Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pack Your Meat For Island Vacations

Here is a great tip for traveling to islands and other out-of-the-way places when you have to go by plane.  If you are flying to your destination, you can in fact pack a cooler with frozen foods.  It can either be checked as baggage or put in the overhead bin if it fits the size requirements.  The only caveat is you need to pack the cooler completely full and you may not use ice packs, blue ice packs or dry ice.  But the contents will still remain frozen.

Our first attempt at this was when we were having guests with us at CalypsoBlu and needed food for six persons for two weeks.  Now in most of the Virgin  Islands, you can find sources for meat and seafood.  But the quality of that meat and seafood isn't the same as we get here in Chicago and the price is much, much higher.  If you're headed to St. John, it has very limited food sources, but again you can stock up in St.  Thomas before you take the ferry across. But why do that when you can get better products at lower prices at home.

We selected an inexpensive cooler (shown above) and took it with us to our local Costco to buy food.  Some of the food we selected was fresh (steaks, etc.) and some was frozen and individually vacuum packed (mostly the fish.)  Now you would think in the islands you might find better fish than the freezer at your local grocers.  But in fact, the warm waters of the Caribbean don't produce much in the way of good eating fish.  It's famous for its tropical fish, which make diving and snorkeling great fun as they are beautiful, but not for producing an abundance of large tasty fish.

Julian Grilling Burgers at CalypsoBlu
As we planned to have most of our meals at home we also packed frozen burgers, lunch meat, sausages and cheese.  Before freezing it at home, we divided larger packages of fresh foods into six person servings, so it would be easy to retrieve and thaw when we needed it.

Remember however that the airlines have weight restrictions so don't pick a cooler that's over-sized and will weigh more when full than the airlines limit (in our case free for 50 pounds.)  Bring all of your meat home from the store and freeze it solid.  This can be done several weeks in advance.  The night before your departure, test load the cooler and weigh it.  You can fill in any empty spaces with light dry goods like pasta or other food you would normally buy on site, or simply use newspaper so nothing shifts.  But you want the cooler to be as full as possible with frozen food, which is what keeps it frozen.

We taped the cooler all the way around the lid to ensure it was sealed and then added extra straps across the top and onto the body of the cooler.  We had heard that the airlines are sensitive to leakage and wanted to ensure that if it did thaw, it didn't make a mess.

Mahi Mahi with Coconut Mango Sauce and Couscous 
On our first flight with the cooling, the airline did not seem to find it curious and asked no questions. She attached a baggage tag on the handle and off it went on the conveyor belt. For our second trip, we labeled the cooler with our name and address. We expected the cooler would take quite a beating, but were surprised when it arrived in St. Thomas, after a one hour layover in Philadelphia, in excellent condition. When we got it home and opened it, everything inside was still frozen solid.  The meat had been in the cooler nearly 12 hours and nothing had thawed.  Granted during the layover in Philadelphia, the temps were near freezing. And under the airplane temperatures are also freezing while in flight at altitude.  That evening I had to microwave defrost Italian sausages that for dinner. A subsequent trip in summer found similar results. The food remained frozen to our destination although this time we had a direct flight to the Caribbean.

Our friends report taking baby food and similar products to island vacations as well.  Next time just the two of us go we might try a soft-sided carry-on cooler to see how well that does.  Most of my research seemed to find this worked perfectly well too when taking smaller amounts and flying non-stop. So next time you are off to an island vacation, consider packing a cooler with some of the better foods you have access to at home. It will make your island vacation even better!

No comments:

Post a Comment