7 Steps to a Perfectly Packed Cooler

Bad cooler etiquette can crash a party. Here are a few tips on how to pack a cooler and avoid soggy chaos.

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Whatever your plans may be this summer weekend, chances are it will involve a cooler packed with ice cold beverages and delicious food. After spending many summer holidays camping, tailgating and boating, I've learned how bad cooler etiquette can crash a party. From soggy sandwiches to waterlogged potato salad, I've seen and done it all. Here are a few tips I've picked up for conquering cooler chaos.

Get the right cooler.

It doesn't have to be fancy, but make sure your cooler has either a handle that secures the lid, a latch or a zipper. The last thing you want is your cooler tipping and everything spilling out. That could be a party foul. This 28-quart cooler packs enough food and beverages for four people. Plus, it doubles as an extra seat.

Start with your beverages.

Whatever you decide to sip on for the day, add it first. Beverages at the bottom of your cooler will stay colder for longer, and won't smash your food items. Try to refrigerate or buy beverages that are already cold.

Add ice.

You'll want to ice down your beverages before stacking food on top. I bought one bag of ice for this cooler and it was plenty. If you're working with warm drinks, add a little water and a dash of rock salt to chill beverages quickly.

Use watertight containers.

I prefer glass storage containers with tight-sealing plastic lids and Mason jars, but a sturdy plastic container will work fine too. I suggest double bagging your food if you're going the plastic bag route. 

Don't forget dessert.

Who doesn't love a sweet treat in a Mason jar? Smaller jars are great for individual servings of banana pudding, summer berries and whipped cream, or whatever tasty dessert you dream up. The screw-on lid makes this canning container great for cooler storage, and you can get 12 4-ounce jars for around $10 or $15.

Pack it right, pack it tight.

Add  perishables first, because you want to make sure these items are surrounded by ice. Dairy, eggs, meat and fruit should be 40 degrees or colder. I put pulled pork, coleslaw, BBQ sauce and banana pudding on ice and stacked baked beans on top. Check out FoodSafety.gov for tips on packing a cooler to prevent food poisoning.

Top it off and enjoy your day.

Pack your cooler with the remaining ice, but allow enough room for breads, chips and any items that squash easily. You don't have to add these items, but I like to have everything in one place.

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