How to Make an Ice Bath for Cooking

Eggs in water with ice

Getty Images / Jamie Grill

An ice bath is used to quickly cool or chill foods directly after cooking. It's particularly used for vegetables boiled in water (blanching), eggs cooked in their shell, or custards. The process of plunging cooked foods directly in ice water to cool down rapidly is called shocking.

At times, you will want to chill hot food quickly, such as soups or stock, before storing them. A rapid reduction of temperature prevents the food from being in the danger zone for too long, where bacteria would have a chance to multiply.

How to Make an Ice Bath

  • To prepare an ice bath, fill a large bowl with ice and cold water shortly before you'll need it. You don't want to do it too far in advance so that the ice doesn't have a chance to melt too much.
  • A metal container will chill faster than glass or plastic, so if you have a choice, choose metal.
  • You can use ice cubes or crushed ice. The amount of water used should be enough so the ice doesn't stick together in a mass, and flows evenly around the container in the bath. Be sure you have enough space for the ice water to flow around the vessel and cool it from the sides and bottom.
  • If you're using an ice bath to cool a sauce or custard in a saucepan, make sure that the bowl used for the ice bath is large enough for the saucepan to nest in comfortably without ice cubes getting jammed between the two vessels.
  • As the ice melts, the level of water may drop, and you should be prepared to add more ice and water to keep it at the desired level.

Ice Bath Tips for Shocking Vegetables for Small Pieces of Food

  • If you're shocking cooked vegetables, use a slotted spoon or a spider to transfer the food from the boiling water to the ice bath, and to remove it from the ice bath once cooled.
  • If you're shocking smaller pieces of vegetables, float the vegetables a colander in the boiling water. Then, wearing oven mitts, carefully transfer the colander directly to the ice bath to cool down.

Should You Use Salt in Your Ice Bath?

Adding a few tablespoons of salt to the ice bath will cause the temperature of the ice-water mixture to drop and the ice will take longer to melt. Add the salt only if you're using the ice bath to cool food that's in a pan or bowl, such as a sauce, rather than food that will be in direct contact with the water.