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How to cook in a Van

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Vanlife Eatshttps://vanlifeeats.com
Two passionate Vanlife cooks and the creators of Vanlife Eats.

Cooking inside your campervan can be incredibly similar to that of cooking inside a regular full sized home and with the right setup you can replicate almost any recipe. 

To cook in a van you need to have the correct campervan appliances and utensils along with the correct hygiene and safety considerations. With that in mind you can cook delicious, exciting and nutritious food in your van. 

The obvious differences between regular house cooking and van cooking are all the added limitations, hazards and repercussions of cooking within your van.

Having your entire home on wheels is a luxury when it’s done right and knowing how to cook within your van can be a make or break your van life experience. 

Get it wrong then you could end up with damage to the interior of your van, and possibly even a very serious accident! 

You’ll need to learn how to install and operate your cooking equipment safely and learn how to ventilate harmful gasses and prevent lingering odours to say the least.

Hopefully this article will give you an insight into what is involved in making food on the road an extremely enjoyable part of living van life and enjoying your getaways in your van. 

Limitations

Two rings, two pans and limited water and gas.. whilst this is fine for a simple pasta and sauce dish you will need to be strategic and well organised to be more adventurous with your recipe.

Water

Whilst it’s important to wash your hands after handling food, particularly raw meats and washing salad leaves for example, if you run that tap for too long you could well end up draining your tank in no time at all. From my experience and I’m sure many van lifers will agree, sourcing water is one of the biggest inconveniences of Van Life! 

  • Pre wash your leaves and vegetables before you start cooking, this will reduce the chance of you running out of water midway through cooking.
  • Use antibacterial hand wipes for cleaning your hands in between certain foods.
  • Reuse water when possible. Is there water left on your kettle? This would be ideal for rinsing your fruit and vegetables.

Ventilation

It’s imperative to ventilate your van properly whilst using gas burning equipment. Most gasses when burnt will emit carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and this can be extremely harmful to your health. 

Aside from the harmful gasses emitted from the equipment you also have to consider the cooking smells that linger afterwards. Cooking fish for example can linger for days afterwards and really get into your clothing and even your bedding etc. 

  • Cook with a window open.
  • Have an extractor fan or vent installed above your stove.
  • Ensure your clothes are packed away safely in your storage compartments.
  • If you cook in your van regularly, use an air freshener regularly. We love the natural ones

We have more information on ventilation in this article. 

Workspace & Clutter

Living in a tiny home of course comes cooking in a tiny kitchen, with limited space for chopping and preparing. 

Occasionally you’ll take a pan off the stove and need to place it somewhere and if you aren’t tidy and well organised this could be extremely dangerous! 

  • Prepare your workspace prior to starting your cooking.
  • Wash up anything in the sink before you start cooking. 
  • Make sure your pots and pans are easily accessible and nothing is going to fall out of an overhead cupboard mid way through cooking.
  • Check your water level!
  • Don’t cook in a messy van!

Gas & Electricity

It’s entirely possible to cook almost anything in a van but you will need to have the correct facilities to do so and these will require the essential power to run it. 

Mains powered ovens, microwaves, toasters etc can be very power consuming on your batteries. If you are stationary without any hookups then you may not have enough power to run these items. 

Whilst many service stations across the globe can provide you with a gas refill, it’s important to know that not every country standardise the same gas regulators and bottles.  

Calor gas which is very standard in the UK is not available in Europe so you may need to ensure you have an alternative such as Campingaz 

Ensure you have enough gas and or electricity to power your appliances and don’t get caught out!

Perishing foods

Your cooking experience and diet can become limited due to the types of food you can store.

Many vans do not have a fridge or suitable chiller installed to prevent the perishing of food and this can really limit what you can cook in a van. 

Purchasing fresh food daily can be considered as a luxury to many, especially when living as a minimalist. It is also a huge annoyance having to go out to a shop every day and can really limit where you park and stay, especially when wild camping.

Having this limitation on food can restrict you to only cooking with freeze-dried or tinned foods. Pretty boring if you ask me! 

I actually believe it’s an investment to install a sufficient fridge. It will allow you the option of shopping weekly as well as being able to save leftovers to the following day. Huge savings, less food waste and won’t encourage you to overeat! 

Food storage

This is something incredibly important and not just because it keeps your van pantry nice and tidy. Food kept in cupboards and not stored correctly can (and probably will) invite some not so friendly visitors to stay. Mice, Ants and even Rats are a common problem for many mobile homes such as caravans and even campervans. 

These pests will not only eat your stored food and spread germs, they are very likely going to cause serious damage to your van. They will eat through the wires and potentially leave you stranded with a hefty mechanics bill!

  • Store food high up if possible
  • Store food in plastic tupperware boxes

Food waste

Another topic around the bad smells is what do you do with van food waste. It’s not as straight-forward as putting it in a bin. 

Whilst on the move you may not get to a public refuse bin so soon and may find you have to sleep with a stinking bag of waste nearby. This is even worse when you are in a hot country and food can rott so much quicker! Do you really want to wake up to the smell of yesterday’s dinner?

When it comes to draining liquid from your cooking be very mindful of what slips out into your sink.The odd pea or chunk of tomato may sit in the pipe and before you know it you have bad smells coming from your sink!

  • Store your waste in a sealed bag, and then within a bin with a lid.
  • Be careful what you put down your sink and empty your grey water regularly.

The common van kitchen setup

Most vans have some means of cooking and this can vary from a basic single hob cartridge stove to a full 4 hob combination oven.

The most popular style of cooking appliance in a converted van is the two ring stove top. This can often be combined with a sink unit and glass lid that doubles up a work surface. 

These hobs are gas powered and so will require a safe gas installation with the necessary ventilation. Ensure this is checked and marked as Gas Safe by a qualified gas engineer. 

When an oven is installed within a van, again this is usually gas powered and so a suitable gas safe installation should be carried out and inspected.

Ovens are usually flush mounted into the workspace. 

The water system is usually powered through a simple 12v water pump that fits in line with the water pipes leading from water tank to tap. It’s often wise to install a filter in the line too. 

Storage of food is often located within overhead lockers or cabinets and the cooking utensils within lower storage units.

Summary 

Once you have taken the above into consideration there is no reason why you can’t cook amazing food in your van. This whole website is about showing how amazing van life food and cookery can be. Take a look through what other van lifers are cooking and get inspired about spicing up your van life culinary experiences. 

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