food, journey, Minimalish

Cooking In An RV – The Good, The Bad, The Transition

This is a detailed post outlining all the aspects I could think of regarding kitchen pros and cons in our RV. We have been RV living for four months in a 38′ Keystone Outback travel trailer. I’ve included photos of our “messy kitchen” (read: what it looks like most often) and our “clean kitchen” (how I wish it looked all the time) for your viewing pleasure.

Some things are specific to our RV and may not apply to all RV’s or small living scenarios, but I have included them as food for thought in case you have not yet taken the leap to small living. These items have been marked with an asterisk.

If you’re in a hurry, just breeze through the pros and cons lists or refer to the particular areas of the kitchen that interest you. If you want to know all the “who/what/why’s”, I’ve included a more detailed “notes” section under each topic.

DSC_0004
Messy Kitchen
DSC_0015
Clean Kitchen

The Stove

Pros:

• Small scale forces simplification of meals and a less overwhelming dinnertime workload
• The strong grating handles heavy cast iron well and the dark color hides mess between cleanings (does anyone actually clean their grates thoroughly?!)*

Cons:

• Low oven hood makes it difficult to reach back burners and kitchen window*
• Three tightly set burners makes cooking a full meal cramped – pans are not always centered depending on size
• Temperature does not adjust low enough for a gentle simmer (maybe because propane burns hotter than natural gas?)
• Smoke detector almost always goes off (not directly stove related)!*
• Grating pattern makes it difficult to retrieve rampage food chunks while cooking*
• Glass cover folds up against the back wall of the stove, making it difficult to open and close the window behind it*

 

Notes:

Most of the time I enjoy using the stove – if I’m cooking one or two things, but if I’m cooking three it can be a pain. Pans are often only half over the burner or hanging off the edge of the stove. Sometimes it takes some figuring to decide what to cook where (stove, oven or outside stove) in order to fit everything at once.

There was a learning curve with temperature in the beginning as the adjustments on the RV stove do not go as low as our gas stove in our previous house did. I burned a few things and still have a hard time with things that require a long simmer. In these situations I often have to put only half the pot over the burner and continue to rotate it so that it doesn’t just boil the entire time.

There is a glass cover that folds down over the stove to provide more counter space. I have not once used it and most of the time I wish it wasn’t there. I would like to open the window behind it to let out heat and steam while cooking, but I never do because it’s too difficult to reach past the glass cover. If I need somewhere to set something while the stove is not in use, I just set it directly on the grates (duh)!

The Oven

Pros:

• Small scale forces simplification of meals and a less overwhelming dinnertime workload
• Hot flames toast bread well when my cast iron griddle is removed

Cons:

• Pilot needs to be lit each time
• Small – barely fits some pans, no larger than a 12″ pizza
• One rack – limits how much you can cook at once which can use up more propane if you have to cook in batches (very annoying!)
• Weak wire rack almost falls off rails with a full lasagna pan or heavy cast iron
• Temperature is off – about 25 degrees cooler than dial setting (I have yet to test this to determine the exact difference)
• Heat distribution is uneven (hotter in the center over the flames and hotter on the bottom, so things burn easier and the tops & insides don’t cook as well) – I have added a cast iron griddle above the flames to help with this

DSC_0035

Notes:

Until we get an oven thermometer, the temperature and cooking time will continue to require some guesswork. When we purchased the RV, they told us the oven would run about 10 degrees cooler than the dial reads. I have found it to be more like 25 or more, so I usually set it 25-50 degrees hotter, depending on what I’m cooking (more sensitive things that may burn easily get set lower and things like potatoes, that just need to get cooked thoroughly, I’ll set 50 degrees higher to lessen the cook time). The cooking time often takes twice as long as it should which is frustrating, especially if you are having to cook in batches (one sheet of cookies or granola at a time).

Many people place a pizza stone on the thin metal shelf above the flames to help distribute the heat more evenly. I am using one of our two cast iron griddles for this purpose and it seems to be helping, especially for things like breads and cakes that might otherwise end up burnt on the bottom and not done in the middle.

This post was very helpful for me before beginning to use our RV oven.

