I cook about the same in the van as I did in a sticks & bricks home. The main challenges are:
- the requirement to carry fuel
- the absence of endless shore power (wall plugs)
- no standard oven
humans must eat
We must eat, and anyhow I rather enjoy it.
food cost frugality
Cooking for oneself is much less expensive than eating out or buying fast food, especially if one is able/willing to make good use of leftovers.
Fuel conservation drives many of my cooking decisions. From lowest-to-highest fuel cost:
- Excess solar power is free. Free is good.
- unleaded is cheap but fouls the innards of stoves - I do not cook much on unleaded for that reason.
- Coleman Fuel (aka white gas or CF) is economical, compact and easy to store. By the BTU CF is about 1/2 the cost of propane, and the walmart brand is typically a couple bucks cheaper.
- Propane requires a large bottle, decanting, and refilling at specialized locations.
Recipes are in the sidebar (or over here).
Alpicool C20 12v compressor fridge. The C20 is the C15 model with an extended lid. I find the Big Lid model much easier to live with. Tall Boys and longnecks stand up. I can stack a bag of cheese or something on top of the filled items.
I had a C15 for about 3 years until I dropped it (fully loaded) while reorganizing the van. :-(
I have ample solar in order to assure sufficient charging under marginal conditions. A pleasant side effect is having excess power under normal conditions. I put this excess power to use running the following implements off the panel:
crockpot (rated 75w-150w, measured 69w/140w), a vintage Rival 3120 <$10 at a thrift store. There are some examples and repair parts listed on eBay.I broke this crockpot :-(. I plan to find another used one and donate the two below to save space. In theory I could use the IP’s slow cooking function (see below) but in practice I’m not convinced.
3qt crockpot (rated 75/150w, measured 69-134w).
2qt crockpot. (100w-rated with HI/LO measured at 95w/67w).tossed, cracked crock 4-quart crockpot. LO, HI, and WARM settings measured at 130w, 175w, and 45w. A comment by Sunbeam/Newell1 suggests it is temp-controlled to 215F on LO and HI, and to 165-175F on WARM. This may not be good for baking; we shall see.donated
- immersion heater. (rated 300w, measured 260w) A bit overpowered, would rather have a 200w one with a longer shank.
- rice cooker (rated 300w, measured 271w cooking, 34.5w hold warm), an Aroma 6-cup model (ARC-363NG). $5.59 from a thrift shop.
- surplus laboratory hotplate (rated 330w, observed 285-290w), $20.39 + shipping from eBay. This particular one is a Thermolyne HP-15515B. The heating element is 4” across and thermostatically switched at 700F. In practice it rarely has to cycle because it is relatively small compared to what it’s trying to heat. It has no ON/OFF switch so I installed a remote plug for it.
Dash Mini Maker portable grill - rated 350w, observed 263w. Took about 2 minutes to heat, and about 3 minutes to grill a cheese sandwich. Well worth the $12.donated after getting larger one below
- Nostalgia MyMini sandwich press - rated 520w, measured 420w. $5.99 from thrift store. ~20Wh to toast a sandwich.
- 3qt Instant Pot Duo Mini, 700w rating, 630w observed. (related blog post)
- 6” springform that fits perfectly in the 3qt on the trivet
The measurements above were taken with a kill-a-watt p4400
related RVwiki article
I prefer to cook outside when weather permits. My main weapon for outdoors is the MSR Dragonfly, a skeleton-style “roarer” stove that will burn coleman fuel, unleaded, or kero (change jets).
When weather doesn’t permit or I want to warm up the van I cook indoors on a generic bottle-top propane camp stove.
For emergency backup I carry a Coleman 550 Exponent, sadly no longer produced. I think only the 533 is available, but I’ve had good service from those as well.
Living in 76 square feet requires having exactly what you need with no extraneous items. Unless noted otherwise all items were bought used from thrifts.
Pretty much everything stacks or nests to conserve space.
- 4qt mirro pressure cooker. With the lid off it doubles as the pasta pot.
- 3qt anodized sauceman w/generic lid
- 1.5qt anodized sauceman w/generic lid
- small saute pan for eggs,etc
- flat naan pan for toasting/grilling from an Indian/Pakastani store.
- folding toaster rack repurposed as a trivet and vented lid
- dogbowl oven made from stainless bowls from Amazon
- small carbon-steel wok. Seems frivolous, but I do everything in it from wok-related stuff, to frying bacon, to making popcorn.
dishes and utensils
I tend to eat right out of the pot, caveman-style. Sometimes I use paper plates or a ceramic bowl.
I have two different sizes of insulated steel Walmart camping mugs and some thrift store flatware.
Rival UltraBlend handheld blender, 120w. $6.60 at a Salvation Army thrift.
tips and tricks
Allow leftovers to cool a bit before placing them in the fridge. I force-cool them with a fan blowing directly over the packaged food.
If you are shameless like me, bring ziplock freezer bags into restaurants with you instead of using a doggie bag. The ziplock will slip in your pocket and will not require repackaging (and disposing of the doggie bag trash) once back in the van.
If you have alternator charging installed, then cooking in a crockpot or rice cooker while driving is a freebie! RV folks have done this for years, placing the crock in the kitchen sink underway to hold it in place.
1 New Old Stock