Pro Tips: Cooler Packing
Packing your cooler and getting the most out keeping your food cold and fresh is very important. Every cooler expert has their secrete ways for keeping ice until day 10, but it isn't all that hard. Here are some of my tips and tricks for keeping food colder, fresher, and out of the dreaded manky water at the bottom of your cooler.
Packing your cooler is layers will help keep your cooler organized and food fresh. Start with a base of block ice. I like to freeze collapsable water jugs. They can be back up drinking water and help keep your cooler dry. You can also use some sort of freezer ice pack. This method may not keep your cooler really cold for long but could be great for a day trip. In the photo below I used both a frozen water jug and freezer packs. It was Thanksgiving so I wasn't worried about running out of ice due to cool temps.
The next layer should be something that you want to stay really cold. Some good things to put down first are meat, cheese, or dairy. Make sure you keep liquids standing up with caps on tight. The top layer should be delicate things such as veggies and leafy greens.
Some people love spending time in the kitchen. Other people would be fine eat PB&J for days on end. I tend to fall right in the middle. I want to eat well during a trip but with minimal work and effort, especially in the dish line. For this reason I try to do all of my cooking and chopping at home a couple days before the trip. Put all of the prepped food into zip lock bags or Tupperware. Now your food is nearly ready to eat and organized!
If you are prepping for a mid summer trip where temps could be in the triple digits I like to freeze any of the food I can. This will help keep your cooler nice and cold and hopefully keep things such as meat from spoiling. It is easier to thaw something out than enjoy some rotten steaks.
A thoughtfully packed cooler can turn to chaos in the blink of an eye. Next thing you know the cilantro for taco night is swimming in the manky cooler water under what might be a leaking bag of raw chicken. This cold have been avoided by putting fragile food in old yogurt containers. Also think about portioning out small quantities of important ingredients instead of bringing entire packages of things.
I also like to keep smaller ingredients meant for a specific meal together into mesh bags. This makes them easy to grab when pulling stuff for a meal. It also keeps them together so you don't have to go searching for that one lone jalapeño.
More Tips and Tricks
- Pack lunch in a small cooler and rig somewhere accessible
- Bags of frozen fruit are simple and easy addition to yogurt and granola
- Ice cream! Dry ice + small cooler = impressive dessert
- Designate one person to get stuff out of the cooler
There are lots and lots of ways to pack and keep your cooler icey cold, even when temps get into the 100ºs. What are your favorite tricks?