Yard Saling for the Real Food Kitchen

(photo credit)

As many of you know, learning to cook real food not only takes a whole new set of skills, it usually requires a whole new set of tools, too.

Unfortunately, when you are first trying to squeeze that raw milk and grassfed meat into your already tight budget, the last thing you’ll be thinking of spending those hard-earned pennies on is new kitchen gear!

But it’s summer time and believe it or not, yard sales can be a treasure trove for the real foodie. I’ve found I’ve become slightly addicted to the “high” of a good yard sale find. Getting a much needed item for a buck or two is thrilling to me!

Here is a list of items to keep an eye out for this summer:

1. Glass Jars. What is it about food in glass jars? Something about them makes me so incredibly happy. And judging by a recent thread on my facebook page, a lot of you love your glass, too! Yard sales are an ideal place to find canning jars and other random glass. I use them for everything in my kitchen: raw milk, granola, canning, whey… They are so elegant and never go out of style. I can never seem to have enough of them!

2. Cast Iron. I’ve snagged several lovely cast iron pieces second-hand. It seems that sometimes people are a little intimidated by cooking with the heavy pans, so they will end up in the yard sale pile. Keep in mind that you may need to give the pieces a good cleaning and re-seasoning. But cast iron is quality cooking gear that is worth learning how to use!

3. Serving Bowls and Platters. I’m a big believer that you eat with your eyes first. I really enjoy presenting my food in an attractive way, especially when serving guests. I love flashy serving trays, platters, and bowls. They can add that thoughtful touch to a special meal. I have been able to snag several gorgeous platters for $1.00 each and even the above bowl for only $3.00!

4. Appliances. This is one area where I’m a little more cautious (electric appliances can be broken inside or hard to clean), but keep your eye’s peeled for appliances that can make your real food endeavors easier. A few items that you should consider adding to your yard sale hunt list:

  • Food processors
  • Bread machines
  • Ice Cream Maker (I found our ice cream maker for $5.00 last summer! We’ve used it countless times since!)
  • Dehydrator (not as common, but you never know!)
  • Grain mills/coffee grinders (I use a small yard sale coffee grinder to grind dry herbs and flax seeds)
  • Canning Equipment (people often purchase the big canning pots and gear, only to never use it!)

5. Crocks. Though I’ve yet to venture into the world of lacto-fermentation, I’ve heard many people online talk about finding the perfect crocks for fermenting sauerkraut or other foods at thrift stores or yard sales. Sometime you have to think outside of the box a little bit, but those treasures are out there!

6. Canisters. I often see glass or ceramic canister sets second-hand. These can be used for a bazillion different things, just like clear glass jars. I prefer classic white canisters, but the sky is the limit when it comes to colors and styles, and you are sure to find something that would fit in your kitchen. I found the large canister below for $2.00 and it now is the home for my sourdough starter. It looks decorative and classy sitting on my kitchen counter- and it serves an important purpose at the same time.

A few items to avoid while yard saleing:

1. Plastic– I am always a little grossed out at the thought of buying someone else’s used plasticware. Not only can it be hard to deep clean or disinfect, you have no idea if it was heated to high temps (which can cause the chemicals to leach out) or if it has some strange smell lingering in it. Besides, I am slowly eliminating the plastic from my kitchen anyway. I prefer using quality items that will last.

2. Chips and cracks- Closely inspect your finds. While a small chip might not be a big deal on the edge of a platter, you don’t want to bring home cracked canning jars.

3. Non-stick cookware. I am always amazed at the amount of non-stick pots and pans I see at thrift stores and garage sales. Stay away from non-stick stuff, whether it’s new or used. There is much concern about the safety of the fumes that are emitted while cooking on non-stick, plus those pans are usually cheap and easily scratch. They don’t last. Spend your money on things that you can pass down to your children someday instead, like cast iron.

(I love this elegant platter. It was $1.00!)

I’m looking forward to hitting a few sales this weekend and seeing what I can find. What’s the best real food item you’ve ever nabbed at a yard sale?

This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday

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  1. says

    I guess I have always stocked my kitchen with ‘real-food’ tools!
    I’ve been weeding my kitchen out of things like plastic utensils, plastic dishes and non-stick items.
    I wonder is there an electric skillet out there that isn’t Teflon or non-stick coated? Because I think those are the two things I want to get rid of, but am still dependent upon– especially in the summer. Oh, yes, and I have 1 slow cooker that is non-stick– my crock pots are true crocks, but not the slow cooker.
    I’m with you I like seeing my food in jars. It’s pretty. You can see what you have. If you get the right jars, they can be processed for longer shelf life.
    Suggestions on electric cookware that isn’t coated? I need to Google some brands.
    thanks for this post, it gets the cogs turning, Pat

    • Janell says

      Try looking for one made by Farberware. I have found 2 of their older electric skillets (it’s been a few years, thought) at garage sales.

