Common in professional kitchens, painter’s tape and a good marker should be a part of a home kitchen as well.  It works best on deli cups but it can be used on most surfaces.  Better, it can be removed from them as well, without leaving stickiness behind. (Photo by donna, thanks sweetheart!)

I store a lot of stock in a basement freezer and every container gets marked and dated.  Don’t even think you’ll remember what that stuff is under all that frost.  Don’t think you’re going to remember how many yolks were left over from making angel food cake.

I first saw blue painter’s tape at The French Laundry years ago.  Thomas Keller’s restaurants now use green painter’s tape because, I believe, it’s even cleaner when removed than the blue stuff (more expensive too).  I like blue just fine, and while French Laundry and per se cut their tape at perfect right angles, I’m a tearer.

No matter how you cut it, painter’s tape is an important tool, keeping you organized and preventing waste.  Get rid of that avocado slicer and egg separator cluttering your kitchen drawer and put a roll of tape in there instead. Find a spot to keep a Sharpie, then keep it there, and put it back when you’re done so you always know where it is.

Being organized in the kitchen makes cooking faster and easier.  (And btw, if you find yourself with a similar deli full of yolks, it’s time to make vanilla sauce.)  All comments on what you use to stay organized in the kitchen are welcome!

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75 Wonderful responses to “Kitchen Tip: Painter’s Tape and Sharpie”

  • Sigrid

    Few months ago I implemented an inventory for the freezer which gets pinned to the freezer itself. We only have a little one, unfortunately, but it takes too much time nevertheless to search for chicken stock in there until you realize that you’re out of chicken stock.

    So now we strike everything out as soon as we take it out and complete the list, when we put something in. May sound a bit anal but works.

    And we use post-its to stick on the containers.

    • Tags

      Anal is when you dry-erase draw an assiduously labeled diagram like the inside of a Whitman Sampler cover – not that anybody I know would do such a thing.

  • Andrew

    I lived in a fairly large co-op (29 people) for four years and painters tape often helped us keep track of all of our left-overs. Great kitchen tool if only you can keep a hold of your sharpies!! What worked better for us were the pre-printed stickers that say “sun” “mon” etc… On the next sunday, throw out whatever leftovers there are and replace with the leftovers from that sunday’s meal.

    The biggest organizational tool though took me a long time to get down…clean as you go. Waiting for water to boil? clean up whatever messes you just made, etc.

  • Beauzeaux

    We’ve been using the masking tape/sharpie solution for years. I had no idea I didn’t invent it. ;-)

  • Victoria

    I have done this for years; had no idea it was a known thing to do!

    It’s a habit left over from my days at the Isabel O’Neil Studio, learning how to paint furniture.

    I saw green tape for the first time last Saturday when I stopped at a hardware store on the way home from picking two bushels of tomatoes at the (Grandma) Moses Farm in Eagle Bridge, New York. I’ll be sticking with the blue too.

  • dave

    Keeping the labeling stuff in a drawer seems rather a hassle if you use it a lot (I do). The tape goes on top of the freezer and the sharpie cap is tied to the hinge of the freezer door so it can’t walk off.

  • JB in San Diego

    Save the space you use for tape!

    I just write on the lid with a sharpie, crossing out the previous label. If the lid gets too cluttered, rubbing alcohol removes the ink like a charm.

  • PAWriter

    You just brought back great memories of my mom. When I was a kid, I couldn’t understand why there was a roll of masking tape in the drawer in the kitchen (this was before painter’s tape). As an adult who loves to cook, I keep asking, in the kitchen, “where the heck is the Sharpie?” Funny how things come full circle.

  • Tags

    Welcome to the Sharpiescenti, Michael. Another trick is to write your pertinencies on a scrap of paper and place it in the freezer bag.

  • Linda

    It’s in my kitchen junk drawer, along with a good tape measure and ruler for measuring pastries and parchment. I also use it to date my spices, although that can be kind of depressing for the expensive ones I don’t use as often.

  • kaela

    I use the basic white address labels from Avery; I bought some to make address labels, but you get a huge amount even in the smallest pack. Plus – Sharpies disappear like hairbands & single socks – pens I can usually find.

  • Joel

    an expiration date on the label is also a useful idea. A general rule of thumb in professional kitchens is 7 days. (more perishable food items such as seafood of course have a shorter shelf life)

  • NYCook

    Ruhlman, you don’t trim the edges of your tape! Whats wrong with you? You spent time at the French Laundry, what would Chef say?

  • Irvin

    How do you have leftover egg YOLKS?!?! I have about 60-70 frozen egg whites because I keep on using the yolks and not the whites. *sigh*

    Regardless, the painters tape trick is great. I use sharpies and just write on the ziplock bag/container, but I think I like the cleanliness of the tape idea better. Thanks!

