This $5 Grocery Store Hack Seriously Upped Our Picnic Game

published May 7, 2023
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Family relaxing in nature, playing with ball and eating ice cream
Credit: StefaNikolic / Getty Images

While reading a picnic cookbook in the dead of winter (a girl can dream), I came across a section titled “Dry Ice, Demystified.” My experience with dry ice was limited to Halloween parties and frustrations with Daily Harvest deliveries, but I was seriously motivated by the idea of serving rocky road ice cream at our next picnic or outdoor movie.   

My first question was where do I even find dry ice? The grocery store had it all this time, apparently, for about $1 to $3 per pound. I checked Penguin Dry Ice’s handy little store locator, and while my regular farm-to-store grocer didn’t carry it, plenty of big-box grocers around me did. I was frustrated about making an extra trip until I realized I’d have to make an extra trip anyway — dry ice should be purchased as close to go-time as possible, as a five-pound block will turn to gas in 24 hours. No shopping ahead for me, unfortunately. 

And in case you’re thinking (as I did, initially), “I’ll just pop it in the freezer,” remember that a freezer is significantly warmer than dry ice, and more importantly, as dry ice sublimates, the gas needs somewhere to go and an airtight freezer provides no exit plan. 

On this note, it’s important to crack the windows on the drive to the picnic so no one breathes in any extra carbon dioxide. This sounds scarier than it is; once I got used to the idea, it felt as simple as turning on the vent above my gas stove. Speaking of safety, I knew I couldn’t touch dry ice because my brother-in-law once burned his foot when he dropped a bag of it (dry ice shards were everywhere, be warned!). So, I suited up in my grill gloves and close-toed shoes and sent everyone out of the kitchen. 

To insulate the dry ice, I placed a layer of cardboard in the bottom of my picnic backpack, then the dry ice bag, then another layer of cardboard. Physical newspapers also work great for insulation. Then, I packed the extremely exciting mint chocolate chip ice cream, followed by any other picnic goods that would survive in a freezer. (To create refrigerator conditions instead, put both regular ice and dry ice in the cooler or backpack.)  

As I’m sure you can imagine, when I pulled the ice cream out of my backpack and started passing out scoops, all the other kids at the park eyed us with envy. I was basically a picnic goddess.  

We still had solid dry ice after the picnic, so I left mine on our deck to “breathe” overnight, and recycled the plastic film the next day. Cleanup is a dream, with no melted ice or soggy leftovers to dump. 

Yes, it took a little more effort than usual to pack for the picnic. Yes, I basically treated my kitchen like a cryochamber the first time I used it. But now I can’t imagine a picnic without an ice-cold frozen treat.

What do you think? Is dry ice worth the extra effort?