Nowadays, it seems like most people have ice makers in their fridge, with no need for those old, plastic (or silicone) ice cube trays. But if you still have some old trays, don’t throw them out and contribute to landfill waste! Use them instead!
A Note On Sustainability
If you decide you want to use ice cube trays for some of the reasons listed below, but don’t actually have any ice cube trays, I’d STRONGLY recommend buying silicone ones instead of plastic ones. Silicone is very plentiful (unlike the fossil fuels used to make plastic) and can be recycled. It’s also a healthier choice, since it can’t leach toxins into the food the way that plastic can. Since ice cube trays are kept cold, there is a very minimal toxin risk, but if you’re buying new, it’s better to be safe than sorry. That being said, if you don’t have the budget for silicone trays, at least buy plastic ones used – at a garage sale or thrift store. You’ll save money and prevent waste.
Ten Uses For Ice Cube Trays
1) Make Ice
Okay, this is super obvious, but I don’t have a working ice maker on my fridge. It used to work. It stopped working. So don’t discount the utility of using ice cube trays for ice! You may need to use them for this at some point.
2) Make Flavored Ice
If you make a lot of iced drinks, it can be fun to make flavored ice! Here are some ideas:
- Iced coffee: Pour coffee into the ice cube trays, and freeze. Then your iced coffee won’t get watered down as the ice melts.
- Iced tea: Same ideas as the coffee, but with tea
- Lemonade or limeade: Same idea
- Lemon water: If you like a little lemon taste in your water or iced tea, but don’t often keep lemons on hand, you can freeze a little lemon water for use in these applications
The sky is the limit on flavors of ice, but those are some common ones. Be creative!
Just a quick note: Never pour hot coffee or tea into plastic ice cube trays. Hot liquids and plastic DO NOT MIX. The heat can cause the plastic to leach icky toxins into your ice. Let the coffee or tea cool completely before making the ice.
3) Preserve Fresh Lemon or Lime Juice
Does this sound familiar?
A recipe calls for lemon (or lime) juice. You buy a lemon. You juice 1/4 or 1/2 of the lemon for the recipe. You wrap up the other half and put it in the fridge. It gets moldy. You throw it out. Repeat.
…I do that all the time. At least I used to. Now I juice the whole lemon or lime, use what I need for the recipe, and freeze the rest in an ice cube tray. I usually measure, and freeze amounts of 1 tsp. A normal ice cube tray holds about 1 tbsp per ice cube compartment, just for reference.
4) Preserve Fresh Herbs
I don’t do this – I prefer to dry my garden harvest and grow some herbs indoors over the winter – but my mom does it all the time, and swears by it. Put your fresh herbs in the ice cube tray, and fill with olive oil. Freeze. Then, you can pull out the oil-encrusted herbs to throw in soups or sauteing dishes. The oil is the critical component to preserving the herbs – if you just freeze fresh herbs, they will degrade horribly, so don’t try.
5) Ration Out Tomato Paste
This is BY FAR my favorite use for ice cube trays! How often do you open a full can of tomato paste, only to use a tablespoon or two and watch the rest go bad? Pretty much every time you use tomato paste, right?
Well, when you open a can, just put a tablespoon in each ice cube compartment on an ice cube tray, and freeze. Then, when you need a tablespoon, you can just pull one out of the freezer. No more thrown out tomato paste, and less money spent on a can that you’re barely going to use anyway.
You can do this with anything that you use in very small quantities and often throw out before you can use it up. Other ideas may include chilies in adobo, coconut milk, and pesto.
6) Store Small Amounts of Stock
I usually freeze my stock in large jars, so that I always have some on hand to make soups, stews, and sauce-y dishes. However, recipes occasionally call for a very small amount of broth, and it’s nice to have tiny amounts on hand for those occasions. This is useful if you just want to add a light broth-y flavor to a vegetable dish, or boost the flavor of a gravy.
If you feel like doing a little more work, you can also heavily reduce broth to concentrate the flavors, then use it like bouillon. This takes an enormous amount of reduction however – be prepared.
I like to do this with beef broth, in particular. Beef broth doesn’t last nearly as long as chicken stock in the fridge, so I’m hesitant to thaw a whole jar if I only need, say, a half cup. As long as you put 1 tbsp in each ice cube compartment, you can easily keep track of how many “cubes” you need when following any given recipe. Once they freeze, you can also remove them from the try and store the cubes in a plastic bag in the freezer. That frees up the ice cube trays, and allows you to accumulate plenty of cubes. Just make sure they are completely frozen before you try to remove them!
