Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

What do you eat and drink on the playa? Share ideas, recipes and advice here.
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Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by bm_cricket » Thu Mar 24, 2016 10:24 am

Hi all,
I've got a 30-40 person camp that does communal meals. We usually have 2-4 people cooking each meal and everyone takes turns. Who else does something like this? Can you share your tips for making everything easier? We have 2 large camp-chef stoves and plenty of electricity to go around. Specific tricks I would like to find:

Tips for reducing water waste for dishes
Tips for reducing time spent cleaning
Tips for reducing overall trash waste

These are probably not all going to get better... for example, we will probably reduce water and time spent on the meals at the expense of trash. In the end I think our carbon footprint will go down if we haul less water but slightly more ziplock bags.

These are the changes I already want to change but could use fine-tuning or improvement:

Scrambled eggs in a large frying pan over a camp-chef stove --> scrambled egg/omelette in large ziplock bags cooked in boiling water
Bacon cooked on griddle --> MORE bacon cooked on griddle
Pancakes poured from plastic pitcher --> Pancakes poured from either pastry bag or ziplock bag
Rice cooked on stove, sometimes burned, and usually sticky --> Rice cooked in rice cooker
Vacuum pouch bags cooked in boiling water or poured into pots --> Only boiled in vacuum pouch
Coffee is only espresso so nobody has messy drip coffee or french press or anything else

So, what other tips do people have for their meals?
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by gaminwench » Thu Mar 24, 2016 11:45 am

We use the spray bottle method for cleanup, really cuts down on grey water waste.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by bm_cricket » Thu Mar 24, 2016 11:56 am

Spray bottle works great! We've used something similar for years now. We will probably continue using something like that for cleaning. :-)

I should also mention that everything needs to be clean per health code standards. We will be implementing 3-compartment soap, bleach, rinse basins for our dishes but that only works well if very little grime/dirt/food makes it into the first basin.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by Chowski » Thu Mar 24, 2016 4:51 pm

I think I can offer a few tips - Last year, we had almost exactly this number of campers and meal plan. I was in charge of our Leave No Trace efforts, so I addressed cooking right up front. I decide to inspire our campers to come up with the best meal they could with the least clean-up and impact. Here were some of our ideas:

No rice, no pasta - both these things are water-intensive, hard to get right at that elevation, and pasta leaves nasty grey water behind. Someone brought instant mashed potatoes and stirred in a stick of frozen butter, salt and pepper. No leftover greywater, and it was delish.

Prep all your materials as fully as you can BEFORE you leave home, freeze them hard and keep them in a cooler in the shade until ready to cook. Slice your veggies, cook your meats, prepare your sauces at home. Bag them up and all you have to do on Playa is heat and serve.

Suggest these meals to your teams - they work great. Chili, stew, tacos/burritos, scrambled eggs, pancakes, canned foods - anything that can be totally prepared, or stored dry. "One-pot" meals are great frozen in ziplock bags and easy to reheat and serve. I stress again canned foods. Maybe not every meal, but after a week in the desert, a big can of soup or chili makes a welcome meal without worrying that it will spoil. Terrible ideas are fresh salads, fruits or vegetables that need to be trimmed or cut on playa leaving behind inedible garbage (onions, carrots, garlic). Gazpacho is amazing on playa - make it at home, freeze it solid, and serve when it starts to melt - no cooking, no clean-up, and it is cold and fresh. Bread goes bad too quickly, but tortillas hold up well.

We also planned on group trash, recycling (metal and paper) and grey water. If you have access to a burn barrel, you can get rid of all your paper and cardboard and not have to take it home. Stress de-mooping everything, especially to your virgins. Stress bringing cans instead of bottles, they can be crushed for transport home.

Clean ice melt can be sprinkled on the street, grey water can be funneled back into the screw-top bottles (but not the larger 2.5 gallon "suitcases" of water that have to be cut open to pour),

My last tip: everyone is going to bring too much food. Even if you say "only bring the meal you are serving", people will bring more, thinking they will starve. Tell the chefs of the day to make less than they think they'll need. You may have 40 people, but at any meal 5 will be asleep, 6 will be out of camp and 4 won't have any appetite.

