SmallKitchen in Your RV?

youtube“What do you eat?  I mean, you can’t possibly have many pots and pans and utensils in there….or store much food.”  If we only had a nickel for every time we’ve heard this question over the past 9 years. “You’d be surprised,” we always respond.  It doesn’t matter how big your kitchen is, it’s the size of your imagination that really matters!  All anyone really needs to cook is a heat source, a pot, and a spoon.  We are two foodies on the move and we have whittled our kitchen essentials down to what we need to make incredible meals, all with just a two-burner stove or a campfire, a 12V fridge, and a few cooking essentials -- including just one small electric kitchen appliance.  Can you guess what it might be?

In our tiny space, there are some small and simple things that have made our life just a bit easier while living and cooking on the road. Our trick?  Everything we have has to either be used everyday and/or have multiple purposes.  And if it’s a specialty item that only does one thing, it better be small. 

We can easily store enough food for about 2 weeks, and make just about everything you could make in your full-scale kitchen.  For breakfast, we cook everything from egg sandwiches to waffles to huevos rancheros to German puff pancakes.  For dinner, enchilada pie, pizza, sushi, pad thai, chile rellenos, lasagna, paninis, and chili.  Don’t forget about baking!  Sourdough bread, focaccia, brownies, and cake are regulars.  Occasionally, we throw in some easy quesadillas, taco salad, spaghetti and meatballs, or chili mac-and-cheese to mix it up.  Did we mention we are vegetarians?

Check out our Gourmet Camp Cooking & Baking video to see many of the following tools in action!

RELIABLE REFRIGERATION

12V ICECO Fridge
If you have a small camper, or van, and lack adequate refrigeration space, this fridge may change your life.  It has certainly changed ours!  Our vintage camper simply didn’t have space for a modern fridge, so we made do with ice in a dry bag in a standard cooler for many years...too many years.  Recently, we engineered an incredible hack with  Renogy products to provide reliable refrigeration using our truck’s alternator, a Dual Input DC to DC Charger, 50Ah LFP Battery,  and a 100W Foldable Solar Suitcase.  No propane to refill, no hookups necessary...and the fridge merely sips at the energy.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million!  Check out our installation video and product review videos. Note:  Enjoy discounts on both Renogy & ICECO products by using our affiliate links and promo code ‘CANLIFE’ at checkout.


POTS, PANS & SPECIAL COOKWARE

In the full-sized kitchen of our previous traditional home, we had about 22 drawers, cupboards, and shelves -- most of which were filled with things we rarely used.  Now we have a tiny kitchen with just 5 cupboards and 4 small drawers for ALL of our kitchenware, utensils, and dry food.  So, here are a few of our must haves:

Banks Fry Bake
This is hands-down the best piece of backcountry / camping cooking gear we have ever used.  It fries and bakes, just like it says -- find it online at FryBake.  We can make pizza, cornbread, brownies, cakes, eggs, sauté veggies, deep fry potatoes and more. We use it on our two-burner stove, our backcountry stove, or on a campfire, nearly every single day.


Focaccia Bread & German Chocolate Cake in the Fry Bake

All Purpose Flat Griddle
This handy kitchen tool made by Coleman turns our 2 burner stove into a flat top.  It also works well over a campfire because the handles are metal and won’t melt.  We use it for eggs, quesadillas, sauteeing veggies, toasting bread, French toast, egg sandwiches, and much more.  Available at most outdoor/camping stores.


Griddle on the Campfire

Strainer + Steamer + Grill Basket
This might be our favorite kitchen hack!  An old steamer basket from our former pasta pot now triples as a steamer basket, a colander, and a veggie grill basket – 3 uses in one!  If you are downsizing to a new life on the road, keep this basket and donate the huge pot.  Oh, and we recently discovered a fourth use...salad spinner!  Just put the wet lettuce in the strainer, step outside, and spin.


Strainer, Steamer, Grill Basket - Multi Use!

Nordic Waffle Iron
We really missed making waffles, but we couldn’t dedicate the space to a traditional Belgian waffle iron for the occasional breakfast craving.  We found a small, cast aluminum, non-electric waffle iron and it works great on our gas stove or over a campfire.  It makes tasty, crispy, waffles and paninis -- and it doubles as a bed warmer on frosty nights!   We haven’t seen these in most kitchen or department stores as we purchased ours in Amish general store in Ohio, but like most things, you can also find it on Amazon.


Waffle Iron on the Fire

Heavy Duty Sauce Pot
Unlike most kitchens, we have only one heavy duty sauce pot.  We got this 2.5 quart Calphalon pot as a wedding gift 21 years ago and it’s been with us ever since.  Before we switched to camper life, we had so many pots we couldn’t keep track of them all.  Now we have one workhorse that does everything well. 


