10 Van Kitchen Essentials
It should be no surprise that living in a van is a little different than in a home. Similar to camping, outfitting a van kitchen should be focused on multi-purpose, storage-friendly, and minimalist products. We’ve put together a list of 10 Van Kitchen Essentials that we can’t live without.
We use these essentials every single day and they are game-changing products when it comes to preparing food in a small space. If you’re curious about the foods we like to make, read our Favorite Dirtbag Foods blog!
Note: we are not sponsored by any of these products, but If you’re shopping on Amazon, please click through the links in our blog posts! It costs you nothing extra and gives us a little kickback that helps us keep these tires rolling down the road to our next adventure!
1. Utensil Organizer
When we lived in a house, we had an entire drawer dedicated to spatulas, cooking spoons and other random stuff we never used (we had 8 corn cob holders!?). Then there was another drawer for silverware. And an entire cabinet of dishes! But now all of that stuff fits into one small drawer in our van and it is essential to keep it all organized.
By using a Utensil Organizer like the ones linked below, we can keep all of our silverware in one place. We keep 2 forks, 2 spoons, 1 butter knife, 1 steak knife, and 1 chopping knife all in together. In addition, it also holds our cooking utensils: 1 silicone spatula, 1 wooden spoon, a lighter, a bottle opener, chip clips, and beer coozies. If you have a lot of stuff, you can buy an expandable one! Without the tray, this stuff would roll all over the drawer as we drive, making it difficult to find whenever we want to cook something. This makes it the perfect van kitchen essential. We also keep our 2 plates, 2 bowls, cutting board, pot holder, and spices all in the same drawer!
2. Collapsible Food Storage Containers
There aren’t many leftovers to be had in vanlife, mostly because we cook smaller meals, but also because we eat a lot! But when there are leftovers, we use reusable containers rather than single-use plastic baggies or aluminum foil. The only problem with most food storage containers is that it takes up so much space when you’re not using it! We used to have an entire drawer full of plastic food storage containers and lids in our old house.
We don’t have that kind of space. Thankfully, there is a solution to that! These collapsible food storage containers are the perfect solution to the limited space we have in the van. They would be perfect for camping, RVs, or travel trailers too!
3. Nesting Pots and Pans
Not only are these pots and pans on our Van Kitchen Essentials list, but they’re also on our list of Top 10 Vanlife Accessories. Convential pots and pans are too large for the burners on our cooktop, and for most camping stoves. While it would be nice to be able to make larger meals, the food wouldn’t cook very well with such a large pot on a small burner.
Using a smaller set of pots and pans that nest, like the Primus Nesting Pot System, can alleviate a lot of issues with trying to store large pots in a van. When you have such limited kitchen space, it’s important to optimize wherever you can! They are also coated in teflon, making them incredible easy to clean, which is a huge win!
Out Teapot gets an honorable mention in this post because it’s amazing and we use it all of the time!
4. Quick Dry Dish Towels
The perfect van kitchen essential is one that is multi-use. Quick Dry Towels are perfect for vanlife. You can use them to wash your face, or as a workout towel too! We wash them everytime we do laundry and really appreciate their versatility.
Wet towels hanging around the van create clutter and make your tiny home humid. In addition, they can start to smell if they don’t dry fast enough. Having a couple of small, quick dry towels in the van for drying dishes is so perfect. These towels dry within an hour and are ready to go the next time you have dirty dishes to clean.
We keep a small one for dishes and a large one for drying off after showers.
5. Dr. Bronner’s Soap
One of the most multi-purpose items on this list of Van Kitchen Essentials, Dr. Bronner’s soap can be used for pretty much any cleaning chore you have. Laundry, showers, and washing dishes are some of the most common things we use it for. It’s environmentally safe, good for sensitive skin, and comes in a large variety of scents to choose from. We like the peppermint one!
It’s especially nice in the van because we only have one bottle of soap, rather than several cleaning products. This uses much less space than the amount of cleaning products we used to have in our house!
We do 95% of our cooking on the built-in stove top in our van. It is very easy to use and quite capable of cooking anything we need. However, water boils in a JetBoil significantly faster than on the stove top. We keep the JetBoil in our kitchen cabinet rather than with our backpacking bin in the garage so that we can use it when we need quick hot water. It’s an easy option to make a serving of tea, boil a couple of eggs, or heat water for ramen noodles.
The nicest thing about JetBoil products is that they are made for backpacking, so they are very compact, lightweight, and durable. A perfect van kitchen accessory!
7. Bamboo, Plastic or Tin Dishes
There are a lot of different styles of dishes you can choose for your van, RV, or travel trailer. Any of them work great, but we recommend that you stay away from using traditional ceramic or porcelain dishes like you have in a house. These will inevitably break while you are driving, wasting a product and causing a mess. They are also quite heavy.
Instead, opt for one of the many camping-centric and eco-friendly options available. We use the classic blue tin plates simply because they were our camping dishes that we already had prior to vanlife.
When we moved into the van, I realized that we didn’t have any bowls, so I just bought some plastic children’s bowls at the grocery store. There are far more options to choose from though, and if I’d had time, I would have purchased something more eco-friendly like bamboo or coconut bowls.
8. Premium Tumbler
We have a rule in the van about cups: We each get 1. We use the same cup for everything. Water, tea, wine, cocktails, etc. You name it, we drink it out of the same cup.
Since we only have one cup each, it makes sense for it to be a pretty nice cup. A double-walled, insulated tumbler like the ones from OtterBox, Yeti, or Hydroflask are the perfect van kitchen accessory. They keep hot beverages hot, and cold beverages cold. Or in the case od red wine, room temperature beverages at room temperature!
They’re durable, and one will last a lifetime. It’s the ultimate accessory for the minimalist lifestyle.8
9. Silicone Spatula
I use our silicone spatula multiple times per day and it is my go-to cooking utensil. Because we use non-stick pans, it’s important to avoid cooking utensils that scratch the coating. Silicone is durable, easy to clean, and lasts forever. I used silicone spatulas in our house before we moved out and have always loved cooking with them.
Our meals are simple, and I try to make one-pot meals. Making scrambled eggs, stir fry, pasta, or chili is no issue with a van kitchen accessory as versatile as a silicone spatula. Make sure to get a nice one that is all one piece. The spatulas with a separate handle tend to come apart quickly.
10. High Quality Kitchen Scissors
Funny enough, we received our kitchen scissors as a gift from our realtor when we closed on our first house. They’ve worked so well over the years, there was no doubt they were coming in the van with us. Even though we no longer live in a house, we appreciate some of the finer things in life! Not only are they perfect for our van kitchen, but we use them for many other van projects as well. They come in handy to cut zip ties, duct tape, p-cord, etc. We use them constantly when we’re on the road!
When you have so little space, everything in the van must be effective and multi-purpose. These scissors are no exception, making them an van kitchen essential. I don’t think we’ve ever had to sharpen them either!
Summary | Van Kitchen Essentials
Like we said earlier, outfitting your van, RV, or travel trailer should be focused on products that are multi-purpose, durable, and that can pack down into a small space. Thanks for reading our list of Van Kitchen Essentials, and please leave us a comment below about your favorite cooking accessories!