When I first envisioned life on the road, I pictured myself smoking salmon and roasting marshmallows over an open fire. I felt sure I would love cooking at camp with or without the RV. But, you know what? I really don’t! Will you? Only time will tell. In the meantime, review these cooking tips for first-time RVers and overlanders to see what might work for you.
1. Consider Your Cooking Setup
Adding an RV to your travel setup can make it so much easier to cook at camp. However, it’s important to remember that not all RVs have fully contained kitchens. You might even prefer it that way.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before cooking as a first-time RVer:
- Do you have an indoor or outdoor kitchen?
- If your RV only has an indoor kitchen, is it worth also having outdoor cooking facilities?
- Does your kitchen need propane, electricity, or all of the above?
- What facilities do you have for washing up?
- How much storage do you have for food items and cooking utensils?
2. Plan for Your Cooking Environment
When you cook at home, your only consideration is whether you have the right ingredients. You can hop in the car and make a quick grocery run if you don’t. It’s a lot different at camp. Cooking outdoors is incredibly unpredictable and can introduce many of the same concerns you had when tent camping. Consider the following:
- Wind: Most of the areas I camp in experience high winds. These can either blow your fire out or send sparks flying into the dry brush around you. The fear of causing a wildfire is one of the top reasons I generally reduce my time cooking over an open fire. Always check the wind speed and direction.
- Rain: Rain is usually not a concern when camping in the desert, but I did have rain while tent camping in New Mexico one Thanksgiving. Some campgrounds will have covered areas, and sometimes you need to create one with an awning. Some people cook inside large ground tents, but this can be dangerous.
- Wildlife: Keep wild animals wild. One crucial way to do this is to keep human food out of their reach. This is less of a concern in the desert unless cougars are on the prowl. In forested areas, you need to be more vigilant. Look out for bear warnings and plan accordingly.
- Water: If you have limited access to water when camping, you might want to factor this into your meal choices. When I have to conserve water, I consider how much I need for preparation, how often I’ll need to wash my hands, and how much water I’ll need to clean the cooking utensils.
- Power: Your RV might not have an oven, and running a toaster oven or convection oven would require shore power. You could also use a generator or a heavy-duty solar power system. I have a solar oven and campfire toaster. Some RVers have also had exceptional results from using dutch ovens.
3. Keep It Simple
When I have my RV parked up with full amenities, I cook elaborate meals. We’re talking crab legs, coconut curry salmon, pizza, and crispy shrimp. I usually don’t attempt these meals when overlanding or even when boondocking with the RV. Instead, I look for simple meals with fewer ingredients and shorter prep times.
How simple you want to make your meals is up to you. For me, simplicity means just adding water. For you, it might mean pre-packaging your meals or pre-measuring the ingredients. Here are some cooking tips based on how I approach simple meals:
- There are dehydrated meals you can purchase that just require adding water. Examples range from instant oatmeal to a packet of Thai curry made by Good To Go.
- Some pre-packaged meals can have delicious results and require boiling for about ten minutes. Examples include canned soups you can heat, Mac n cheese, or pre-packaged rice and beans.
- One-pot meals are another great way to simplify the cooking process. These meals usually have you cook everything in one regular pot or an instant pot. You can find recipes and one-pot cooking tips all over the internet.
4. Don’t Forget Your Cooking Essentials
You’ll need some basic items, whether you’re cooking with full hookups or with your overlanding buddies in the middle of nowhere. Consider making a list and adding these items:
- Cooking oil or spray: You’ll need this for cooking over a fire so your food doesn’t stick to the pan.
- Matches or a lighter: I recommend having two methods for starting a fire. So, consider a backup source even if your RV maintains a pilot light.
- Pot or pan: You can use a pot to cook over the fire or use it as a dishwashing container. If you plan on doing any baking, you’ll need that dutch oven.
- Spatula: This will be your best friend when cooking over the fire. It’ll help you flip pancakes, burgers, or whatever else you’re cooking.
- Tongs: These are great for grabbing food from the pot or flipping meat on the grill. I tend to use this more often than a spatula.
- Eating utensils: Many people I meet at camp tend to forget forks, spoons, and butter knives. I like compostable one-use utensils, but these add to the trash.
- Dish soap and sponge: You’ll need these to wash your dishes. I almost always forget the sponge and then end up using paper towels to wash up.
5. Bring Only What You Need
You might feel tempted to bring the entire spice rack, your pots and pans, and every kitchen gadget you own. However, food and cooking items weigh a lot more than you might think. More weight means more stress on your vehicle and higher fuel consumption.
But, not to worry! Over time, you’ll realize that you only use a few items when cooking in your RV or over the campfire. Pay attention to these items and gradually eliminate other things from the list.
Another great way to avoid bringing too many things is to plan your meals for your trips. Then, identify the ingredients you need to make these meals and get just that. I recommend two options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cold beverages. Then, toss in a few snacks and a hot drink.
Final Thoughts on Cooking Tips for First-Time RVers and Overlanders
When cooking at camp, make it more about the experience than the food itself. Even if you decide to go alone, the sense of independence can be as thrilling as spending time with your loved ones. Prepare to be resourceful if you forget something, and don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors for a bit of oil, sugar, or campfire cooking tips. Most of us are friendly and will be happy to share some with you. We’ve been there!