  • Carol Peterman

    I’ve been using painters tape and a sharpie for years and love it. It makes me happy to open the freezer and see everything labeled. The bold color of painters tape makes it easy to spot the label, which is helpful when reusing yogurt containers that have a lot of writing on them.

    • Carol

      Recognized your name – love your SpiceCare system. Figures you’ve been using the tape and sharpie thing for years.

  • Ed Hawco

    I label pretty much EVERYTHING I open and put in the fridge. That jar of jam you thought was three months old? Try ten months! That carton of stock that needs to be used within ten days of opening? Are you aware of how quickly ten days can pass? Write it down! (I have a Sharpie in every drawer and one clipped to the fridge.)

    Tip: for glass jars (which I use a lot) I just write directly on the glass (it comes off easily with the scratchy side of a dish sponge).

    Some of my friends think I’m some kind of obsessive-compulsive, but I just want to know how old things are (and in some cases, WHAT things are).

  • doug

    we’ve done this for years too. one tip…my basement freezer is front opening. it is much easier to find things if you label the front of the container instead of the top if you are stacking.
    also, if you have any empty room in the freezer, fill it with bags of ice. they will help save things if the power goes out.

    • Aubrey

      What is this “empty room in the freezer” of which you speak??? And bags of ice?? Nay, bags of roasted green chilis fresh from the farmers’ market!! Which may be why I don’t have that “empty room”…

    • todd

      try filling a gallon or half-gallon milk jug about 3/4ths full and freeze it (it will expand to full when frozen). keeps a cooler cool for hours, or you can bang it hard on concrete and the plastic will break to give you crushed ice for your cooler. This is what my Dad always used for his ice cream freezer.

  • Lindsay

    Re: freezer inventory – I have a whiteboard that I keep attached to the freezer with the contents listed and quantities in hash marks. This is key because I have a much better visual idea of what I have in the freezer (like a bunch more ribeyes than t bones) and when I take something out I just remove a hash mark. I buy a quarter of a grass fed beef at a time so this system is key.

    I also use the masking tape and sharpie method after learning my lesson by defrosting what I thought was a bowl of French onion soup to find that it was actually turkey gravy.

  • Russ

    Didn’t know where else to ask you Michael….just read about Ferdinand Metz joining up with Le Cordon Bleu …. your thoughts considering his years with CIA.

  • Tags

    I have a system for my cleaning pads, whether Dobie or those yellow Scotch sponges with the green rough stuff on the bottom.

    The brand-spanking new pad is “Squeaky” (as in clean) and is used only to clean up after “Scrubby” is done doing the dirty work. Before that, I use old paper towels or napkins to wipe detritus off the pots, pans, or plates and into the garbage pail.

    Every Squeaky aspires to someday be promoted to Scrubby.

  • Mr Belm

    Why bother with the painter’s tape? I write with the Sharpie directly on the deli lid. When the container gets washed after use, the writing scrubs right off.

  • Megan

    Am I the only one whose painter’s tape and masking tape falls right off in the freezer?! Other than that, I do love the method, especially for identifying jams.

    • SauceRobert

      Not sure if this is your issue or not. If i try to label something thats already frozen it wont stick. If I label something that is not yet frozen and then freeze it, it sticks just fine!

  • Susan

    great tip..never thought of using painters tape. I use regular scotch tape and just hate trying to get it off the container!

    I have used self adhesive address lables for years to identify the mountainous tangles of cords in our house. In the kitchen it’s handy to label the waffle iron cord, electric skillet and lefse iron cords since I keep them all together. (cords for cell phone chargers really need identification too!)

  • Jason Sandeman

    I can tell you how much a nightmare it is when your kitchen runs out of tape. I am a big fan of right angle cuts, and putting the tape on straight. I mean, why wouldn’t you?

  • Harlan

    Scotch makes a Freezer Tape that works just fine. Unlike masking tape, it won’t fall off in the freezer! But it’s a bit hard to find — I’ll have to try painter’s tape!

  • Anna Johnston

    Couldn’t agree more! I’m a blue tape user too – don’t care if its cut precisely or torn roughly, but if there’s no blue tape then I’m not too happy about using it.

  • luis

    I don’t think you can have it both ways….Just me. I freeze protein to use later and some veggies too and potato chips etc…. fish….

    However since you taught me to eat local and fresh and I started down that road and learned the difference I avoid freezing anything. Last week of the month it’s pizza Palooza and stew fest. To make sure the freezer is empty as it should be when you eat natural.

