12 Of Alton Brown's Favorite Store-Bought Ingredients

For Alton Brown, celebrity chef and longtime Food Network star, good cooking is essentially about "being able to put the food together in a way that is pleasing to other people," as he told Larry King in a 2014 interview. And really, that is all anyone could ask for, but it's also the hardest thing to do. Coming up with consistently delicious recipes is not only challenging, but executing these recipes day in and day out, making everything from scratch, can be mentally draining.

That's where good-quality store-bought ingredients come into play. On the one hand, there are stand-in ingredients that don't have to be made from scratch, like mayonnaise or puff pastry dough. These can help a tired chef expedite their cooking without compromising on taste. On the other hand, there are prime ingredients like sumac or dried beans, which can make or break a recipe depending on their quality. But ultimately, each chef tends to have a selection of ingredients that they turn to repeatedly. These are items they use again and again in a wide variety of recipes, and that they rely on to ensure their cooking consistently meets expectations. Let's take a look at what those ingredients are for Alton Brown.

Duke's Mayonnaise

Some mayonnaise lovers have a favorite brand that they swear by, while others will gulp down pretty much anything that looks, feels, and tastes like the stuff. It seems that Alton Brown falls within the former category, as he has gone out of his way to express his preference for Duke's mayonnaise over all the others.

This is because, as you may have noticed, Duke's has a somewhat tangier flavor than others. While all brands of mayo contain some vinegar, which provides that tangy quality, Duke's uses both distilled and apple cider vinegar, upping the ante in terms of bite. There is no doubt that Alton Brown is fully capable of making his own mayonnaise according to his favorite specifications, but on those days when preparing every last ingredient from scratch is just too much, he can reach for a bottle of Duke's and know that his recipe, or burger topping, will turn out just fine.


When a lot of us eat a bag of Cheetos, we tend to enjoy our guilty pleasure and then throw away the evidence as quickly as possible. Not so with Alton Brown. In fact, as he wrote jokily in a post on his own website, "In-depth research and experimentation have led me to the crystalline-clear realization that the best flavor on earth is that of crunchy Cheetos." If you agree, but don't necessarily like the idea of eating purported junk food on a regular basis, you can recreate the Cheeto flavor at home with largely recognizable ingredients, and without the need to add flavor enhancers like maltodextrin, which is decidedly not a common household item.

Instead, Brown offers up his Cheetos-inspired triple cheese popcorn recipe, where you're going to need to get hold of cheddar cheese powder, powdered "parmesan" (which Brown places in quotation marks, presumably to indicate that this powdered monstrosity cannot and should not be considered real Parmesan), nutritional yeast, buttermilk powder, kosher salt, canola oil, popcorn kernels, and unsalted butter. You might not have buttermilk powder lying around at home, but it can be procured easily enough. Then it's just a matter of blitzing most of the ingredients in a food processor and sprinkling the mixture over the prepared popcorn along with melted butter. And if all else fails, just save the Cheeto dust from the bag, and pour it over your popcorn directly!


Sumac may not be the most common ingredient found in the pantry of a home chef, but it's definitely having a moment right now. Chefs of global fame, like Gordon Ramsay and, of course, Alton Brown, have been singing the praises of this secret ingredient more than ever recently, and developing recipes to back up their claims.

This spice, which is made from the ground berries of the sumac plant, is deep red and full of flavor. In fact, Brown uses it frequently to add depth to starches, which offer a whole lot of texture but often need a boost in the taste department. He adds it liberally to ingredients like potatoes and rice, giving them a lemony twist. To see for yourself, try Alton Brown's recipe for hummus, which calls for sumac to taste — because once you taste it, you'll want to add a lot of it. To make Alton Brown's hummus, just prepare your chickpea mixture with tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice, and then top it off with more olive oil, sumac, and smoked paprika. Or, if you don't feel up to making hummus from scratch, you can easily make your good-quality store-bought hummus taste better by adding sumac or za'atar, which also contains the spice.

Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt

Using salt in cooking may seem like a no-brainer. Almost every recipe calls for it, often at multiple stages of the process. But the simplicity here is deceptive, because there are many different types of salt one can use, and some are better than others. For example, Ina Garten has said she refuses to use table salt because of its metallic taste, opting instead for Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, which Alton Brown also favors for his test kitchen.

