10 Food Prep Tips + Recipes for Burning Man

Saturday, August 25, 2012
Grilled Cheese at Dust City Diner at Burning Man 2011. Photo Credit: Ana Grillo

Grilled Cheese at Dust City Diner at Burning Man 2011. Photo Credit: Ana Grillo

Today I bought three huge bags of neon fur and a pound of glitter to mod podge. Because that’s just the kind of stuff on your to-do list when you’re getting ready for Burning Man.

It’s my first burn and I am positively buzzing with anticipation. Outfits and magical fairy dust aside, there are practical survival things to think about too, like what are we going to eat?

Sunrise at The Temple, Burning Man 2009 (Photo Credit: Michael Holden)

Sunrise at The Temple, Burning Man 2009 (Photo Credit: Michael Holden)

We are going to be in the middle of the desert in hundred degree weather and no refrigeration, just coolers and a supply of ice. It’s going to be extreme camping cooking, but that doesn’t mean we can’t eat well! I’ve done my research and have picked up some great advice:

10 Tips & Tricks on Preparing Food for Burning Man

  1. Ziplocks are your best friend. Even better, a vacuum sealer is your bestest best friend, but Ziplocks will do fine. Playa dust will get on everything and the best way to minimize ingestion of it is to prepare and portion out meals ahead of time.
  2. Portion out your ice in Ziplocks. When it melts, your cooler won’t turn into a soupy mess, and you’ll have a baggie of ice-cold water to drink. Ahh, refreshing!
  3. Elevate your food in the cooler using Tupperware or layers of cardboard. If your bags of ice leak, this adds some protection for your goods so they’re not sitting on the bottom of your cooler in water.
  4. Label your coolers with contents. This will minimize unnecessary opening and closing. This especially holds true if you are the kind of person who stands in front of the fridge hemming and hawing over what you’re in the mood for.
  5. Your body will crave hydration, protein, and sodium. Plan accordingly. Some popular items: bacon, soups, chili, peanut butter.
  6. Opt for sturdy breads. Flat bread and naan will last longer than softer breads.
  7. Don’t forget your coffee/tea/French press. Mint tea can help settle stomachs.
  8. Bring Coconut Oil. You can cook with it, use it to soften hands and feet battered by the elements, and it doesn’t require refrigeration.
  9. Have an easy meal ready for Night 1. You are going to be excited and busy setting up camp. It may be late. You won’t want to cook a thing. Grab a burrito in Reno so you have something easy and ready to eat.
  10. Get some of your favorite take-out and freeze it. It will be a great later-in-the-week treat. Indian? Great choice. Sushi? Not so much.

Overall, my game plan is to prepare as much as possible in advance, portion out the meals, vacuum seal, and freeze them so that on-site prep will be fast, easy, and will produce minimal grey water (you are not allowed to dump waste water on the playa).

Ballonatic Ascent: Balloon Rides at Burning Man 2011 (Photo Credit: Michael Holden)

Ballonatic Ascent: Balloon Rides at Burning Man 2011
(Photo Credit: Michael Holden)

Burning Man Meal Plan

I’ve done the work so you don’t have to. Less time worrying about food, more time making sparkle shoes.



  • Gazpacho and Grilled Cheese
  • Mediterranean Tapas (Pita, Hummus, Cured Meat, Cheese, Red Peppers, Olives, Artichokes, Gigantes Beans in Tomato Sauce, Cornichons)
  • Instant Udon Soup Bowls



  • Rocky Road Rice Krispies Treats (i.e. amped up Rice Krispies Treats with add-ins of chocolate chips, peanuts, and marshmallows)
  • Slutty Brownies


Other helpful links to check out:

Groovik's Cube, Sunrise, Burning Man 2009 (Photo Credit: Michael Holden)

Groovik’s Cube, Sunrise, Burning Man 2009 (Photo Credit: Michael Holden)

I’m ready to get dusty and soak in all the beauty I can. Are you?

Any veteran burners out there with good tips and words of wisdom to share?

10 Responses to “10 Food Prep Tips + Recipes for Burning Man”

  1. Kelly says:

    If you’re going to be “in the middle of the dessert,” you’ll have plenty to eat. :-) (Intentional typo???)

  2. Natalie says:

    You’ve got some good ideas here, and it sounds like you’ve been doing some research and talking to friends.

    Personal experience has shown me that I won’t usually want big, heavy meals on the playa and that snacks are much more reliable.  Tons of nuts (but only unhulled pistachios or peanuts or sunflower seeds, please – no shells on the playa!) and dried fruit are always convenient and highly portable.  Brownies and rice crispie treats may end up melting before they get eaten, while baggies of granola offer more lasting satisfaction.  

    Fresh fruit and veg are also good, if it’s not likely to rot.  Apples are great, carrots and citrus do well for a few days.  Berries, tomatoes, melons, and stone fruits tend to go bad, and wet waste (think melon guts) is a pain to deal with.  On the other hand, having three or four cans of fruit on hand can really pay off with a sweet, syrupy treat when you want something easy.  Same thing with olives, but only if you don’t mind drinking the “olive juice” from the can.

    I’d leave behind the ingredients for chili unless you have people to share it with, and unless you’re a hard core morning person, that French Toast is likely to end up being a PB&J without ever hitting a skillet.  Don’t be hard on yourself if you find that some of your meals were a little ambitious.

    A handy way to dry out wet waste is hanging inside a mesh bag, like the ones onions and potatoes come in.  You might’ve able to get a big one at a grocery store if you stop by early when they’ve just stocked produce.  

    An empty coffee can also comes in handy for wet food or personal things like wet wipes, condoms, and tampons.  Oh, and try to find the pee funnel camp… look for signs near portapotties telling where they’re set up this year.

    One strong suggestion that has nothing to do with food: leave the pound of glitter at home, and don’t decorate your shoes with it.  Every single piece of glitter, along with feathers, sequins, and those nut shells, will have to be cleaned up by DPW volunteers after the event if you haven’t managed to keep every little bit attached to your shoes.  Really, comfy hikers or sandals are much more practical, and no one will care if your feet aren’t sparkling!  It’ll be your personality that’s shining, and people will see it.  :)  Hope you have a great burn!

    • Stephanie says:

      wow, thank for all the great advice, natalie!

      to make things as easy as possible on the playa, i’ve actually made EVERYTHING ahead of time, portioned it all out (got rid of containers/packaging), vacuum sealed it, and froze it before packing it into the cooler :)

      a lot of work now, but i figure it’ll pay off so thinking about food later will be a total non-issue. (you are absolutely right though, i wouldn’t dream of bringing all those ingredients for that chili with me, let alone making it there).

      p.s. i also got a She-Wee!! Pretty awesome.

  3. Amy Powers says:

    Yeah Burning Man!! I’ve been before, you are going to have TOO MUCH FUN!! I have to say I agree with much of what Natalie said above. I know you are a food-lover but don’t forget it’s also HOT and often dusty and windy and dustwindydusty. Sometimes you are lucky to get a piece of food in your mouth. Unless you’re in an RV – then load it up. Anyway, you’ll figure it out and have fun along the way. I skipped the glitter and covered my bike with faux fur. Got much more mileage out of that :)

    • Stephanie says:

      hey amy! i still have those goggles you gave me way back when!! they are going to get some action come Tues :)
      thankfully, we do have an RV to take refuge in and we’ve packed our cooler with 40 lbs of dry ice :) i’m thinking that cool gazpacho will be pretty awesome in the height of hot/dustywind/hotness.

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