When you think of ice chests and coolers, you probably think of trips to the beach, camping, and other summer outings. Thanksgiving is a great time to bust out the ol’ ice chest, though, as you can use it for everything from overflow storage to food prep.
At the end of the summer season, we tend to wipe down our coolers and shove them up on a shelf in the garage. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to pull your cooler out of storage and put it to good use. Don’t worry if you’re not rocking a primo Yeti cooler (which, despite the steep price, is a personal favorite and our overall top-cooler-pick at Review Geek), any decent cooler can help—though there is something to be said for days and days worth of cold storage.
Although if you do have a Yeti cooler, think of what a great conversation piece it can be during the holidays. Instead of talking to Uncle Fred about his extremely strong political opinions, you can instead focus his attention on how much better his next fishing trip would be if he had a $350 cooler that could keep beer cold for a solid week.
Super premium cooler or end-of-season clearance special, here are all the ways you can make Thanksgiving a little less stressful with your cooler as a sidekick:
Drink storage: Hey, let’s start with the absolutely most obvious basic move. . . buy a few bags of ice and stuff the cooler full of drinks for your guests. Fridge space is way too precious to waste on beer and cola.
Deep storage for non-necessities: Your fridge probably has a ton of stuff in it that is still good, that you don’t want to throw out, but that you don’t need for entertaining Thanksgiving day. Throw all those oddball condiments and other items you don’t need on the big day into the cooler with a bag of ice.
Brine your turkey: If it’s not cold enough where you live to brine your turkey outside safely, don’t give up precious fridge space to brine it in your fridge. Again, grab some ice and a heavy-duty plastic bag to park the turkey and the brine water in; then brine the old bird in the cooler instead of your fridge.
Thaw your turkey: Same concept behind the brining process. You don’t want to take up precious fridge space with a giant bird. Throw it in the cooler to thaw, no ice needed as the turkey itself is frozen solid at the start of the process and provides its own refrigeration. Check on the bird after 48 hours. If you want to play it extra safe, you can always stick a wireless fridge thermometer in the cooler with the turkey.
Keep food hot: Just because you normally use your cooler to keep food and drinks ice cold doesn’t mean that’s all it’s good for. Insulation is insulation after all. The same insulation that keeps your house warm in the winter is the same insulation that helps keep it cool in the summer. With that in mind, you can use an empty cooler as the super-insulated box it is to keep dishes hot until it’s time to serve them. The only thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want truly hot surfaces (like the hot glass bottom of casserole dish) coming in contact with the plastic lining of the cooler. Be sure to use something like a wire cooling rack, some thick silicone trivets, or other appropriate material to keep hot surfaces from coming in direct contact with the cooler floor and walls.
Hack a cooler to sous vide: Listen, we absolutely do not recommend drilling a hole in the top of your premium $$$ Yeti cooler. But, if you happen to have a cheaper cooler laying around you don’t mind performing a little brain surgery on, you can easily convert it into a giant sous vide cooker. Really, all it takes is using a keyhole saw to drill a hole in the lid that’s appropriately sized to the diameter of your sous vide cooker. If you want a step-by-step guide, check out this one from Anova.
Armed with all these handy ways to repurpose your cooler on Thanksgiving, you can free up your fridge for more important stuff (like keeping pre-prepped dishes cold and safe right until the moment they head to the oven).