What’s Cooking?

Want an introduction to cooking in a small RV? You’ve come to the right place. I’ve now had just over a month of experience in making the best use of my tiny kitchen and while this is by no means a fully comprehensive article, the roomie and I have learned enough to keep ourselves fed – which is sorta the whole point. Like many of my other RV living articles expect that this one will get an update at some point down the road as I continue to learn from experience and others’ helpful suggestions.

What cooking methods are available in a small RV? It depends. In ones that have kitchens, a stove of some sort is usually a given. Microwaves and ovens are less of a guarantee though, so do your research before buying if either of those is essential for you. In Casitas, a two burner stove comes standard no matter which size or model you go with, and all are wired up to accommodate a microwave although only the 17′ models come with the option of having one from the factory. Mine came with a microwave, and the paperwork supplied seems to indicate that it was supplied by the manufacturer and not added in later.

First off I’m going to talk a little about power, hold on because this is pretty relevant when it comes to cooking. Until rather recently, 30 amp power was the standard for all but the large high end full-timing rigs. These days 50 amp power is becoming more common, but small RVs are still nearly always going to be 30 amp unless someone has modified them.

This is important to know when you’re cooking because there is going to be a limit to what you can have running electrically in the trailer at one time. Some appliances hog more of your electrical bandwidth than others. A/Cs, microwaves, toasters, and hairdryers are three common examples.

Running the microwave and the AC at the same time for instance could cause you to trip a breaker in a campground, so when employing this easiest of cooking methods, I always turn the AC off. Other than that inconvenience, microwave cooking works the same for me in the RV as it did at the apartment, with the size of the microwave being the only difference.

My stove runs on propane only being an older model, I believe many newer ones can be run via propane or electricity. Turning the stove on is a pretty simple process. The fan above the stove which vents to the outside should always be turned on before starting this process, to keep the propane gas from building up in the trailer. The burners have knobs which control the amount of gas getting to them. Turn the knobs to the ‘lite’ position, and use a long stem lighter to light them. Adjust as necessary afterward.

From my month of cooking in the RV, I can say that on mine at least it takes longer to cook things and boil water than it did on a standard house electric stove – although take into account that my Casita and appliances are all 13 years old, the newer ones might be better. I also have less control over how hot things get, keeping things warm without them getting hot enough to cook is difficult to do.

Finding the space to cook things can also be a challenge. Meals requiring both burners are especially hard in the Casita since they’re located one behind the other and it can get hazardous to reach over one cooking pot to stir another.

Luckily the cover over top of my stove is on a hinge, and it flips out to give me more space to work with, but the kitchen is still very small. Julie and I have adapted by concentrating on meals that can be cooked all together in one dish and don’t take a lot of time to do since there just isn’t the space to have all the ktichen stuff out for an extended period.

Again, going outdoors is a good remedy for this. I have an old portable Coleman propane stove from my parents which is currently living in the roomie’s car. At some point when both weather and work schedules allow for it there will definitely be some outdoor cooking.

I also desperately want to have a campfire and cook hotdogs over it, it’s criminal to have been in a campground for over a month and still not have had a campfire, but fire rings/pits are not provided with the site so I need to work something out on my own. This being touristy Bluffton and all, a lot of sidewalks around here are done with bricks and stones and lately the city has been tearing up some of said bricks to work on piping buried underneath them. Julie and I have discussed driving downtown at midnight sometime and pilfering some bricks to make a fire ring with, but we’re just joking. Mostly.

You aren’t limited to these old camping standbys, either. I’ve heard of plenty of RVers who have had success with crock pots, induction cook tops, and grills to supplement their cooking arsenal in a small RV. Many RVs will have outlets on the outside where these things can be plugged in even if you don’t have the space indoors for them. Since I haven’t had any personal experience with these so far I have little to say about their practicality and usefulness. If you have had experience with these or other plug in-able appliances pipe up and let us know how they worked for you.