Good luck.

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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by FIGJAM » Thu Mar 24, 2016 4:57 pm

If your meals are coordinated enough, do as much pre-prep work off playa.

Chopped veggies, do them and freeze them, and everything else it is possible to do this with.

Pre-measure amounts for recipes so you just have to throw it together.

Pre-cook as much as possible. 8)
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by A-RockLeFrench » Thu Mar 24, 2016 7:27 pm

Our camp brings a chest freezer full of frozen foil pans of home-made awesomeness like mac & cheese, lasagna and enchiladas. We also bring a full sized stove for re-heating of awesome frozen meals for dinner every night.

Cutting down on dishwashing greywater? Get rid of dishwashing. Paper/burnable plates and cutlery all the way! Foil casserole pans are disposable and cheap too!

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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by BBadger » Fri Mar 25, 2016 12:21 am

You need to decide whether you're going to offload the washing of dishes and implements to a few people, or just have everyone deal with their own plates and silverware. The reason is that it sucks to be stuck washing dishes for everybody, but it is really the only way to really conserve resources.

In one camp I was at, we had a dinner cooked for the camp by a different group each night. It was really nice because you only needed to worry about making dinner for one night the entire burn and there was a good variety of food. The people who cooked that night were responsible for cleaning the kitchenware and such that they used, but not responsible for cleaning individual dishes and silverware -- because that could take forever and it sucks.

Assembly line:

If you really want to save water/resources, and don't want to burn your plates, you'll form an assembly line with 2-3 people. One person washes the dishes off with a sponge/brush using hot soapy water. The second person rinses the dishes off and sets them out to dry. The third person could help move dishes or other stuff if needed.

It's easy to save water because most of the cleaning is done in the soapy water, which is used for the entire wash. The rinsing is done with some pressurized water sprayers to spray off the soapy water and whatever else might still be there.

It's pretty fast if you really work on it, but it becomes an annoying chore for people, especially when people just dump many dishes to be cleaned without a thought.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by Elderberry » Fri Mar 25, 2016 7:40 am

You might want to check out this Facebook group Burning Man Kitchens, Chefs, Recipies & Menus, for a lot of great tips.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by bm_cricket » Fri Mar 25, 2016 9:01 am

You have all given such great tips!! If we had more room in our storage unit we would have an oven or two. The freezer/fridge ideas really sound great. We switched to using a chest freezer 2 years ago and it made a huge difference. I hope to get a chest freezer again this year and run it at fridge temperatures (like a kegerator). The Facebook group for kitchens looks great!! I'm green with envy. We had a virgin try to make pasta a few years ago even after all of the instruction not to do that... I actually felt bad until I remembered she was leaving early and the rest of us were going to clean up after she left.

I like the idea of burnable plate idea. We've always gone away from that but I think 50% of our water waste is really just plate washing.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by bm_cricket » Mon Mar 28, 2016 1:20 pm

Just a little update that these Sous-Vide bags make pretty good eggs. I did a small test batch and they tasted pretty good! If you can justify some extra plastic waste by saving on cleaning water/time then this works! Neat!
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by deutlich » Tue Apr 19, 2016 10:34 am

Chowski wrote:Gazpacho is amazing on playa - make it at home, freeze it solid, and serve when it starts to melt - no cooking, no clean-up, and it is cold and fresh.
This is brilliant. And absolutely what I'll be doing for our lunch meal. Ty for the tip!!!

Now I just need to figure out dinner & breakfast. (Only doing 1 breakfast, 1 lunch & 1 dinner, on separate days).

Right now, our kitchen is just open for use to any and all, which lends itself to one seriously messy kitchen. I love that our whole camp can use the kitchen stuff (tables, pans, stove, etc), so I don't want to change that. But I do need to figure out a better way to minimize the mess.

