10 Canned Goods You Should Buy This Summer, According to Chefs

published Jul 13, 2023
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Pantry shelves with cans of food
Credit: Darryl Brooks/Shutterstock

Summer is THE season of fresh produce, and we’re more than happy to eat fresh berries by the fistful. But there are still plenty of cases to be made for the shelf-stable stuff. Truth be told, we find ourselves relying on a well-stocked pantry during these warmer months just as much as when that inevitable chill sets in. (Anyone else spot Halloween decor slowly creeping into the aisles? It’s too soon!) 

Turns out we’re not the only ones. We asked chefs from around the country what canned items always make their grocery list. Whether they’re looking for an easy-as-can-be meal (emphasis on the can) or a burst of flavor, these are the 10 canned items they reach for on the regular when summer is in full swing. Take a look and then consider copying this list for your next shopping trip.

Credit: Target

1. Refried Beans

“I love refried beans. In my house, it’s nothing fancy; a can of Old El Paso can be turned into magic with a bit of finesse and love. Late at night after work, microwave with some cheese, add some sour cream and pickled jalapeños, and it’s a simple summertime dinner. Heat up and spread on a tostada with some avocado and poached shrimp for a quick lunch. Top with fried eggs and hot sauce for a simple breakfast. It’s one of the only canned items that is always in my pantry.” — Chad Johnson, executive chef, Bern’s Steak House and Haven, Tampa, FL

Buy: Old El Paso Traditional Refried Beans, $2.59 for 16 ounces at Target

Credit: Happy Belly

2. Garbanzo Beans

“I always keep garbanzo beans on hand, especially during the summer. They are an incredibly versatile ingredient that can be used in various dishes. One of my go-to’s is a garbanzo chaat, a popular Indian snack that is quick, easy, light, and full of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The chickpeas add this nice and crispy texture that pairs perfectly with the other ingredients.” — Chef Maneet Chauhan, partner and president, Morph Hospitality Group, Nashville, TN

Fernando Sanchez, executive chef, Boulon Brasserie & Bakery, Tampa, FL agrees: “I put them in soups, salads, and stir-fries and make different kinds of hummus for dips. My favorite is to deep fry them until crispy, toss in a mix of smoked paprika, add a touch of cayenne pepper and some sugar, and then squeeze fresh lime over the top. It makes for a great snack with a cold beverage of choice.”

Buy: Happy Belly Garbanzo Beans, $1.06 for 15 ounces at Amazon

Credit: Walmart

3. Lychees 

“With their long shelf life, canned lychees can be enjoyed straight from the can (as I do during service at my restaurant) or incorporated into both sweet and savory recipes. Just note: It’s important to choose varieties without excessive sweeteners or preservatives. In regions like Miami, where the fresh lychee season is short, canned lychees become even more valuable. At home, I add them to my smoothies, eat with yogurt and granola, or mix with açaí to give them extra flavor. I also blend them with ice, lemon, lime juice, and water to make a frozen lychee lemonade.” — Cesar Zapata, chef and owner, Phuc Yea, Miami, FL

Buy: MW Polar Peeled Lychee, $1.64 for 11 ounces at Walmart

Credit: Target

4. Corn

“My favorite is Del Monte corn. It can complement many dishes and is an easy, quick snack for the family. I like to prepare elote en vaso, which is corn in a cup with mayo, sour cream, cojita cheese, and hot sauce toppings. I also like to use it to make a nice corn cream sauce.” — Emerio Viramontes, Jr, executive chef, Chef’s Palette, Dallas, TX

Buy: Del Monte Golden Sweet Whole Kernel Corn, $1.49 for 15.25 ounces at Target

Credit: La Valle

5. San Marzano Tomatoes 

“The San Marzano is uniquely suited for cooked applications with a more favorable ratio of flesh to seeds and a sweeter flavor. In the summer months, I usually have fresh herbs growing at home; If you have a can of San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, freshly snipped herbs, and really good olive oil, you’re well on your way to a simple but amazing pasta sauce. Whether you’re making pasta, pizza, or braised chicken, you will taste the difference in these tomatoes.” — Steven Richard, chef, Paddlefish, Orlando, FL

Buy: San Marzano Tomatoes, pack of six 28-oz cans, $37.10 on Amazon

Credit: Walmart

6. Hearts of Palm Pasta

“My family always has Palmini Hearts of Palm pasta in our kitchen. It is a low-carb, sugar-free, non-GMO, gluten-free, and low-calorie pasta alternative. Straight out of the can, it tastes like soft, ready-to-eat hearts of palm: Great for making cold refreshing salads in the hot summer months. The difference is barely noticeable when rinsed and tossed with a hot sauce: red sauce, cream sauce, piccata, even butter, and Parmesan! The kids love it, too!” — Derek Perez, culinary development manager, 4R Restaurant Group

Buy: Palmini Hearts of Palm, $5.71 for 14 ounces at Walmart

Credit: Trader Joe's

7. Jackfruit 

“During the summer months especially, the green jackfruit from Trader Joe’s is one of my pantry staples. Many people use young jackfruit as a vegetarian option because it’s totally shreddable and has a meaty texture. My favorite way to use it is in a warm, Thai-inspired jackfruit salad. Here, the jackfruit gets lightly pounded, then sautéed with aromatics, fish sauce, chilies, and lime and topped with crispy, crunchy chicharron.” — Leah Cohen, owner and executive chef, Pig & Khao and Piggyback, New York City, NY

Find it in stores: Trader Joe’s Green Jackfruit in Brine, $2.49 for 20 ounces at Trader Joe’s

Credit: Roland Foods

8. Figs

 “Figs really speak to me as a chef. They bring a nice sweetness and texture, and I think they are among the most underrated fruits available! There are so many dishes that I love to make at home using canned figs. When I’m making a puttanesca pasta, I like to roughly chop them and toss them in to add a little sweetness that complements the olives and anchovies in the sauce. They are also to die for in a whipped chevre dip or folded into a simple cake I’ll whip up at home — it’s delicious with both chocolate and vanilla!” — Victoria Cosner, executive chef,  Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, North Garden, VA

Buy: Roland Whole Kadota Figs in Light Syrup, $18.15 for 2 (15-ounce) cans at Amazon 

Credit: Trader Joes

9. Artichoke Hearts

Trader Joe’s is one of my ultimate go-to’s, and one of the staple items always on my list is the canned artichoke hearts — I’ve found them to be the best tasting and quality all around with way less time to prep. These artichokes can be eaten alone, as an easy snack, or in the classic spinach and artichoke dip. I like to add my own Indian twist on this dish by making an Artichoke Dip Saag Paneer, a favorite at my restaurant Chauhan Ale & Masala House in Nashville.” — Maneet Chauhan, partner and president, Morph Hospitality Group, Nashville, TN

Find it in stores: Trader Joe’s Artichoke Hearts, $2.99 for 14 ounces at Trader Joe’s

Credit: Target

10. Peaches

“You can make the best peach BBQ sauce with lots of chilies, tamarind, tomato paste, and ginger. If you smoke the peaches with hickory, all the better for the final sauce. I tend to use Del Monte, which is readily available at any grocery store, and the cling peaches from Trader Joe’s are also wonderful. Save the syrup for the bbq sauce.”- Sophina Uong, chef and owner, Mistrer Mao, New Orleans, LA

Buy:Del Monte Sliced Peaches in 100% Fruit Juice, $3.19 for 15 ounces at Target

Do you have a favorite canned food for summer? Tell us in the comments below!