Making Enchilada Sauce in the Pot with Immersion Blender

Backcountry Pot Set = Mixing Bowls + Double Boiler + Warming Insulator
Instead of ceramic or glass mixing bowls, our backcountry pot set serves a number of different purposes inside Hamlet.  When making cakes and brownies, they are mixing bowls.  We use them for whipping cream, scrambling eggs, and even a double boiler.  We can even stack them, add water in between, and use them as a double boiler.  When we add our homemade koozie, we have a warming insulator to help keep our breakfast or side dishes warm while we’re finishing the rest of the meal.  You can make an insulator yourself with “real” duct tape (e.g., Shurtape) and a basic windshield sun blocker.


Warming Koozie in Action

Lodge Dutch Oven
When cooking over a fire, we can use most of the above pots and pans, but one additional useful tool is our Lodge Dutch Oven.  We use it to make sourdough bread, lasagna, enchilada pie, or cook or bake for larger groups.  We purchased this at a traditional country general store, but you can order online.


Sourdough bread & Lasagna in the Dutch Oven

FUN & USEFUL KiITCHEN HACKS

Coffee Koozies
Our warming insulator worked so well, we made some koozies to fit our favorite coffee mugs and French press.  We get asked why we don’t just use insulated travel mugs, but you can’t cuddle up with a travel mug when it’s cold outside.  Remember, Hamlet is our full-time home for every season. Similar to the warming insulator above, you can make them yourself.


French Press & Coffee Koozies

Insulated Travel Mugs
While we use these for coffee/tea on the go, they also have two other uses.  We can take soup and chili on a cold fall/winter hike, as there is nothing like stopping for a hot meal on the trail on a cold day.  And, when we want iced tea or cocktails that require ice, we fill them with ice from a gas-station self-service drink machine and store them in our refrigerator.  Inside the 12V fridge they keep ice for about 3 days.  Our mugs are made by Contigo and available at Walmart or Target.

Microfiber Towelettes
Is it just me, or does anyone else find those super-cute retro dish towels worthless at absorbing water and yet still take forever to dry out?  These small, automotive microfiber towels are super cheap, absorbent, camper-sized, and last for years.  We use them all over our tiny house and they wash up well.  We use different colors for different uses, drying towels or counter mop-up towels.  They can be purchased at any Walmart (automotive section) or auto parts store.


Microfiber Towlettes

Anti-Skid Dish Separators
As we roll down the road, things rattle and roll back in the trailer. We would have lost more than just one of our favorite ceramic dishes in the last 130K miles without these layers of foam between each plate and bowl.  We cut up a roll of drawer/shelf liner so that they fit nicely.  This keeps us from having to eat off cheap plastic or disposable dishware, which is better for us and the environment.  Any Walmart, Target, or home improvement store carries this product.


Anti-Skid Plate Separators

Stackable Spice Holders
These little stackable containers are just as good for your oregano and basil as they are for rubber bands and paper clips.  Instead of buying large quantities of spices that take up a ton of shelf space and take forever to use up, buy what you need for a couple of months in a natural food store (bulk spices are less inexpensive and often tastier!).  We bought these containers at Michael’s (in the jewelry section), but they are available at most craft stores.  They come in various capacities and sizes.


Stackable Spice Holders

Viva Paper Towels
We never thought much about paper towels prior to living life on the road.  They just needed to be handy in the event of a spill.  But, Viva has the appropriate cling-ability that keeps the roll from unraveling while we’re traveling down the road.  Any other kind of paper towels and Hamlet looks exactly like the bathroom where Junior discovers what happens when he yanks on the toilet paper roll.  You can find Viva paper towels at pretty much any store that sells paper products.  Note: To reduce paper towel usage, we use the towelettes mentioned above and Simple Green to wipe up most spills.

ESSENTIAL UTENSILS

Convertible Measuring Cup &  Spoon
These are space savers as the measuring cup is convertible from a quarter cup, to a half, to a whole cup.  The spoon is also convertible – the silicone “cups” just flip inside out to go from 1 TBSP to 1 tsp and 1 tsp to ½ tsp.  We found both of these items at Target.


Convertible Measuring Cup/Spoons

Silicone Bowl Measuring Cups
In addition to just one Pyrex 4 cup measuring cup/mixing bowl, we have a set of small, stacking, silicone bowls that are so great for so many things; we use them as ramekins, measuring cups, egg separators, egg poaching dishes, and more.  They also double as perfect backcountry camping bowls.  Any Target, Walmart or kitchen store carries these bowls.


