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How to pack a cooler

A picnic blanket set out with a brown bottle of beer in a beer cosy, a wooden bottle opener, and an open blue and white cooler with some ice There are grapes, hot dogs, chips and cheese.

Want all the food and beer at your next summer gathering to stay icy cold and refreshing? Learn our five easy steps for perfectly packing your cooler

Whether you’re at a picnic, a summer barbecue, an outdoor party or a campsite, there’s nothing worse than lukewarm food or — the horrors! — lukewarm beer. (Okay, there is, but it’s not our favourite way to enjoy eating and drinking outdoors.)

Organizing your cooler properly will help keep everything at the ideal temperature in the late-summer heat. And, good news: Doing so is easy.

Plus, with some simple tips and tricks, you can fit far more into a small space than you’d ever imagine. Read on for our step-by-step packing guide.

1. Pre-plan for packing your cooler

First things first: Make sure you’ve accounted for everything that needs to be in your cooler. A few moments of organization now can prevent awkward moments later. (Like when you realize your burger patties are 200 kilometres away in your home freezer.)

Plan your menu, making a list of food and drink items you’d like to bring. Then create a grocery list for whatever you don’t already have on hand.

Break your lists down by category, like this:

Cool tip: Bring an assortment of shelf-stable options that won’t take up room in your cooler, such as unopened condiment bottles, chips, crackers and pretzels. And don’t forget easy, no-chill summery desserts, like our Lemon Poppyseed Radler Pound Cake.

2. Choose the right cooler for the job

A full cooler is an efficient cooler. The key is picking the right size and filling it to the brim with food, beverages and ice.

Hard-case coolers equipped with a drain are ideal for big loads. They let you pack a ton of food or beverages and surround them with loose ice. You simply flip open the stopper and drain off any water as the ice melts.

Smaller coolers and insulated bags are a smart choice, too. They’re easier to tote and the perfect size if you’re headed to an event.

Cool tip: If your go-to brews come in glass bottles, they will add significant weight to your cooler. Using a model with wheels will make transport a cinch.

3. Make your cooler colder

The ambient temperature plays a huge role in how well your cooler will keep its chill. And you can help it out before you start packing it.

Rather than pulling your cooler out of a hot garage, bring it inside to a temperature-controlled area the night before. That way, the ice you add won’t have to work as hard to cool everything down.

Cool tip: Nestle a bag of ice or some ice packs in your closed cooler overnight to pre-chill it. Don’t forget to chill your suds ahead of time, too. Or save on fridge space by buying brews at The Beer Store and plopping them straight into your cooler. We always sell them cold. We even have ice!

4. Know how to stack food and beverages in your cooler

Remember that heat rises…which means cold air sinks. That means you’ll want to keep the most perishable items at the bottom of your cooler.

Start by creating a chilly foundation: Place big blocks of ice, large ice packs and well-wrapped frozen meats at the bottom of the cooler. Remember: Tightly packing items locks in the cold, so fill in any gaps with frozen water bottles or ice packs. Remove foods from large, bulky or heavy containers and glass jars, and repack them into large heavy-duty resealable bags. You can then pack them flat and keep the weight to a minimum.

Next, layer in refrigerated items, such as dairy products and deli items. Make your top layer a sealed bag of ice cubes to help sandwich in the cold air. It’s also always nice to have clean ice on hand to whip up a beertail, like our Beer Margarita.

Cool tip: Try our Light Lager & Lime Grilled Chicken Wings. You can freeze them right in the marinade — they’ll help keep your cooler icy and marinate as they thaw!

5. Separate the high- and low-traffic items

We’ve already covered how cool air sinks. So another smart way to maintain the right temperature is to place items that people often reach for in the most accessible area of your cooler.

Keep low-traffic items on the bottom, where they’ll stay cold. Reserve the top of your cooler for beverages, perishable snacks and open condiments. Then cover your closed cooler with an insulating layer, such as a small wool throw or a foil insulation blanket. You’ll be able to reach in, quickly lift up the top and still trap a bit of the cool air that escapes. The rest of the items will stay covered and protected from the heat.

An even better option? Give your brews their own designated cooler. Pop the beers you want to enjoy ice-cold (pilsners, IPAs and light lagers) in the bottom of the cooler. Then put the types you like less chilled (dark lagers, wheat beers and amber and cream ales) on top.

Cool tip: More of a 2-4 lover? Here’s how to pack your beer cooler in seconds:

  • Open side flaps on one end of the cardboard 2-4 case, keeping the bottles or cans upright.
  • Hold your hand over the open end and tip the case, open-side down, into the cooler before removing your hand. The containers will now be horizontal on the bottom of the cooler. (Leave the cardboard where it is for now.)
  • Repeat with your remaining cases, leaving a bit of room around each one for ice.
  • Fill the gaps between the cases with ice, ensuring each is surrounded and tightly packed.
  • Slide the cardboard cases out, leaving the beer neatly stacked.
  • Add more ice to cover, and close the lid. Easy!

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