The 8 Best Electric Coolers of 2023, by Food & Wine
Our top picks ensure your perishable food items stay perfectly chilled for the long haul.
Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé is a passionate and voraciously hungry home cook and eater. She's been writing about food in all its forms since 2014 and is a big believer that anyone can and should love to cook.
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Food & Wine / Marcus Millan
If you’ve had one too many experiences of reaching into what you thought was a well-packed cooler only to find it full of melted ice, it's time to upgrade to an electric cooler. With built-in cooling mechanisms, electric coolers are similar to mini-refrigerators but more portable. Their cooling power can range from deep freezing to just cold enough to keep drinks chilled, and some thermoelectric options can even keep food hot. An electric cooler gives you a guaranteed cold space for long car camping trips, road trips, or hunting trips. All you'll need is an outlet to plug it in. While they’re a bit heavier than backpack coolers or soft coolers, electric coolers ensure safe perishable food storage for longer durations.
Electric coolers come in two styles: thermoelectric, which can heat up but won’t get to below-freezing temperatures, and compressor coolers, which can freeze things like meat or fish on camping trips. A step beyond the regular coolers that can keep things cold for a limited window, here are the best electric coolers to take along on your next road trip.
This affordably priced unit keeps food and beverages cool with an easy-to-use cigarette lighter plug.
At very high ambient temperatures, this unit may not be able to keep up.
Designed for road trips and other long-haul drives, the Coleman Insulated Portable Thermoelectric Cooler is a well-sized, functional option. The 120-volt power supply plugs easily into car or boat outlets, with an optional add-on for a home outlet. Because of the Coleman’s relatively compact size, it’s easy to move from car to home, so it can be used for extra refrigeration in a garage once you've arrived at your destination.
The included power cord is a generous 8 feet long, and the 40-quart capacity holds about 44 cans, which is plenty of space for a couple of days’ worth of cold drinks and snacks. This cooler’s only drawback is that the cooling mechanism is designed to keep the interior about 40 degrees cooler than the outside temperature, meaning that if you’re fighting super-hot temperatures, this unit may not be quite powerful enough.
Price at time of publish: $155
This dual-zoned unit has the cooling power to deep freeze its contents.
Priced at over $1,000, this is our most expensive recommendation.
With a powerful compressor, the Dometic CFX3 75 Dual Zone Powered Cooler can get down to below-freezing temperatures, allowing users to fully freeze contents, which is a helpful tool on fishing or hunting trips. Its color display and buttons are easy to use, allowing fast adjustments to both zones of the dual-zoned unit.
The unit includes both AC and DC power cords, allowing it to be used in cars or on boats, as well as with regular wall units. A handy mobile app enables the unit to be controlled via Bluetooth or wifi. Without power, the unit is insulated enough to stay cool for several hours. This is a helpful feature for camping trips or when power is not available.
Price at time of publish: $1,196
A smaller footprint makes this cooler super portable.
This thermoelectric cooler only cools its interior to 36 degrees below the surrounding area, so it may not be powerful enough for the hottest days.
With a capacity for up to 36 cans, this small cooler is ideal for those on the go. With a 12-volt power cord that plugs directly into your car’s cigarette lighter, it’s easy to take on the road for long car trips. The Igloo Iceless 28-Quart Electric Cooler is powered by a brushless motor that makes minimal noise for a quieter car ride. Affordably priced at $150, this is a great option for the budget-conscious.
It should be noted that this cooler does not, however, have a cooling system powerful enough to freeze, and it works best when fully packed with pre-chilled food and drinks.
Price at time of publish: $150
This unit has a built-in ice maker.
At 47 pounds, this cooler is one of our heaviest recommendations, making it less portable than other options.
If you’d like to have an electric cooler that also makes ice, the Dometic CFX3 55IM Powered Cooler + Ice Maker is your best option. This compressor-powered cooler can get down to -7°F, and it has a separate built-in cold tray that produces ice even when the temperature is only set for cooling. This unit has a large capacity, with space for 83 cans.
Dometic’s smart battery protection system prevents dead car batteries — a helpful feature when you plan to leave the cooler plugged in overnight. The cooler is also insulated enough to remain well-chilled for about five hours after the power is no longer connected.
Price at time of publish: $1,200
This affordable and lightweight unit is perfect for keeping beverages cold while driving.
With no digital temperature gauge, it can be hard to tell if it’s working correctly.
The Wagan 6-Quart Personal Thermoelectric Cooler is sized to easily fit between captain’s seats in a truck or minivan, or live on the backseat. This unit is specifically designed for driving, with built-in cup holders on the exterior. The unit holds 6 cans and is designed to simply keep them cold. This thermoelectric unit does not have a powerful enough cooling mechanism to freeze food, but it can help ice cream survive a little longer in the hot summer months.
One potential drawback to note: Without a digital temperature gauge, it can be difficult to tell how cold this cooler stays. For casual users, it’s a compact, functional option for the car.
Price at time of publish: $70
This compressor-powered cooler is durable and powerful enough for more extreme settings.
Weighing nearly 50 pounds before it’s filled, this cooler is not easy to move around.