Stacking Silicone Bowls

French Press & Kettle
Many people we meet on the road tell us they cannot give up their electric coffee maker. We love our French press because it is easy, low tech, and makes an excellent brew even while boondocking.  Boil water, measure coffee, pour water, wait 3 minutes, press, and drink.  It’s foolproof and doesn’t require you to fire-up your generator at 6:30am just to make coffee.  And we made a koozie for it, which keeps it warm in between refills and helps it from breaking during travel.  The French press is available pretty much anywhere electric coffee pots are sold as well as most coffee shops.

Immersion Blender
Did you guess right?  Yes, this is our only electric kitchen appliance!  We can easily live without a microwave, coffee maker, and toaster… but we wanted a blender, and this one fits in a small drawer.   We use our immersion blender to make homemade sauces, pestos, soups, cocktails, smoothies, whip cream and egg whites, cream pies, and more.  It takes up very little space and cleans up in seconds.  You can find these at any store that sells kitchen appliances.  Our recommendation is to buy one with a metal blender; they are much more durable than the plastic variety.


New Year's Day Brunch -- Stuffed Poblano Pepper Huevos Rancheros with Bloody Mary's

In addition to these utensils, we have a few key basics: can opener, 2 high heat rubber spatulas, 2 metal spatulas, garlic press, regular cheese grater, fine grater/zester, metal tongs, whisk, 3 great knives (bread, butcher, and paring knives), pizza cutter...and believe it or not, a sushi/nori roller mat with chopsticks.

HACKS FOR THOSE WHO LACK INDOOR PLUMBING

Kitchen Sink Tubs
While we have a small sink, we have never actually used it as intended because 99.9% of the time, we are not in a modern campground with water hook-ups.  Most of the time, we wipe our not-so-dirty dishes clean and reuse them.  But when we’ve made a big yummy (and messy) meal, we use a 3-bin dishwashing system which we can use inside or outside.  One bin holds the dishes, the other two are used for washing and rinsing.  But, if we are boondocking and using unfiltered river or creek water for washing, we use the standard rafting trip protocol:  one tub for washing in hot water, the 2nd for rinsing in cold water, and the 3rd for a cold-water bleach rinse/sanitizer.  Bonus…we save a TON of water by using this method rather than a traditional sink.  Before scattering the water in the woods, we follow Leave No Trace methods by sieving out any food particles with a small strainer and throwing them away, as even small bits of food can do harm to the ecosystem and habituate rodents or bears to the campsite. We purchased these bins at Walmart and they stack and store perfectly inside our sink. 


Dishwashing Systems

Water Container with a Tap
We don’t have built-in water holding tanks, but a 5L water container fits nicely under our sink.  It delivers an easy flow of fresh water with the lift of the tap.  We didn’t want to have to haul out a huge jug just to fill up the kettle or a pot, or simply brush our teeth.  This container has been crucial for having enough potable water with which to cook and drink when we are not near a drinking water source.  We also keep a 7-gallon water container in the back of the truck when we are out west where water sources are slim to none.  We purchased this one at, you guessed it….good ol’ Walmart.

Grey Water Waste Bucket
When you don’t have a drain/sewage pipe or grey water tank, what do you do with coffee grounds, the liquid in bean cans, toothpaste water, etc.?  We re-purposed a deli-sized bulk mustard container with a secure lid for all of our grey water when we are staying in places like Walmart, rest stops, etc. that don’t have a good place to dump liquids.  Then, when we find a dishwashing sink or toilet at a campground, we dump it down and rinse out the container.  You could buy something similar, but our suggestion is to go to your nearest deli and see if they have a bulk-sized mayo, mustard, or salad dressing container you can take off their hands for free.

Find Your Kitchen Essentials
When we first hit the road full-time, we simply brought way too many kitchen items with us.  We discovered what we needed through experiment and necessity -- and we are still learning as we go.  If we decide to acquire something new, we have to justify space for it and what it will replace -- this always leads to a fun conversation.  We hope you’ll enjoy discovering what it is that you need to make your meals something that satisfies more than just a healthy appetite.  For additional tips and recipes, read our artilce Make Your Camping Meals an Event. Bon Appetit!   

Questions, Comments? Please add your thoughts below.

Shari and Hutch
Author: Shari and HutchEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
In 2012, Shari Galiardi & David Hutchison left behind careers and a comfortable home in North Carolina to travel with the vintage camper trailer they lovingly restored, outfitted with solar, and named "Hamlet." What began as a short break from careers and responsibility quickly turned into a love affair with roadlife. They have parlayed their higher education backgrounds, desire for life-long learning, and thirst for adventure travel into writing, photography, video production, and public speaking gigs from coast to coast. Known to their friends as simply Shari & Hutch, you can learn more about their full-time, solar-powered adventures on their website at freedominacan.com.

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