Most chefs, in fact, tend to use kosher salt or sea salt, which have saltier flavors than table salt, and therefore get the job done without introducing unsavory elements. Just be careful when using kosher salt after being accustomed to seasoning your dishes with table salt: Because the granules are larger, they take longer to dissolve, so it's important to give your dish more time to absorb all the salt before adding more of it. Nevertheless, the thing about Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt is that the granules are a little smaller than other kosher salt brands, making it easier to gauge how much salt to put in a dish if you're going by volume. Ultimately, the easiest thing to do is to stick to a single brand and type of salt whenever you're cooking, unless a recipe calls for something specific. That way, you can ensure some consistency in your dishes and know what to expect from the behavior of your chosen salt.

King Arthur Flour

Remaining consistent with salt is helpful, but consistency with flour is arguably even more important. The way a cake rises and develops in an oven can differ greatly based on whether you're using whole-grain flour, spelt flour, or even a different brand from your usual all-purpose flour. Even though one white flour may resemble another in many ways, some have more or less gluten or protein than others, for example. This can have a significant impact on the rising and texture of baked goods. So although you may want to experiment with different types of flour before you pick one, it is important to stick to the same one once you find your ideal ingredient. That way, your baked goods will turn out more or less the same way every time you make them.

To that end, Alton Brown uses King Arthur Flour in his test kitchen. Consistency is especially important in a test kitchen, so that chefs can better diagnose variations in the outcome of a recipe. Though you can choose whichever flour you prefer, King Arthur is a good place to start your search.

Canned sardines in oil

Alton Brown has widely professed his love of canned fish, but the ones he seems to love above all are canned sardines, in all forms, including smoked and marinated, as long as they've been packed in oil rather than water. This is because the oil tends to be absorbed by the fish while in the tin, enhancing its flavor rather than diluting it, as with water. And naturally, the better the oil, the better the flavor.

Canned sardines are great eaten straight out of the tin on some crackers, but you can also get creative with them. For instance, you can try Brown's own pâté de sardine recipe, where you will blitz the sardines with their oil, along with butter, shallots, lemon juice, and fresh chives, before refrigerating the mixture for at least an hour. Spread it over a slice of toasted sourdough or a bread of your choice. Or for something even simpler, use a fork to mash canned sardines into butter. Complement the mixture with lemon juice and chives and spread it over toast as the French do. And just to illustrate the versatility of canned sardines, you can also purchase sardines marinated in tomato sauce and use them on pasta night, in a recipe of bucatini with sardines, roasted almonds, and chopped dill.

Smoked paprika

Paprika in all its forms is a wonderful spice that adds sweetness, depth of flavor, and a little heat to a dish all at once. Arguably, smoked paprika can do all this and more, with its smokiness sometimes giving a dish a full-bodied meaty flavor even when there is no meat in sight.

But you might be surprised to learn that smoked paprika can even be used in desserts, to great effect. Alton Brown likes to add it to his frozen peach pie. The smoked paprika here is mixed in with the sugar, salt, and tapioca flour, before the mashed peaches and mango juice are introduced. At this point you can freeze the filling mixture for up to three months before placing it in a baking dish lined with pie crust and baking it for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, somehow turning out a perfectly fresh summer peach pie during fall. Just make sure you don't skip the smoked paprika. The addition is no accident, because, as Brown states in his recipe, the spice adds "considerable dimension to flavors that all too often just taste plain sweet."

Dried pulses

If you're looking to trim your weekly shopping budget, one easy way to do it is to switch from canned beans to the dried variety. You can get much more bang for your buck by doing so, as a bag of dried beans costs less per volume. The only potential snag is that you may have to remember to soak your dried beans for several hours before you cook them, especially if they've been sitting there for a long time, slowly drying out more and more.