Unlike what you may think, fancy non-breakable dishes and utensils are not a requirement for RVing. In fact the only thing I’ve bought so far to augment our cooking arsenal has been a set of bendable small plastic cutting boards, our old house-sized ones worked but were unwieldy. Even with the small amount of room available in the Casita there was space for our biggest pot and saucepan. This is just one more reminder that buying things ahead of time for RVing that you think you might need is a waste of money.

Up next in the small RV living series: living with a cat. As always comments and questions are welcomed and if there is something you would like to see me talk about when it comes to living in a small RV I am not a mind-reader, (actually if I could have any superpower it would definitely be the ability to fly), so let me know below or shoot me a line via e-mail, facebook, or twitter.

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30 Responses to What’s Cooking?

  1. hobopals May 31, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    In nice weather, I have used a crockpot outside. I’m sure you know about the liner bags that make clean up a snap! Years ago I used to cook in cast iron cookware–you can even make cakes in it. I’m also a big fan of tin foil–baked potatoes pierced, buttered skin, and a piece of onion make everyone in the campground hungry as they cook. Food always tastes better outside, imo. Of course, many of these are “used to” ideas, but many times I’d make an extra serving or two and offer them to tenters. Once found two young men who had biked all the way from Connecticut and we were camping next to them in Tallulah Gorge in GA. I noticed they were pretty sparse on food so I made extra hamburgers, baked potatoes, and whatever else I made for the family, and you never saw two happier young men! They were so grateful. I have never forgotten them and how we enjoyed their stories while we “broke bread’ together.
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    • Becky May 31, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

      How nice of you to cook extras Nancy! I’m thinking when Julie and I finally get our fire pit put together and we cook hotdogs over it that we’ll have some extras for our neighbors if they’re interested. Afterall, they shared their fresh crab with us the day they first rolled in. And I agree about the taste, I just love grilled hotdogs.

      A crockpot seems to make the most sense for me given our situation. Set it to cook something while we’re at work and come home to food already made, but then we’d have to cross our fingers nothing happened to it while we were gone (lotta stray cats roaming the campground) and that the weather behaved – neither of which are givens.

      When you’re doing the baked potato thing how long do you leave them to cook? Back in the apartment an hour and 15 minutes at 400 degrees did the job but I imagine it’s got to be harder on a fire.

      • Becky May 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

        Wait, Nancy, where are you staying right now? It looks like from your blog that you were/are in the Hilton Head Island area? That’s pretty much where I live – well, Bluffton which is just inland of that. If you’re still around we should try meeting up. πŸ™‚

  2. Misty May 31, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    Crockpots are awesome! Especially if you don’t mind munching on leftovers. Sometimes I will make a roast and eat on it all week for lunch and dinners. It’s a pretty cheap meal as far as health foods go!

    However, I will never give up my George Foreman grill! 10 minutes tops, and food is done!

    A rice cooker / vegetable steamer is also a good thing to have. I have so much space in my RV devoted to appliances right now, but it’s worth it. I haven’t actually used my stove yet because I’ve been too lazy to get propane. πŸ˜›

    BTW, the dollar store is awesome for cheap, durable dishes. They’re kind of trashy looking, but they’re super durable, and even if they do break, you can get a package of four cups or bowls for a dollar, so…you can always get more!
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    • Becky June 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      I’m a big fan of leftovers, and will be even moreso in the road since it’ll mean having to cook less often. πŸ˜‰ I actually have a crockpot courtesy of my mom when I went off to college, dont’ think I’ve ever used but but have been meaning to try. It’s in storage right now.

      Our third roommate back in Madison had a George Foreman grill, it was very slick for cooking meat and cleanup was easy. Maybe someday… As far as a rice cooker goes, Julie has one and we never could get it to work right. The rice usually came out mushy even when we reduced the water.

      My propane tank had some left in it from the previous owner, I have no idea how much. Someday it’ll run out in the middle of cooking and we’ll have to dig the coleman stove out to finish. Hopefully it won’t be in the middle of a rainstorm.

