11 Of Ina Garten's Favorite Store-Bought Ingredients

Known for her personable demeanor and the ability to deliver top-notch dishes with an apparent complete lack of stress, Ina Garten is the master of delivering foolproof meal guides that make cooking seem easy to everyone from newbs to her fellow world-class chefs. With decades as one of the world's favorite chefs under her belt, Garten is kitchen royalty. Part of that she owes to her hands-on experience, but the less celebrating side of being a chef is knowing when and how you can afford yourself the space to take it easy without losing out on taste.

Garten is a great resource for recipes of all kinds, but she's also happy to tell us when, in her own words, "store-bought is fine." In her 2022 Thanksgiving special for NYT Cooking, Garten explains that making things from scratch is a wonderful way of having extra versatility and control in the kitchen. However, she adds, "If you can use good ingredients from the store that make it easier on yourself, then why not do it?" With the spirit of "making it easier on ourselves" at the forefront, these are some of the store-bought ingredients that Garten has been known to use in her own kitchen regularly. If it's good enough for Ina, it's good enough for us.

1. Marinara sauce

Homemade marinara sauce can be a next-level experience all its own, but it can be pretty time-consuming even if you're an expert. Fortunately, according to Ina Garten, you can skip the process entirely as long as you have access to some quality jarred marinara. Where can you find this perfect pasta sauce? Well, at your local grocery store, of course. Although you might have to shop around before you settle on a favorite, Garten's favorite store-bought marinara is Rao's. This puts her in pretty good company considering that the results of a recent Tasting Table survey about the best store-bought pasta sauce indicated that the sauce is a crowd-pleaser due to being a bit smoother than other brands.

 Garten actually has a delicious and distinctive recipe for marinara on the Food Network's website that leans into using a bit of red wine to up the robust flavor of the sauce. However, if you're cooking something that's already a little bit prep-intensive, such as Garten's eggplant parmesan, you're well within your rights to skip the whole process in order to streamline the meal a bit. Cooking can be seriously fun, but a major part of that is making sure that you're never biting off more than you can chew, both metaphorically and literally.

2. Vanilla ice cream

Visiting your local grocery store to pick up some ice cream sounds like a simple task, but anyone who is aware of the dozens if not hundreds of different options available knows that it's not quite as easy as one might think. For Ina Garten, keeping it simple is best, and she cites vanilla ice cream as her favorite. Although this may come as a surprise to anyone expecting a more complex response from this world-famous chef, Garten believes that vanilla ice cream appears as deceptively simple while actually involving a lot of effort to make. That may be why the flavor itself can seem a bit bland in comparison to more complicated mixed flavors, but it nevertheless retains a subtle complexity all its own.

As with many of the things she enjoys store-bought versions of, Garten actually has her own vanilla ice cream recipe. Still, when in the mood for something fast, she favors store-bought ice cream brands like Häagen-Dazs, Ben and Jerry's, and Ciao Bella. Garten's love for vanilla is well-known, and it even applies to the extract itself. Again, while she has a vanilla extract recipe all her own, she recommends the brand Nielsen-Massey in a pinch. Today, Garten's classic vanilla extract recipe is nearly four decades old, but that doesn't mean she can't enjoy a good store-bought extract every now and again.

3. Mayo

Although the late, great Julia Child had her own recipe for homemade mayonnaise, she was known to show a strong preference for store-bought Hellmann's. Garten has regularly cited Child as a major culinary inspiration, explaining that she learned to cook in no small part due to the guidance offered by Child's cookbooks. It turns out, there is one very distinctive thing she and Child have in common, and that's their mutual favorite brand of mayonnaise. The brand? None other than Hellmann's own, of course.

In her own cookbooks and blogs, Garten has suggestions for taking Hellmann's up a notch by adding ingredients and enhancing the flavor a bit, but the root remains the same. In the cookbook "Cook Like a Pro," the very first ingredient for her buttermilk herb mayo is a cup of "good mayo, like Hellmann's." Her basil mayonnaise recipe might require making the whole thing from scratch, but just because you can make your own doesn't mean you have to every single time. For those moments when you're looking to make things a bit easier on yourself without cutting corners, you'll be pleased to know that store-bought mayonnaise has been helping people do just that for decades.