Might mean that camp members take on kitchen shifts. Might mean I put away the stuff I use to prep meals to mitigate extra clean-up. Or possibly a combo of both.

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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by asr9754 » Tue Apr 19, 2016 3:05 pm

Cook bacon at home. (Or get the pre-cooked bacon). And just re-heat it on the playa. No grease to drain! It still tastes really good.

Hard boiled eggs instead of omelettes. Boil em at home and provide salt/pepper/hot sauce. Just watch the peels as they are moopy.

Detritus-Box: Everything left on the kitchen that doesn't belong there gets dumped in the Detritus-Box when it's time to clean up for the next meal. Missing something? Look in the Detritus-Box. If this pisses someone off, then they don't leave their stuff in the kitchen.

Daily shifts for cleanup. Share the load, esp with people that have not been super involved in the other aspects of your camp. Reward the camp heavy-lifters by NOT giving them a kitchen cleaning shift. Friend-of-a-friend is joining your camp at the last minute? BAM! Two kitchen shifts.

Tolerance: It's going to be a messy shitshow. Just deal. It's only a week or so, don't get too obsessed with cleaning the kitchen that you forget to have fun. Jump on an art car and ditch the cleanup at least once.

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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by Captain Goddammit » Tue Apr 19, 2016 6:52 pm

Lots of good tips here, but I'll counterpoint one: bacon. Black Rock City is noplace for second-rate bacon. Bring a frying pan and cook nice thick fresh bacon.
If you're really roughing it, bring a coffee can or something to dump the grease.
Bacon is important and there's just no reason to ruin your entire burn with half-ass bacon.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by BBadger » Tue Apr 19, 2016 8:43 pm

Bacon grease is great for cooking the eggs in too.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by Jackass » Tue Apr 19, 2016 9:00 pm

I actually pre-cook my own bacon at home on cookie sheets in the oven, drain then freeze. There's no difference in taste that I can notice.

Only difference is that once I decide I'm going bacon, I'm munching in 2-3 minutes vs. the 45 or so minutes that it took to cook a package of bacon from the start (at altitude, on a camping stove, subject to variable winds) before.

Just heat the pan and let then bacon hang out until it starts making some noise and shinning with grease. Doesn't get easier than that. Way less messy for handling and clean-up purposes also.

When I do other camping I usually cook from scratch.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by Captain Goddammit » Tue Apr 19, 2016 9:04 pm

45 minutes? Well maybe it seems that long when you're waiting for bacon!
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by Jackass » Tue Apr 19, 2016 9:09 pm

Captain Goddammit wrote:45 minutes? Well maybe it seems that long when you're waiting for bacon!
That's how it was my first year on playa, that wind just wouldn't let up. Oh yeah, and the cute girls next door were like vultures when they smelled the pig. Persistent they were... those sparkle ponies can eat!
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by deutlich » Tue Jul 12, 2016 9:45 am

so, I'm trying to map-out how to store the food for my camp before and during the Burn and I'm a little stumped. been reading a bunch on here and that's helped a bit but I'm worried I'm missing something.

i'm pre-cooking 3 meals for camp -- chili, gazpacho, & breakfast burritos

the chili will be for Sunday dinner, so I figured just keeping it cold (instead of frozen) would be enough?

the breakfast burritos will have pre-cooked potatoes, onion & sausage, but then I'll need to reheat that and add eggs & cheese on site. wrap it in burrito wrappers & tin foil, then heat.

the gazpacho can stay frozen until serving, at which time all it needs to do is thaw out. making cheese quesadillas on-playa along with that.

I'm thinking of getting a 120Q cooler (it's on sale today!), but I'm not sure it'll fit all the food + ice? Also concerned about how heavy it'd get...