    The idea is a good one and I do have blue tape on hand at all times. Just that fresh is the way to go. It does limit my possibilities as well but I am willing to live with that for now.

    • Mantonat

      Not sure how eating natural and freezing things are mutally exclusive. If you want to eat natural and you cook alot, keeping frozen batches of stock, home-made tomato sauce, bones or fat for future use, leftovers, etc. is the way to go. Preparing only things that you eat immediately with no prepped ingredients or leftovers seems very inefficient and expensive.

      • luis

        Yes, it is a bit more expensive. I shop daily base on what I need.

        Things like stock … I get at the high end markets and it isn’t cheap. Or I just use a restaurant quality base or good wine.

        But if I was to cook for a large fam… I’d have to see it your way all tha way.

  • Pat

    I have always used regular masking tape with the Sharpie. (“Label, date, refrigerate” — I learned in the restaurant biz! ) I even put masking tape labels on Ziploc bags,so I can reuse them (though I know you’re not supposed to, and I certainly don’t for meat). Harlan, thanks for the tip about the Scotch freezer tape.

  • Martha

    Put that label on the container, not the lid! Lids can come off in the walk-in or freezer.

  • JD in Napa

    Using blue tape/sharpie to mark containers is great, but blue tape is particularly good for taping recipes to my cabinet doors without leaving a mark when they come down.

  • BabetteBakes

    I too, have been using painter’s tape and a sharpie to label containers, as well as to mount a printed recipe on a painted wall, at eye level next to the mixer.

    We’ve doing so in my modest home kitchen for 15 years or so, I think I learned it from Martha Stewart.

  • amq

    My partner is a nurse and is always coming home with medical tape in her pockets so we use that for labeling our food—works great!

  • Michelle

    I like to use bottle/pour spouts in all my different olive oils and vinegars. A convenient, less messy way of pouring … I even refill empty wine bottles (or olive oil bottles) with standard cooking oil and put a pour spout in them. That way, all my oils are grouped together and ready when needed.

  • AnnaH

    Funny but I’ve been doing this for years!!! I use the tape to label my gardening pots, seedlings as well.

  • michael h

    I also have been using painters tape for years in my restaurants, and while I admire all the success keller has and wish him continued success, who gives a rats ass what color tape he uses and how they cut it!

  • Curt Hancock

    I’m Externing at ad hoc, and as I’ve been told, we use the green tape rather than blue because the green tape is made for “Hard to Stick Surfaces.” It is of course always cut at a sharp right angle; date and initials.

  • Kris

    I keep a running shopping list on a magnetized dry-erase board on the front of the fridge. Since we have back-ups of just about everything (extra bag of flour, spare carton of salt, big pack of paper towels, etc.), the rule is when you open the last one, it goes on the list. Period. When it’s something like the big bottle of oil or the 48-lb. bag of dog food, when you empty it (refilling the kitchen supply), then it goes on the list. Without fail. It’s the RULE.

    I never run out of anything – except the one time “someone” (not to be named) forgot to write “kosher salt” on the list when he opened the last box. (That won’t happen again.)

  • Martha

    Do you freeze your yolks as-is or do you stabilize them with sugar or salt (depending on future use)? I’d read that somewhere but have never frozen yolks so have no idea if it’s necessary or not.

  • Tony Spagnoli

    I prefer the wide tape because I can write down more info on less tape.

  • Barbara | VinoLuciStyle

    Actually could use some of those little containers; I freeze everything using a food vacuum storage unit; but freezing all liquid stuff is a PITA. I just write on bags with indelible marker. My blue tape used to tape a printed recipe to a cabinet though; easiest place for me to view it!

    I’m sure this will result in the typical…’you have wine left over’ comments but when I have wine left over after a tasting in my home; I freeze leftovers in old fashioned ice cube trays and then package and label for future cooking. I also precut and freeze a couple of sticks of butter when I first bring it home from the market so I always have frozen butter on hand for pie crusts.

  • Kate

    Freezer tape and a sharpie–freezer tape sticks to just about anything even damp surfaces.

  • Mantonat

    The extent of my kitchen organizational skill is that I actually stack the smaller mixing bowls inside the larger ones when storing them in the cabinet. I also rely on this method: if I am looking for something specific, say a tub of frozen veal stock, I open the freezer door and yell “honey, where’s the freakin’ veal stock!”

    Actually I do manage to at least write dates on anything (like the above veal stock) that I make in batches for freezing.

  • JuniorBalloon

    Being organised is all well and good, but more important to me is how long will those yolks (or whites as I’m more likely to have) keep?

