15 Unexpected Ways To Use Your Ice Cube Tray

If you thought ice cube trays were just for ice cubes, we honestly can't blame you. It's in the name. But it turns out, there are dozens of other ways to use those trays, and some of them are just pure genius that you'll wish you learned sooner. From baking bite-sized treats to preserving your favorite perishable cooking ingredients to cleaning your house, the humble ice cube tray might actually be one of the most underrated workhorses in your kitchen.

So dump those plain ice cubes into a container, rinse out your trays, and try out one of these brilliant ways to get more uses out of your ice cube tray. Whichever idea you try, just make sure to remove the finished products from the tray and store them in a labeled freezer bag or container so you can free up your trays for another one of these fun ideas.

Bake your own tater tots

Tater tots are an ideal breakfast food in our eyes. And while there's nothing wrong with the store-bought kind, you can save money on this crispy, fluffy potato snack by making them yourself using an ice cube tray. For this hack, you'll need an oven-safe silicone ice cube tray. But as long as you have that, the rest is easy. You can follow this recipe for homemade tater tots. Then, when you get to the part where you should form the potato mixture into tots, simply scoop it into your ice cube tray. One of the most annoying parts of making tater tots from scratch is forming them into a ball without them crumbling apart. Using the ice cube tray bypasses that step altogether.

From here, you can freeze them if you just want to stock up on pre-prepped tater tots for later. Otherwise, fry them in a pan of oil or, if you want a baked version, bake them right in the silicone tray at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for around 25 minutes.

Make coffee cubes for your iced coffee

For the devoted iced coffee drinkers out there, this ice cube tray hack is for you. Instead of using regular ice made from plain water, brew a pot of coffee and use that to make coffee ice cubes.

Let the coffee cool to room temperature before filling your tray. Better yet, use this hack any time you have leftover coffee in the pot at the end of the day. Instead of watering down your drink as they melt, these ice cubs will just refill your cup with more coffee. Fill a glass almost to the top with the cubes and then pour freshly brewed hot coffee over them. For those who prefer tea, the same rules apply. You can fill a tray with leftover tea and use those tea cubes to chill your next glass of iced tea. Just be sure to label your tea cubes if you drink lots of different varieties.

You're not just limited to chilling your coffee or tea, either. Use either of these cubes in your favorite cocktails that call for coffee or tea. You can put chai ice cubes in your Old Fashioned or add black tea cubes to your Arnold Palmer. You can even top your glass of coffee cubes with Baileys and vodka instead of coffee in the evening, if you please.

Save leftover wine for cooking

If you can't finish that bottle of wine you opened a couple of nights ago fast enough, pour the rest into an ice cube tray. You've got frozen wine cubes that you can use for cooking or to chill your next glass of wine without watering it down. And even if you prefer to use your wine for cooking rather than sipping, frozen wine cubes work just as well as fresh wine in cooking. So for those who buy separate wine specifically cooking, stretch the shelf life of that cooking wine by freezing it so you don't have to keep buying a full bottle when a recipe only calls for a cup.

For those planning to drop the cubes into their next glass of rosé or sauvignon blanc, you might notice wine diamonds — or, technically, tartrate crystals — settling at the bottom of your glass. This is just a side effect of freezing the wine and is totally safe to drink. You might also notice a visible change in color, but, again, it's still good to drink. However you plan to use the wine cubes, just remember to label them by varietal, and possibly even by brand and year, so you know what you're adding to your glass or your pan. For those who don't drink or cook with wine, this same trick can be used to freeze other ingredients that spoil faster than you can use them up, like milk, cream, or cooking oils.

Give yourself the gift of caramelized onions

Caramelizing onions is the bane of any home cook's existence. The process can add up to an hour to your cook time as you wait for the onions slowly melt down into sweet and silky goodness. But any home cook who has been patient enough to actually fully caramelize onions knows how much depth of flavor they add to a dish compared to sautéed onions.

With an ice cube tray and a free hour on the weekend, you can caramelize a whole bag of onions. Then, scoop them into the ice cube tray, let them cool to room temperature, and stick them in your freezer. They freeze well, and the ice cube-sized portions melt quickly in a pan over low heat so you can warm them up to top burgers or sandwiches or add them to your pasta dishes. While you're at it, batch cook and freeze roasted garlic, pesto, garlic-ginger paste, and other flavor-packed elements that can be too tedious and time-consuming to make for a single meal.

Store homemade baby food

Store-bought baby food gets pricey quickly, but the longer shelf life convinces many parents to opt for the costly jars over homemade purées that tend to spoil quickly. With a blender and an ice cube tray, you can save money without having to puree fresh ingredients every couple of days. According to the FDA, frozen homemade baby food is best used within three months, which means you can batch cook up to three months of purées for your little one.

