I spend a lot of time in my campervan and like everyone I love to have some ice cream for dessert. I'll often go to the supermarket and buy a tub only to have half of it (or more) left at the end of the night that I have to try and store or throw away.
I don't have a freezer in the van and just putting it in my cooler means the ice cream melts by the morning (even if the cooler is filled with ice).
But I've worked out some simple ways to keep ice cream frozen without a freezer for 1-2 days or even longer if you have the right ingredients.
The best way to keep ice cream frozen without a freezer is to put it in a vacuum insulated tumbler or food container and then put it in a cooler. Alternatively, adding salt to the ice in your cooler lowers it's temperature and allows you to keep ice cream without a freezer for 24-48 hours.
In this article I'm going to outline the different methods I've used to keep ice cream frozen on the go when I don't have a freezer. While I can't keep ice cream for a full week in my van without a freezer this does usually allow me to store it for 1-2 days, which is long enough for us to eat it all.
1. Put The Ice Cream In a Vacuum Insulated Container
As soon as you buy the ice cream from the store scoop out all the ice cream you don't plan on eating immediately and put it straight into a vacuum insulated tumbler or food container.
I usually use my Yeti 30 oz Tumbler or I use my Hydro Flask Food Flask as these both have wide openings allowing me to easier get the ice cream in and out. If you don't have one of these yet and are on a budget then I recommend the Ozark Trail 30 oz Tumbler from Walmart as it'll do just as good a job for a fraction of the price.
Once filled up I'll then put the lid on and put my vacuum insulated containers in my cooler which is filled with ice.
Ideally you want the container as close to the bottom of the cooler as possible (as cold air sinks) and just doing this I've found that the ice cream will stay frozen at least until the following evening, sometimes even longer depending on the outside weather and how much I'm using my cooler.
This is the best way to keep ice cream frozen for a long period of time and yes it's totally ok to put ice cream into a thermos. It can handle the cold temperatures and the stainless steel won't impart flavors into your ice cream so it's the perfect thing to use.
2. Add Salt To Your Ice
Adding salt to ice causes the ice to melt and (this is the important part) to lower its overall temperature making it colder. Yes, adding salt to ice makes it colder!
So instead of your cooler being 32ºF (0ºC) which is a temperature ice cream will melt at you can cool your ice down to as low as 20ºF (-7ºC) which is just cold enough to keep your ice cream frozen.
When making home made ice cream people often add salt to ice in order to make the ice cream. It's a common practice and it absolutely works.
You can either add salt to your entire cooler but I find this to be completely overkill. It'll melt most of your ice making your cooler wet and it'll use way too much salt.
Unless you're storing large amounts of ice cream I suggest getting a bowl or plastic container and filling that up with ice. Then add salt to this ice and place your ice cream container in here making sure the container is fully covered with ice. If possible then add a lid to this container and keep in your cooler.
Locally, the salt will lower in temperature keeping your ice cream frozen but you won't contaminate your entire cooler.
You may need to repeat this daily if you want to keep the ice cream frozen for an extended period of time.
If you're trying to keep ice cream frozen at a buffet, wedding or other function then using salted ice can also be an extremely effective strategy.
Have your ice cream in stainless steel tubs and place these tubs inside larger tubs that are filled with ice. Add salt to this ice to lower its temperature.
The salt water ice will keep your ice cream tubs frozen for longer giving you time to serve them to guests before they melt.
3. Use Ice Packs
Ice packs like Yeti Ice are designed to melt earlier than regular ice and thus they stay at a colder temperature when compared to regular ice.
This colder temperature can help to keep your ice cream frozen for longer.
Make sure to place your ice cream container touching the ice packs and ideally completely surrounded by ice packs. Then have them in the bottom of your cooler also surrounded by more ice if possible.
Different ice packs have different temperatures. For ice cream the best ice pack that I recommend is the Engel 20 Ice Pack as this will stay at around 20ºF (-7ºC) and should be able to keep your ice cream frozen for a couple of days in a high quality cooler. Engel also have a 32 ice pack which is different to the 20 so make sure to buy the right one. Click the link below to get the Engel 20 ice pack.
4. Use Dry Ice
While I rarely use dry ice in my van I do know it's a great way to keep ice cream frozen without a freezer.
Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide and it has a temperature of -109.7ºF (-78.5ºC) which is EXTREMELY COLD and definitely cold enough to keep ice cream frozen.
