Organizing Cabinet Pull-Out Pantry Shelves

A kitchen cabinet with pull out pantry shelves has it's own distinct organizing challenges. Just because pantry organizers worked for one pantry scenario,  doesn't mean it will work for the other. If you've been struggling to find better ways to organize your kitchen cabinet's pull out pantry shelves, here are a few  pantry hacks.

In this example, I'm focusing on pull out pantry shelves in cabinets around fridge. This is a very common pantry cabinet (with doors) solution in kitchens. If you have a kitchen pantry cabinet around refrigerator, you'll find some helpful shelf organization ideas here!

If you have a closet pantry with fixed shelves, check out this article for "How to Organize Deep Pantry Shelves." I do cover the fixed top shelves in this article, so stick around and don't miss out!

The challenge of pantry cabinets around a fridge

Pantry cabinets with roll-out/pull-out shelves are typically the depth of a standard base kitchen cabinet, which is 24" deep.

The cabinets shown here are a common arrangement: the fridge is located between two cabinet pantries . Unfortunately, pantry cabinets with doors such as these, get pretty deep next to refrigerators.

I grabbed all of my pantry organizers I thought would work on these deep roll out shelves and headed to my daughter-in-law's house. These pantry containers were used to update my own small walk-in pantry shelves. I spent weeks researching pantry storage and reading reviews. I was confident we could quickly figure out how to organize her deep pantry shelves.

I was wrong.

Pantry organizers to organize deep pantry shelves

Pantry organizers to organize deep pantry shelves.

How to organize a pantry with roll out shelves

The biggest difference between these roll out shelves and my super deep stationary shelves, were the dimensions. These were narrow pantry cabinets with pull put shelves. It turned out to be very difficult to fit any type of pantry organizer on them. It was a puzzle that wasn't fun to put together!

FYI, your cabinet roll out shelves may be wider, and more pleasant to organize. In the next section, I review the concern of load support on roll outs. In this regard, narrow pantries are more safe for canned food storage.

Normally, the best approach is to measure the shelves first before you buy pantry organizers. Because I had access to a good pile of different shapes and sizes, we skipped that part. We just jumped in and started trying to fit stuff.

Tips for organizing roll out shelves:

  • premeasure shelf space before buying pantry organizers
  • remove everything from pantry first and wipe down
  • experiment with fitting empty containers on shelves before filling
  • sub-divide space using bins
  • get creative and grab other organizers from around the house to brainstorm better options

In this article, we will explore bins, shelf helpers, and other pantry organizers that ended up working for this kitchen roll-out pantry cabinet.

Load support is a critical factor in organizing pull-out pantry shelves

Every pantry organizer that worked so beautifully in my pantry failed in my daughter-in-law's pull out pantry cabinet. Why? Her shelves were more narrow and stacked more closely, about 9"-10" apart (my shelves were spaced 13 1/2"-15"). 

Right there, the entire experience took an organization turn. To compound the challenge, there was a justified weight concern when extending shelves.

Even though the pull out shelves had heavy-duty shelf slides, a slide can only withstand so much extra canned food weight. These are long pull-outs, almost as deep as the refrigerator they are adjacent to. It was too dangerous to pull out the shelves fully extended to reach cans.

I would like to point out that if you watch YouTube videos of how to organize deep pantry shelves, the deep pull-out shelves aren't storing cans, or much of them. YouTubers are storing light stuff, like snacks and boxed food.  

My daughter-in-law's pull out shelves had the advantage of being narrow, so the shelf was not spanning an overly-large distance, making it stronger.

Refrigerator pantry cabinet with roll-out drawers pulled out

Load weight of pantry pull-out drawer slides, fully loaded drawers.

Because weight distribution was a factor, that meant organizing "like" food together wasn't always possible.

Reaching the top shelf in pull out cabinets

Kitchen pantry cabinets around refrigerators are a common design solution. It makes sense to have food storage, whether refrigerated or not, all in one place.

The problem: top fixed shelves get really long in these types of cabinets around fridge. Some depths can be over an arms-length to reach the back contents. I always encourage my family not to store canned food on upper shelves. The possibility of dropping the can, especially on a little one in the house is a real danger.

Instead, I focused on different solutions to reach the top pantry shelf, with light objects move there first. There really aren't pantry organizers big enough to fit fully on long shelves. Here are some ideas:

Deep shelf pantry helpers

Deep shelf pantry helpers.

Long trays help retrieve goods from top shelf

As stated before, don't store heavy items on top pantry shelves. This is a golden rule that applies to every pantry situation. It's important to put items on top that are light-weight, or will not cause serious injury if dropped.

Here's a pantry hack to organize deep pantry shelves: use the lid from a narrow storage tote or a food tray that acts like a "helper" allowing you to pull it out and retrieve items more easily. This example shows large chip bags, a safe choice for a top shelf.

Your other option is to store items that are long to begin with, such as tablecloths. Storing seasonal items on higher shelves is also a good compromise. Having to grab a step stool just a few times a year is much better than dealing with high shelves on a daily basis.

Organizing big items on shelves

These types of kitchen pantry cabinets often come with fixed or stationary shelves on the top. There is not sense to add roll out shelves above eye level. It can be challenging to figure out what to put in these upper shelves.

Cookie sheets and cutting boards are often ideal in these spaces. Other things that work well are bulky small appliances, jumbo-size containers and pots. Pay attention to the weight of any small appliance before deciding to store on an upper shelf.

