Halloween Witches’ Brew: A Guide to Using Dry Ice

A cauldron of Witches’ Brew will delight the guests at your next Halloween party. While a great way to add atmosphere to any event, there are some basic rules that must be followed when using dry ice. Dry ice is made of pressurized CO2 (carbon dioxide). Its extreme temperature (-109.3°F or -78.5°C) can burn as severely as extreme heat. The CO2 composition of dry ice can also cause symptoms, such as labored breathing and headache, if not properly ventilated. If the proper precautions are taken, there is no need to fear using dry ice as an inexpensive and creative way to accentuate your Halloween festivities.

For use in punch bowls:
You will need 3-5 pounds of dry ice per 1-2 gallons of punch. Arrange large pieces of dry ice in the bottom of your punch bowl. Do not add too much as it may freeze your punch. The dry ice will stay on the bottom of the bowl until mostly dissipated. The fog effect will last about 5 minutes per pound of dry ice as it only fogs until the liquid (punch) is chilled. It is the warm-to-cold ratio that creates the fog. You may want to have an extra batch of warm punch on hand to regenerate the fog.

Never serve dry ice. Do not mix regular ice with dry ice. Regular ice can be added to individual glasses as desired. A small fragment of ice may rise to the top after it has sublimated (converted) to a mostly gaseous state and is nearly evaporated. This may happen when frozen punch has adhered itself to the ice. Do not consume this as it still contains a small amount of dry ice. For the safety of your guests, dispose of any floating pieces.

For use under punch bowls (double container method):
For the double container method you will need your punch bowl and another larger bowl, or container, in which the punch bowl can rest. Plastic cauldrons are available for purchase at several locations that sell Halloween decorations. If you do purchase this type of container, be sure that it is large enough to hold your punch bowl with a 1-2 inch gap between it and the cauldron (larger container) to allow for the fog to escape, and surround, the bowl. If there is a hole in the bottom of the container, be sure to plug the hole.

Place the dry ice in the bottom of the plastic cauldron. Add very warm water to the dry ice. Do not add too much water at first. You can always add more water. If the punch bowl floats when put inside the cauldron, keep in mind that the weight of the punch will cause the bowl to sink and any excess water may then flow into your punch. It is best to have some sort of platform on which to rest your punch bowl. For instance, an up-side-down bowl works quite well as a base.

To regenerate the fog simply add more warm water, however, you may need to use a turkey baster to remove some of the cold water beforehand. If you notice that the addition of warm water isn’t producing the desired effect, you can add small chunks of dry ice. Use a pair of tongs to insert the chunks of dry ice in the 1-2 inch open area of the perimeter. This method may be the safer route around small children, and is the preferred approach when using the plastic cauldrons.

Where to buy dry ice, and how to get it home
Use only food grade dry ice. Food grade dry ice is commonly available at grocery stores. Pick up your dry ice at the last minute. Bring an ice chest to transport the block of dry ice. Do not use an airtight container as it can explode if the solid block of ice begins to transform to a gaseous state. Do not plan on storing the ice in your freezer as the extreme temperature can cause the thermostat to shut down the appliance. Plan on using it upon arriving to your destination. Use leather (or insulated) gloves to handle the ice. Never touch dry ice with your bare hands. You should never set dry ice on solid countertops as the extreme temperature can crack a counter surface.

Storage and disposal:
Dry ice should not be stored in a closed container. Always make sure that there is proper ventilation when using this product. If the Ice has been in a closed space (for 10-15 minutes or longer), open the area to fresh air to allow for adequate ventilation. Allow the space to clear of CO2 before entering. When it’s time to dispose of any remaining dry ice, leave it at room temperature in a well-ventilated area. A setting such as a garage with open windows works well. It will naturally convert from a solid to a gas and evaporate. Do not put dry ice into your sink, or attempt to wash it down the drain, as it can burst your pipes. Never leave children unattended around dry ice.

The Witches’ Brew is very easy to prepare. You can use your favorite punch recipe, or try this easy combination:
2 – 2 liter bottles of ginger ale (you can substitute Sprite or 7UP)
2 – 64 ounce bottles of cranberry juice (you can substitute a 1 gallon bottle of Hawaiian Punch)
2 – 46 ounce cans of pineapple juice

This recipe makes just under 3 gallons of punch. You can make it in batches that will enable you to have a warm supply of punch to add to your cauldron. Do not refrigerate the punch until you are finished replenishing the punch bowl for the night.

There are a few other ghoulish tips that you might want to consider: Peeled grapes make great floating eyeballs in the punch. Blood oranges make eerie garnish. Add a small amount of food coloring to darken the punch. Floating plastic spiders, or miniature bats, are fun additions. Use your imagination and have a good time. It may seem overwhelming at first glance, but using dry ice to create your bubbling cauldron of Witches’ Brew is a fairly straightforward process. If you follow these simple guidelines, then your Halloween will be one to remember for all of the right reasons.

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