As for layering, I'm thinking from the bottom to the top:
Bed of zip-locked ice; layer of frozen, individually-portioned gazpacho; layer of zip-locked ice; layer of breakfast burrito stuff (potatoes & sausage mix, bags of cheese); layer of zip-locked ice; layer of chilled, individually-portioned chili; additional layer of ice

Stuff I'm not sure about:
-- Should I use dry ice on the bottom layer? How do I keep the cooler vented to allow for dry ice?
-- Once I'm on Playa and buying ice blocks from Arctica, will I just have to re-arrange all the food inside the cooler? It's already in order of what I'll be serving (chili on Sunday, breakfast burritos on Tuesday, gazpacho on Thursday)
-- I'm driving from Oakland -> Reno on Friday morning. Picking up a truck Friday afternoon. Driving in to Black Rock at the ass crack of dawn Saturday. I'm concerned about keeping the food safe and cold enough during this time.

Any thoughts?

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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by asr9754 » Tue Jul 12, 2016 9:55 am

Ziplocking the ice is great. Use block rather than cubed and it'll last a long time.
Don't let your ziplocks of gazpacho slip into melty cooler water. Ziplocks are not 100% waterproof and your soup and melted ice will blend into one another, making both very unpalatable. think about wide plastic trays or tupperware.
Put a half/gallon milk jug of ice in there, that'll last several days.
It's a fine plan. Dry ice will freeze whatever it touches and may cause the packaging to burst, so use an old towel or something between dry ice and anything else.

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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by bm_cricket » Tue Jul 12, 2016 10:00 am

The dry ice is a great option but it has a few side effects/draw backs:
  • It will carbonate anything you put near it including fruits, berries, and avocados.
    It shouldn't be stored anyplace you plan to sleep because it is kind'a deadly.
    It freezes things very very cold and is a little hard to work with.
I like dry ice a lot. I would almost suggest two coolers, one large really high quality nice thick, well insulated one with dry ice.. and one smaller one that you put stuff into for thawing.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by deutlich » Tue Jul 12, 2016 10:28 am

love the tip about putting the gazpacho into tupperware, I hadn't even thought about ziplocks being permeable. thank you, asr9754!!

bm_cricket, a friend of mine had also recommended a secondary, smaller cooler just to store the chili in since i don't want to freeze it. one of those water coolers, so that I can re-use it after Sunday to dispense water (looovve that idea)

i could also just use it to be the "thawing" cooler after Sunday's dinner -- so that's some food for thought

i'm going to have a drink/ice cooler that I can go into regularly
a "freezer" cooler that only gets opened when it's meal time or I need to pull stuff to thaw
and a 3rd, smaller cooler for non-frozen perishables. might be that water cooler so I am not hauling 4 coolers.

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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by Strata » Wed Jul 20, 2016 7:25 pm

First thing, wanted to point out something that other posters seem to have missed. In your group kitchen dishwashing activity, you always want to have a final rinse in disinfectant laced water. Soap, water rinse, disinfectant water rinse. I don't know if it is mandated by the health laws, but it's a darn good idea and may keep terrible things from happening to your campers. The runs and the Playa don't go well together.

WRT a Sunday chili dinner, I've had great luck using a Trader Joe's soft sided mylar insulated cooler and freezing the dinner flat in gallon Ziploc bags. I then put 2 liter bottles of frozen iced tea into the cooler and seal it up. I wrap it in a blanket and keep it out of the Sun and everything stays good for 36 hours. Then you don't have to get into your main cooler, and the soft sided cooler stores flat for easy packing home. You can also add a ziplock bag of ice and drinks and use it as a day cooler after you've served your meal. The iced tea will still be cold for dinner!

PS experiment a little with freezing the bottles; leave about a quarter to a third of the space free for expansion. Also when you pack them into the cooler loosen the cap to let air in and then reseal them. Otherwise when you go up in altitude to the Playa, the strain may be too much for the bottle. My favorite size is the 1 - 1.5 liter fizzy water bottle from Trader Joe's. Fill that size bottle an inch past where it starts to narrow down.