The downside of dry ice is that it'll freeze your ice cream rock solid if you're not careful. Then you won't be able to eat it because it'll be harder than ice.
To avoid this place dry ice in your cooler and then place your ice cream on the other side of your cooler away from the dry ice. The dry ice will lower the ambient temperature of the cooler keeping the ice cream frozen but won't make it so cold it's hard to eat.
Avoid having the dry ice touch the ice cream directly and also make sure to use dry ice in a well ventilated area or if traveling with it in your vehicle keep the windows open.
5. Put The Ice Cream In The Bottom Of Your Cooler
If you don't have either a vacuum flask, salt for your ice or dry ice then your next best option is to keep the ice cream at the very bottom of your cooler and hope for the best.
I've personally had ice cream last 2 days in my Yeti cooler when I kept it at the bottom underneath all my other ice. This was when I was living full time in my van with my kids.
But in a regular cooler ice cream won't last nearly as long. You'll only get a few hours out of it in a cheaper cooler.
So where possible use one of the above methods, but if you have no other option then keep it at the bottom of your cooler with ice completely surrounding it and try not to open your cooler unless absolutely necessary.
For best results make sure you have a high quality cooler that holds ice for a long period of time.
Using a cooler is a good way to keep ice cream frozen when delivering it so it doesn't melt. It's good for short periods of time just not keeping ice cream frozen for days at a time.
How Cold Does a Cooler Need To Be To Keep Ice Cream Frozen?
A cooler needs to be below 20-23ºF (-5 to -7ºC) in order to keep ice cream frozen. To do this you need to add salt to your ice to lower its temperature or use dry ice. A cooler filled with regular ice won't be cold enough to keep ice cream frozen.
Will Ice Cream Stay Frozen at 20ºF (-7ºC)
Ice cream will stay frozen at 20ºF (-7ºC) but will be on the softer side and be close to melting. Ice cream is designed to be stored at 0ºF (-18ºC) which is the temperature of a home freezer but can stay frozen up to approximately 23ºF (-5ºC). Ideal serving temperature is said to be between 10-20ºF (-12 to -7ºC).
Ice cream from supermarkets has additives which helps it hold its form and consistency even as it begins to melt. So sometimes these ice creams can stay frozen above 20ºF (-7ºC) however more natural ice creams with less preservatives will tend to melt earlier.
Why Does Ice Cream Melt in a Cooler?
If you've ever tried to store ice cream in your cooler you'll know that without about half a day to a day it will completely melt. But why does ice cream melt in a cooler if the cooler is filled with frozen ice?
Ice cream melts in a cooler because it has a melting temperature lower than that of regular ice. While regular ice melts at 32ºF (0ºC) ice cream usually starts melting at around 20-23ºF (-5 to -7ºC). Your freezer at home is usually around 0ºF (-18ºC) which is much colder than the temperature inside a cooler.
To keep ice cream frozen in a cooler follow the steps mentioned above to keep the temperature of your cooler colder for longer and to keep the ice cream completely frozen.
To keep ice cream frozen in a cooler read the 5 ways to keep ice cream frozen in a cooler.
How Long Will Dry Ice Keep Ice Cream Frozen in a Cooler?
Dry ice will keep ice cream frozen for 18-24 hours in a low end cooler and for 3-5 days in a high end cooler like Yeti. As long as there is dry ice left in the cooler your ice cream should stay frozen.
To have your ice cream stay frozen for longer use more dry ice, use a better cooler or keep the ice cream closer to the dry ice.
Please note: Dry ice will freeze ice cream rock solid if it is in direct contact with it. This can make the ice cream difficult to eat as it'll be so hard.
For best result keep your ice cream in the same cooler as dry ice but not directly touching it.
How Do You Keep Ice Cream From Melting Without a Freezer or Cooler?
If you don't have a freezer OR a cooler then keeping ice cream frozen can be difficult but it can be done.
Place your ice cream container in a bowl or container filled with ice. Add a large amount of salt to the ice and cover the entire thing with aluminum foil and towels. The salt will make the ice colder and the foil and towels will insulate everything, keeping your ice cream frozen.
If you're serving ice cream have the containers almost completely submerged in the salted ice/ice water so just the tops are poking out.
This will allow you to access and serve the ice cream but the bulk of the ice cream will be kept frozen from the cold ice.