Plop a chunk of dry ice into a container of liquid and tendrils of fog will instantly start spilling out. This effect is doubly fun when done in miniature, and cocktails are served with dry ice cubes. It’s the perfect way to get into the season.
Dry ice does require special handling instructions, but when worked with correctly, it isn’t dangerous. First, some background information.
Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide. At temperatures below -110ºF, carbon dioxide gas turns to a solid and can be shaped into blocks. At higher temperatures, solid carbon dioxide sublimates, and changes directly from a solid to a gas, without going through the liquid phase – hence the term “dry ice.” When carbon dioxide is placed into a liquid like water, that sublimation process is more visible.
Because solid carbon dioxide is so cold, you need to take extra care when handling it, or you will get frostbite. Holding dry ice for any longer than 10 seconds is considered dangerous.
Dry ice is sold to consumers in 1-2 pound blocks and is widely available in grocery stores. Dry ice is affordable, too. At my local grocery store one pound cost $3.33.
To prepare dry ice for cocktail addition, you’ll need a couple special tools: A flathead screwdriver, hammer and set of safety glasses. With the hammer and screwdriver, the large block of dry ice separates easily into smaller pieces. The glasses protect from possible shards, though those aren’t likely if the ice is chiseled carefully.
Line the bag of dry ice with a large towel. This helps secure the ice and insulate it. Gently tap on the ice until it breaks apart. One by one-inch cubes are ideal for cocktails.
Once you’ve broken up the ice, you’re ready for serving. Remember that dry ice will sublimate and disappear even when stored in a freezer – the freezer isn’t nearly cold enough to keep the dry ice for any length of time. It takes about five pounds of dry ice 24 hours to sublimate in a cooler. Instead the best thing to do is buy the dry ice a few hours before your party, break the ice into small chunks and then wrap them in a towel or two.
Use tongs to drop dry ice cubes into your guests’ drinks before serving. A small cube will bubble for about five minutes before disappearing. Of course, because dry ice is so cold it is ideal for chilling drinks as well as making a creative effect.
Caution your guests not to drink the dry ice cubes. This is easy to avoid, since dry ice sinks and stays at the bottom of glasses.
Any cocktail can become a spooky cocktail when you add dry ice. Colored cocktails, with red grenadine, green melon liquor or blue curacau are ideal.