Cooking in an RV: Tips and Realities

Several years ago, Jeremiah begged for a rice cooker. I’m an evil woman, refusing to allow him to purchase excessive kitchen gadgets and thingamabobs. Growing up, I always cooked rice in, well, a pot on the stove. But -and don’t come for me because of this- I don’t really love rice. I like rice. I just like a lot of other things more than rice. Jeremiah though? Rice is his jam. He’ll eat rice with just about anything. (If I offered to make him a rice omelet, he’d probably be amenable.) Sadly for Jeremiah, I make about 80% of the meals. Not because he’s a bad cook, but rather because I’m a control freak. So after months of Jeremiah crying himself to sleep because I wouldn’t allow a rice cooker in the house, I caved.

“You can have a rice cooker,” I said one day. 

He grasped his hands together as he gasped, “Really?” 

“Sure,” I replied. “But anytime we have rice, you cook it.” 

And that’s when the rice cooker entered our kitchen, and for about two years we used the rice cooker – once a month, maybe a little more or less depending on the season.  (I took some artistic freedom in that story, by the way.)

When we got ready to move into the RV, the rice cooker came with us. Why? Because while we weighed the worth of many items, the rice cooker offered something many things couldn’t: an extra burner. And that’s what I want to chat about today – how we make the most of our kitchen items while cooking in an RV.

Two Burners, and a microwave

As far as space goes, we have plenty. (Finding an ideal kitchen setup was a major purchase-point for us.) 

What we lack is a conventional oven, and we have two gas burners on the stove. Our microwave is also a convection oven though, which we use about once every week or two. 

Yes, we need to replace those blinds. (PS we did about a month later)

When it came to the rice cooker, we look at that as a 3rd burner. Instead of using extra stove space, we’re able to cook a vegetable, protein, and rice – all without needing to play a game of musical chairs food.

Tip: Our rice cooker uses about 125 watts for the duration of cooking 2 cups of rice. (Coming off the batteries, that’s about 11 amps.) Yours might differ. 

Slow Cooker

The slow cooker/crockpot/etc is another “3rd burner” option. However, it also adds a little more help. We can start something in the morning, and by the time we’re back from errands, hiking, etc, we don’t have to worry about cooking. I say we “can” because I haven’t actually used it yet. I’m still adjusting to RV life in this way. 

When we have guests, we’ll likely be using the slow cooker to insure we have enough food for everyone. 

(Hi, it’s me again, Future Sasha, from the bottomless pit year of 2020. We still haven’t used our slow cooker once and highly doubt we ever will. It’s still in the bottom of our motorhome.)

Spice is the Spice of Life

Bland food and I don’t get along. I had no fewer than 40 spices and herbs on hand before we migrated from brick-and-mortar to axles-and-windshield. While we have a huge RV, I couldn’t justify taking up as much space with seasonings as I did before; this is where pre-packaged pre-mixed spices have come in handy. 

We bought several bulk pre-mixed spices before we left to help combat blandness, such as taco seasoning. Yes, it’s a lot of pre-mixed spice, and yes we’ll go through it all. If you go this route, be mindful of any additional salt you add since most spice mixes have a lot of salt already in them.

A portion of our spices

When we’re out boondocking, there are often times stores relatively near, but the chance that they are going to have exactly what I need is rare. Instead of purchasing fresh ginger, we bought pre-grated and measured frozen ginger. You could likely make your own, as well. I think it was something like a dollar though, so I’m okay with it for sake of convenience.

Ride or Die Spices

Spices I was unwilling to compromise on include paprika, cayenne, whole peppercorns, good salt (I prefer maldon flakes because I’m a pretentious beeyatch,) and garlic powder. Similar to ginger, I brought a few asian spices with me that I knew would be difficult to find on the road. (On a related note, ask Jeremiah about when we asked a Walmart employee where to find curry.) 

Clean up, Dishes

If you want to know how bad at cleaning I am, just ask my older sister, Darcy.  As kids, Darcy and I each had a bathroom to keep clean each week. Every Saturday morning for 10+ years, Darcy and I would enter our bathrooms to scrub and wipe. And after we were each done cleaning, Darcy would clean mine again.  It’s the honest truth that I am bad at cleaning – but living an in RV means I can’t escape the dirt by moving to another room so I am admittedly getting better.  

Because of my character flaw, I’ve discovered some things that help keep clean while cooking in an RV. First, packaged foods are a double-edged sword. Foods like pre-done pizza crust ensure that I’m not making dishes and counters dirty by mixing and kneading my own pizza dough, but we then have the packaging to dispose of, so if we’re boondocking without nearby trash, I try to avoid a lot of packaged stuff. This goes for almost anything!   

A trash can picked up weekly is something I absolutely took for granted over the past 35 years. As previous Oregonians, recycling was in our blood, and I composted a lot of scraps. That’s just not an option for most of the places we’ve visited, so minimizing garbage is a goal as we continue on our adventure. When we are at places with available trash cans and recycling, we do tend to cook things that are less from scratch because of clean-up. 

Additionally, I’ve started making a lot of tacos and curry dishes. Not glamorous, but I can use one pot from start-to-finish, more or less. (With curry, we also have rice.) This helps a lot with clean up since we don’t have a dishwasher unless you count me as one. I’m at a constant internal battle between more elaborate dishes and whether I want to have to deal with clean up afterward. 

What have I learned about cooking in an RV?

Lesson One: Things Take Time

The microwave takes longer than it should. If we are running the microwave on batteries when boondocking, an 8-ounce cup of coffee takes 3 minutes to re-heat. 

Lesson Two: Eat your leftovers

When we lived in a regular home, we ate our leftovers maybe 2 out of 3 times. We ate out enough that we’d forget we had leftovers, or I’d make something new for every meal. Now, we are great at eating our leftovers. I’m not sure exactly what to attribute that to, honestly.  Some of it could be because I don’t want to cook every meal, or it could be because I don’t want to make a mess. Jeremiah is the 2nd least-picky person on the planet (my dad will literally eat anything) so he is totally on board eating leftovers. 

Lesson Three: You can make anything in an RV you can make in a “regular” kitchen

Planning is key for cooking a several course meal. Thanksgiving, for example, I made the dessert compote the day before. Living in a motorhome doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the same meals we did before.

I also cut corners – like cinnamon rolls from a can rather than homemade from scratch. No, it doesn’t taste the same. Yes, I want to skip all those dishes. 

Lesson Four: We’re not camping

Some of our friends have equated living in an RV with camping – but we don’t eat hot dogs and s’mores every night because when it comes down to it, we do live in our motorhome. “Camp food” gets old pretty quick! We cook “real” meals. 

Okay… we did make s’mores on the stove recently. 

Tips: Don’t cook bacon in a motorhome; cook it outside on a grill. Measure your pans on your stovetop before packing them; we use smaller pans so we can cook 2 things at once now.

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