Where many electric coolers struggle to function in more extreme settings like off-roading (when extreme angles can compromise function), the ICECO VL45 Portable Refrigerator is specifically designed for these situations. Stainless steel handles and latches, plus corner protectors, make this unit more durable than other options. Its compressor also allows it to keep its contents frozen, with a Max mode meant to quickly freeze contents.
All of this functionality comes in a comparatively heavy 50-pound unit, which makes this electric cooler a bit harder to move, especially once fully packed.
Price at time of publish: $609
This cooler bag is collapsible for efficient storage.
The cooling unit on this cooler requires its fan to be unblocked.
Sometimes, a bulky plastic or metal cooler just requires too much storage space. That’s not the case with the Koolatron Thermoelectric Iceless Cooler Bag, which easily collapses to fit a smaller space for storage. The bag is also easier to carry, with shoulder and hand-carry straps, a built-in cord storage pocket, and plenty of outer pockets for additional items.
With a 23-can capacity, this unit is big enough for an all-day picnic or long road trip. The thermoelectric cooling unit in this bag promises to keep contents 30°F below ambient temperatures, and the 12-volt adapter plugs easily into your car’s cigarette lighter.
Price at time of publish: $130
The wheels on this cooler make it easy to move even when it’s filled with drinks and snacks.
If you want to plug this unit into a home outlet, you’ll need to purchase an additional converter.
For a larger capacity cooler that’s still easy to move, the Igloo Thermoelectric IcelessElectric Plug-in 12V Cooler is our choice. The key to its mobility is a set of wheels that allow the unit to be easily pulled from place to place without needing to fully pick it up. Like our other thermoelectric picks, this unit has the power to keep the contents about 30 degrees below outside temperature, and it works best when the contents are pre-chilled.
This unit also can heat up, so it can also be used to keep things warm. The wide side-swing lid allows easy access to the cooler’s full contents, even in crowded settings like public beaches or outdoor concerts.
Price at time of publish: $180
Part of the appeal of an electric cooler is its portability, but how much you plan to move yours from place to place should inform exactly what kind of cooler you choose. If you plan to use an electric cooler to keep drinks and snacks cold on road trips and want to have the ability to move the cooler from your car to your garage or basement (or bring the cooler into rental homes and hotels while traveling), you may not want a larger unit that requires two people to carry when loaded to capacity.
If you plan to use the cooler for car camping, hunting, and fishing, and plan to leave it in the bed of a truck or back of a car for the duration of the time that the cooler is in use, a larger unit will work well.
Electric coolers vary significantly in their ability to cool. Some units can efficiently freeze their contents, some can keep food frozen, and others are only designed to gently cool. Many of the electric coolers we recommend can chill their contents only a certain number of degrees below outside temperatures, meaning that on a ninety-degree day, some electric coolers can only maintain an internal temperature of about sixty degrees. Consider what your needs are around actual temperature before selecting an electric cooler to purchase.
Electric coolers vary enormously in size and capacity. Some are designed to fit comfortably between the front seats of a car to keep cold food and drinks at hand, while others are large enough to hold enough food for a family for a week-long trip. Electric coolers stay cold more efficiently when full, so try to select a size that won’t leave you with a lot of space in the unit.
Electric coolers are powered by AC or DC power. Many coolers come with both kinds of plugs, which can be used in wall outlets or the cigarette lighter power source of a car or boat. The two main styles of cooler, thermoelectric and compressor, have different power needs. Coolers made with compressors are more similar to refrigerators, which are also cooled by compressors. This style of cooler tends to need more power because they’re able to get much cooler. Thermoelectric coolers don’t generally get as cold, but they require less power and are usually lighter weight and more portable.
A well-packed, high-end cooler can generally keep pre-chilled food cold for about 4 days before you start to see serious ice melting. For people who hate dealing with ice or don’t want to invest in one of our top coolers, an electric cooler offers a more long-term option.
Yes, an electric cooler can keep food frozen. If freezing is what you’re after, opt for a compressor cooler, which is generally more powerful and effective at getting and staying below freezing.
Yes, it’s safe to leave an electric cooler plugged in at all times, though leaving it plugged in while your vehicle is off will drain the vehicle battery. Be sure to run the motor on your car or boat intermittently to prevent draining the battery, or use another power source when your car is turned off.
Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé is an experienced professional home cook. She has worked in restaurant kitchens, professional test kitchens, and also on farms and at farmer's markets. She's an expert at translating techniques, recipes, equipment, and ingredient information for all skill levels. She's dedicated to making the home cooking experience more enjoyable and is always on the lookout for the next great tip or trick to pass along to readers.Price at time of publish: $155Capacity: Dimensions:Weight: Price at time of publish: $1,196Capacity:Dimensions:Weight: Price at time of publish: $150Capacity:Dimensions:Weight: Price at time of publish: $1,200Capacity: Dimensions:Weight: Price at time of publish: $70Capacity:Dimensions: Weight:Price at time of publish: $609Capacity:Dimensions:Weight:Price at time of publish: $130Capacity: Dimensions: Weight:Price at time of publish: $180Capacity: Dimensions: Weight: