Food & Drink

Pack a Cooler Like a Pro

Follow these tips from Charleston, South Carolina-based outfitter Casey Davidson and keep your provisions cool all day long

photo: Jacqueline Stofsick

When Casey Davidson was a child, a packed cooler for a day on the boat meant a jug of water, Gatorade, a can of Vienna sausages that no one wanted to eat, and some Lance crackers. Since then, he’s moved from Beaufort to Charleston, South Carolina; founded Toadfish Outfitters, an eco-friendly outdoor product company that makes oyster knives and shrimp cleaners from recycled plastic; championed the cause of rebuilding oyster reefs the South over; and mastered the art of preparing for a day on the water—something he does almost every weekend with his wife, daughter, and friends on his twenty-four-foot bay boat. “It’s kind of like planning to entertain at your house,” he says. “You take pride in having all kinds of nice things packed for your guests to enjoy.”

For Davidson, the keys to packing a cooler lie in saving space and knowing exactly where each item is. He divides his ice chest into four sections: beer, water, wine, and food. Follow his guide below, starting from one end of a rectangular, hard-sided cooler.

Beer: “Canned beer is essential,” Davidson says. “My best trick is the signature beer-can pour—I first used it for tailgating in college, but it’s perfect for packing a cooler for a day on the water, too.” Open the small perforated corner of a case of beer, hold both sides of the case, and turn it over quickly into one of the ends of your empty cooler. Lift the box slowly, being careful not to shake it too much, and your cans should come out in a neat stack using the walls of the cooler for support.

Water: “As a rule, we don’t use plastic water bottles,” Davidson says. “I have some big Stanley thermoses I love that keep water really cold, but you can use any reusable water bottle you want.” Stand a couple of these upright next to the beer.

Wine: “I don’t normally let glass in my boat at all—except maybe a bottle of wine or champagne if it’s a special occasion,” he says. If today is one of those days, wedge the wine beside the water.

Now, pour ice into the cooler.

Food: Once the beverages are iced down, nestle Tupperware containers of food—sandwiches, cheese, veggies—beside the wine. “You want to make sure your containers are on top of the ice. Even though the food is covered, you don’t want any of it to end up floating around.” Davidson packs chips and other foods that don’t need to stay cold in a separate tote bag.

Bonus sandwich-wrapping tip: “When you’re making your sandwich in the morning, put Saran Wrap over your bread, then stack your meat, tomato, and lettuce. When you’re ready to eat it, flip it over and pull the Saran Wrap off. It’s called the ‘Fisherman’s Wrap’ and it keeps the bread from getting soggy.”

Jacqueline Stofsick

Now you’re all set. “You don’t need to salt your ice or anything,” Davidson says. “If you’re going fishing you can deep-freeze milk jugs full of water—I’m all about reusing things. But for a regular day out on the boat, I just use gas-station ice. Pack it the morning before you go out, and enjoy.”