How To Equip Your Vanlife Kitchen
When you transition from an average-sized kitchen to a small or unconventional vanlife one in your campervan, it takes time to adjust and work out what you need and what you don’t. The aim is to gather the ultimate kitchen set that fits perfectly in your tiny cupboards. The perfect pan that you can use for almost anything. The ultimate knife that will cut through chicken bones, and utensils with multiple jobs to make most of the small space you now call your kitchen.
Living in a campervan or a tinyhome that’s off-grid, you learn to navigate and adapt and do things differently. Cooking and preparing food may take a little longer, but it’s incredible how quickly you start finding joy in preparing meals a little slower using your hands rather than appliances.
The following list of equipment is what I use in my campervan’s tiny kitchen almost every day.
This is an edited excerpt from The Small Kitchen Cook: Thoughtful recipes for tiny kitchens, by Ash Butler. Check out one of her recipes for One-Pot Mushroom Pasta.
HEAVY-BASED FRYPAN – This pan is used for cooking so many things in our campervan kitchen, from eggs, French toast, fish, searing meat, and even pancakes. I use this frypan for any meal that doesn’t require cooking a lot of sauce. Mine is medium-sized for our small kitchen, which will generally cook enough for my family and a couple of extra people in a pinch. I also have a smaller one for little jobs.
CAST IRON POT – I use this pot for boiling pasta and rice, making cakes, cooking on the fire, boiling water, making curries and soups, or even as a second frypan if it’s needed. It’s a great all-rounder and has a heavy base which distributes the heat more effectively. It’s less likely to burn your food as there is more distance between the food and the heat, making it great for cooking over an open campfire.
A SHARP KNIFE (OR TWO) – If you enjoy cooking, a sharp knife, or two, is the greatest investment for your vanlife kitchen. You will have a much happier time if your knives are sharp. I have a simple stone for keeping my knives sharp, but you can get plenty of handy gadgets that do the same job. Jared has a strange but very effective striking tool that his grandmother gave him, and we love it. It’s small and compact and fits nicely with our cutlery.
UTENSILS – My go-to, 95 per cent of the time, is a wooden spoon for cooking. I also use tongs a lot, and I have a little egg flip which I find perfect for scrambled eggs. Jared mocks my tiny salad tongs (he calls them tweezers), but they’re super handy. We also use the corkscrew a lot, especially after we were once caught without it and had to use a shoe to open the wine.
STRAINER OR COLANDER – This is great for rinsing grains and legumes and for making cheese, draining pasta or rinsing salad greens and herbs. I use it multiple times a day.
CHOPPING BOARDS – We carry two chopping boards; one for meat and one for everything else. Keep them clean and know which is which to avoid any contamination. Preparing meat on the same board as vegetables can lead to sickness from some foodborne bacteria, so it’s important to keep them separate.
CUPS AND MUGS – What we drink from seems to be a very personal thing. For example, Jared and I have chalices we use for wine, and they have followed us around the world. We also have our own mugs and a few spares for when friends drop by.
BOWLS AND PLATES – Although these are a given, I wanted to point out that we don’t use anything ‘camping’ specific. Our bowls, plates, cups, and serving ware are all things we could use in our house. We use them for everything from eating off, serving from, and making salads in, so some versatility is essential. Plus, it’s handy if they stack nicely and fit in the space you’ve got to store them without risk of rattling or breaking.
MEASURING CUP AND SPOONS – Having a whole set of measuring cups and spoons will take up too much space in your campervan kitchen, so if you just have measures for one cup, one tablespoon and one teaspoon, these will work for when you need halves and quarters of any. I also use handfuls (whatever easily fits in the palm of my hand) and pinches (whatever I can pick up in two fingers and a thumb) a lot throughout my campervan cookbook.
A SELECTION OF DIFFERENT SIZED JARS – For making salad dressings, storing grains, spices and other pantry items. Also essential for homemade ferments and pickles. They also work well as a drinking glass, serving multiple purposes in your tiny kitchen.
A SELECTION OF DIFFERENT SIZED CONTAINERS – We use them for storing leftovers. I use a container to store food scraps in my fridge or freezer to make stocks and broths.
MORTAR AND PESTLE – It is great to have a mortar and pestle in your life, especially if you don’t have electricity in your campervan kitchen. Mortar and pestles are incredible tools that have been used for thousands of years for bashing, grinding, smashing and combining ingredients. They are commonly made from stone, hardwood, ceramic or cast iron and are great for making pesto, nut and seed-based sweets, aioli, dips, salad dressings and curry pastes. Some prefer to use the mortar and pestle over electric mixers even when they do have electricity in their kitchen (I am one of those people).
A GRATER – I would suggest getting a good quality small but sharp grater that you’ll use for cheese, veggies and zesting citrus rinds.
SILICONE MUFFIN MOULDS – If you don’t own a set of silicone moulds for your tiny kitchen, I highly suggest getting yourself some. They are inexpensive and super versatile, and there are quite a few kitchen hacks you can achieve using these, especially if you have a freezer.
A COFFEE MAKER – Jared and I love the manual, repetitive ritual of making coffee, and we would often make it just to warm the van up on cold days. We use a stovetop maker, but whether it’s a French Press, one of those manual espresso makers hikers use, or just instant, if you make it with love, it’s perfect, right? We don’t heat milk when in the camper, but a little milk pot is ideal if you do.
MAKING TEA –Making tea in our rolling home is simply done by bringing a pot of water to boil. We infuse with leaf tea or tea bags and then pour it straight into our mugs using a small tea strainer. I love a good teapot, but we’ve never needed one in the van.
CONSUMABLES – We try to avoid using single-use consumables like plastic wrap, although baking paper and foil are essential in a few recipes in my vanlife cookbook. We do have a lot of reusable containers and jars. If something that’s not suitable for a container needs to be covered, I use beeswax wraps, and I bought a length of muslin from the local fabric shop, which I’ve cut up for everything from cheesemaking to food-wrapping. We use baskets and cloth bags for our groceries, and we drop off soft plastics at the recycling points at most supermarkets.
A HEAD TORCH – Not precisely a campervan kitchen item, but if you plan on doing a lot of cooking outside, a simple head torch makes life easier as you won’t always have your camper’s lights where you’re cooking.
FOR CLEANING – Because vans are such small spaces, there’s not much cleaning to do, in general. We carried a dustpan and brush (we called it Dustin) and a few cloths for wiping things down and doing the dishes. We don’t use a dish drainer, as they take up too much space, and only leave dishes in the sink when we drive about half the time…
Have we missed anything? What’s your most essential piece of campervan kitchen gear. Let us know in the comments.