Crispy Secrets: Food Gems for Your Drawer!

The crisper drawers in the refrigerator are something of an enigma, housing all sorts of items — from produce to pancetta to Pabst Blue Ribbon — depending on whose house you’re in. But apparently, your crisper drawer can actually (get this) keep things crisp! How wild.

After the preceding statement, it should come as no surprise that I have not been using my crisper drawers correctly. Being the organizational freak I am, I keep them as neat as I can, but I simply designated one “salad stuff” and the other “meat and cheese.” (The meat products aren’t raw, I’m talking hot dogs, sausages, and charcuterie meats.) Like many refrigerators, my fridge also has a pull-out drawer beneath the crisper drawers… is this also a crisper? What the heck is one supposed to put in THAT? It is a long, shallow drawer, divided by a little plastic arm, so I place various fresh produce items that don’t fit in “salad stuff” on the one side, and all my packaged herbs and sad remaining halves of citrus, hot peppers, or ginger I used for cooking and cocktails on the other.

I assure you, dear reader, that none of this is correct. And if any of the above sounds similar to your current fridge situation, read on.

What Is the Crisper Drawer and How Does It Work?

The bins that come with your refrigerator are much more than average storage. Most have one or more vents to control airflow. Why? Because keeping things fresh is all about airflow, humidity, and ethylene gas, which certain fruits release as they ripen. Ethylene is wonderful for getting an avocado to ripen, but horrible for lettuce. Closing off the vents ceases airflow, creates more humidity, and traps ethylene gas (if present). Conversely, leaving them open increases airflow, limits humidity, and allows less gas to build up in the drawer.

So What Do I Store in the Crisper?

If you decide to use the crisper drawers as intended rather than for universal storage, the most efficient way to go about it is to designate one crisper drawer for low humidity (with the vents open) and the produce that thrives in it, and one for high-humidity items, keeping the vents closed.

In the low-humidity drawer, store anything that releases ethylene and rots easily. The open vents will allow the produce to “breathe,” preventing premature spoilage and making your food last. Almost all fruits, with the exception of berries and watermelon, should be stored here, including unripe avocados. Potatoes, if you store them in your fridge, would belong here as well. Many people choose to simply label this low-humidity drawer “fruit.”

In the high-humidity drawer, place anything with thin skin or leaves that would wilt easily, keeping them secluded from the items releasing ethylene in the low-humidity drawer. Produce such as asparagus, salad greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, squash, and eggplant would have a happy home here. Ethylene-sensitive fruit, such as lemons and strawberries, would also do well in this high-humidity environment. Fresh herbs belong here, too — wrapped in a damp paper towel and secured in a storage bag for optimum shelf-life. A good general label for this drawer would be “vegetables.”

Why Use the Crisper?

Creating separate drawers, one with vents open and one with vents closed, controls where the items that produce the spoil-sport ethylene are stored, keeping it from having an impact on other items in your fridge. Initiating this control means less waste, as all of your produce will inevitably last longer. And less waste means everyone’s favorite thing: saving money.

Making the Most of Your Drawers

Here Are a Few Tips as You Embark On Your Foray Into Freshness:

  • For an easy way to remember what goes where, remember “rot-low, wilt-high.” Both rot and low have three letters, reminding you that things that rot easily should be stored in low humidity. And both wilt and high have four letters, reminding you to store anything that wilts in high humidity.
  • If the drawers in your fridge don’t have any controls on them… they’re simply meant to be high-humidity only.
  • Don’t overfill either drawer. Crisper drawers work best at two-thirds full, so everything inside has room to “breathe.” A less-full drawer also ensures nothing gets damaged from the weight of other items.
  • Utilize the front-to-back method like professional kitchens do: Store items that will spoil more quickly and/or were purchased first towards the front so they’ll be used first.
  • That drawer at the bottom of the fridge? Turns out, it’s for raw meat, fish, and poultry. It’s the coldest (or has controls allowing it to be the coldest) and ensures no cross-contamination by being located at the bottom.