To make homemade baby food, you can use any ingredient that you want to introduce your little one to: carrots, avocado, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and more. For foods that you wouldn't eat raw, boil them until they're extra soft. Then, purée it in a blender until completely smooth. If your blender isn't made to handle the heat, wait until boiled foods cool down before blending.

Once puréed, just pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze. After the purée is frozen, transfer the cubes to an airtight container and label that container with the ingredients and cooking date. You can purée single ingredients or blends you know your baby loves. You can also purée and freeze different ingredients separately. Then, mix and match cubes each day to create different flavor combinations and ensure your little one is getting a variety of nutrients.

Make margarita cubes

If you love margaritas but making them at home is too much of a hassle given all the ingredients involved, margarita cubes are going to be a game changer. Basically, you can batch prepare the lime juice, simple syrup, orange liqueur, and salt that goes into a classic margarita and then pour the mixture into an ice cube tray to freeze.

When you're ready for a margarita, just add a few cubes to a glass and top it with one or two shots of tequila. Let the cubes melt for a minute or two and swirl the glass to blend the margarita mix with the tequila. Alternatively, dump the ingredients into a blender and whip up a frozen margarita in seconds. You can do this with pretty much any variation of margarita that you enjoy. Grab your favorite recipe and mix everything but the tequila. Freeze and enjoy easy margaritas.

Save those unused egg whites or yolks

When recipes call for just the yolks or just the whites, the unused part often ends up in the trash because you're unlikely to use it before it goes bad. Instead of wasting the other half of the egg, dump it in an ice cube tray. When you freeze them in an ice cube tray, you'll have them on hand for future recipes.

Those leftover egg whites or yolks will keep for up to a year in the freezer (via FDA). That gives you plenty of time to figure out what to do with them. It also means you'll likely have pre-separated whites and yolks handy next time a recipe calls for only part of the egg. Storing them in the ice cube tray also makes it easy to preserve your portion sizes. Add one egg white or yolk per cell so that later, it's just a matter of grabbing the right number of cubes.

Make your own peanut butter cups

This trick may not be a time or money-saver, but it's a cool recipe that's sure to impress your friends and satisfy those late-night Reese's cravings without having to drag yourself to the store. You can make them with chocolate chips, peanut butter, maple syrup, and an ice cube tray — all things that many folks already have at home, even if they aren't the most avid cooks.

To make the chocolate peanut butter cups, you just melt your chocolate chips, fill the bottom of each cell in the tray, and add your peanut butter mixture. Once that part freezes, top it with the rest of the chocolate to finish the cup, freeze it again, and you are done. Plus, if you are keen on eating your candy when it is frozen anyway, these will be the perfect bite-sized frozen snacks for you. And if you prefer your candy room temperate, just pop them out of the freezer and wait for them to thaw a bit to enjoy.

Freeze your fresh herbs for later

Fresh herbs are one of those ingredients that's frustrating to buy. Grocery stores tend to sell them by the bunch while recipes usually call for just a few leaves. While swapping in dried herbs will do in a pinch, they have a slightly different impact on the dish than their fresh counterparts. More importantly, dried herbs aren't really an option for a dish that you aren't cooking. If left uncooked, they have a dusty texture and lack the bright flavor of fresh herbs.

But watching an entire bunch of basil or cilantro slowly wilt at the bottom of your fridge can be sad enough to drive you to put up with dried herbs or just leave them out altogether. Instead of watching herbs die, you can freeze them to have fresh herbs on hand for months. To do it, wash the rest of that unused bunch, pat it dry, and then remove the stems. Chop the leaves and then toss them into an ice cube tray. Pour a little cold water into each cell to submerge the leaves. Once frozen, the water seals the herbs in ice to protect the flavor. When you're ready to use them again, just set the cube on a plate and let the water melt. Pat the herbs dry like you would after rinsing them. The defrosted herbs can be used just like you would use any you bought fresh today.

Make herb-infused butter

For a recipe that feels utterly decadent despite being super easy to make, try this compound butter hack that uses an ice cube tray. Compound butter refers to any butter that's been mixed with herbs, spices, or other ingredients to enhance the flavor. While you can make them the same day, they're at their most magnificent if you let those added ingredients infuse into the butter for a day or two.

To make the compound butter, let a stick of butter warm to room temperature. Then, mash it up in a bowl with fresh or dried herbs and a dash of sea salt. Scoop the creamy herb butter mixture into the cells of an ice cube tray. From here you can freeze it right away if you just want to have a delicious compound butter ready to go when you need it later. Otherwise, store it in the fridge for at least a couple of hours before dabbing it on a steak or smearing it on a piece of warm, crusty bread.

