the Rubbermaids fit much tighter than the Cambros lids, which leaked profusely (a problem restaurants often solve by just wrapping the whole container in plastic wrap). The Rubbermaid lids only dripped lightly around the corners of the container and always stayed firmly in place during the drop test, while the lid popped right off a dropped Cambro. The only downside is that the Rubbermaid lids are so tight they’re actually hard to snap on all the way—it took a firm smack to make sure every corner was fully closed.
All of Rubbermaids containers also come with two handles on the sides, whereas only Cambros larger than eight quarts (larger than most people will ever need for home use) have handles. But handles make it much easier to pick up these bulky, slick-sided containers—you can even carry them with one hand, something impossible to do with the Cambros.
Their considerable width makes these Rubbermaid containers easy to scoop from, something that frequent bakers especially will appreciate. Their size, however, means they’re not the best choice for those with limited cabinet space.
Since they’re designed for restaurant use, Rubbermaid commercial containers are quite affordable (around $12 for a 6-quart container), but also somewhat difficult to get. Rubbermaid itself only sells them in packs of 12, so you have to turn to restaurant supply stores like Webstaurant to buy them individually. You won’t find them at stores like Target, and even availability on Amazon is spotty. It’s also important to note that lids and containers are sold separately, which is a blessing if you tend to lose lids but also an annoying extra step when it comes to ordering.
Cambro Square Food Storage Containers are the restaurant kitchen standard and come recommended by Cook’s Illustrated. But the lid allows water to pour out and pops off easily. Plus the 6-quart containers are a different shape than the 2- and 4-quart containers.
Cook’s Illustrated recommended Click Clack Cube Storage Containers with reservations, but we didn’t like the vacuum-seal lid, which can trap water and must be washed by hand. These also come in graduated sizes that don’t stack well, and shattered the first time we dropped them.
We saw Lock & Lock Rectangular Food Containers recommended in forums on Chowhound and the Kitchn. They had the tightest seal of any containers we tested and survived all drop tests easily. But the enormous range of sizes and shapes is confusing to navigate and makes it difficult to stack containers of different quantities. These were also inconsistently available on Amazon or the Lock & Lock website and hard to find elsewhere.
Oggi’s Acrylic Canisters look nicer than most of the containers we tried, but the hardware felt flimsy. They also didn’t seal tightly and cracked when dropped on a corner. And round containers waste more space than rectangular ones.
OXO’s POP Containers are hugely popular on Amazon and came recommended by Real Simple. They look nice, and the lid is easy to open with one hand, but otherwise they weren’t worth the price. The lids don’t always feel tight (I was able to pull off some of the lids even in the “closed” position), the containers aren’t dishwasher safe, and they shatter immediately when dropped. One of the OXOs, in fact, cracked even before the drop test, just from knocking against the counter.
Sistema Klip It Rectangle Containers are highly rated on Amazon, with 4.5 stars out of 347 reviews. But they felt flimsy, and one even broke during shipping. The lids were leaky, and the sizes large enough to fit 5 pounds of flour are wide and shallow, not the best shape for kitchen cabinets.
Originally published: March 1, 2017