1. Keep It Simple
Michael Ferraro, executive chef at Delicatessen in New York City, compares his cooler to his restaurant kitchen: "minimal and functional." He uses stackable Tupperware containers to separate foods. As for the cooler itself: "Look for a flat-topped model you can sit stuff on," says Eric Miller, chef and owner of the East Hampton restaurant Bay Kitchen Bar.
2. Skip the Beer
"I bring a bottle of Herradura tequila with one mixer – say, a grapefruit sparkling water – and a nice white wine like a Sancerre, which you can add ice to," says Tim Love, owner of Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth, Texas. Miller brings a bottle of good rum like Sag Harbor and makes a "citrusade," with lemon, grapefruit, orange, and lime. "Nondrinkers can pour a cup over ice and feel like they're part of the party; everyone else can make a punch that's as strong as they want." Whatever cold drinks you bring, place them on the bottom of the cooler and cover with ice.
3. Pass the Prosciutto
All our chefs suggest charcuterie for a fuss-free picnic. "Slice up soppressata and prosciutto in advance," says Miller. Arrange the different meats into rows in a container. "It looks good, and you can either make sandwiches or just eat them by hand," says Ferraro. In another container, bring sliced Gruyère, cheddar, or other hard cheeses. And in another, olives.
4. Pack Extras
"In your beach bag, you always want to have a baguette or loaf of artisan bread, a knife, and a cutting board," says Anthony Dagostino, owner of Moriches Catering, a Long Island clambake specialist. Other things to throw in: a tomato, Dijon mustard, and limes. Lots of limes.
5. Bring Dessert
"Sliced watermelon," says Miller. "You can throw it in your rum punch, too." "Macaroons are great," adds Ferraro. "Keep them in the cooler, and they'll be crisp and cool all day."