The Sink/Dishwashing

Pros:

• The sink is large & deep – usually plenty of room for dirty dishes unless I’m a day behind, but there is not always room for washing pots and pans if it’s already fairly full of other things*
• The pull-out, spray faucet makes rinsing easier and allows use of sink even when full (to fill a pot or the Brita)*

Cons:

• Rectangle shape with sharp corners and a barely sloped base make cleaning and rinsing the sink annoying*
• Large cutting board that doubles as extra counter space over sink is just too big for most applications & I usually need to access the sink while prepping food, rendering it null (extra counter space with use of the cutting board could be a pro for some, but it is not that useful to me – see notes)
• No dishwasher
• Hot water tank holds six gallons which sometimes runs out before the dishes are done (not directly sink related)*

DSC_0025

Notes:

The sink is a single basin which I wasn’t used to, but I actually like having the full capacity to fill with dishes if needed and it feels nice when it’s completely empty after washing them. In our previous house with a divided sink, I used to let one side fill up with dishes – kept the other side open for active use – and then procrastinated washing them, so they’d sit longer than necessary. Now, if the dishes pile up and are in the way, I don’t have a choice but to wash them. Since we no longer have a dishwasher, I’m washing dishes at least once a day vs. every few days or so. This actually makes it more tolerable for me because it’s always part of my day, not something I’m dreading and putting off for a few days each time. Of course, it will be nice if we ever get a countertop dishwasher to reduce the amount of time I spend hand washing (which is a lot!), but I expect I’ll still hand wash at least part of the time because I reckon portable dishwashers aren’t super convenient either (six of one, half dozen of the other?).

I’ve used the large plastic cutting board a handful of times in our four months living in an RV thus far (see it poking out next to the mini fridge in the photo below). I otherwise just have a smaller wood cutting board with a dip in one side for catching compost or chopped items. If I’m cutting a lot at once and not trying to do other things on the counter, the extra space the large cutting board provides is helpful, but most of the time I just use my wood one (I prefer wood to plastic in general as well). When I do use the large plastic board, I don’t put it over the sink as it was intended. I’m used to only having as much counter space as we have, so I just work with that – cutting board or not. I use the sink constantly, so having the board covering it is more of an inconvenience than an advantage.

The Refrigerator/Freezer

Pros:

• Tiny freezer is much less overwhelming as far as knowing what’s in it and keeping it organized!
• Having less space helps keep me from over-shopping

Cons:

• The freezer is usually not cold enough to keep certain things frozen
• Both are small, so if you like to cook and eat, you may need a second fridge like we have
• The cooling unit in the fridge determines the temperature of both the fridge and freezer, so it can be difficult to get both adjusted where you want them
• The fridge is not as cold as a typical residential fridge, so certain things (like berries) go bad faster
• Condensation seems to be more present than in a residential fridge, also causing things to go bad faster*
• Some of the shelves aren’t deep enough for our food storage containers, keeping the door from closing if used for leftovers*
• Only one shelf on the door is deep enough for larger items (still too small for a gallon of milk) – the rest are really slim (just deep enough for a box of butter)
• The fruit and veggie drawers are tiny

 

Notes:

Since I love to cook and eat, I need all the fridge and freezer space I can get. Our RV has an outdoor kitchen with a sizable mini fridge. We ended up bringing the extra fridge inside so we would have more space and we use every bit of it. The mini fridge only runs on electricity while the main fridge can also run on propane, so the mini fridge will need to be emptied before we travel. While both fridges seem to cause condensation in food containers, the mini fridge can be set much colder, so I typically keep things like berries in the mini fridge to extend their shelf life. I keep most of our veggies on the shelves because the only things that actually fit in the drawers are bell peppers or a cabbage. Celery and carrots are too long and a couple heads of lettuce would fill the whole drawer. I’ve never even attempted broccoli. Sometimes both drawers are just filled with fruit – because we love it (I’m sure you didn’t notice in the mini fridge pic, ha ha).

