Ice cream is designed to be creamy and smooth at 0ºF (-18ºC) which makes it perfect straight out of the freezer at home but means it's really hard to take with you.
If you're trying to transport some ice cream or you want to take it camping or on a picnic how long will the ice cream last in a cooler before it completely melts?
Unfortunately not very long:
Ice cream in a cooler with ice will last 2-4 hours before it melts. With a good cooler and smart packing of ice cream and ice your ice cream could potentially last 8 hours. You're better off storing the ice cream in a vacuum insulated flask and then putting that inside a cooler.
This depends on a variety of factors though. The size of the ice cream and the quality of the cooler play a major role.
A small amount of ice cream in a cheap cooler will melt within 1-2 hours but a large quantity of ice cream in a high quality cooler could last as long as 4 hours or potentially even more.
In this article we'll look at how long ice cream will last in a cooler and how you can extend that and keep ice cream frozen for longer in a cooler.
Why Does Ice Cream Melt In a Cooler?
Ice cream is designed to have a much lower freezing temperature than ice. That way when you get it out of your freezer it'll still be smooth, creamy and ready to serve.
While this is great for having ice cream at home it isn't great for keeping ice cream in a cooler.
Whereas your freezer at home will be around 0ºF (-18ºC) your cooler is only going to be around 24-32ºF (-4 to 0ºC). At this temperature ice cream melts and looses it's delicate molecular structure.
As it melts it loses many of the air bubbles that give it that fluffy texture and if you refreeze it then it will be denser, icier and overall not as nice.
It's important to understand that a cooler with NOT keep ice cream frozen. Your goal, therefore, is to slow down the melting process keeping the ice cream as cold as physically possible for as long as possible.
When transporting ice cream your goal is to keep its structural integrity and get it to a freezer as soon as possible. If your keeping ice cream frozen in a cooler for eating on the road or on a camping trip then you'll want to keep it as cold as possible until it's time to eat it.
How Long Will Ice Cream Last In a Cooler Without Ice?
If you're picking up some ice cream from your favorite ice creamery and placing it inside an empty cooler (without ice) how long will that ice cream stay frozen for?
Ice cream will stay frozen for 30 minutes to 2 hours in a cooler without ice. This depends on the amount of ice cream and the quality of the cooler. The larger the cooler and the more air space the faster the ice cream will melt.
A high quality cooler like a Yeti, with thick insulation, will keep ice cream frozen for longer than a cheap cooler. That is assuming your Yeti is pre-chilled, otherwise it'll work just like the cheap cooler or maybe even worse.
It's not a great idea to try and transport or keep ice cream in a cooler without ice.
If you don't want to buy a bag of ice just to store some ice cream then prep some frozen water bottles or frozen ice packs and put them in your cooler. The more ice packs you use the longer your ice cream is going to stay frozen.
How Long Will Ice Cream Last In a Cooler With Regular Ice?
If you've got a cooler filled up with regular ice how long will your ice cream last before it starts to melt?
Ice cream will last 2-4 hours in a cooler with regular ice. The larger the quantity of ice cream and the better your cooler the longer your ice cream will last. Regular ice isn't cold enough to keep ice cream frozen for very long so eventually your ice cream will melt.
The goal is to insulate the ice cream as much as possible so it retains as much of its coldness as possible.
Regular ice at 32ºF (0ºC) is actually “hot” for ice cream. It's better than the outside air but it's still too warm to keep ice cream frozen.
So in a regular cooler you're trying to insulate the ice cream as much as possible so it retains its frozenness.
Placing ice cream at the bottom of your cooler in the coldest spot with ice on top is a good start. Also wrapping your ice cream in aluminum foil and a towel is a good way to keep it frozen for even longer.
How Long Will Ice Cream Last In a Cooler With Dry Ice?
If you have dry ice in your cooler how long will the ice cream stay frozen for?
Ice cream will stay frozen in a cooler with dry ice for as long as the dry ice is in there. At -109ºF (-78ºC) dry ice will freeze ice cream solid and thawing the ice cream can be quite difficult. Keep the ice cream away from the dry ice by using towels.
Dry ice is so cold that it won't just keep your ice cream cold like a freezer does but it'll turn it into a solid block.
Thawing ice cream that is frozen from dry ice is difficult as the outside will completely melt and turn to mush while the inner core of the ice cream will remain rock hard.
So when you're storing ice cream in a cooler with dry ice you'll want to actually protect the ice cream from the extreme cold of the dry ice.
