Tips from The Kitchn

The Last Thing to Do with an Old Ice Tray Before It Hits the Donation Bag

published Sep 23, 2022
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Ice tray on kitchen countertop.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Our brand-new fridge (which our whole family happens to be in love with!) churns out a steady supply of ice cubes in not one, but two sizes. It feels super fancy. And I don’t even have a pebble ice maker, which, if Instagram is any window into reality, is a top-tier wish-list item for so many. 

This brings us to the reason for today’s handy post. With all of these new-fangled ice machines, old-fashioned ice cube trays may seem like a relic from the past, just like CDs or floppy disks (remember those?).

But if you still have an ice cube tray somewhere in the back of your cupboard, don’t be so quick to throw it in your donation bag. Why? Because it’s pretty useful for freezing so many ingredients in just-the-right-size portions. In fact, you may even want to find more trays once you see how useful it is!

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Use your old ice cube tray for easy food prep.

There are so many ways to use ice cube trays to help you plan ahead in the kitchen. It not only gets you one step ahead in your cooking process, but it also prevents food waste. That’s because you can defrost small amounts at a time.

Once your preparation is frozen, you can pop out the cubes and store them in freezer-safe bags or other airtight containers for easy access — without worrying about freezer burn. Here are eight ingredients to freeze in those not-so-useless ice cube trays.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

1. Pesto

If you use pesto in a recipe, especially if you make your own, you don’t want to waste what’s left over. Freezing pesto not only keeps it from going bad, but it also keeps it from going brown, preserving that nice bright green we know and love. Use frozen pesto cubes to whip up a quick pasta dish or add a burst of flavor to soups or dressings. 

Credit: Danielle Centoni

2. Tomato paste

It’s rare to use the entire can of tomato paste when a dish calls for some. Freezing leftover tomato paste in convenient ice cube trays means you always have it on hand — maybe without even having to open a can. (Note: On average, an individual empty ice cube holds one ounce, which is the equivalent of two tablespoons.) 

Credit: Kelli Foster

3. Chicken stock

Many recipes call for a small amount of chicken stock. You can also use a stock cube or two (instead of water) to add extra flavor to rice. Freeze stock in ice cube trays for convenient storage, and pop them out anytime you need it.

4. Leftover smoothie

Don’t pour that extra bit of smoothie down the drain! Instead, freeze any leftovers in ice cube trays for super-fast smoothies on a day you’re short on time. Or freeze smoothie ingredients, such as mashed bananas or puréed berries, into ready-to-go ice cubes. Then toss those pre-made cubes in the blender when needed. It’s the perfect morning pick-me-up.

Credit: Kelli Foster

5. Coffee

They say it’s good to the last drop. Freeze your remaining cups of java into cubes for making iced coffee. Coffee ice cubes won’t dilute your drink, and you can save so much time and money avoiding that Starbucks line! 

Credit: Faith Durand

6. Herbs

Don’t let fresh herbs wilt and get tossed in the compost before you can use them. Mix leftover herbs with olive oil or butter and freeze into convenient cubes of flavor that can be used in so many ways. 

Credit: Suwit Rattiwan / Shutterstock

7. Lemon juice

Lemon juice ice cubes won’t dilute your lemonade or other fruit juice, and the cubes can also be used in future recipes.

Credit: Emma Christensen

8. Garlic paste

This one is such a time-saver. Make garlic paste out of fresh, minced cloves (you can buy them already peeled to save even more time) and olive oil. Fill the ice cube tray with the paste and then freeze. Just think: You’ll have your tasty garlic all ready to go whenever a recipe calls for it.

What did we miss? Share what other foods you might freeze in an ice cube tray in the comments below.