We had a deep freezer before moving into the RV. We’ve experienced a massive reduction in what we are able to store in the freezer. I now have to pick and choose what items to buy at any given time based on what will fit in the freezer (we rotate what frozen fruit to keep on hand for our favorite smoothies vs. always having every variety, for example) and, even still, it’s almost always full to the brim. Overall, I don’t mind the minimal freezer situation because there is much less to manage mentally and physically, but I do often wish there was room for a tub of ice cream in there…

The Island/Countertop Space

Pros:

• One conforms to the space they have, so it’s actually, usually, almost enough!
• The island allows me to see my daughter while I wash dishes or prep dinner vs. having my back to her*
• The island allows quick access to sink or counter from the eating area/back side – even if someone else is in the kitchen area and would normally be in the way of a second person entering*

Cons:

• Space is limited, so sometimes you have to get creative with your prep-work timeline
• No room for excessive appliances which means some need to be hauled out of cupboards before use

 

Notes:

I enjoy the simplicity and cleanliness of a small counter that is almost completely empty when clean, but it does limit your options for appliances. We would like to get a small toaster oven, so we don’t have to use up propane for smaller things like leftovers and toast, but it will put a dent in our already minimal counter space. I don’t see that as something we’d be wanting to haul out of a cupboard for every use. Right now, the blender is the only thing I keep on the counter as it gets used most often. In the cupboards we have a food processor, Magic Bullet, hand mixer and a stand mixer (currently stored in our bedroom closet). The stand mixer is very large, but it’s a necessity for making Leanne’s Honey Almond Scrub for [Terra]cotta Paste. My husband, Ben, uses a percolator and a french press for making coffee which are out all the time (they can be spotted in the oven pictures above).

Overall, I have found that I was much more worried about having 1/8 of the counter space that we used to have than I needed to be. I was always slightly short on work space in our old kitchen and I’m usually slightly short on work space now (Parkinson’s Law, if you will), so it’s not been any animal I haven’t tackled before. If you run out of space, start stacking up. I’ve actually only once needed to use the kitchen table as overflow (I was making tortillas). I haven’t intentionally simplified the things I make since moving into the RV (aside from only roasting one tray of carrots instead of two). I still make soups with 15 ingredients and three course meals, but I haven’t cooked for any parties or done any extravagantly space consuming tasks. I have been working on slowing down and not trying to do too many things at once, so I don’t often have four different food projects going on at once like I used to. With all that taken into account, the transition to less workspace has flowed surprisingly easily.

The Cupboards

Pros:

• The roller catches on the doors helped to keep our little one out of them (for a short while – now she’s strong enough to open them all)*
• The pantry is fairly spacious for an RV*
• The drawers are quite spacious so we have ample room for all the necessities (utensils, food storage bags & wraps, SUPERFOODS!)*
• The cupboards are spacious, so large items fit, but there aren’t very many cupboards overall

Cons:

• We did a fair amount of downsizing in order to be able to fit all of our food and appliances and there are still a few things that are stored outside the kitchen
• The pantry is very deep – things in the back are difficult to access*
• Dishes and cupboard doors need to be secured before traveling

DSC_0031
The pantry with little to no “excess items”
DSC_0006
Superfood Drawer!

Notes:

Everything we always keep on hand fits in the pantry, but there are often excess items that get packed into any available space, making it overfull much of the time. Granted, those items usually get used up in a short amount of time (canned tomatoes for an impending sauce batch or buns for burger night), but are then replaced with new items shortly after.

The rest of the cupboards are also full to their max capacity and I keep a stand mixer and soup pot, as well as our tea stash and ingredients for making [Terra]cotta Paste products in other areas of the house. Our plates and extra linens (bibs, hand towels, rags) are stored in the seats of the chairs at the kitchen table. I have to add that my favorite part about this RV is that there is a drawer that fits all of my superfood canisters perfectly (with the exception of the smaller ones that are stored in the slim cupboard next to the oven).

Final Notes/Extras:

The hand towels hanging on the upper cupboards are there because our 1.5 yr old daughter will constantly pull them to the floor if they are within her reach (I would much prefer them to be on the stove handle or on hooks on the end of the island, but this is our life for now). The two things hanging to the left of the microwave are a towel I lay wet dishes on to dry and an apron that our 1.5 yr old uses as a bib. Oven mitts are stashed in the cubby below the microwave which was intended for a paper towel rod (we limit our paper towel use, so it is stored in the bathroom instead). Cloth “paper towels” are in the chairs with the extra linens.

There is not really any wall space in the kitchen, so we haven’t installed the lovely steel spice racks my husband made while we were in our previous house. However, it’s convenient and not the end of the world to have them just sitting on the strip of counter next to the stove (see stove pictures).

I’m sure I’ve missed some things, so comment your questions below! Already living the tiny life? Share some things you love or hate about your kitchen!

2 thoughts on “Cooking In An RV – The Good, The Bad, The Transition”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s