Communal Kitchens

Are you planning to go to Burning Man with a group? Even a small one?, a Burning Man veteran, has created some guidelines to help groups build a communal kitchen and plan group meals. Also included are meal suggestions and shopping lists for foods and supplies. May you be nourished!

Group Planning

At your first planning meeting, your group will need to make some basic decisions about eating. If you’ve been to Burning Man before, you’ll know that most people feel satisfied eating much less than they normally would and tend to consume a lot more water. My group committed to serving two meals a day, and snacks at teatime and in the evening. We laminated a week-long calendar and penciled in lines for “chef” and “helpers” and “clean up,” allowing people to sign up for shifts. We kept the calendar on a clipboard with the suggested meals and recipes.

Following are some good questions to ask when planning group meals:

  • Are we all comfortable eating the same foods?
  • Is there anyone that has special dietary needs?
  • Can we agree on how we’re going to share the shopping, costs, transportation, set-up, cooking, clean up, and trash?
  • Can we bring enough water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking?


An easy way to calculate how much each person should pay is to charge each person $10 for food per day. This should also cover water and supplies.

Health Regulations

This will not apply to most of you, but it’s still good to know the rules. No one wants to see any communal kitchen get shut down or have problems. Giving food away, or trading for food is the same as a restaurant in the eyes of the Health Division, and permits and cooking standards will be enforced. Nevada State Health Division (NSHD) policy on communal kitchens is as follows: Any camp that is serving meals on a large scale (to 125 or more fellow campers at every meal consistently) must also obtain a permit. More information on obtaining that permit can be found on the Nevada State Health Division website.


The following water calculation worked best for my camp: one 2.5-gallon container of water per person per day, used for cooking, cleaning, and washing

If you’ve got a small enough group, have each person bring the water they require, and ask that everyone donate one gallon to the kitchen for each day they will be there.

If you have a large group, I recommend arranging to pick up water from one of the filtered water companies in Reno (you’ll have to leave a small deposit on the bottles). Always err on bringing more water than you think you’ll need, and recycle as much water as possible.

Kitchen Set-Up

Even for a small group of people, having a well set up kitchen can not only make for a pleasurable place to cook and eat, but also serve as a communal gathering place.

I would recommend that each person in camp bring their own silverware and dishes, which can be labeled with a sharpie or masking tape. Plastic tablecloths are excellent if you’ve got a way to secure them to the table (duct tape works in a pinch here). If you have a small group, bring chairs to have a family-style dinner, or bring a bunch of blankets and pillows.

As for building the kitchen structure, my group brought a “carport” that you can buy at Costco. This is 8 poles with a triangular, sloping top that has a fitted tarp on it. Make sure that whatever structure you use has poles with decent heft, as thinner aluminum poles may bend or break. We tied down all of the corners to rebar for extra support.

Our “walls” were constructed out of old curtains and hooks, which attached to the horizontal poles and were affixed to the vertical poles as well. Two of the side spaces were left open for ventilation. For wind and dust protection, you should have the three sides around your stoves covered, but make sure they’re tied down and not a fire hazard. Have a fire extinguisher close by just in case.

If you have more than ten people, you’ll need at least one two-burner stove (my group was lucky enough to have two commercial propane dual-burners, which were enough for about 100 people). Depending on your use, it will probably be cost-effective to bring one or two 5-gallon propane tanks. Keep these in the shade and a decent distance away from the flame. If you’re using Coleman-type stoves along with a larger tank, you’ll need to buy an adaptor and a hose, available at most large camping stores.

In addition to a “prep” table, around which you may want to build a pantry (see below), consider bringing at least two other folding tables to use as serving and washing stations.

Building a Pantry

The best way to build a pantry is around a large folding table. On either side of it, stack up 5-6 milk crates (with the open space facing you, like you would in your closet). You want your top milk crate to be your height or a little taller. Secure the crates to each other with cable ties (two ties on each side, all the way up). You’ll need a 2 x 4 or a similar piece of wood that’s 1.5′ longer than your table and has a hole on each end (or a nail on the underside of each side of the board that fits securely in the holes of the crates). This goes on top of the crates and gets secured by the method of your choice or with more cable ties. Then secure the middle crates to the table, and you’re all set up. Buy a bunch of screw-in hooks and attach them to the underside of the board. This is where you can hang your cookware and utensils.

I used this table for the cutting boards and the knife block. It’s most useful arranged at a right angle to your cooking stove(s). My group used one side of the milk crates to hang a bulletin board (with yet more cable ties). This was a good place for the kitchen clipboard.

We stored our large bags of beans, lentils, and rice on a pallet with a tarp cover. Large baskets (available in thrift stores) work great for smaller bags of food, spices, and supplies. Store the baskets and pallets under your tables.

