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Why Dilution Is Key to Chilling Drinks

Melted ice in your cocktail sounds like a bad thing, but dilution is actually critical to the chilling process.
By Published June 2, 2020

There’s a myth that large ice cubes chill drinks just as effectively as small cubes while diluting them less, since they don’t melt as readily. This thinking ignores one of the basic laws of thermodynamics: Ice must melt in order to chill a liquid—and the more it melts, the colder the liquid will get. We set up a few tests to demonstrate this dynamic.

TEST 1: Proving the critical role of dilution

We placed a single large ice cube in each of two glasses of 67-degree tap water. We wrapped one of the cubes tightly in plastic wrap to trap melted water and left the other cube unwrapped. Even without stirring (which we avoided so as not to hasten dilution), the temperature of the water containing the unwrapped cube plunged almost 20 degrees in the first minute, while the water with the wrapped cube dropped just 4 degrees. After 10 minutes, their temperatures were still more than 10 degrees apart, with the diluted water at 41 degrees and the undiluted water at 52 degrees.

TEST 2: Demonstrating the impact of ice cube size

We placed three small cubes in one glass of 67-degree water and one large cube totaling the same weight in a second glass of 67-degree water. It took a little more than a minute for the temperature of the water containing the small cubes to plunge well below 40 degrees, eventually leveling off. Meanwhile, the temperature of the water with the large cube never got below a comparatively tepid 43 degrees, even after 10 minutes.

Takeaway

Dilution is not only an inevitable part of chilling a drink with ice—it’s essential. (Even in the test with the wrapped cube, the ice needed to melt inside the plastic wrap to cool the water outside it.) That’s because ice doesn’t directly transfer its cold to a surrounding liquid. Instead heat, or energy, is drawn from the water and used to melt the surface of the ice. Since a greater surface area of ice means energy can be transferred faster, smaller ice cubes are much more efficient than large cubes at cooling a liquid.

Bottom Line

If you are interested in superchilling a drink such as iced tea quickly, use small ice cubes. For a less chilled (and less diluted) beverage such as an old-fashioned (where an overly cold temperature will mask flavors), use large cubes. (And if you want to learn to make ice of any size that’s crystal clear for cocktails, check out our method in this article.)

Enjoy These Chilled Drinks

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.