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Ice Handling Tools

A photo of an ice bucket, that is tipped over with the cubes spilling out, shows the importance of always having lots of ice for entertaining. (© twoellis/123RF photo)

If you run out of ice you can’t mix drinks, so never run out ok?

Your personal guide to all the ice handling tools that are used to mix drinks. Here’s what you need to know about double walled insulated ice buckets, plus all the scoops, tongs and picks, before you buy.

Ice Cube Trays

The ideal ice cube size is 1 to 1 1/2 inches (2.5–4 cm). This provides a good balance between the two essentials of dilution and chilling. If you have whiskey on the rocks drinkers coming around, many prefer the larger 2 inch cubes to minimize dilution while keeping the spirit chilled.

Most ice cube trays make anywhere from 6 large cubes, to 18 small ones at a time. Some come a lid which allows the trays to be stacked and keep freezer odors away. Others come without lids but stack using racks.

Common materials for ice cube trays include aluminum, stainless steel and plastic. The plastic ones are convenient because the ice doesn’t stick to it like metal. However, plastic can break easily, get stained and pick up odors more readily than steel or aluminum.

A not so common material, but gaining in popularity, is silicone. The cubes are easy to remove and the silicone is an inert material that’s considered food safe. That said, pure silicone shouldn’t emit any kind of perfume or odor. When bent in half, it should turn white at the bend. If the silicone product has an odor or doesn’t turn white, it’s not pure and shouldn’t be used for food, regardless of what the manufacturer claims.

Ice Bucket

The ice bucket is a pail with a lid, for the short term storage of ice cubes. They come in various sizes from mini 1 quart ones to standard 3 quart ones (1–3 liter). They can be made of stainless steel, aluminum, glass, nylon, or other plastics.

Some cheap ice buckets sold as stainless steel are actually just a thin foil sheet on top of plastic. Other cheap buckets are uninsulated, or single walled, meaning that the ice melts quickly and condensation builds up on the outside of the bucket. This creates puddles of water around the bucket, which looks tacky and leads to water stains.

The better ice buckets are double wall insulated stainless steel, with handles on the outside and a knob on the lid. They keep ice cold longer and they do not sweat. Most include a drip tray inside the bucket so water melts away from the ice. Some come with matching ice tongs to complete the set.

Some people like their ice bucket to double as a wine chiller. So if you want to provide table side champagne on ice, be sure it’s big enough for the task, and that it looks elegant enough for the presentation.

Ice Scoop

A slotted 4–8 ounce (120–250 ml) stainless steel ice scoop is used to get ice from the ice bucket and fill the glassware. This includes the mixing glass and any drinks built on the rocks. Larger scoops in the 10-20 ounce (300–600 ml) range can be used to transfer ice from the ice chest, freezer, or ice machine into the ice bucket

The ice scoop should be of heavy construction, either stainless steel, aluminum or tough polycarbonate. Regular plastic should be avoided, because ice being cold, hard and heavy, can damage or break weak material.

Ice Picks

The ice pick is a long, thin, pointy, chisel, that is used to separate bulk bag ice cubes from the grocery store, or to break apart ice that has clumped. It can also be used to separate citrus rind from the fruit when making twists.

The average pick is about 8–10 inches (20–25 cm) in length. The pick should be hardened stainless steel and the handle can be wood, bamboo or plastic. Since ice is easy to contaminate and wood is hard to sterilize, a pick with a plastic or steel handle would make a better choice. The higher end picks are pure stainless steel and come with a screw on steel sheath.

Ice Tongs

The ice tongs are used to place individual pieces of ice into a finished cocktail. They can be made of plastic, chrome or stainless steel and are usually in the 6-8 inch (15–20 cm) range. The better ones are matt finished stainless steel with teeth that grip the ice to prevent slippage.

Something to avoid, is storing the tongs inside the ice bucket, because you don’t know where your guests hands have been. It’s better to leave them on a side plate beside the ice bucket, or use the external clip if your bucket came with one.


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