    • Patti says

      Hi Pat. When I was younger, my mother had an electric fry pan with a broiler unit in the lid. It had a stainless steel interior.
      I went on a quest to find one at yard sales and nothing ! I went to Ebay and found one. It’s PERFECT !!!
      Search for Electric Fry pan with broiler. I just did a search and there are many listed. You can add the search to your favorites and when ever someone lists one, you will get an email.
      I often do this till I can find one at MY price !
      Have Fun Hunting !

  2. says

    Hi Jill.
    I have always done this as well, but one thing that I worry about is serving bowls at garage sales since one never knows what might have bad metals in it. There is a lot of talk right now about crock pots that have lead etc in them and one lady in particular who ended up w/ metal poisoning due to that problem.

    My thoughts on non stick is that I use them right now. From what I have read, the problem is w/ cooking w/ them at higher temps. Even Mercola says that you have to get to over 450 degrees or so for them to be a problem. Wondering if you have thoughts on that. I so far have had no success cooking eggs or pancakes on anything else. I had completely failures w/ cast iron.

    Willing to learn though! :-)

    • Lisa says

      I love cooking eggs in stainless steel fry pans. Just use enough butter so they don’t stick! They clean up so easy with a stainless steel scrubby thing (I have one from Norwex and love it).

      • Shell says

        Hi Lisa, yes I do exactly the same and I loooove my spirinets (stainless steel scrubber) too… Also I use ghee I find it better. It has a much higher smoke temp, so it fries without the smoky flavour.
        My favourite yard (we call it garage sale here in Australia) sale item was my electric meat slicer, which gets used mostly for my bread. It was brand new, n I paid less than half price.

    • Jill says

      Hi Adrienne,
      I have heard the issues of lead in crockpot liners. However, I haven’t heard about the concerns of metals in serving bowls? I’d love more info on this, if you have it! What kind of bowls are an issue? Glass, ceramic, etc?

      I’ve also heard that the concern with non stick is the high temps. But my issues with them are mainly their lack of durability. Maybe I’ve only ever had poor-quality ones, but they have scratched and bent, plus burned and ruined more of my food than I can count! I’ve had much better luck cooking/baking with things like stoneware, cast iron, or stainless steel.

      Also, several years ago my sister was living with a family with a pet bird. She would use her non stick George Foreman grill, and would notice the bird would act very sick after she “grilled”. After a little trial and error, she figured out that the grilling fumes were effecting the bird. After that story, I became even more determined to stay away from it. :) But, I still have some non stick cookie sheets that I’ll use on occaision. They just don’t cook as nicely as my stoneware.

      As far as the sticking, I’ve had things stick like cement to my non stick pans, cast iron, and stainless steel, hehe! I just think it depends on how you grease your pans, etc. And it takes a little work to get a nice seasoning on your cast iron. I’m still working on mine.

      • Patti says

        I was always taught that get the pan hot first, foods won’t stick.
        I always bring my eggs to room temp. before frying them in my SS fry pans. I, also, add a drop or two of Olive Oil to the pan once it’s hot.
        No sticking then…
        Hope this helps.

  3. Emily says

    My mom found a yogurt maker at a yard sale really cheap. The previous owners had never used it! We’ve also found a bread machine and a ten cent pyrex measuring cup.

  4. Heather says

    A hint about the cast iron: This is something that is BETTER to buy used than new–even if new is in your budget. If there are old-fashioned auctions near you, they are an even better source for such things as cast iron and canning jars than rummage sales are–also for small appliances. The people who go to auctions are there for the more expensive big stuff–they already have a houseload of kitchen stuff, and it goes very cheap. I have brought home half a truckload of mason jars for only a few bucks. For the cast iron, the old stuff has a smoother finish to it than anything being produced now does. This makes it easier to use, and it holds seasoning better. And, of course, it’s not unheard of to spend a few bucks on a good skillet that someone else used almost daily for half a century, and already is beautifully seasoned. I have a few new pieces of cast iron, but most of mine is either family heirlooms of my husband’s or auction finds. Also, for some reason, omelet-making seems to make for a happy cast iron skillet. If you’re having trouble with a sticky skillet, go on an omelet kick for a little while. Always get your pan hot FIRST, then put the food in, and remember that some of the fat you use is feeding your pan. Cast iron is a little more of a “living” thing than stainless or teflon trash. But make friends with it, and you will still be using that same pan when you are 85. If you google “cast iron flax oil”, you will find a blog by a lady who did a bunch of research into the chemistry of seasoning cast iron. I have a few pans that could use a re-seasoning, and I intend to follow her advice when I do them.

