So, you just purchased a premium cooler. Congratulations. Now it’s time to make it walk the walk and live up to its chilling billing for your summer outing, be it a beachside barbecue or weekend camping trip in the woods. Following are the best practices for cooler prep, packing and usage to ensure that your ice lasts longer. Take the extra care and attention to take full advantage of a quality cooler’s ability to extend your journey by adding precious time that you can keep food fresh and drinks cold.
Ice ratio: Don’t shortchange the ice. Experts recommend a 2-to-1 ice:content ratio for maximum cooler performance. (Hint: Count any frozen food inside toward the ratio.) To that end, err on the side of getting a slightly larger cooler than you might need rather than a smaller one—though you’ll need to factor the total weight of the loaded cooler when planning logistics if it needs to move anywhere beyond your vehicle.
Block vs. cubed: With less surface area, block ice lasts much longer than cubed; use it whenever cooler space allows. Make your own by filling up and freezing a pan or Tupperware at home, or freezing spare plastic water/juice containers. Bonus: It’s cheaper. Use cubed ice (ideal for drinks) to fill in the gaps in your cooler.
Reusable freezer packs: Reusable freezer packs (i.e., Techni Ice) are a great alternative or supplement for ice on shorter trips, with many lasting longer than ice and not creating meltwater. For longer trips where refreezing isn’t possible, use ice.
Double down: Consider having one cooler for food (to help perishables stay colder longer) and a second for drinks (after all, you’ll open the drinks cooler more often). Plus, it will save you from excavating ice to find your cold beverage, draining coldness in the process. And use your better cooler for your food, which is more important to keep safe and fresh.
Pre-chill cooler: To maximize performance, don’t start with a hot cooler from the porch; bring it inside before filling (you can also pre-chill it with cold water).
Freeze/refrigerate contents: Going on an extended trip? Freeze as much of your food as possible beforehand (especially meat) and refrigerate everything else, including drinks. Don’t use your cooler to make warm items cold.