The Brilliant Way I Keep Sides Cold During Summer BBQs (It’s So Simple!)

published Jul 3, 2024
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Outside, the sun is shining and radiating a warm 74 degrees. My friend and I gossip about our latest life updates, helping ourselves to small bites from an ice-cold tray. The food has endured more than 20 minutes of heat and is still perfectly chilled — this is not a riddle, but rather a simple summer entertaining hack. How did I do it? Keep your food cool by transforming the bottom of a serving tray into one giant ice cube. 

Lifestyle creator Ekaterina Smoliak (@kate_cleanhome) shared this summer party trick in a recent viral Instagram reel and TikTok video. She filled an aluminum tray about halfway full with water, slid it in the freezer, and then cut to herself placing two mini fruit-filled trays inside. 

This hack is great for any cold dish, and best of all, it’s free! If you don’t have an aluminum tray, you can snag one for a few bucks from your local grocery store, or order one (or several!) on Amazon. A glass, ceramic, or metal serving tray could work, too, just make sure to read the label beforehand. A standard tray can hold one large dish or a couple of smaller sides. 

For my small backyard lunch, I used a 12x10x2.5-inch Eco-Foil tray that I already had in my cupboard. I prepped the tray the day prior, which I recommend doing to ensure the ice completely freezes. If you have a pull-out freezer and are using a large tray, some items may need to be rearranged to make enough space. 

In terms of tray contents, I opted for a cold pasta and mixed fruit salad, which I put in two small Pyrex containers. I think this hack would also be great for salads, veggie, and dip platters, Jello, and other desserts. I love how it’s subtle yet effective, with zero additional clutter.

Credit: Emma Kumagawa

An hour in, the perimeter of the ice started to melt away, creating an island in the tray’s center. After two hours, all of the ice had completely melted. I wasn’t planning on keeping food out any longer than that, but I could have easily prepared another ice tray as a replacement. One commenter suggested also laying the food serving trays in the freezer to maximize the chill factor, which is a smart measure if you’re hosting an especially long or sunny event.

I love this DIY ice tray idea because it’s all about reusing resources and eliminating extra hassle from entertaining. Why buy bags of ice when you can create a longer-lasting solution yourself? I will definitely be going back to this hack as summer festivities continue!

Buy: Aluminum Foil Pans Half Size Roasting Chafing Pan, 10-Pack, $12.99