PPS for cool drinks during the day without using ice, leave your drinks outside in the shade overnight and put them into the cooler in shade in the early morning. Remember that it usually gets to about 50 degrees overnight and you can leverage that cooling if you have a spare soft-sided cooler.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by Dr. Pyro » Wed Jul 20, 2016 7:31 pm

Strata wrote:First thing, you always want to have a final rinse in disinfectant laced water.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by deutlich » Sat Jul 23, 2016 7:40 pm

Thanks, Strata!

I plan to have 3 spray bottles - dish soapy bottle, clean water bottle, lightly-bleached water (though I wonder if I should get food-grade sanitizer instead?)

As for the soft-sided cooler idea - I absolutely love that! My only worry is that I have to first haul it from Oakland to Reno on Friday. Then from Reno to Black Rock on Saturday. With a full day on Playa before it gets served.

Maybe I should freeze the chili and put it in my designated "deep freeze" cooler through Saturday morning, at which point I can transfer it with bottles of frozen water (though I really like the idea of tea better) to the soft cooler.

Since this is my first time I'm a little nervous about all of it still. Like, how long does dry ice even last? I was going to use it in the deep freeze cooler but I'm not even sure when I'd need to replace it to ensure everything inside the cooler stays frozen.

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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by deutlich » Sat Jul 23, 2016 7:41 pm

I also might be over thinking things.

But it is very important that the food stay safe.

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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by FIGJAM » Sat Jul 23, 2016 10:02 pm

Dry ice rule of thumb is 10 pounds per day.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by BBadger » Sun Jul 24, 2016 12:15 am

Instead of zip-top bags, consider getting one of those vacuum sealer machines that stores like Costco sells. Then you don't have to worry about them leaking, and you can just cook them directly in the plastic by boiling them. No clean up at all!

For your ice, if you need to keep stuff "frozen" you will definitely need dry ice, but also to keep a barrier between it and food that shouldn't freeze, like eggs. A barrier of ice and towels, etc. can help with this. For the other ice, you can freeze water bottles worth of ice, so that they don't leave a pool of water on the bottom of the cooler that can convect heat, and then use the melted water as needed later. I think my bottles of frozen water lasted at least 3-4 days in one of those better coolers -- without any dry ice.

Large zip-top bags, or waterproof bags are also a good way to keep ice from getting into everything as it melts.

I also think your chili will last a lot longer than you think. Just keeping it "refrigerated" in your cooler ought to be enough. One year we did that with our pulled pork for a large Thursday dinner and it was fine (using a nice 120QT cooler). We had slow-cooked it for far longer anyway, and the salts, etc. helps preserve it. I'd definitely freeze the bag before putting it in the cooler though. We did have some dry ice, but it was mostly for some eggs (some of which froze!) and just making ice last, not so much for the freezing conditions.
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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by deutlich » Mon Jul 25, 2016 7:18 am

I would love a vacuum sealer but the cost of those and the cost of vacuum seal bags were not budgeted for this year.

Just plum overlooked if when I put together the kitchen budget.

I'm going to be putting a thermometer inside the cooler to keep an eye on the inside temperature. That'll keep me from stressing too hard.

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Re: Seeking Tips for group "cooking" on the playa

Post by TigerButter » Wed Mar 15, 2017 1:32 pm

I'd like to reinforce the two cooler system someone mentioned above. I had a 'freezer' ice chest and a 'fridge' ice chest. The freezer ice chest was packed full of ice, jealously guarded against opening, filled with the rock solid foods and the non delicates. The fridge ice chest I got into all the time, I kept it cold with two frozen gallon jugs of water, and the eggs and veg and drinks and cooked meat did very nicely. When the jugs melted, I drank them as ice water, cut the tops off, and used them as ice bins to keep stuff from getting contaminated and soggy. And then I also had clean. ready to drink ice water in my ice chest.

This year I might add in a third chest just for ice.

And boo to cooking rice there, but yay to cooking rice before hand, freezing it in blocks, thawing it out in your fridge ice chest and then just heating it up (fried rice is super easy... Bonus tasty points if you use bacon grease...or if you have a curry or a stew to put it over)

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