Backyard cookouts, beach days, and dinner by the campfire are essential get-togethers during the summer. But the heat that makes outdoor events so pleasant also provides the right climate for food-borne "bugs" to multiply and thrive. If you're loading up a cooler for an outting, don't make these rookie mistakes.
1. Going too lightweight.
Yes, soft-sided coolers may be lighter to carry, but if you're serious about keeping food chilled, our tests show food will stay colder longer in a hard-sided cooler.
2. Not including enough cold packs.
Always pack ice or frozen gel packs with any food. Your goal is to keep food as cold as in the fridge, 40 degrees or lower.
3. Skimping on the ice.
Pack at least a 1/2 pound of ice per quart capacity of the cooler. And place it on top of the food. Remember your high school physics: Cold air travels down. As the ice melts, don't drain the cooler; let the icy cold water help keep your cooler chilled.
4. Not filling it up.
Pack everything in tightly. A full cooler will keep its cool longer than one that's half empty. If you're not bringing enough food to fill the cooler, pack the remaining space with extra ice.
5. Defrosting your meats.
If possible, pack steaks, pork chops, and chicken kebabs straight from the freezer. Not only will it help them stay cold longer, it'll keep other items frosty as well.
6. Packing foods without a system.
Keep the marinated ribs and chicken quarters carefully wrapped in bags or containers where they can't drip into the cole slaw or onto snacks like carrot sticks and watermelon slices.
7. Trying to get everything all in one.
You're better off bringing two coolers: one for drinks and snacks and one for the food. That way when people grab a drink or piece of fruit during the afternoon, they won't expose the hamburger patties and potato salad to blasts of hot air.