Cooking in a Tiny RV Kitchen

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We love to eat! As foodies and RV travelers, eating is always a big part of our road trip planning. We love to try local restaurants and area specialties. But what we really enjoy is finding local markets, wharf-side seafood vendors, and farm stands along our routes. Buying fresh and local then trying our hand at regional recipes in our RV kitchen is a fun way to experience an area.

Eating out all the time can be a budget-buster, and preparing your own meals makes your travel budget last longer. When we cook in the RV there's the added bonus of beautiful campground scenery and we don't have to dress up for dinner! So why not cook more often on the road? The challenge is cooking in a tiny RV kitchen. 

For most small RVs (and even some larger ones) the kitchen area is pretty tight. Most have a cook-top, a sink, a microwave, a fridge, and a bit of counter space. Not much room for food prep and all the mixing bowls, utensils and dishes it generates.

Even though small RVs really suffer for lack of counter space, I promise, there is enough room to make interesting meals for two to four people. You can do it, and your tiny RV kitchen is up to the challenge if you follow a few simple tips. 

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Identify The Non-Kitchen Cooking Space

  Jim cooking with the induction burner, table-top oven, and crockpot

Jim cooking with the induction burner, table-top oven, and crockpot

If your RV has a kitchen, there's a good chance you also have a dinette table. Consider that a part of your cooking space too. The dinette table works perfectly as a staging area for recipe ingredients. If you put away each container as it is used, the table will be clear for dinner by the time the cooking is finished. Folding side tables or TV tray tables are another option for additional counter space. We keep two folding end tables to use in camp and I commandeer them for food prep when we are cooking a big meal.  

Most campgrounds provide either a park grill or a campfire ring, extending your cooking space outdoors. Make sure you bring a grill brush to clean the grates and a grill mat for a clean, flat grill surface. For the fuel, bring along charcoal or enough firewood to cook a meal. Or, if you always take a propane grill, your outdoor cooking is that much easier!

As "glampers", we often use an induction burner and a tabletop oven for cooking in camp. We put both on the picnic table that is part of almost any campsite and plug them into the exterior electrical outlet on our unit. Cooking outside the unit is especially appreciated when frying, to keep strong odors and grease out of the RV. 

Use The Sink and Cook-top

  A flip-up counter extension comes in handy in a tiny RV kitchen!

A flip-up counter extension comes in handy in a tiny RV kitchen!

There's extra space built into your tiny kitchen too. The sink is essential for food prep, and most units come with a sink cover that doubles as counter space. But if you need to use the sink, the cover has to go - and you lose that counter space. The key is to keep part of the sink covered. Our unit has a half-moon cut out in the sink cover that allows you to run the water into the sink and still have the rest of the cover to use as counter space. Other units have a sink cover that is split, allowing you to half-cover the sink. If your sink doesn't have a cover, or you have the "flip-up" type of cover, lay a cutting board over part of the sink. Make sure it's well supported on either end so you can use the surface for stacking items without it tipping. 

The cooktop also has a cover and you'll want to use that during the prep stage of cooking. I like to use a cutting board over the cook-top cover so it doesn't get scratched when I'm chopping veggies. Of course, once you're ready to cook, the cover has to be removed. Many of the newer RVs have a "flip-up" counter extension next to the cook-top. It's handy and gives you just enough extra space to set down a hot pan or lid (make sure you protect the surface with a trivet!). 

Get Organized with Your Food Prep

  We substituted the in-counter trash with knife block

We substituted the in-counter trash with knife block

The true key to cooking in a small RV kitchen is organization. Make sure you equip your kitchen with all the essential tools, pots, pans, and utensils. When you get ready to begin your meal prep, set the utensils you're going to need in a mug on the counter within easy reach so you won't have to dig through the drawers to find them. Our unit has a trash can built into the counter-top and we replaced it with a flush-mounted knife block. It keeps my knives handy and safely stored. 

You know the cooking shows where the chef has all the ingredients measured out in little bowls? Think like that for RV cooking. Assemble the ingredients and measure out what you need, then put away the containers. In our small unit, I measure out each item, set it on the dinette table and retrieve it as needed.

  Stage your ingredients on the dinette table

Stage your ingredients on the dinette table

Do all the veggie chopping at once and put the chopped vegetables in dishes on the dinette table too. Or, if you don't have enough dishes, use squares of paper towel, paper plates, or even plastic solo cups for each item. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how much easier and faster it is to cook this way. 

Organization also means thinking through your recipes for timing. Meats usually take longer than vegetables, so you might cook the meat first and set it aside to rest while you cook the vegetables. Or do similar tasks all at one time, like chopping all the veggies at once or sauteing ingredients one after another to build flavor in the pan. 

Make Easy Recipe Choices

One of the easiest ways to make the most of your tiny RV kitchen is to keep your recipes simple. With fewer steps and fewer ingredients, you may find cooking in the RV a breeze. Or, try using a slow-cooker or a dutch oven to make one-pot meals. The mess is limited and clean up will be easier! Butter Chicken is one of our favorite one-pot meals in the RV. You can find the recipe here...

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Clean As You Go

With a tiny space, keeping used dishes and utensils out of the way is always a problem. The sink fills up quick and, if you need the sink to drain pasta, a pile of dishes or pans can make it pretty messy. The close quarters of your RV kitchen work to your advantage here; you can stir a pot on the cook-top and still wash up the dishes at the same time! Fill the sink about a quarter full with soapy water. As you finish each segment of meal prep, use the cooking time to wash up any pans or utensils and then put them away. Wipe down the counter and work surfaces regularly and toss any used paper goods. 

This clean-as-you-go method works well in the home kitchen but really shines in a tiny space. By the end of meal prep, most of your cooking utensils will be washed and put away. All you'll have left is the last pan and the dinner dishes!

Cooking delicious and interesting meals in a tiny RV kitchen really is possible. With a little planning, organization, and preparation even the smallest kitchen can be a joy for the traveling chef! 

Want to learn more about traveling in a small RV? Get our trip planning checklist here...