Effective cooler use starts and ends with these eight reminders.
The summer is not far off now, and that means a lot of different things, from all-day fishing trips to backyard BBQ, from family-wide camping trips to long days at the beach.
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Regardless of how your family spends the summer, there's little doubt that a cooler is a part of the average arsenal for your day-to-day activities. And no matter what those activities are, having cold drinks and properly refrigerated foods is as pivotal as ever.
Follow these eight tips to make sure that you get the best results out of your cooler.
1. Cool down food and drinks beforehand
There's a tendency among cooler users to put warm drinks into a cooler, with the thought that the ice will do the trick in chilling them and turning them into refreshing beverages actually worthy of drinking. There's also a good reason for this, since many drinks - from bottles of Gatorade to cans of soda and beer - are often purchased warm and have to be refrigerated by the buyer.
If you want the best performance out of your cooler, though, you will want to buy these room temperature beverages far enough ahead of time that you have a few hours to leave them in the fridge before tossing them into the cooler. The ice in your cooler will last for longer if your beverages are already cold, which can be a key factor for keeping everything chilled during a lengthy boat trip or a multi-day camping trip. If you are bringing meats along for grilling, freeze them before putting them in the cooler. They will function essentially as extra ice and will work to help everything stay crisp and cold.
2. Pre-chill the cooler
Your foods and drinks aren't the only thing worth pre-chilling.
On the contrary, make a point of cooling your cooler before use as well, whether by putting it in a cold environment (garages, basements, or walk-in freezers are all great) or tossing a few bags of ice in for the hour or so before you load it. You will want to use fresh ice when you actually load food and drinks in the cooler, but having a cold box to start with will minimize melt and maximize the longevity of your ice.
3. Load in chronological order
Loading a cooler is a strategic practice that requires pre-planning to be successful, especially for longer trips. Plan meals based on when each will be consumed, then pack in reverse order, starting with the items you expect to consume last and placing the items that will be used first on top. The less you dig through the ice, the longer it will take for it to melt.
Planning beverages is harder, since people will always pretty much dig through the ice to find what they want and since there is no real chronological timeline of consumption. However, you can distribute your beverages so that there are several bottles or cans of each drink type on the top, in the middle, and on the bottom. That way, your friends or family will have an easier time finding what they want to drink, no matter when they are looking for it.
4. Load the ice last
When loading a cooler, many people poor the ice in first and then move on to loading the beverages and food, but the best method is to actually load the drinks and food items first and then pour ice on top of them.
Heat rises and cold air sinks, so ice will always be more effective when placed on top of your stuff then when on bottom.
5. Use different types of ice
Using all crushed ice or all cubed ice isn't necessarily the best way to go when it comes to managing your cooler.
Instead, try to use a combination between different types. Crushed ice will melt the fastest, but it will also cool your food and drinks faster and more efficiently than another other types of ice. Bags of cubed ice or big blocks of ice reduce surface area and therefore take longer to melt.
Use a combination of crushed and loose cubed ice to cool your stuff, then have bagged ice or blocked ice on top to insulate the crushed and cubed stuff and keep it from melting.
6. Don't leave your cooler in the sun
Even if you buy the best Yeti cooler on the market, it isn't going to perform optimally if left out in the hot sun. If you have shade at your disposal, your cooler should have first dibs.
If you are in a spot where no shade is really available, pack blankets, sleeping bags, and towels around your cooler to keep it insulated and assist it in retaining cold. This insulation method is also a great way to avoid rapid melting and warming whenever your cooler has to spend time in the car.
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7. Leave the lid closed when possible
Every time you open your cooler, you are allowing cold air to escape and accelerating the melting of the ice. Try to minimize cooler trips to avoid opening the lid up too frequently: grab everyone a drink at the same time, your get everything you need to cook dinner out of the cooler at once.
Opening the cooler to grab a drink may seem insignificant, but those small moments add up and conspire to melt your ice and warm your food and drinks.
8. Don't be too quick to drain the water
Just because there's a lot of water in your cooler instead of ice doesn't necessarily mean that it's time to drain the thing. A pool of ice cold water can actually do a lot to keep your soda, beer, and other beverages cold. Maximize the efficiency of your cooler by waiting until the water reaches lukewarm temperatures to drain it.