      If I ever break a dish I now know where to head, thanks for the tip!

  3. Marvin June 1, 2012 at 6:47 am #

    Becky ,

    I do most of my cooking outdoors . You can plug an extra power cord into your power pedestal and run it direct to your picnic table .
    I like to use a crock pot and an old electric frying pan that I bought at a garage sale .

    If you ask the foreman at the work site for some bricks , they will probably give them to you at no charge .

    Be Safe

    • Becky June 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      Now that I think about it I’m not sure if our pedestal has regular 110v outlets or not, I share it with neighbors across the way and one of us gets the 30 amp plug in and the other the 50 amp. I’ll have to go peek and see.

      An electric frying pan huh? Guess I have something to go research now. πŸ˜› Julie and I almost broke down and bought bricks yesterday, but the forecast was calling for rain again so we ended up nuking the hotdogs. Microwaved hotdogs just aren’t the same.

  4. Dave June 1, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    Our little trailer has only a two-burner stove and a microware, and I couldn’t stand the thought of mushy floppy frozen pizza, so I had to get a small toaster oven. We usually use it outside plugged into the side of the trailer, so it won’t heat up the inside of the trailer. Our AC is small enough, and the toaster oven is small enough, that we can use both at the same time. We also carry a small crockpot, and use it inside because the heat output isn’t too much for the AC to handle. My favorite way to cook when RVing, however, is outside with a cheap little tabletop propane grill. I know the taste falls short of an actual wood campfire, but it sure is convenient. I can refill the little green bottles for the grill from the trailer’s 20# tank with an adapter I have.

    • Becky June 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

      Hiya Dave. Huh, you know I never thought about that, being able to refil our little Coleman’s propane tanks using our big one. One more thing to look into at some point.

      Funny you should mention pizza, I love pizza and have been missing it dearly. A toaster oven doesn’t fall under the ‘need’ category though like the rivet gun and drill to fix the bad rivets do, so it’ll have to wait.

  5. Mark Sundstrom June 1, 2012 at 2:50 pm #


    I have a small crockpot I’m going to take on my next trip. Lots of people had them at the April Eggscursion rally in Tennessee.

    I’ve been using a small pressure cooker on my last 2 trips and found it very handy, since it let me cook large cuts of meat (roasts, whole chicken) that I otherwise wouldn’t want to take the time for. And it works fine as a regular sauce pan, too.

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    • Becky June 2, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

      That’s one more vote for the crockpot then.

      I hadn’t even considered pressure cookers in RVs before, I’m learning all sorts of new things from this post. πŸ™‚ It’s amazing the variety of ways that people prepare food in their RV, just proves that you don’t have to sacrifice quality just because there is less space.

  6. Ross Macintosh June 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    Becky, as an campfire substitute you can make a wood-burning hobo stove out of old cans. I made a cool one using ‘rocket stove’ principles I saw on the internet. Do google searches for “rocket stove”, “hobo stove” and the like and you’ll find lots of examples including videos. They are fun to make! With mine I was surprised how much heat you can generate with twigs, pine cones, etc that you find laying about. You don’t need real “fire wood” as the typical can stove is fairly small. With mine you see flames shoot out the top & hardly any smoke. You can easily cook your weenies & marshmellows on one. Furthermore with one you’ll feel like a self reliant hobo! No doubt they are safer than an open fire too.

    I don’t think I’d take one travelling with me (kind-a sooty) but if your camped in one place for a while you can easily make one, use it until you’re ready to move on, and then dispose of it in the recycling bin. Then make an even better one at the next camp site!