You actually don’t need refrigeration or ice for any of the foods I’ve listed. We kept most of our fruits and veggies covered in our Ryder truck, and by the end of one week, we had some veggies that had gotten a little dried out (which we refreshed by soaking in water), but nothing had spoiled. Vegetables can be stored in burlap bags on pallets or stacked in vegetable flats, which you can get from grocery stores. These have good ventilation. What might work well is to keep damp burlap bags over all the veggies. See the Fruits and Veggies shopping list for produce that stores well.

Especially after a few days, sanitation can become an issue. While you’re getting ready to serve the next meal, set up a few dish racks next to the “sink,” which for us was a 5-gallon sparketts bottle on a tabletop dispenser over a large, plastic bin. You can add grapefruit seed extract (it’s germ-killing and serves as a bleach substitute), and sunlight should take care of the rest.

Live Foods
You can easily add sprouts to your Burning Man diet. All you need is a mix of seeds and/or nuts. If you’re mixing, you need to know the approximate sprouting times for each (alfalfa, lentils, black beans, garbanzos, sunflower seeds, etc.), and a few mason jars with the metal list replaced with a piece of screen and then screwed on with the top. In most cases, the seeds should be soaked overnight and then strained and rinsed or misted a few times a day. Keep the jars tilted so they can drain. You can recycle the rinse water to wash dishes.

Meals and Recipes

Considerations for Large Groups
It is especially important when cooking group-size pots of rice to note that you’ll use proportionally much less water. Try to calculate portions of pasta, beans, rice, and granola ahead of time so you’ll have a fairly correct assessment of how much food to bring. Even with making calculations based on per-person consumption, we tended to cook more than we needed, particularly with bean and lentil dishes. When you’re cooking with dried beans, make sure to give them adequate soaking time, which will lessen the cooking time. If you forget to soak, add more water than you think you’ll need (which you can strain later), and keep that pot on a low simmer for several hours that day.

Serve with sliced bananas, oranges, grapefruit, apples, and tea or chai

  • Granola and soy milk
  • Oatmeal with almonds, raisins, and bananas
  • Pancakes (if you’re strictly vegan, pancake mixes without egg are hard to find, but you can make your own mix). Cook sliced bananas for a few minutes before you top your pancakes with them.
  • Make fruit compote out of apples, pears, and a little citrus. A banana or two can be added. This is delicious over cereal or by itself.

Dinner and Recipes
When making rice dishes for dinner, prepare extra plain rice (store overnight in a covered pot), and in the morning add soy milk (or water), honey or maple syrup, raisins, apples, bananas, and cook it up for breakfast!

The following are recipes that worked well for my group:

  • Dahl and rice with apple chutney:
    Cook the lentils (they can be soaked to lessen cooking time) until they are ¾ done, then add: salt, fresh ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cayenne, ghee, cumin, coriander, and some very thin lemon slices (with peel). It’s best to dry roast the spices in a cast iron pot before adding them to the dahl. For apple chutney, cook several chopped apples with some orange and/or lemon juice. Add cinnamon and a dash of cardamom and nutmeg, and cook it down until it’s the consistency of apple sauce. Add a can of the chutney of your choice, then garnish with a few thinly sliced orange halves and serve with the dahl.
  • A nice rice dish to serve with dahl: Fry rice in ghee on low heat until it starts to color. Add cinnamon and cardamom and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add almonds, raisins, and water, bring to a boil, then simmer until rice is cooked. A variation can be made with coconut milk and curry paste.
  • Vegetables can be added to any meal:
    • Steam any type of vegetable and add to your pasta. Top it with the tahini sauce (see below), or pasta sauce. A variation would be to sauté the vegetables with spices and/or curry for an Indian meal.
    • Make curried squash, bell peppers, and carrots with a peanut sauce, sesame oil, coconut milk or tahini sauce.
    • Steamed (or raw) marinated veggies:
      Marinate beets and carrots, or carrots and cucumbers in a combination of rice and balsamic vinegars, a dash of lemon, garlic, and sesame oil. Add a few very thinly sliced red onions to the raw cucumbers and carrots. This is especially delicious served with falafel in a pita with tahini dressing.
  • Indian potatoes and cabbage:
    Slice and chop potatoes and boil until they’re soft. In the meantime, sauté the following in olive oil or ghee: Crushed, dried red chilies, ginger, whole mustard seed, cumin, bay leaves, coriander, turmeric, and salt. Add sliced cabbage and potatoes. Drizzle on some lemon juice, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Pasta and sauce:
    It’s best to buy your pasta in bulk and your sauce in jars. Cooking them should be self-explanatory.
  • Mac and “cheese”:
    You can make a “cheese” out of nutritional yeast and spices.
  • Vegetarian sushi:
    Steamed carrots, squash, or raw carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, avocados. You can add sunflower seeds and/or sprouts.
  • Vegetable soup:
    Boil sliced potatoes while you sauté onions in olive oil, or ghee. Boil a pot of water and add bouillon for soup base. Drain potatoes and add to soup base along with onions and other veggies. Leftover plain pasta can be added, as well as beans.
  • Burritos:
    Cook black beans and rice, add steamed or raw veggies to tortillas, along with salsa, sprouts, etc. Fried bananas would make a delicious dessert.
  • Falafel:
    Fried foods can be very satisfying on the playa. Buy a boxed or bulk falafel mix, add water and fry, and serve in pitas with tahini and a mix of small, cubed, raw veggies (cucumbers, red onions, carrots, and some red onions).
  • Tahini:
    Mix tahini with enough lemon juice that it starts to thin out. Do this in a glass jar with a screw-on lid and just shake it. Add soy, tamari, or Braggs. I don’t use proportions, but there’s probably about a third more lemon juice than soy, and probably twice as much tahini as lemon. This ranks as one of my favorite hippie foods ever. Serve it on salads, steamed veggies, and on falafel. After a day, it will thicken up and can be spread on bread as a mayo substitute, or thinned again with a little water.


