7 Steps to a Perfectly Packed Cooler

pack a cooler with buns, beverages and bbq

Whatever your plans may be this Memorial Day 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.



Step 1

 Open Gallerypack a cooler

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.

Step 2

 Open Gallerybeverages in a cooler

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.

Step 3

 Open Galleryice down beveragesAdd 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.

Step 4

 Open Gallerybbq in glass containers

Use watertight containers. I prefer glass storage containers with tight-sealing plastic lids and mason jars, but plastic tupperware will work fine. I suggest double-bagging your food if you’re going the Ziploc route.


Step 5

 Open Gallerybanana puddingDon’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-oz. jars for around $10 or $15.

Step 6

 Open Gallerypack a cooler 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, cole slaw, 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.

Step 7

 Open Gallerypack a cooler with buns, beverages and bbqTop 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.

Have a safe and fun Memorial Day holiday!


  • 28 quart cooler
  • 1 bag of ice
  • 12 beverages
  • food
  • glass storage containers
About Virginia Moon 


I’m a Senior Editor for HGTVRemodels.com with a short attention span for craft projects. As a former food and travel writer, I enjoy creating things that provide instant gratification ...

More About Virginia Moon

4 Responses

  1. realistically says:

    drinks will be accessed FIRST, so by lunch, the rest of the items will be a soggy mess from being pawed thru constantly. Just sayin'.

  2. Haley Gautreaux says:

    You bringing that to my house on Memorial Day? :)

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