7) Make Mini-Candies
You can easily make homemade candies, including peanut butter cups, coconut cups (“mounds bars”), and more. Personally, I prefer to use my mini-muffin tray for this, but if you don’t have one of those, you can use an ice cube tray.
I only recommend doing this if you have silicone trays.
8) Store Cooking Wine
Cooking wine is often used to deglaze a pan. If you are the type of person who doesn’t use wine in cooking very often, you can freeze small amounts in an ice cube tray. Personally, I go through enough cooking wine to just keep a bottle or two in my fridge, but if you don’t…hey, here’s an idea for you.
9) Save Unused Egg Whites (or yolks, but who ends up with extra yolks???)
Plenty of baked goods or rich sauces call for extra egg yolks, leaving you to toss egg whites down the drain.
Stop doing that. Save them in an ice cube try, then use them. One white should fit in one ice cube slot.
Egg whites are an excellent protein source and are super useful for certain dishes, like meringues, souffles, macaroons. You can also add an egg white to your breakfast if you are trying to increase your protein intake for some reason.
Apparently, you can also use them as a substitute for a weak glue (such as Elmer’s) and to clean leather, but I’ve never had enough extra egg whites to try this. But hey, if you do, go ahead and try it! It can’t hurt.
Please note: I don’t recommend using your egg whites ALONE for breakfast. No egg white omelettes, or egg white only scrambled eggs. Not only will they taste inferior to normal eggs, but most of the nutrients in the egg, such as biotin and choline, are found in the yolk. I’m not opposed to adding an extra white here and there – like I said, it’s extra protein – but doing this too much can be bad for you.
You can do the same thing with egg yolks, if you end up with extra.
10) Make Tea-Lights
If you’re into candle-making (which I am not…), you can use ice cube trays as a mold for making tea lights. Again, I think silicone trays would make a lot more sense than plastic for this applications, but it’s theoretically possible.
But think about it. Ice cube trays are the perfect size, aren’t they?
Things I Wouldn’t Use Ice Cube Trays For
A lot of people come up with crazy lists of 40 or 50 uses for ice cube trays, and to be honest…I wouldn’t do most of those things.
- When Making A Mini-Version Creates More Work. There are a myriad of recipes on the Internet for mini-things to make in ice cube trays. My rule of thumb? If I’m going to eat something in a quantity larger than an ice cube sized piece, I’m NOT MAKING IT IN AN ICE CUBE TRAY! I’m not going to eat 1 tbsp sized mini-cheesecakes or mini-pies or mini-Popsicle or mini-quiches. It would be much easier to use a muffin tin or just make a full-size quiche.
- Storage. A lot of people recommend using ice cube trays for storage. This seems incredibly impractical to me – ice cube trays don’t have lids. Typically, if you are storing tiny items (like nuts and bolts), you want them to be contained so that it’s not easy to knock them over and spill them everywhere. The same goes for jewelry, buttons, or any other teeny tiny items. I don’t want storage solutions that my cat can destroy by brushing against them.
- When I Don’t Use the Item in Small Amounts. A surprising number of people advocate for using ice cube trays to preserve dairy products, such as milk and buttermilk, before the items go bad. This doesn’t make sense to me, since it’s VERY rare for a recipe to call for only 1 or 2 tbsp of milk or buttermilk. You’d be better off freezing these things in 1/2 cup or 1 cup quantities (using something like a muffin tin or a Ziploc bag), not ice cube trays.
Basically, use common sense. An ice cube tray can be a useful tool to preserve items that you use in small quantities, or to make items (like mini-peanut butter cups or tealights) that are genuinely very small. But don’t try so hard to use them that you actually make more work for yourself.
My FAVORITE uses for ice cube trays are tomato paste, broth, and ice (including flavored ice), though I’ve used them for some other applications as well. Do what works for you.
Remember that once the items are frozen, you can remove them and store them in a plastic bag or a container. Since they are already frozen, they shouldn’t stick together too much. This allows you to free up space in the ice cube trays to freeze more stuff.
Lastly, make sure you actually USE your frozen goodies. Don’t stockpile a gigantic bag of frozen egg whites that you never use or tea lights that you never burn! Be mindful of what you are saving to make sure it gets used up. After all, that’s what you made it for, right?