Proper placement and prep of items in your cooler keeps things colder for longer periods of time—maximizing your fun outdoors.
The path to maximum cooler efficiency is more than just cramming all your food in and covering it with ice. Plan accordingly and make sure every nook and cranny of your cooler space is used to the fullest.
- Cool Tools. There are many types of coolers out there. If you’re really roughing it or want the best for your food, go for a hard cooler. They’re better at keeping things cold. Insulated bags and totes are helpful if you have lots of loose items that you want to pack into the cooler. A thermometer is great for making sure your cooler stays at or below 40°F.
- Can You Take Two? If you’ve got the space, consider having a separate cooler for drinks. Constantly opening and closing the cooler isn’t helpful for keeping things cold. Having a separate cooler protects perishable food items. Want to go further? A smaller cooler for raw meat greatly increases safety and reduces cross-contamination.
- Going Solo. If you can only take one cooler, try packing in this order: beverages at the bottom, meats/other grillables, snacks/fragile items, and another layer of easy-access chilled drinks. Having your drinks at the bottom helps to make a good foundation for packing.
- Prep for Success. Before you start packing, make sure the cooler has been properly washed with warm, soapy water and left to air dry with the lid open. If possible, pre-chill your cooler with bags of ice to get it ready for your food items. All food items should be prepped and chilled or frozen before going into the cooler. Putting warm items into a cold cooler keeps the ice from maintaining a constant temperature.
- Be a Blockhead. While bags of crushed ice or cubes can help fill empty space, consider using blocks of ice as well. Ice blocks melt slower than cubes. You can make your own ice blocks by filling empty milk containers and soda bottles with water. If you’re packing water or juice, consider freezing those to use as your ice blocks.
- Plastic Perfection. Pack food in leak-proof plastic bags or containers. That makes them easier to arrange in your cooler and helps reduce any mess.
- LOL (Lots of Layers). When you’re ready to pack, add some ice to the bottom of the cooler, then alternate between food items and ice until you reach the top. Make sure you pack foods that need to stay colder at the bottom of your cooler, like fresh meat items. However, remember that the first items to go into the cooler are usually the last ones to go out, so pack accordingly.
- Throwing Shade. When you reach your destination, keep your cooler in a shaded area, if possible. If you don’t have much shade but have access to water, putting a wet towel on the cooler will help beat the heat. If you’re at the beach, partially bury your cooler in the sand and keep it under an umbrella.
For some extra ideas to enjoy the great outdoors, find some great recipe inspirations from our Johnsonville food gurus.
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