The Simplest Way To Keep Food Cold At Cookouts

No one likes warm potato salad, tepid coleslaw, or a bout of bacteria-inspired belly issues, so keeping food at just the right temperature during summer cookouts is crucial. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends keeping cold foods out for no longer than 2 hours and at a temperature below 40 degrees to avoid the possibility of Salmonella, E. Coli, or Campylobacter running rampant in your salads, sides, and condiments.

There is an abundance of ways to help keep foods from warming in the sun when gathering outside in the heat of summer. These include keeping food shaded and covered, pre-chilling plates and bowls, and ensuring separation between hot and cold foods. Rest assured, you have numerous options to choose from.

However, there's one hack that is a super-strategic way to keep your summer parties in full swing without having to worry about food spoiling. It only requires inexpensive foil pans and a little patience.

Use foil pans to keep food cold

In 2022, TikToker @alifebetterorganized shared a video of their genius way to keep food cold for outdoor gatherings. Begin by partially filling a large aluminum pan with water, and then proceed to freeze it. Select some smaller pans for your sides that will easily fit into the larger pan. Once the water is frozen, plop the other pans in and place it all on your picnic table for your guests to dig into.


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By placing the food on ice, you can potentially lengthen the amount of time that it can sit out safely. Also, if you store each dish in more than one small pan (think: Split your broccoli salad in half, and store in two separate pans), you can periodically switch out one for the other — trade the one that's been out for the one that's been in the fridge.

To add a touch of flair to your foil pan setup, consider obtaining decorative foil pans or personalizing them. Also, if the ice is going to be visible underneath the smaller pans of food, you can add food coloring or glitter to the water before you freeze it.

Another way to keep food cold

While you can control the temperature and storage of the food that you've prepared with the foil pans, it may not be as easy to chill a dish that a guest brings to your party in a different type of container. Of course, you can transfer it to another aluminum foil pan (so keep some extras handy). Or, you can try another hack.

Grab a clean shower cap and fill it partially with ice cubes. Then place the bowl of food that your guest brought into the shower cap. The container is now completely encompassed by ice to keep the food cool.

If you want it to be a bit more stylish, employ the same techniques as with the foil pan. Keep decorative shower caps on hand, or color the ice with food dye. You can also add other decorative touches, like herbs or dried flowers (or a realistic-looking faux version), to the water before freezing. Or, to prevent the mess of cleaning up ice, try using reusable ice cubes that can be decorative as well.