  • Chips and salsa
  • Sliced fruit
  • Sliced veggies
  • Hummus
  • Peanut butter and graham crackers
  • Date rolls
  • Chocolate
  • Popcorn (season with nutritional yeast and herbs)

Shopping Lists

The following lists are just to get you started. Shop in bulk. It’s cheaper, and you’ll have less packaging to deal with.

Basic Items

  • Dried black beans (Don’t get canned beans. You’ll have more trash to deal with.)
  • Dried lentils
  • Soy milk
  • Granola
  • Pasta
  • Pasta sauce
  • Chips (Go to Costco for chips and salsa.)
  • Salsa
  • Date rolls (They store well without refrigeration.)
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Rice- sunflower seeds can be toasted in a pan and are yummy served on almost anything
  • Tortillas
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Emergen-c (available at health food stores)
  • Chai
  • Cooking oils
  • Chocolate
  • Nori (for sushi)
  • Popcorn
  • Tahini
  • Falafel mix
  • Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, curry power (or store-bought paste), saffron, turmeric, salt, pepper, mustard seed, ginger, cardamom, cayenne, coriander, bay leaves, dried red Chilies/peppers
  • A few jars of Indian chutneys
  • Pancake mix (I recommend making pancakes over French toast; bread’s no fun to store, or you can make a solar oven and bake your own.)
  • Garlic
  • Nuts and seeds for sprouting
  • Wine
  • Peanut butter
  • Vegetarian bouillon. Bring a lot; this can be used in any rice or soup dish for extra flavor.
  • Pita bread

Fruits and Veggies
Get lots of unripe fruits and veggies, like avocados and pineapple, so you’ll have some for later in the week. See the Storage section for tips on how best to store your produce.

  • Potatoes*
  • Cucumbers
  • Bell peppers
  • Carrots*
  • Onions (yellow, white, or red)*
  • Squash* (get several different varieties)
  • Cabbage*
  • Coconuts (or coconut milk)*
  • Bananas (unripe)
  • Watermelons (unripe)*
  • Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes*
  • Melons*
  • Apples*
  • Pineapple
  • Garlic*

*Starred items will last particularly well.

To save on money and time, I recommend raiding your cabinets and those of your friends for the following:

  • Soy sauce
  • Braggs
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Rice vinegar
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sesame seeds
  • Lemons
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Cooking oils
  • Sesame oil
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Ghee (This is butter without milk fat. It can be stored indefinitely without refrigeration. Available at most health food or Indian specialty stores.)

Hit up the local thrift stores for some of the following:

  • Dish racks
  • Water dispenser (like a tabletop base with a spigot that a 5 gallon jug can be inserted into)
  • Large plastic bin (“the sink”)
  • Biodegradable dish soap
  • Sharpies
  • Large baskets
  • Sponges and scrubbies (tie with bungee to “sink”)
  • A few 5-gallon buckets with lids (for storage, garbage, compost, etc.)
  • Ziplocs, a bunch of plastic bags, and some aluminum foil
  • Large cooking pots (at least two)
  • Large cast iron pan
  • A few saucepans and a large griddle (a large baking sheet can be substituted)
  • Long-handled cooking spoons and slotted spoons
  • A few spatulas
  • Serving bowls, trays, and dishes
  • Sharp cooking knives
  • A knife block
  • Several large, wooden cutting boards
  • Toothpicks
  • Tupperware
  • Cloth napkins
  • Large mixing/prep bowls
  • Large strainer
  • Measuring cups
  • Extra cups and bowls
  • A veggie steamer (baskets, metal etc)
  • Cable ties
  • Duct tape
  • Masking tape
  • Plenty of milk crates
  • Folding tables
  • Comfy chairs
  • Pallets for storage
  • A bulletin board
  • Thumbtacks
  • Notepad and pens
  • BBQ lighter (Tie to or create a holster for it next to stove.)
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Trashcans with tight lids
  • Heavy-duty trash bags
  • Hammer
  • Sledgehammer
  • Nails
  • Screws
  • Screwdriver
  • Matches
  • Tarps
  • Bungee cords
  • Rope (Buy a whole spool. If you don’t need all of it for the kitchen, I can guarantee someone will need it to tie down his or her tent.)
  • Pieces of carpet/rugs