The Secret to Serving All Your BBQ Dishes Hot & on-Time: Use a Faux Cambro

faux cambro food chiller

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If you’ve ever tried to cook and prepare food for a large crowd you know the struggles of getting all the food hot and ready at the same time. Planning for a large barbecue can be a true headache, especially for a novice cook.

This can be extra challenging when you have to smoke a large piece of meat like brisket or pork butt all day and have several side dishes to go with it.

Not to mention the challenges of cooking outside in unpredictable conditions. So, how can you do it?

We’ll tell you all about the Cambro method, and more importantly how to use a faux Cambro to keep your BBQ hot and on-time.

What exactly is a faux Cambro?

A Cambro, made by Cambro Manufacturing, is an essential tool used by kitchen professionals and caterers. It is an insulated box that allows them to transport food while keeping it hot or cold and within the safe temperature zone for long periods of time.

As a backyard cook though, you don’t need a commercial-grade product like a Cambro to keep your BBQ warm.

You can replicate it with a product you probably already have around the house and make a faux Cambro – a home-made insulated, hot-holding box. 

If you have a large plastic cooler then you’ve got yourself the makings of a faux Cambro. Even a small soft sided cooler will get the job done.

Benefits of using a faux Cambro:

How to use a faux Cambro to keep BBQ warm

In order to use your cooler as a faux Cambro, you’ll need to gather a few other things first.

Plan to start preparing your cooler for food-holding about 45 minutes before your meat will be done cooking. This method of using a cooler to keep meat warm was popularised by the folks over at

That way it will be ready to use when you pull the meat from the smoker. 

What you need:

  • A large plastic cooler
  • 2 towels
  • 3 gallons of hot tap water
  • Disposable aluminum pan
  • Aluminum foil
  • Meat thermometer

1. Heat the cooler 

Pour roughly three gallons of hot water into the cooler and seal it for 30 minutes.

This will pre-heat the internal temperature of the cooler getting it ready for the meat. After 30 minutes, drain the water and place one of the two towels on the bottom of the cooler. 

2. Add the meat

Once the meat is done cooking, wrap it in aluminum foil and put it in the aluminum pan.

Place the meat and pan on top of the towel in the bottom of the cooler. Then place the other towel on top of the meat and pan. Close the lid.

Your meat will stay warm for 3 – 4 hours so long as you keep the lid closed and sealed. This method has been proven to keep food within the temperature safety zone – which is above 140°F. 

If you have a meat thermometer probe, leave it in the meat and let the wire dangle out of the cooler.

This will allow you to check the internal temperature to make sure it’s well within the temperature safety zone. When you’re ready, serve the meat. 

3. Clean your cooler

You’ll want to be sure and clean your cooler right after using it.

This will ensure it’s free of odors and safe for the next use. Some soap and water will do the trick to keep your cooler in good shape and safe for food. 

Tips for creating your own faux Cambro

Now that we’ve gone over how to use the faux Cambro method, here are some pointers to ensure success.

Type of cooler

If you don’t have a cooler or if you think it’s time for an upgrade, you’ll want to make sure you get the right type of cooler.

Here are some factors to keep in mind when choosing a new one.

Size of the cooler

Make sure it is big enough for the type of meat you’ll be cooking.

If you’re cooking turkey or brisket, you don’t want to try to force those into a cooler that’s too small. Don’t forget you’re placing your wrapped meat into an aluminum pan, so it should fit nicely into the cooler without forcing it.

If you transport a lot of food, a wheeled cooler is convenient, though not a necessity. Also, you’ll want your aluminum pans to fit snugly within the cooler so as not to shift and spill any juices while on the move.

If you find there’s a lot of space around your tray of meat, fill in the gaps with more towels. This helps twofold as it will not only secure the trays in place, it will further insulate the container as well. 


A well-insulated cooler is a must. The rotomolded Yeti coolers are a fantastic option, but for the price point, you might as well get yourself a real Cambro.

For a faux Cambro, you don’t need anything fancy, just something well insulated that seals well. If it has a gasket in the lid, even better as this prevents airflow from leaving or entering the cooler.

A simple Coleman 40 quartz cooler will get the job done.

Drainage and Care

You’ll want your cooler to be easy to drain as well as easy to clean. A drain plug and smooth internal chamber will do the trick.

Keeping your cooler clean and in good working order will help it last for years of backyard barbecues whether you’re hot holding food or icing down some cold beers. 

Safety tips 

There are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you and your food stay safe while using the faux Cambro method. 

1. Use BBQ gloves

BBQ gloves come in handy when handling meat off the cooker and wrapping it to be stored in your faux cambro.

They also help keep the bark intact on the surface of your meat (using tongs or other utensils tends to strip off the flavorful outer bark).

2. Pour with caution

Use caution when pouring the hot water into the cooler as it can scald (boiling water is not necessary and can actually damage your cooler).

Check to see if your cooler’s manufacturer has a temperature rating, as some plastics can melt or warp under the high heat of boiling water. Hot water from the tap will do just fine for faux Cambro purposes. 

3. Use a meat thermometer

A meat thermometer is your best friend when using a faux Cambro. You want to ensure the temperature of your food stays in the safety zone.

A probe that stays in the meat is ideal here as you don’t want to keep opening and closing the cooler lid to check the temperature. Doing so will let out heat and cool the meat faster. 

Holding steady

For the backyard cook there’s no need for a food-grade Cambro just to keep your barbecue warm. At a fraction of the cost, a faux Cambro will work just as well.

All it takes is a large plastic cooler, some warm water, and a few other items to make sure your barbecue stays warm and is ready when it comes to serving time.

Just be sure to plan ahead, heat the faux Cambro, and insulate the meat to keep it in that target temperature range for 3 – 4 hours.

Have a particular cooler you use for a faux Cambro, or do you have any other tips not mentioned in this article?

Let us know in the comments section below and remember: sharing is caring! Be sure to share this article with your like-minded bbq enthusiasts.  

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