You can do this with distance – keeping the ice cream on the other side of your cooler from the dry ice. The dry ice will cool down the entire cooler and keep your ice cream frozen without making it rock solid.
You can also do this with towel and other methods of insulation.
Wrap both the dry ice and the ice cream in towels or if you don't have towels then use cardboard or paper. This will help to stop the dry ice from making the ice cream extremely frozen.
How Long Will Ice Cream Last In a Car?
Can You Store An Ice Cream Cake In A Cooler?
If you have an ice cream cake for a party of someone's birthday and you want to take it with you can you store the ice cream cake in a cooler?
Unfortunately, ice cream cake is difficult to keep frozen in a cooler as the ice cannot directly touch the cake like it can with the outside of a tub of ice cream. Ice cream cake will usually only last 1-3 hours in a cooler filled with ice.
Place ice cream cake in a container at the bottom of your cooler and cover that container completely with ice.
Keep the cooler closed and don't open it until you're ready to eat your cake.
Will a Yeti (Or Similar Cooler) Keep Ice Cream Frozen?
Yeti and other high end coolers are able to keep ice frozen for days and even weeks at a time, but what about ice cream? Are Yeti coolers able to keep ice cream frozen?
Yeti coolers (or similar) can keep ice cream frozen longer than a cheap cooler but the ice cream will still melt quickly. You may get 4-12 hours of frozen ice cream before it starts to melt.
I remember living in a van with my kids and our Yeti cooler was our primary fridge/freezer. We would try to buy ice cream and store it for the kids but always by the next day the ice cream was completely melted.
If you had a Yeti cooler filled COMPLETELY with freezing cold ice cream then your ice cream might last longer than 4-12 hours, but just storing a tub of ice cream in a Yeti cooler filled with ice will not keep the ice cream frozen.
How To Keep Ice Cream From Melting in a Cooler
So how can you keep your ice cream from melting in your cooler? How do you get it to stay frozen longer?
I've done a full write up on how to keep ice cream frozen in a cooler but below are a shortlist of my best tips.
1. Wrap In Aluminum Foil and a Towel
Remember that ice is hot compared to ice cream so you want to protect the ice cream from the ice by adding layers of insulation.
Wrap your ice cream in aluminum foil to keep out heat radiation energy and then wrap your ice cream in a towel to further insulate it.
Then put your ice cream in the coldest part of your cooler (at the bottom) completely covered with ice.
Drain the water of your cooler as your ice starts to melt as this cold water will melt your ice cream faster than ice and air will.
2. Put Ice Cream in a Vacuum Insulated Container
The best way to keep ice cream frozen for an extended period of time is to load your ice cream into a vacuum insulated container.
Fill up the insulated flask with your ice cream and leave in the freezer with the lid off to ensure the ice cream is completely frozen all the way through.
When it comes time to go place the lid on your insulated flask and the put the flask in the bottom of your cooler covered with ice.
Using this method your ice cream can stay frozen for 1-2 days at a time!
3. Use Dry Ice
As mentioned above you can use dry ice to keep ice cream frozen in a cooler but some precautions need to be taken so the dry ice doesn't turn the ice cream into a solid block.
Place the dry ice in your cooler and cover in towels or cardboard.
Wrap your ice cream in towels and place in your cooler a bit away from the dry ice.
4. Add Salt To Your Ice
Pouring salt on your ice will cause your ice to melt more quickly but in the process it will dramatically lower the temperature of the ice, the melted water and your cooler in general.
Sometimes this can lower the temperature enough to keep your ice cream frozen for that little bit longer.
I talked more about this process in my article on how to keep your cooler cold the longest.
5. Put Ice Cream At The Bottom Of Your Cooler
Because cold air sinks and because the lid of your cooler is at the top (allowing warm air in) the bottom of your cooler is the coldest place and the best place to store ice cream.
Place a thin layer of ice or ice packs on the bottom of your cooler then put your ice cream in and cover it completely with ice.
Maybe sure to get ice around the sides of your ice cream too.
Don't open the cooler unless you absolutely have to.
6. Use Ice Packs
Ice packs are designed to have a lower melting temperature than regular ice and thus they stay a little bit colder for longer which can help your ice cream to stay frozen from longer.
The Engel Ice 20 is designed to melt at 20ºF (-7ºC) and is one of the better ice bricks for keeping ice cream frozen in a cooler. Click here to see my full Engel 20 vs 32 ice brick comparison.