Make Jell-O shots

Jell-O shots are a classic that shows up at parties everywhere. That's partly because they're so easy to make ahead of time so you can stock up on tasty treats for your guests without spending the entire party mixing drinks for everyone. But if you'd rather skip the dozens of tiny plastic shot glasses that these cocktails are usually served in, grab an ice cube tray, or four, and pour the Jell-O and vodka into each cell of the trays.

While your trays may vary, standard ice cube trays hold 1 ounce of liquid per cell. So pour ¼ or ½ ounce of vodka into each cell, depending on how strong you like them, and top with the Jell-O mixture. Place the trays in the fridge until they are set. Then, you can arrange them on a serving platter or serve them on spoons. The ice cube trays make the shots easy to pop out.

Craft hot cocoa pops

Hot cocoa pops are delicious treats that also make for great gifts. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, they are basically hardened hot chocolate on a stick that melts when you swirl it in your hot milk (or, yikes, hot water). To make them, have chocolate bars, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, salt, and mini marshmallows. You'll also need some popsicle sticks and, of course, your handy ice cube tray. The process for making them is super easy. You just melt the chocolate and then add it to the rest of your hot cocoa ingredients and pipe that mixture into your ice cube tray. Insert your popsicle sticks and top them with mini marshmallows and you're done. Just let them chill until they harden.

While you can technically use any tray for this, a silicone tray will make it much easier to pop these out again without damaging them. And once they harden, you can remove them from the tray and store them in a cupboard, wrapped in plastic, or stored in a container. There's no need to keep them refrigerated. When you want to cozy up with a mug of cocoa, just heat up a cup of milk and stir your hot cocoa pop in it until it dissolves completely.

Stock up on frozen cookie dough

If you love cookies but hate baking full batches because you end up eating them all, pull up your favorite recipe, make the dough, and scoop it into an ice cube tray instead of a baking sheet. Freezing the dough in cubes like this means they're already portioned into individual cookies.

Next time you're craving a cookie, you can just grab one or two to bake in an air fryer or small convection oven for a delicious, fresh-baked treat. This can save you from being tempted to binge a whole batch. But, more importantly, it's a way to ensure you always have frozen cookie dough ready to go anytime you want to treat yourself. This can also be a cost-saving trick. When those late-night cravings hit, skip the convenience store run and just pop a few cookie dough cubes in the oven.

You can do the same with some of your other favorite snacks. Make the viral mini freezer pancakes from Nicole Keshishian Modic or freeze cake batter in cubes for mini cake bites. Just remember to place cake cubes in a muffin tin or similar bakeware so it can hold its shape and add about five extra minutes to the time if baking from frozen.

Make plastic-free dishwasher detergent tabs

Detergent tabs are super convenient. There's no need to measure or worry about over-pouring. Just grab a tab and toss it in your dishwasher. But the plastic casing they often come in isn't exactly great for the environment. They don't biodegrade as effectively as they claimed, according to a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Plus, they're just really expensive.

Instead of plastic-wrapped tabs, make your own detergent tabs at home. If you've never made detergent before, it's pretty simple. Homemade detergent uses baking soda, borax, salt, vinegar, and lemon essential oil for a citrusy fresh and super-powered detergent that can scrub your dishes clean. Pour the mixture into your ice cube tray and pat them down to compress them as much as possible. Then, just leave them out to dry. They'll harden into tabs that you can store in a jar and use just as easily as the store-bought kind.

If you don't want to go quite that DIY with this project, you can also just grab your favorite powder detergent and swap that in for the dry ingredients in this recipe. You'll still save tons of money on not buying the store-bought tabs, and, even if you weren't buying those before, portioning your powder detergent into tabs this way prevents you from accidentally over-pouring so you'll stretch that box further.

Make garbage disposal cleaner cubes

It's easy to overlook garbage disposal cleaning until you start to smell the distinctly unpleasant odor of accumulated food residue welling up from your kitchen sink. While you might find tons of garbage disposal cleaning hacks online or see ads for fancy cleaning products, you don't really need any of these.

Instead, grab an ice cube tray and use this two-ingredient garbage disposal cleaner recipe, courtesy of HGTV, to make ice cubes that can deodorize the hard-to-reach space while also dislodging any bits of food that got stuck in the blades or other components. Toss two or three cubes down your drain while running cold water every week or so to keep the garbage disposal clean.

The recipe calls for chunks of lemon, but make sure to chop them up into small pieces because large citrus peels can get caught in the blades or clog the pipes. Better yet, swap the whole lemon for a splash of lemon juice or a sprinkle of zest. You'll get the same citrusy clean scent and deodorizing power of citric acid but without the risk of harming your garbage disposal blades.