15 Trader Joe’s Hacks You Should Try, According to Employees

published Apr 12, 2022
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“I’ll take ‘Hacks that include Shameless Trader Joe’s Product Plugs’ for $100, Tara.” Of course, Matt Sloan, the co-host of the Inside Trader Joe’s podcast, was mostly joking when he said that during the most recent episode. See, that’s not a Jeopardy! category. (Yet!) But it was the topic of the 27-minute episode, featuring Matt and his co-host, Tara Miller, as they shared the best grocery inspired tips and tricks they’ve learned from crew members. They covered desserts, storage tricks, “delicious things you didn’t know you could make,” and more.

While we think the hosts played it a little fast and loose with the word “hack,” they did give us lots of great ideas. Let’s take a look!

1. Turn yogurt cups into DIY frozen yogurt pops.

Crew member Tori, at store 164 in Spokane, Washington, had a smart idea for DIY frozen yogurt pops. Grab a six-pack of yogurt cups and some craft sticks (aka popsicle sticks, typically found at craft stores) and, as Tara explains, just stick one into each of the yogurt cups and put ’em in the freezer overnight. According to the two hosts (who sampled blueberry and vanilla versions while recording), they are delicious and the texture is fantastic.

2. Leave the milk out of this vanilla cake mix.

This next dessert hack comes from Cynthia at store 715 in Woodbury, Minnesota. It’s great because the trick is to leave out an ingredient (and also because doing so results in a “vanilla version of a brownie,” says Tara.) Simply prepare this cake mix according to the package instructions, minus the milk. Don’t worry about replacing the liquid volume with anything — you really are just leaving out the milk. Cynthia recommends using it as a strawberry shortcake shortcut. 

Credit: Mercedes Davis

3. Sprinkle this Chili Lime Seasoning on top of ice cream.

This fan-favorite seasoning blend adds oomph to watermelon, margaritas, watermelon margaritas, pad thai, and … ice cream! Tara thinks this hack is “really, really cool.” (Pun intended?) We think it’s the must-have topping for ice cream sundae bars, and we can all thank crew member Jenny in Woodbury, Minnesota (store 715) for the suggestion.

Credit: Rochelle Bilow

4. Bake your chocolate chip cookie dough in muffin tins.

The podcast featured two hacks for these dough “pucks,” as Matt refers to them. The first: If you want to make great brookies, combine them with the grocer’s Brownie Truffle Baking Mix. You simply add the pucks to the bottom of the 9-inch pan before pouring the brownie batter on top. The second hack: Use a mini muffin tin, to create muffin-shaped cookies with a special chocolate peanut butter cup twist. Drop the pucks in the tin, bake them, and — when they’re fresh out of the oven and still warm — gently press a peanut butter cup into the cookie muffin. “I’d go regular size, dark chocolate, peanut butter cup,” says Matt.

Credit: Lauren Masur

5. Stash chocolate hummus in the freezer.

Turns out, some hummus belongs in the freezer, not the fridge. When Meredith, in the Boston office, wants a frozen dessert, she grabs the tub of chocolate hummus from the freezer and just eats it out of the tub with a spoon — like it’s a carton of ice cream. Matt has also heard of people using chilled-but-not-frozen chocolate hummus to frost cupcakes or cakes.

6. Turn crescent rolls into beignets.

Ben, a crew member in New Jersey, turns crescent rolls into makeshift beignets. (He makes them for Mardi Gras!) He removes the dough from the tub, cuts them into smaller pieces, and deep fries them. When they come out, he tosses them in powdered sugar. Tara says she might try them in the air fryer, too.

Credit: Lauren Masur

7. Use Elote Corn Chip Dippers as breading for chicken tenders.

Seven words for you: Elote Corn Chip Dipper Crusted Chicken Tenders. This idea comes from Washington-based crew member Denon, who dredges chicken breast tenders with crushed corn chips and cooks the coated tenders in the air fryer. That’s it. No buttermilk brine or egg wash, though Alex in the TJ’s kitchen says you could add that step if you want to go a little above and beyond. “The chicken is really moist and tender,” says Tara. “Surprisingly moist,” adds Matt.

Credit: Patty Catalano

8. Make burritos with Mandarin Orange Chicken.

If you haven’t had TJ’s Mandarin Orange Chicken in burrito form, you’re going to want to hear what James — from store 460 in Tulsa, Oklahoma — has to say. While the chicken cooks in the air fryer (or oven or skillet), he cooks some of the store’s Spicy Mexican-Style Riced Cauliflower in a pan with some oil on high. Once the chicken is ready, he tosses it in the same pan and sauces everything together before scooping it into a tortilla warmed on an open flame.

Credit: Coco Morante

9. Put black garlic in eggs, soups, sauces, and more.

Black garlic, according to Matt, “adds the flavor of time, T-I-M-E” (not to be confused with the flavor of thyme). “When you want that depth of flavor that comes from long, slow simmered cooking, throw in some of this black garlic.” Tara puts black garlic in eggs, soups, and sauces, plus she seasons chicken with it before putting it on the grill. 

10. Use garlic-flavored olive oil when you’re roasting, frying, or grilling.

Matt calls this flavored olive oil “magic” and recommends using it if you’re roasting vegetables, frying sunny-side-up eggs, or grilling bread “that’s kind of getting a little sideways.”

Credit: Dana McMahan

12. Add some instant coffee to cake or cookie batter.

Trader Joe’s sells truckloads of instant coffee, according to Tara, and what she loves is that “people are using [it] for things that are not [a cup of] coffee.” She recommends adding it to a chocolate cake or chocolate chip cookie batter, or anywhere you want to amplify the flavor of chocolate. Matt also suggests putting it in meat rubs or simply sprinkling it over ice cream.

13. Add packets of Ginger Drink Mix to marinades and dressings.

Matt loves these little packets on their own for making a cup of hot ginger tea, but he also adds them to marinades and dressings.

14. Drizzle spicy honey on top of fish and veggies.

Matt suggests using TJ’s Organic Spicy Honey Sauce as a finishing sauce on a piece of poached fish that needs a little bit of unctuousness. Tara’s also used it on roasted Brussels sprouts.

15. Store unopened peanut butter upside down.

This final trick helps prevent that mess that can occur when the oil separates in a jar of natural peanut butter. Keep your unopened peanut butter jars upside down in your pantry. Then, when your current jar is almost done, move the upside-down jar to the fridge (still upside down). Flip it back upright once you’re ready to mix it up. “It’s much easier, much less messy to stir the oil back in,” says Matt, and “it will stay relatively homogenized after mixing.”

Do you have a Trader Joe’s grocery hack? Tell us in the comments below.