    Keep hav’n fun! – Regards, Ross

    • Becky June 2, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

      I’ll definitely look that up, thanks Ross! Sounds like it doesn’t cost much money either, which is always a plus in my book since I’m not exactly wealthy. πŸ™‚

      • Ross Macintosh June 3, 2012 at 6:20 am #

        Yesterday my sons & I fired up our hobo stove in the back yard using twigs & small sticks that took about 2-minutes to find. We roasted hot dogs & they were yummy. When were done eating I poured half a cup of water into the stove & that was enough to extinguish it. I like camp fires but compared to the can stove they are so much work. If you watch videos on making can stoves you’ll forever see old cans differently! Almost every time you see a can you’ll be assessing how you can make a stove with it! Trips to the grocery store will never be the same — so many cans! If your rv park has a place for the residents to put their recyclables then check it out frequently as it can be a good source for cans. If you don’t see any good candidates there, then buy a big can of apple juice or tomato juice as they can be a good size for a stove. Mine is big — made out of two coffee cans & a long narrow can that had mini-kit kat bars in it last Christmas.

        You might find this idea a better place to start:
        On YouTube there are also dozens of videos about making very tiny camp stoves out of beer or soda cans. (Just search for beer can stove). They are even easier to make than a hobo stove. You & your room mate can share a few beers and then make your own stoves! (Don’t share too many or you’ll cut yourself trying to cut open the can). A finished stove of that type can weigh just a few grams so they are popular with backpackers & hikers. I’ve seen websites where homemade stoves of this kind are sold (say $20) by their makers as a way to earn a few extra bucks — you might find it’s something you might like to do?? *Interstellar Stoves Ltd.* They burn alcohol — so you need only buy a small inexpensive bottle of fondue fuel at a dollar store or walmart. Even a tiny stove like that can roast a hot-dog, heat up a can of chili, and roast a marshmallow — for a fun outside meal at the picnic table.

        Regards, Ross (Prince Edward Island Stove Works Ltd.) =;^)

        • Becky June 3, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

          Hehe! Thanks for the tips Ross, that is a pretty clever way to cook a hotdog. πŸ™‚

  7. Hazel June 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    Healthy meals are usually simple anyway: lots of veggies, fruit, whole grains, and legumes.

    Yes, a crockpot! Being vegetarian I use it to make beans, chickpeas, lentils, chili, veggie soup. An electric frying pan is great for one dish meals, and with the cover can be used outside. For pizza I make dough in my breadmaker ($2.50 at a garage sale!), and use a pizza cooker that I found at Walmart; I use both of these outside of course. I’ve made homemade pizza once a week for decades!

    On the other hand, rice is easiest to cook in an ordinary pot…forget the rice cooker.

    When you boondock in the future, you may want to investigate solar ovens, even homemade ones. I have a friend who lives off grid on an island every summer and that’s how she cooks.

    (Other subjects: see my other post…techie stuff and wires! Please help!)

    • Becky June 2, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

      I saw it and responded. πŸ™‚ If you’d like a picture of it or more information just let me know.

      You all are making me very hungry for pizza I’ll have you know, lol.

      I’ll put solar ovens on the list of things to research in the future. My mom made homemade bread and it was about the best thing ever, may be a little more work than I’d like to put in, but then again it is so tasty…

      • Hazel June 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

        Responded about techie storage/charging? I’m sorry, I don’t see it anywhere.

        • Becky June 4, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

          It’s the last comment at the end of the Organization post, a little hard to find so I’ll just copy paste it here:

          My laptop, kindle, PSP (it’s a portable gaming system) and all related cords and accessories live in the big overhead storage compartment in the back of the trailer. That’s where the TV mount is attached to (it’s suspended from the bottom of that cubbie, not a shelf) so there is a 110w outlet right there on the bottom of the compartment – I can have the laptop plugged in while stored in that cubbie and the door will still latch just fine without having to have cords running along the floor and getting in the way. It’s a little hard to explain without seeing it, so if you’d like a picture let me know.