4. Pesto

The Food Network, aka the home network of Ina Garten's hit cooking show "Barefoot Contessa," assembled a list of store-bought ingredients that Garten approves of, and pesto is on that list. An underrated ingredient that can amplify the taste profile of everything from soups to pizza, pasta, bread, and beyond, Garten agrees that the versatility factor of pesto is high. "I use it in so many ways, like Winter Minestrone, and it's fabulous on open-faced mozzarella-and-tomato sandwiches," Garten says in the article. While her homemade pesto recipe is certainly nothing to scoff at, we are nonetheless highly intrigued by the master chef's suggestion that we do less work.

While Garten uses pesto as an additive in seemingly countless recipes, including her pesto zucchini sticks and her five-star pasta, it tends to be more a supporting cast member than the star of most of these dishes. That allows for a quick trade-out for store-bought pesto, which could easily cut down time, hassle, and clean-up during the meal preparation. As with most of Garten's recommendations, she advises you to find a high-quality jarred pesto, but once you've figured out your brand of choice, you're free to use it at will during any pasta emergency.

5. Chocolate syrup and caramel sauce

Chocolate and caramel sauce and syrup also appear on Ina Garten's Food Network list of things she'll happily accept store-bought versions of rather than making them on her own. She uses these sauces in recipes like chocolate ganache cake, New York egg cream, and salted caramel brownies, all of which are already involved enough as recipes go that adding the complication of preparing syrups from scratch may seem a bit much. Fortunately, it's also an easy step to skip simply by leaning into the magic of store-bought chocolate and caramel sauce.

These ingredients play a big role in her recipes, but arguably bigger roles in her philosophy. At the start of the Food Network piece, Garten explains, "When I say 'store-bought is just fine,' I'm not talking about going to the grocery store, buying really bad birthday cake, and claiming that you made it yourself. What I am saying is you can use ingredients from the store, like a pound cake or vanilla ice cream, that are just as good as homemade." We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Sauces and syrups can be time-consuming to prepare with relatively little payoff, especially when excellent store-bought versions are right there.

6. Puff pastry and phyllo dough

Although puff pastry and phyllo dough have individual flavors that make each ingredient unique from the other, they are both great things to have on hand for any cook. Making them from scratch isn't the worst thing in the world, but because they both tend to pop up in recipes at unexpected times, it's good just to be prepared by staying stocked up. The easiest way to go about that, of course, is to buy them at the local grocery store or Mediterranean marketplace and keep them in the freezer for a rainy day.

Garten is known to use puff pastry and phyllo dough in a number of dishes, including apple galettes, soppressata and cheese, ham and cheese in a pastry, and many more. Garten told the Food Network, "I always buy ready-made puff pastry and phyllo dough for sweet and savory tarts and appetizers." She goes on to include a note on the unnecessarily complicated nature of making these things from scratch, explaining, "I mean, why would you make it? Believe me, if you had to make it yourself, you would never make palmiers." You heard it here; for the smart chef, store-bought puff pastry and phyllo dough is the way of the future.

7. White truffle butter

When it comes to butter, Ina Garten wrote in her "Ask Ina" column on the Barefoot Contessa blog that her preferred store-bought brand is Cabot. Yet there is another, less-known butter that graces Garten recipes like fettuccine with white truffle butter and mushrooms and tagliatelle with truffle butter. As you may have guessed from the recipe names, that's store-bought white truffle butter, an ingredient that Garten claims to use on dishes ranging from scrambled eggs to pasta dishes and beyond.

For those not yet in the know, white truffle butter has a strong, earthy taste that allows for big flavors with just a little sample added to the dish. Distinct while maintaining serious versatility, it can be used to enliven anything from popcorn to pizza. While it isn't always widely available and often requires a little online shopping to make it to your pantry, Garten advises buying several jars at once and storing them in the freezer to keep things manageable. White truffle butter is an expensive treat, but for Garten, this is one ingredient that can take an ordinary dish to the next level. For some chefs, that will be all the encouragement needed to stock up.

