I just bought box of Coca-Cola cans that have not been refrigerated. I have a group of people coming over soon, and I want the Cokes to be cold by the time the group arrives. What is the best method for doing so without diluting the beverage with ice?
I also would rather not put them in the freezer because it requires active monitoring (I do not want the cans to freeze if I forget about them).
If you need to rapidly cool beverages that are still sealed in cans or bottles, put them in a mixture of water, ice, and salt. Once the beverages are submerged in the mixture you can stir them to have them cool even faster. The salt melts the ice faster cooling the water more quickly. This only takes a few minutes to cool you beverage.
I've heard this from multiple sources and done it myself. I think there was even a Mythbusters episode where they tried this as well as some other very impractical methods. (Link and comment provided by @Mast - Mythbusters Season 3 Episode 6 "Cooling a Six Pack" - Do note the link is technically not part of any answer whatsoever. The methods used in the video are highly impractical and should under no circumstance be tried at home.)
The keyword is dissipation.
What you want is a large amount of liquid on the right temperature. The larger the amount, the better (a large amount of liquid heats up less quickly because there's more to heat up. If it heats up too much, it isn't cooling much.). The relative heat of the cans will be dissipated by the liquid. It's important the cans are completely submerged.
Water from the tap is a quick fix, but if you have anything colder around that works as well. Filling the liquid with ice will keep the temperature of the water lower and is usually a good idea as well, if any is available.
If you happen to have a large (preferably filled) container in the freezer, you can throw this in the water as well. It will have the same effect as adding ice (the larger the container, the better). Keep in mind the container probably was there for a reason. However, one need can overrule another.
You can use this method but this requires freezer!! Cover the cans/bottles of beverage with wet paper and keep it in freezer! By doing this cans will chill fast!!
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You don't need to cool your drinks, just cool the glasses.
Prepare by having enough glasses in the freezer for your friends, for every glass taken out of the freezer put a new one in so every drink is a cold drink.
This is also a great way for Whiskey snobs to get cold whiskey without adding ice.
An old school method will cool your canned drink instantly. Find a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher, the kind with the big horn on it that projects the gas. Set the can on a surface, preferably outside. Cover it with the fire extinguisher spout and blast it once or twice. It will be ice cold in less than 5 seconds !
Freeze water in plastic bags or put ice cubes in plastic bags after they have been frozen.
Put the ice in its plastic into the drink, cooled drinks without risk of diluting by melting ice.
(I have seen that most people drink so fast that the ice cubes in the drinks have no time to melt, so your friends might be happy to have normal ice cubes.)