Whether you’re heading out for an afternoon picnic or a five-day camping trip, one essential for keeping your beer cold — or your perishables unperished — is a cooler. And it’s high time you learned the right way to pack one.
Give it a bath. When was the last time you washed your cooler? Before or after every trip, haul that bad boy to the tub and wash it, inside and out, with warm water and soap. Prop it open to dry so it doesn’t get musty.
Pre-chill. Make good use of your refrigerator while you’ve got it handy and cool all of your food and beverages before they go in the cooler. That way, the cooler doesn’t have to do any extra work. If you’re carrying bottles of water or juice, freeze them in advance, and they’ll stay colder longer and act as bonus ice packs. Don’t forget to throw a few ice cubes in the cooler an hour or two before you intend to pack it, to get the cooler itself cooled off.
Plastic is your friend. Pack all food in leak-proof plastic containers to prevent cross-contamination. This is especially important for raw meat and seafood. If you’re carrying a lot of these, a separate cooler might be worthwhile.
Pack smart. Items you’re going to use last go in first, and so on, up to the very first thing you’re going to want when you arrive. Consider having one cooler for food and one for drinks. You’ll be opening the beverage cooler a lot more often, and the food cooler will stay, well, cooler.
Fill it up. A full cooler stays cold longer. Once your food and drinks are stowed away, add enough ice to fill the cooler to the brim. Or use ice packs, which have the benefit of not melting into messy water. When your ice does melt, don’t drain the water unless you’ve got fresh ice to add, as that water will stay colder than the warm air that would replace it.
Store it in the shade. As much as possible, keep your cooler in the shade — or at least out of the sun. No shade? Throw a light-colored blanket over it. If you’re at the beach, you can partially bury it in the sand. The sun beating down wants to melt your ice and make your beer warm. Don’t let it.
— By Nadine Kavanaugh, Brand Publishing Writer