Alton Brown also thinks all pantries should have this item. He likes the budget-friendly aspect of dried beans, because, as he told Variety in 2020, "You can feed a family of four for six months on different kinds of beans." Dried chickpeas, for example, can easily be turned into homemade hummus. Or you could try this classic pasta e fagioli recipe on the cheap. Start by sautéing the pancetta, carrots, celery, and onions, before adding the tomato paste, rosemary, and garlic. That's when you can add your diligently pre-soaked dried beans along with your chicken broth. For added flavor, pop a Pecorino Romano rind in your stew, and cook everything for about 40 minutes before adding your pasta. The dish will be done about 10 minutes after that, once the pasta is cooked.

French puff pastry dough

Puff pastry dough is not the easiest thing to make. In fact, it's so laborious that many famous chefs use store-bought puff pastry for their creations, especially since the store-bought variety is not much different from what you could make at home, so long as you choose a good-quality brand.

This is why Alton Brown always has some puff pastry dough in his kitchen, opting for French puff pastry in particular, which he has said is easier to roll out. Once you've come to terms with this hack, you can gain access to a whole new world of puff pastry-based recipes. For a sweet treat, try these Portuguese egg tarts, skipping the lengthy instructions on making the puff pastry. Go straight to preparing your sugar syrup and blending it into a milk, flour, and egg yolk mixture to make the filling. Pour this into prepared cups of puff pastry dough and bake at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes. For something savory, because puff pastry is very versatile, opt for these cream cheese and prosciutto pinwheels, where you spread the cream cheese over the rolled-out pastry and layer the prosciutto on top, along with a Dijon mustard and thyme mixture, and some grated Parmesan. Brush egg wash on top and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes.


Scrambled eggs are famously the easiest dish to make, even for a complete newbie cook. So just imagine what a famous and talented chef can do with eggs. In fact, Alton Brown has said that if he has just two easy ingredients on hand – eggs and canned tomatoes — he can whip up a wide range of healthy, complete meals.

To start, Alton Brown has directions for making the "perfect scrambled eggs." For this, you'll simply need to whisk the eggs, salt, pepper, and milk until foamy. Then pour the mixture into the middle of a pan containing melted, bubbly butter, at which point you must stir the eggs slowly until lumps start to form. Lower the heat and start folding the eggs over each other until all the liquid has solidified. With this method, when followed to the letter, you can say goodbye to unevenly cooked, or even slightly burnt scrambled eggs. This dish may be easy to make edible by any home chef, but Alton Brown's method can turn scrambled eggs into the height of breakfast luxury. Another easy breakfast staple is fire-roasted shakshuka, which calls for both eggs and canned tomatoes, backing-up Alton Brown's assertion.

Canned tomatoes

Aside from being great with eggs, canned tomatoes can perform a whole host of other culinary duties, making them the other of the two ingredients Alton Brown can easily turn into a meal, along with eggs. Cook up a delicious pasta meal after putting together a quick tomato sauce at home. Use two cans of peeled, plum tomatoes for this dish, pouring them over your sautéed garlic along with ½ a vegetable stock cube, dried basil, a dab of sugar, and some salt and pepper. Blitz in a food processor until smooth.

For something heartier, you can always make a classic Bolognese sauce with ground beef, or you could try this turkey and tomato bolognese recipe. The process is very similar to the classic method, except that you'll use minced turkey instead of beef, and white wine instead of red wine. The result is still hearty, but a little lighter due to the lower fat content in turkey.


Oats are an essential breakfast food across the nation and beyond, so it should come as no surprise that even high-end chefs might eat them once in a while. In fact, Alton Brown said on "Larry King Now" that he has oats for breakfast every day as part of his effort to lose weight and keep it off. Oats are a good choice for this endeavor, because, as Healthline explains, they're a good source of soluble fiber, which reduces your insulin response, thereby helping you avoid those pesky hunger pangs.

One great way to consume oats, famously, is by preparing oatmeal, as in this simple porridge recipe with toppings of your choice. But there are many other uses for this ingredient. One example is this apricot-orange baked oatmeal recipe. Soak the oats in water and milk while you whisk the eggs with honey, vanilla extract, melted ghee, and milk. Combine the two mixtures while incorporating cashews, apricots, baking powder, salt, and allspice, top with orange slices and sugar, and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes. Finally, broil for a few minutes to caramelize the sugar. Unlike oatmeal porridge, this recipe will remain tasty even days after preparation.