    By the way, when that teflon gets scratched, you are EATING that stuff. Someone pointed that out to me when I was about 19, and I got rid of mine as quickly as I could afford to! That was 20 years ago, and I’ve never looked back.

    • Jill says

      Heather, thank you SO much for this helpful info! I didn’t know the omelet tip, or about cast iron flax oil. I will be trying out both! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Patti says

      True, True, True !!!
      I did the flax oil thing on all of my cast iron pans, new and old !!!
      What a difference.
      It surely took a long time, but time Very Well Spent !

  5. says

    I absolutely LOVE garage sales and go all morning on alternating Saturdays! (I work every other Saturday.) I’m addicted to the high, as well. I don’t believe I own anything hard that was not bought second hand. It’s amazing what you can find out there! I’m careful now, as we downsized a few years ago and have a small farm house, but I do still buy things. Here’s a warning: It’s too easy to buy things you don’t need and won’t use just because it’s so cheap, like coffe cups for .05 each. What would I do with 2 dozen cups. So I make a list and try to stick to it as much as I can.

    • Jill says

      Yes, a very true warning! We have a small farm house too, and I have to be very careful what I bring home. But, that is actually a good thing! :)

  6. says

    Well, you absolutely can’t beat cast iron, even the enamel-coated cast iron like Le Cruset, but I like pure stainless steel too. Mostly for mixing bowls and also for when I want a nonreactive pan because I’m using something acidic. I have found excellent rectangular stainless steel containers with matching lids that stack well and use refrigerator space well. They are from restaurants and not easy to find. But it’s great to go to resale shops like Goodwill or Salvation Army Family Stores where you can score a lot of great kitchen stuff for a song.

  7. says

    Oh, and the best part is, besides being cheap, you are keeping a lot of usable stuff out of the landfills by buying it used rather than new!

  8. Amy J. says

    I love to pick up vintage Pyrex glass storage containers for the refrigerator. They’re usually pretty cheap. They remind me of when I was growing up. That’s what we used for leftovers. I also look for good wooden spoons.

  9. Sandra Winn says

    I love garage sales, my home is furnished with all the beautiful finds and I have many favorites but my Acme juicer is my favorite, got it for 5 bucks..Last week I picked up a new ove’ glove for dollar and have used it daily since..I have 15 pieces of cast iron, 3 were from Mom and the rest sales..I picked up 2 14″ skillets this summer..didn’t need two but 5 dollars apiece and I may pass one on to my son who is a chef,when he gets back from working in Scotland for 5 months, He alway asks me where I find all the good stuff. I go to thrift stores 4 times a month and garage sale a few time a month through the summer…sometimes I go home empty handed and sometime I’m grinning ear to ear all the way home

  10. Sara says

    Loving yard sales. Have outfitted my whole kitchen that way. Stainless steel measuring spoons and cups, a brand new mixmaster ($20!), a Champion juicer used only once, mason jars, glass storage jars, stainless steel bowls, tea kettles, tea pots, blender, nice vintage cooking utensils such as pancake turners and stainless steel cooking spoons or ladles, and yes, cast iron: skillets, chicken fryers, dutch ovens, even some enamel covered cast iron. I also have two working vintage kitchen scales that I really just love both for their usefulness (esp. canning) and for their decorative appeal. I love finding these treasures for incredibly small amounts of money…

  11. Sheri says

    The best yard sale item I have is a Bocsh mixer that my friend snagged for $8! They cost over $400 new. Someone gave her one too. So I got the extra! Beyond cool! I have made so much bread with that! I can mix five loaves at a time with that! I have had it for over five years. I also use the blender for my protein shakes with ice. I like making lemonade slushies in the summer. I also have made ice cream with half and half, ice and flavor. My first one was coffee. Yum! I didn’t need a freezer. I was kinda following the recipe from Vitamix.

    Most of my stuff came to me used.

  12. Shannon says

    I have found TONS of great stuff at garage sales and thrift stores! My BEST finds are: bread machine $5, an older version of a wonder mill for $7! Really nice high-end dehydrator for $10, stove-top popcorn popper for $2..$5 pieces of cast iron, and I could go on and on.

    The thing to keep in mind is that you really have to spend time SEARCHING through a lot of junk, to find a really amazing treasure. For me, the hunt is the best part!

    Another thing I NEVER buy second-hand is wooden cutting boards for the same reason….they are difficult to sanitize, and you don’t know what has been on them.