    Thanks,
    BS

  • Carri

    Oh, the many sharpies we have washed in our apron pockets! It’s all good if the lid stays on. ;)

  • Carol

    I always fold a small bit of the tape under at one end to make a “pull tab” so I don’t have to dig at the edge to get it off later. But in case I forget, I save a few of those thin plastic bread bag closures to use as scrapers (handy with Goo Gone on price tags, too).

  • Joseph Bayot

    Great post about two underrated and underused kitchen tool. Both the tape and the sharpie.

    I’m an unabashed Thomas Keller and TKRG superfan. When I dined at per se in 2009 for my birthday, they gave me two rolls of the now-famous green painter’s tape because I had inquired about it after I finished my meal. It was a wonderful parting gift for someone like me, who has actually thought about and looked up information on it.

    Yes, the green tape does stick more easily, and it peels off just as cleanly as the blue tape. Before the green, I used a fluorescent yellow tape from a local art store that also worked very well.

    The name of the game is adhesiveness, visibility, and legibility. The bright yellow and green tape have the obvious advantage of being quite eye-catching. The blue is also great because, in most kitchens, there are few naturally blue (especially the tape’s particular shade of blue) products, so it stands out very easily. TKRG uses green while Alinea and Momofuku use blue.

    Cutting the tape with scissors to maintain perfect right angles is a pride and consistency issue when it comes to the prossional cooking world. If you’re at home and you waste time on cutting your tape rather than preparing food for your family, you need to assess your priorities.

    However, for Thomas Keller, cutting tape with scissors is just another indicator of the precision and pride involved in his work. In his restaurants, if you don’t have the time to cut your tape, then you haven’t worked with enough sense of urgency. If you don’t have the mindset to maintain right angled edges, then you aren’t working cleanly or carefully enough.

    I get 5-10 hits a day on my blog from people who look up “thomas keller green tape,” “french laundry green tape,” or something similar. I guess I’m not the only one who wonders about this type of thing.

  • Lorraine

    Like so many others, I, too have used the pen-and-tape label method for years.

    Its only downside: You must be assiduous about labeling before you chill or freeze the containers. Otherwise the tape won’t stick.

  • Linvisible

    Besides using painter’s tape, I try to put a short description and date on a list that I keep on a computer on a kitchen desk. Items at the top of the list are older, so I know to try to use those first. I created a column with a check box on the list, so sometimes I check off the item when I use it rather than simply deleting it. Every now and then, I wonder whether I used an item from the freezer or simply forgot to put it on the list. That way, I have a mini-history. Periodically, I purge the list of checked of items.

    I have a side-by-side refrigerator, so I try to group items by shelf, e.g., all frozen meat on the same shelf.

    Having a computer in the kitchen is great. I often try recipes off the Internet. I am trying to go digital with all the recipes I save.

  • leslie kleinman

    I do that and love it. But the egg yolks triggered a question. I freeze them and then am not sure where you can reuse them. The consistency seems to change. Do you defrost in the fridge, at room temp and can you microwave? thanks for the help

  • Marie

    No year on your egg yolks label? Yup, that’s how bad my freezer can get…years on mine are essential.

  • Harry

    I use erasable labels from The Container Store. They’re white, in three sizes, use a Sharpie, erased with a Sharpie eraser, and have survived years of machine & hand washing. I label with food, date of month and year, and if it’s stock, how condensed it is. I also keep a list of what’s in the freezers so I don’t have to open the freezer every time I wonder “Do I have any XX left?”

    Same idea, different execution. I prefer these labels for the reduced waste, reduced lifetime cost, and having one fewer item in my kitchen – which has more than enough items already!

  • chris k

    I cook at a B&B and we use painter’s tape to label product. My neurotic co-worker Sarah uses it to put notes on everything in the fucking kitchen.

    At this point I could either write everything in Swedish; or simply hide the painter’s tape. I am conflicted.

  • Kathryn

    I’ve had some luck with dry-erase markers, although I try to limit their use to non-porous materials like glass or metal containers (easier to clean, and perhaps safer?).

  • Luanne

    Christmas cookie tip: I make batches of dough one day and put it in freezer bags in the fridge. Inside each bag I put a post it with the cookie name, oven temp and cooking time, so when I decide to cook them I can start with the coolest oven and move up to hottest.

  • Sheila

    Great to hear to hear you speak this week end. You have a super website. I am such a fan of blue tape you have no idea!!! Blue tape is my life. But I have a love hate relationship with Sharpies. Four kids and Sharpies = many defaced things in my home : (. All the best to you! BACON rules!

  • Andy

    The tape works great, and for those of us working in kithens, so you don’t lose your sharpies, we tape two or three together back to back making them rather obtrusive to pockets thus always being returned to thier proper shelves.

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