The one thing the pull out pantry shelves had in common with stationary pantry shelves are that layering strategies help. Putting large dishes and baskets in the back part of the shelf, and pantry bins in the front, is one good idea for organizing a deep shelf.

layering storage works in deep pantry shelves

Layering storage works in deep pantry shelves

Divide and conquer pantry pull out shelves

What works especially well for organizing deep pull out shelves is a "divide and conquer" strategy. Let's review one cabinet near the refrigerator, moving from the top down.

My daughter-in-law was already using the "divide and conquer" technique, she just needed to do more of it. 

Adding more and smaller bins was our game plan to organize the narrow and deep shelves. After we spent some time moving containers around (and nothing fit) I realized the problem - the cabinets were custom-made. They were designed to fit an odd space in an old farmhouse. 

The amazing cabinet maker said he would build any size for the space, just give him the measurements. No one ever gave a thought about how standard-size pantry organizers would fit! Regardless that this was a custom-made cabinet pantry, no pantry organizer is perfect.

Here's a picture of the deep shelves sub-divided. The white pantry baskets came from Walmart in a set of four. The three in the photo nested in one, larger basket we used on another shelf. We estimated we could fit five rows deep of the white baskets nicely in the shelf. Walmart sold some of the sizes separately, so I left the option up to my daughter-in-law if she wanted to buy more.

organizers to organize deep pantry shelves by subdividng with containers

Organize deep pantry shelves by sub-dividing with smaller containers.

The clear pantry bins came from M Design. This is the only pantry organizer that worked for both of our pantries! M Design also turned out to be a winner in my "Winning Small Pantry Organizers" article.

Just for fun, I had my daughter-in-law try out the 6" bin in the cabinet she kept her water bottles - it worked beautifully! FYI, the 3.5" bins work good for water bottles, too. It just proves that the M Design brand are the most flexible pantry organizers for all kinds of storage, especially when you need to know how to organize deep pantry shelves. Definitely worth every penny!

One comment from my daughter-in-law was that she really would like to keep all related food items together, especially the baking items. Who likes to go to one cabinet for the sugar, and another one across the room for the chocolate chips? She already had a pretty good system and we kept the baking items on shelves that were near each other.

Bins help organize deep pantry shelves.

Bins help organize deep pantry shelves.

When nothing fits, use freestyling to organize!

Again, it's the divide and conquer strategy that works best for long and narrow pantry pull out shelves. On the left (above picture) demonstrates how one set of pantry containers can form a boundary so you can "freestyle" it on the opposite side of the deep shelf. It's a great way to save money on pantry organizers, and solves the problem when you can't find an exact fit for all spaces.

On the right are the pantry wire baskets the family was already using. These organizers were a great solution for how to organize deep pantry shelves. We put canned meats like tuna in the back basket, sauce and relish in the middle basket, and syrups in the front basket.

It's important to emphasize when buying pantry containers to steer away from bulky plastic. The "bulk" is used to reinforce and give strength to (usually) a cheap container. They will also tend to be more tapered to add more strength to the design, which wastes space. The solutions in the above picture have fairly straight sides, which maximize storage space.

Organize canned food on pull out shelves

Organize cans in a deep pantry with roll-out shelves by lying the canned food on it's side in pantry containers or bins designed to fit canned food.

The "clear" winner for deep pantry organizers for cans was the M Design Pantry Storage clear plastic bins. These nifty clear pantry containers proved to be very remarkable.  I'm always astounded how this company somehow chose the best widths of containers that could provide the broadest range of service for cans and other food storage.

In my pantry, I opted for the M Design narrow 3.75" width for single, stackable can storage. They were organization happiness at it's best, so I thought it would also work on the deep pull-out shelves. It didn't take long to see that there wasn't enough space for the containers to stack. In addition, there was no way to identify the can contents because I was looking down on the tops of the cans.

I switched the narrow bins out with the 6" wide bin and laid the cans on their sides. Now I could see everything! The bins also fit on the deep shelf much better. As you can see, there are two bins fitting side by side.

I had purchased a bunch of pantry storage containers for soda pop cans from Walmart (where the cans would also lay on the side) but their size didn't fit any configuration in this pantry. The M Design brand seemed to be made to organize these deep pull-out shelves.

how to organize cans in a deep pantry with bins

How to organize cans in a deep pantry with bins.

Are your pantry pull out shelves doing too much?

Sometimes, it just time for a shelf makeover, time to rethink it all. Often, pantry owners get caught up in having their pantries store more than they should. All kinds of things start to get tossed in there that shouldn't be stored in a pantry.

In this pantry, the storage was covering the main bases. However, it was an opportunity  to see if we could improve shelf organization. Maybe other pantry storage options would work better?

Relocating food to other storage areas

The left cabinet was being used for home-canned produce. It made sense to remove jars from one or two of the shelves, and move them to the basement storage area to free up space.

The extra room allowed more of the main food items to re-locate to the middle, more accessible deep shelves on the left. This was an opportunity to move heavy food cans to the bottom shelves (for safety purposes).

Another option to consider is using different parts of your kitchen for food storage, taking the pressure off the deep pantry pull-out shelves. This might be the chance to switch around lighter objects from elsewhere in the kitchen to those stationary, fixed top shelves of the pull- out cabinets.

If you do store seasonal items on your pull-out shelves, it might make more sense to store elsewhere and reserve space on your pull-out pantry cabinet for your main food items.

If you found a great strategy for how to organize deep pantry shelves in roll-out cabinets, please leave a comment below. The best ideas come from our visitors and I would love to hear from you!

organize deep pantry roll out shelves

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is an Iowa farmwife with a background as a former kitchen designer. Supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life. Read more about this farmwife on her about page.

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