We take great pride in the wonderful meals we provide on all of our trips. Cooking in the canyon is a complicated dance that starts months in advance by our operations and warehouse team and finishes with our talented guides who prepare wholesome, balanced meals every day on the river. Here we will take a look at some of the techniques we use for packing, storing, and preparing food on our trips that you can use on your own adventures.
Limited Space and Avoiding Complexity
On any trip, storage space is the main limiting factor. We would love to have more stove burners, more pots and pans, more spoons, and spatulas but these items add up. Bringing items because you might need it is where over-packing begins and can quickly spiral out of control. It helps to try out meals at home to see exactly what you need. If the meal requires too many complex tools, try to simplify the meal to the equipment that you already have in your camping kit. Avoid meals that need a piece of equipment that will only be used for that meal. Dutch ovens are the true workhorse in our kitchen and are used for every breakfast and dinner on the river. Cooking rice, frying bacon, and baking cakes or lasagna are some of the obvious uses. A dutch oven that has been preheated on a burner is a great place to keep pancakes or tortillas warm until they are ready to serve.
Ice and Keeping the Cold Food Cold
Our coolers are packed tight with the first meals on the top and later meals on the bottom. The less air space in the cooler means that food will stay cold longer and by packing the food in the order it is used limits the amount of time the lid is open and food is getting moved around. We also make a point of freezing everything that can be frozen. This takes the load of keeping the cooler cold off the block ice and significantly lengthens the time we can keep food safe and fresh.
Keeping the ice solid is a priority of the guides, especially during the hottest days of summer when the temperature can climb above 110°F. We source our ice from a specialty ice maker that delivers us ice that is super clear and hard. This ice lasts days longer than other block ice and allows us to serve crisp lettuce every day and keep our meats safe throughout the entire trip. Our main coolers are gigantic and incredibly efficient. The most important thing about keeping our food cold is limiting the number of times these large coolers are opened. With proper planning each day, the guides will pull all of the food for a given day out of the main coolers in the morning and move it to a smaller “day cooler.” By not constantly opening the cooler we can keep the cold air in and keep our ice solid. It is also important to drain any meltwater out of the cooler every day.
One of the drawbacks for using coolers for food storage on long trips is that nothing should ever go back into the cooler after it has been cooked. Putting prepared food back into the cooler will destroy the ice and will raise the temperature of the cooler, making food storage unsafe. This is one of the reason, we cannot save leftovers. All of our meals are planned with hungry river adventurers in mind. Our priority is making sure there are plenty of freshly cooked, balanced meals throughout the trip. Occasionally this means that some food needs to be composted or thrown away. We try to limit our waste as much as possible but traveling in the Grand Canyon can be exhausting so we plan for big appetites.
At the end of every trip we unpack any unused food and determine what can be reused and donate it to a women and children’s shelter in Flagstaff, AZ.