8. Ketchup

Ketchup is the kind of simple, everyday recipe that plenty of food professionals and enthusiasts alike have incredibly strong feelings about. How do you spell it? What's your favorite brand? Does it really belong on breakfast foods? These are all hotly debated topics that we're not likely to lay to rest anytime soon. Yet, many of us can agree that having a bottle of ketchup is a must-have pantry stand-by, not just as a condiment but as an essential ingredient for meals like baked beans, sloppy joe, and meatloaf. If you like ketchup but don't love the added process of creating it on your own, you can rest easy knowing that Ina Garten refers to store-bought ketchup as "just fine."

Naturally, if you want to go to the effort of making your own, there are plenty of great recipes available online to help you achieve that tomato-flavored perfection. Yet, if you're looking to prepare a dish like Ina Garten's famous meatloaf recipe, you may find it much easier to skip that part of the cooking process. Focusing on the overall meal itself rather than the individual toppings is always a good move, and timesavers like premade ketchup can be a real lifesaver, especially when you're on a time crunch.

9. Peanut butter

For many foodies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the kind of simple and satisfying childhood staple that never lose their appeal. Not only highly nutritious but incredibly easy to make, none other than the sports network ESPN refers to this as one of the preferred pre-game snacks of its players. Ina Garten and your average NBA player might have more in common than you first might think, because she also cites peanut butter and jelly as an excellent go-to snack. In fact, Garten uses store-bought peanut butter for plenty of recipes.

For peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Garten notes that the important thing isn't necessarily which ingredients you use, but that you remember to lightly toast the bread. Recommending creamy Skippy peanut butter, Pepperidge Farms white bread, and Eli Zabar's raspberry preserves, Garten has been known to make quite the photogenic peanut butter sandwich. While your results might not be as Instagram-friendly as hers, looks really aren't what matters when it comes to the perfect PB&J. If you get the ingredients on the bread, then you've already succeeded making this snack, and everything else is just icing on the sandwich.

10. Stuffing

Keeping in line with the seasonal theme of her NYT Thanksgiving special, Garten explains that, while most people will have their attention on the turkey for Thanksgiving, it's the sides that truly make the meal. To that end, she says that one of her very favorite dinner table timesavers is to buy stuffing mix rather than making it from scratch. Noting that she prefers to make bread pudding to stuffing, she still buys pre-made stuffing for the recipe. Skipping the process of toasting and drying the bread on her own makes it more achievable to deliver her trademark mushroom and gruyere bread pudding.

Garten's wisdom is very much on display as she notes, "The key to any dinner, particularly Thanksgiving, is the host is having fun. If you're happy, everyone's going to have a good time. And I think the easier you make the meal, the happier you're going to be." She adds, "Thanksgiving isn't a contest to see who can make the most difficult thing. I always make the simplest thing." Prioritizing the experience of the meal over the process of preparation is the kind of kitchen lesson that doesn't just apply to Thanksgiving, rather it is relevant to every meal we make at home.

11. Pie crust

Also in the NYT Thanksgiving special, Garten makes a surprising discovery about one of the recipes from her book "Go-To Dinners: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook." While trying to simplify the recipe for the special, she traded out the homemade crust of the book for a frozen one from the grocery store. The results surprised her by actually improving the homemade crust. Having found her own crust to be a bit too rich for the flavor explosion of the pecan pie filling, she changes her mind on the spot about making the crust at home, recommending viewers instead opt for a frozen crust.

Throwing in the added caveat that a frozen crust will benefit from being moved from the freezer to the fridge to thaw overnight, Garten advises opting for store-bought over the homemade crust that was originally detailed in the book. If you're looking to give your pie crust the rustic aesthetic of classic pies without the extra effort it takes to put together a crust on your own, Garten offers the tip of pressing a fork into the crimped edges to give it that unique homemade look. The whole special is very much about embracing the ease of store-bought where possible, and pie crusts are just as good a place as any to start.