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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

How to Pack a Cooler with Dry Ice



You can use dry ice to keep your drinks cold at BBQs and outdoor parties!
You can use dry ice to keep your drinks cold at BBQs and outdoor parties!

Are you’re planning a picnic, barbecue, or tailgating party? If so, you might be wondering how you’re going to keep those drinks cold in the hot weather. You could use regular ice in the cooler, but pretty soon your brews are going to be swimming in lukewarm water. Plus, you can’t exactly store your snacks in there without them getting waterlogged.

Dry ice is great for coolers in that, well, it’s dry! The only problem is that it’s so cold, handling dry ice can actually give you frostbite. How on earth can you pack a cooler with dry ice?

Why use dry ice instead of regular ice?

Dry ice is the solid, or frozen form, of carbon dioxide. It’s significantly colder than regular ice, with a surface temperature of -109.3° Fahrenheit. As it breaks down, dry ice reverts to carbon dioxide, evaporating into a gas rather than liquid. This makes it less of a mess when considering it for a cooler.

It’s also way more effective than regular ice, as it will keep your foods and drinks frozen or cold for much longer than regular ice.

Use caution when handling dry ice.

As well as the risk of frostbite, exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide in an enclosed environment can be dangerous. The risk of fatal hypercapnia, which is an excessive level of carbon dioxide in the blood, is very real when dealing with dry ice. You should only ever use dry ice in an outdoor environment where ventilation is plentiful.

Dry ice is perfectly safe to use instead of, or with, regular ice, so long as follow a few precautionary rules. As previously mentioned, dry ice is cold enough to give you frostbite, so only handle it with leather or cloth gloves. Oven mitts provide sufficient protection, so you don’t need to go out and purchase specialized dry ice handling equipment.

Check out the best oven mitts for cast iron. If you have smaller hands, you might want to read up on these mitts, too.

Needless to say, you should keep dry ice away from children.

Where and what to buy.

You can use dry ice to keep your drinks cold at BBQs and outdoor parties!
YETI Coolers are dry ice compatible, so you can have a cold drink no matter where you are.

You can buy dry ice in most grocery stores, including Walmart and Costco. You should buy it as close to the time you intend to use it as possible, as dry ice will be continually changing from solid to gas. Preferably, pick up dry ice in block form, as it will fit better and more compactly into your cooler.

YETI Tank 45 Bucket Cooler, Desert Tan

When using dry ice in a cooler, there are a number of considerations. You need to be sure that your cooler is compatible with dry ice. I recommend the YETI models as they are the best dry ice compatible coolers on the market.

See the YETI Tank at Amazon

YETI Tank 45 Bucket Cooler Lid

The YETI Tundra Tank is large, durable, and easy to carry. You can also add useful accessories, such as a lid and tank caddy. With its handy “No Sweat” feature, a huge carrying capacity, and sturdy construction, you’re sure to have plenty of cold drinks to go around!

See the YETI Cooler Tank Lid at Amazon

YETI Tundra 35 Cooler, Navy

If you are looking for a more traditional-style cooler, the YETI Tundra Cooler may be the one for you. Available in a number of sizes, this cooler is very well-insulated and features a tight seal. Rest assured that the contents will be secure, even during rough handling.

See the YETI Tundra Cooler at Amazon

YETI has a Roadie model, perfect for smaller loads. Its carrying handle means it’s convenient to transport. The Vortex Drain System screws in for easy draining, in case you do use regular ice.

How to pack the cooler.

Ensure that you are loading your cooler outside to prevent excessive inhalation of carbon dioxide. Improper ventilation will lead to shortness of breath, loss of consciousness, or even more serious consequences.

Use a 10-inch block of dry ice for every 15 inches in your cooler. This will ensure that everything will stay frozen for 24 to 48 hours. Wrap each block in a sheet of newspaper before you put it in the cooler. The newspaper prevents direct contact with foods. Although most people will put the dry ice into the cooler first, it’s better to place it on top. As we all know, cold air sinks.

Taking your cooler to the beach? Here are my top picks for coolers with wheels.

You should open the cooler as little as possible once the dry ice is inside, as doing so will cause it to evaporate faster. When you put the cooler in the car, keep the windows open to keep the air circulating. After you remove it from the car, cover the cooler with a thick blanket to retain the cold.

Take homemade fruit flavored water on your next outdoor adventure. Here’s everything you need to know.

Further warning.

A further note of warning: you shouldn’t store your dry ice in a completely airtight container. A completely airtight container will expand and possibly explode, sending your beers and sandwiches flying across the azure summer skies. Most coolers aren’t totally air tight, so you shouldn’t worry too much.

Find out which containers are best for freezing!

If you’re going to use dry ice to keep your picnic cold, do so responsibly. Use sturdy leather or cotton gloves with long sleeves to avoid injuring your hands. Wrap the blocks in newspaper to avoid direct contact with food, and always pack the dry ice in a well-ventilated space, preferably one that’s outdoors. After that, enjoy your crisp beers in the hot summer sun!

Make sure everything stays cold…Check out this review of the best tumblers for keeping drinks cold.

You might enjoy learning about the best beer mugs for the freezer.

For great picnic food recipe ideas, see this article on the best foods for a picnic date.

Not sure what to cook at the barbecue? My recipes section includes instructions on everything from succulent smoked salmon to juicy, melt-in-your-mouth prime rib.