With tailgating season in full swing, now is the time to break out the folding lawn chairs, pack up your picnic gear, and get ready to pack up the cooler. Some concertgoers and sports fans don’t always understand the appeal of tailgating.
Can’t you just eat a hot dog from one of the stands or go to a restaurant before the events start? Of course, you can, but then you’d miss out on all the pre-game fun (and your Uncle Joe’s “lucky” BBQ sliders).
Food and drinks are an essential part of tailgating and so is keeping them cool. We’ll discuss how to properly pack a cooler and give you some tips on how to keep at a safe temperature.
Does It Really Matter How You Pack A Cooler?
You may be wondering if how to pack a cooler is really all that important. While many people drag out their dusty cooler from the basement, toss in some ice, and then throw in some food and drinks, there are better (and safer) ways to pack a cooler. Here are a few reasons why you should properly pack a cooler.
Keeps Food and Drinks From Getting Damaged
How many times have you packed “fragile” items in the cooler, like deviled eggs or sandwiches, only to have them damaged and squashed by the time you reached the tailgate party? Taking the time and learning how to arrange your food in the cooler properly can save some of the most delicate of items.
Food Stays At A Safe Temperature
You know what’s worse than your favorite team losing? Getting food poisoning from your food at the tailgate party. One of the best ways to prevent foodborne illness, when using your cooler, is to ensure that the inside of your cooler stays 40°F or lower at all times. Packing your cooler the right way will help to retain the safe temperature much easier.
Less Food Wasted
When you carelessly pack up your cooler, you’re more likely to get damaged and soggy food. Since no one really wants to eat a wet hoagie or other waterlogged foods, you may end up wasting more than you consume.
Do You Need A New Cooler?
Before we discuss the rights and wrongs of packing a cooler, let’s take a little time to talk about your cooler. Some people use their cooler year-round while others only use it during the summer months or on an annual camping trip.
Planning on supplying the appetizers at the next tailgate party? You should make sure your cooler is good enough to keep food cool. Here are some signs that you may need a new cooler.
Your Cooler Is Styrofoam
If you grew up before the 1990’s, you’re probably familiar with seeing white styrofoam coolers at outdoor events and your family maybe even used one when camping. Styrofoam coolers are lightweight, inexpensive, and seem to last forever. The downside is that they are fragile, don’t have a tight seal, and last forever (which is an environmental “no-no”).
Some places may even ban bringing a Styrofoam cooler so it might be a good idea to plan on getting a new, non-styrofoam cooler before your next tailgating event.
The Seal On The Lid Isn’t Tight
If your lid doesn’t close all the way or the seal doesn’t seem as tight as it used to be, the hinges or the gasket could be to blame. You need a tight seal to keep things cool, and if there’s a leak, you will lose cold air fast.
Depending on the age of your cooler and the general condition of the rest of it, it may be worth replacing the hinges and the gasket, but in many cases, it may be best just to get a new cooler.
The Drain Plug Is Missing or Broken
You may not realize the importance of the drain plug on your cooler until you realize it doesn’t work anymore and you’ve got a giant puddle of water on the seat of your car. Not only does having a faulty drain plug make a mess, but it’s just another way for your cooler to lose valuable cool air.
Rather than trying to hunt down a new plug or create a makeshift one, it might be better to buy a new cooler.
Each time you use your cooler do a quick inspection to see if any cracks or pieces are missing.
While many coolers are designed to get scuffed up a bit, you may want to consider a new one when the cracks and scrapes compromise the performance of your cooler.
Need A New Cooler?
If you decide that you need a new cooler, you might be wondering what’s the best cooler for you. Many high-quality coolers come in a variety of sizes and prices. It’s best to shop around, read reviews, and do a little research.
Look for coolers that come with warranties and rather than getting one big cooler, consider getting two mid-sized coolers (we’ll explain this reason shortly).
Prepping To Pack Your Cooler
Before you start filling your cooler with ice, there are few things you should do before you start packing.
If you store your cooler someplace warm, like an attic or garage, you want to make sure that the temperature has cooled down before you pack food.
Always clean the interior and exterior of the cooler before you add food and drinks. As you’re waiting for your cooler to cool down and dry off, it’s a good idea to prep food and keep it in the refrigerator; it should stay there until you’re ready to pack the cooler.
Tips For Packing Your Cooler
Want to know how to pack a cooler like a pro? It’s not as difficult as it may seem and it just requires a little extra time and common sense. Here are some tips to consider when packing (after you’ve prepped your cooler).
Consider Using Ice Packs or Dry Ice
Buying a bag of ice at the gas station and throwing it in the cooler before you head to your tailgate party is convenient, but it’s not necessarily the best way to keep your foods cool or pack your cooler. Ice cubes often lead to a watery mess.
Packing a cooler with dry ice is an effective way to keep foods at a safe temperature without worrying about water. Dry ice is often a better idea for longer trips, and because it’s really cold, you need to use it carefully. Ice packs are often a better choice and easier to handle.
The best ice packs for coolers should stay cold for at least 12 hours, and you can even keep your cooler extra cold when you select a cooler an ice pack in the lid. Dry ice and ice packs should go in the bottom of your cooler.
Put Meat and Drinks In Separate Coolers
Remember how we recommended getting a few coolers rather than one big one? Whenever possible, drinks should be stored in a separate cooler. Since people are more likely to open a cooler more frequently to grab a drink, the temperature in the cooler warm up more quickly and end up compromising the food.
We recommend packing uncooked meat in a separate cooler (away from other foods), if possible but if not, just make sure to store it in airtight containers.
Store Food In Airtight Bags or Containers
Even if you’re using ice packs rather than ice cubes, the packaging on your food can get damaged. It’s best to store all of your food in airtight bags and containers whenever possible. Labeling the containers can help speed up the process of finding food, too.
Use A Thermometer
Want to know if your cooler is staying cold enough? An appliance thermometer, like the kind you can put in your refrigerator, is a great item to keep in your cooler and it doesn’t take up too much space. Remember, it should read 40°F or less.
Keep The Cooler Out Of Direct Sunlight
One of the best ways to help keep your cooler stay cold is to keep it out of direct sunlight. If you can, cover it with a blanket or keep under an umbrella. While it may seem like a good idea to keep it in the car, the interior temps in your car may warm up your cooler.
If you have no other place to store your cooler but your car, make sure you store it in the car and not the hot trunk.
After Party Cooler Care
Now that you’ve properly packed your cooler and had a success tailgate party, it’s important to remember to take care of your cooler. Always unpack and wash it out as soon as you get home. Clean the ice packs before putting them back in your freezer and make sure the cooler is dry before storing it a place where it won’t get damaged.