          • Hazel June 5, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

            Thanks, Becky. Now that our TV is gone (sold it in our garage sale!), maybe we can work something out in that corner. That overhead is our clothes cupboard though. We simply need smaller devices! πŸ˜‰

  8. Teri H June 1, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    I’m enjoying your blog! We started our full-timing journey the first of April. I love to cook and the biggest challenge for me has been the lack of space to “spread out”. I’ve managed and the meals have been just a good as in our s&b home. We have a 3-burner stove, oven and microwave oven. I’ve used my crockpot several times too.
    Teri H recently posted..Random Acts of Rv’ing V 4.0My Profile

    • Becky June 2, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

      Hello Teri, welcome to IO and glad to have you here. πŸ™‚

      I’m with you on the space to spread out, cooking outside will help with that if Julie and my schedules ever line up right. Also once the covers for the cushions are done and I no longer need to worry about the cat scratching them up I’ll be able to leave the small bed as a dinette during the day which will provide more counter space, on that day I’ll be doing a happy dance!

  9. Arlon June 14, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    I’m usually solo so that means the extent of my cooking is ripping open a power bar but the odd real meal usually evolves around a flower tortilla. I do take a few hot dogs and my skewer so I can scrounge heat from someone elses fire when available or use a beer can stove. I like flower tortillas instead of buns (last a lot longer, cheaper and take up less space). I can always scrounge left overs as long as I have an edible plate with me (tortilla). It’s handy to just scrape the leftovers into a tortilla and have dinner and no dishes. Everything from peanut butter and jelly to cavier works in a flower tortilla and you can store them UNDER your pots and pans! I’m always sure to have a few edible plates along when I go camping/hiking. (-:}
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  10. Arlon June 14, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    Forgot the can of spam.. That will make 4 meals with the tortillas and a few fresh jalapeno slices. I like the precooked meats like hotdogs and spam that I can throw in a tortilla cold if I have to. Can of spam can even be warmed up under the hood of the car while I’m driving around.. I won’t win any cooking contest but I haven’t starved to death yet either.
    Arlon recently posted..20mm F3.5 NikkorMy Profile

    • Becky June 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

      Welcome to IO Arlon. πŸ™‚

      I love hotdogs cooked over a fire, never ben a fan of spam though, the texture is really
      unappealing to me. Tuna though, I like tuna straight from a can, so long as it’s in water and not oil.

      When I no longer have my cook (Julie) around I think I’ll be doing less cooking, but when I do I’ll be making more so that I have multiple meals with less fuss.

      Nature’s Vally granola bars, raisins, and nuts (and trail mix) are all common snacks of mine and I think I’ll probably be eating more of that kind of stuff once I’m on my own. I’m not sure I could warm up packaged food under the hood of my car, guess that’s just a little far out there for me. πŸ˜‰

    • David Lewis December 18, 2012 at 7:17 am #

      This is. A great. Idea I. Am. Learning. A lot. Thanks

  11. LilNomad July 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    Hi have been reading your site for sometime. I too hope to hit the open road at some point in the future. One of my recent purchases was the portable firebowl from Camping World.. was on sale for $49.. I havent had the opportunity to use it yet but from some of my research some of the campgrounds dont allow open fires so this would cover those restrictions…and you can roast your hotdogs over it hehe.

    • Becky July 4, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

      Mmm hotdogs. πŸ˜€ Julie and I did eventually buy some bricks and make a fire ring. Hotdogs and smores have been had, it was good. πŸ™‚

      Best of luck in your own RVing adventure and keep me updated on you progress!

  12. Eric July 24, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    Between my magic chef gas oven and my little toaster oven I can make most everything. I don’t miss having a microwave at all. I put a pizza stone in my oven and make homemade pizza’s all the time. I have a cast iron griddle and skillet for the stovetop. My favourite appliance is my bread machine. Although a bit bulky it sure is nice to make fresh bread when needed…and much healthier. Living in Remote southern Arizona and being 100 miles from the nearest store I was able to make my supplies last a whole month.

    • Becky July 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

      Welcome to IO Eric and thanks for responding.

      Yeah if I had an oven I don’t think having a microwave would be as important to me, one of the things I’ve missed most about living in the RV is no more pizza and homemade cookies. πŸ˜›

      My mother had a bread machine and I remember it being great. She did several different kidns of bread, the cinnimon raisen was probably my favorite. πŸ™‚

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