10 Insider Tips for Keeping Cold Foods Cold Outside

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Picnics, camping trips, beach bonfires… they’re all great ways to spend time in the summer months. Of course, good food is a crucial part of enjoying these events. But how do you keep cold foods cold outside until you want to serve them?

It is not always easy. Sure, you can throw things in a traditional cooler filled with ice. That works great for drinks, but the ice melts pretty quickly and without a good plan, you’ve got a bunch of wet, soggy food.

1. The Tiktok Ice Bath

I’ve got to hand it to TikTok user Shannon McNitt. She came up with a brilliant method for keeping food cold outside, and it went viral in 2021. Since then, I’ve used it multiple times, and I confess I’m now obsessed with it.

The method requires two relatively shallow dishes with thin sides. Those bendable aluminum pans that you can get at the grocery store in 24-packs that cost $5.

Fill one of the pans about a third of the way with water and freeze it. Take the pan out of the freezer and put another of the pans onto the ice.

Now you have a pan that is being cooled from below by a sheet of ice. The bottom of the food tray will be literally freezing, and that cold will disperse to permeate all the food on the tray. It looks much more elegant than an icebox-style cooler, too. Plus, it’s incredibly cost-efficient and eco-friendly.

The solid sheet of ice will stay frozen for hours. The upper tray blocks the ice from direct sunlight.

2. Chill Plates and Bowls in Advance

Putting empty plates or bowls in the freezer to chill them in advance is effective. This works well for backyard parties where you can take them from the freezer to the table.

Stainless steel and porcelain are two common serving plate materials that stay cold for a long time when chilled. Glass and plastic are both pretty terrible at holding in the cold.

You can alsu use stay-cold serving dishes like this 5 quart hydro flask serving bowl from REI. They stay cold for much longer than regular dishes.

The double-walled design insulates while keeping the exterior at room temperature. Its 18/10 stainless steel construction stays cool for a long time.

3. Serve Out of the Right Size Bowls

If you are close to home or have coolers, bring out your cold food in smaller servings. Large trays might be more convenient but also means the food will be sitting out longer.

Conversely, if you don’t have any nearby access to refrigeration, pile the food into large serving bowls. Large bowls of cold food will actually warm up a bit more slowly than smaller bowls.

The point is, think about your situation and pick the best size serving bowls for it.

serving bowls

4. Remember the Magic 40 Rule to Keep Food Cold

The FDA recommends keeping cold food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They also say it is safe if cold food rises above that temperature for less than two hours.

Tip: Hosting a 4th of July party? Here are all my favorite 4th of July recipes, and don’t forget this fruit pizza!

5. Keep Cold Food in the Shade

Solar radiation makes ice melt faster and provides faster heat transference in general.

When you’re setting up a spread outside, look for a shady spot. Remember to account for the fact that the sun moves throughout the day, and the shade will too.

6. Keep Hot and Cold Food Separate

Hot items radiate heat waves, and nearby items pick up the heat from those items. This effect is only magnified if the item picking up heat is colder to begin with.

It’s a good idea to keep hot or room temperature foods away from the cold foods. At the very least, do not keep them in the same containers.

This post has been sponsored by Hershey’s + Jet Puffed + Honey Maid. All thoughts and opinions are my own. With flavors like Cookies & Cream, Chocolate Covered Strawberry, and Fluffer Nutter, I think your'll agree that any summer get-together is the perfect time for these indoor Gourmet S'mores! Chris and I have been trying to get a little more creative with our date nights lately. In an effort to be more budget conscious, we oftentimes skip the babysitter and opt to stay at-home for dates. In the past, an at-home date night invariably meant ordering a pizza and spending about 3 hours curled up in front of the TV before calling it a night and heading up the stairs for bed. It was fine-- but not really "date night" material, you know? So I came up with 30 at-home, budget friendly dates that go beyond watching TV and "having a living room picnic." Don't worry-- I'll share them all with you another time. But today I'm sharing one of our yummiest at-home date night ideas: Indoor Gourmet S'mores. We don't have a fire pit at our house *yet* , so outdoor roasting was out of the question. But I found the PERFECT way to roast marshmallows in your very own kitchen! Today I'm going to share all the details for putting together your very own Gourmet S'mores night without even leaving your house.

7. Use an Inflatable Buffet

Inflatable buffets are the most cost-effective, convenient, visually appealing, and long-lasting type of stay-cool serving tray out there.

They can be blown up like a pool toy, resulting in a long, table-shaped tray with a pocket for ice. These are fun party items, and most have insulated edges so the ice will not melt as quickly. Party City has some fun options.

8. Keep Cold Food Covered

Keeping food covered will slow down the warming process, even if the cover is just a thin layer of foil.

Opaque coverings are best for full cooling effect but ranslucent or totally clear covering will help.

Just make sure the covering is airtight to optimize the insulation.

9. Use a DIY Refrigerator to Keep Cold Foods Cold

Most of the solutions on this list will only work for keeping food cold for a few hours. If you need to keep food cold longer, a DIY refrigerator might be your solution.

What you need: two clay pots of different sizes, coarse sand, water, and a damp cloth to cover the small pot. Salt will interfere with the effect, so don’t use ocean sand (which has salt in it) or saltwater.

To make a DIY fridge, follow these steps:

  1. Get two clay pots, one larger than the other so that the smaller pot can sit inside the bigger one without the walls touching. It’s important the pots are clay, because clay is porous and coolness can pass through it more easily. IMPORTANT: If the pots have holes in the bottom, cover up the holes with tape that will not come loose when wet.
  2. Pack a bit of the sand into the bottom of the big pot. Put in enough sand that the lip of the small pot sits at the same level as the lip of the large pot when it is placed inside.
  3. Put in the small pot. Remember, at this point, the lips of the two pots should be at the same level.
  4. Fill the space between the wall of the small pot and the wall of the big pot with coarse sand. The sand should come up to the lips of the pots without spilling into the small pot.
  5. Pour the water onto the sand. Soak the sand as much as possible without the water actually spilling over the lip of the small pot. If the sand settles, add more sand until there is as much sand and water in there as possible.
  6. You’ve now got a mobile refrigerator. Put food inside the small pot and cover it with the cloth to keep the cold in.

If you pour in water every day, this solution can last for weeks without having to replace the sand.

10. Minimize Time Outside

Wait to bring food out until it’s time to eat, you can save yourself a lot of frustration and annoyance.

Similarly, for a buffet table, move things back inside after everyone is served! This will help you keep things below a safe temperature, and you can always bring it back for round two.

The same goes for refilling ice in a cooler — having a backup supply inside is a great hack!

Keeping Cold Foods Cold Outside, Summarized

Lukewarm foods that are not supposed to be that way are not just gross. They can be dangerous.

Now you’re ready to have an outdoor party! Or attend one. If you’re going as a guest, bring one of these desserts to a BBQ — or you can’t go wrong with cookies.

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1 thought on “10 Insider Tips for Keeping Cold Foods Cold Outside”

  1. I am planning an outdoor graduation party at a park pavilion. We typically hold these at our home but wanted to change it up due to our dogs. I was really struggling with ideas for keeping food cold and this was so incredibly helpful! Thank you!


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