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The kitchen is the heart of every home and I don’t think vanlife is an exception. We love cooking over eating out and that means having kitchen items that allow for creative meals made easy. While on the road most people in vanlife choose to cook in the van. We were surprised how often we went without eating out. Eating in the van means you save money, feel healthier, and frankly, if you are vegan most times you can make a tastier meal than you can get eating out. To help you out below are our favorite vanlife kitchen essentials and must-haves that make cooking in your camper van kitchen easier.
1. 12V Refrigerator
One of the top vanlife kitchen essentials you should invest in is a 12V refrigerator. When you are on limited solar power then a 12V is going to use less power than a regular dorm fridge. Although it will cost a few hundred more than a fridge you can buy at Home Depot, in the end, you will be happy that you aren’t stressed about the lack of sunshine in the winter.
Shawn and I went a year with a dorm fridge and were constantly stressed about how much power we were using and we were afraid of destroying our AGM batteries. We have had the Costway refrigerator for 3 months now and are super happy with it. It was under $400 at the time and well worth the money.
Bonus: It fits between the two front seats of the 2008 Sprinter Van.
2. Gas Stovetop
When we built our van we decided on an induction burner. Over time we realized we didn’t have the battery setup to properly power it and switched to a propane stovetop. To make life easy we got the Portable Coleman Double burner which a classic choice for Van lifers and campers alike. It is known for its longevity and brand name. It is larger than the single burner but it folds up nicely and stores in our lower pantry with ease. We love that we can pull it out and cook anytime without worrying about draining our solar batteries.
Additional Options: If you want to be ahead of the curve, we suggest purchasing the Flame King and building it into the van.
3. Large Skillet
A vanlife kitchen needs to be based on minimalism. This means you truly only need 2-3 pots/pans. That being said we only have one medium skillet, one medium-sized pot and one large pot for stews or chilis. Other than that it is simply overkill and will take up precious space in your kitchen.
4. AeroPress or French Press
Are you an avid coffee lover? Shawn and I love love coffee and simply do not have the budget to drink coffee every single day at a coffee shop. The great news for me is that Shawn is great at making delicious coffee. One way he does this is with the Aeropress which allows you to make coffee in various ways. There is the traditional version, pour-over, and even expresso. There are so many tutorials online teaching you how to use your Aeropress that even a novice can learn to make delicious Joe. The downside to AeroPress is it only makes one cup at a time. If you have two people in the van or drink a lot of coffee then you might want to consider a french press which is also a great option for vanlife as it doesn’t need electricity.
5. Milk Pot
Speaking of coffee, it isn’t complete without some Oat milk to compliment it. In vanlife, the fewer dishes the better so a small milk pot makes for easy storage and easy cleanup. We opted for one that could be used on both induction and a gas cooktop.
6. Travel-Size Coffee Grinder
Buying coffee whole bean allows you to keep your coffee fresh for longer periods of time. We use a porlex ceramic burr hand grinder specifically because it won’t burn the beans during the grinding process like a stainless steel electric grinder. It’s a vanlife kitchen essential because it doesn’t require power which is often limited in a campervan which is usually run off solar.
7. Stainless Steel Coffee Kettle
Another key ingredient to making coffee easily in the van is our Coffee Kettle. It’s a quick and pain-free way to heat up water in the van. We only ever use it for water which means we never have to clean it out. Otherwise, you would have to clean out a pot to heat up your water which easily could have food left in it or a soapy taste. We purchased the Hario coffee kettle because it was induction safe but there are other cheaper versions that would likely do just as well!
8. Water Filter
When we decided to move into a van we knew there might be times when we weren’t able to get filtered water. Not to mention that the water would be sitting in plastic containers and going through plastic tubes. To make us feel better we took Eamon and Bec’s vlog advice and went with a water filter. It’s great because it is connected to the main water pump and the spout sets right next to our regular water faucet.
If you aren’t going to do an electric water pump a great alternative is the Berkey Water Filter.
9. Cutting Board
Such a simple idea but you have to have a cutting board. Our favorite cutting board is a super cheap and lightweight plastic cutting board. Shawn made it more space-friendly by adding velcro to the back so we can store it on the backside of our cabinet doors. It’s easy to grab and easy to clean!
10. Magnetic Knife Strip
A Magnetic Knife strip is becoming a super popular vanlife kitchen essential for Van Lifers and for good reason. The magnetic strip saves a ton of space inside of your van kitchen and allows you to quickly grab your knives and silverware. We utilize it for both our knives and utensils and don’t worry, nothing ever flies off!
11. Large Kitchen Knife
A vanlife kitchen essentials list wouldn’t be complete with a high-quality kitchen knife. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to have a quality knife but you should invest some money in it. A sharp knife usually means fewer accidents and that’s important when you are so often out in the wilderness. We have found many of our knives at Goodwill and Shawn will sharpen them himself.
Judge me, I don’t even care. We love our Vitamix so much. It’s quiet and powerful plus we can use it with the solar system that we have. We were fortunate that Shawn’s super generous Mom and Stepdad purchased it for us at Christmas time. It may be our favorite item in the van.
If you aren’t up for spending that much on a blender then I recommend the Nutra Ninja which is a little less expensive. Don’t forget to scope out Facebook marketplace or Craigslist for used Vitamix blenders!
Although this isn’t everything you will need to cook inside of your van, this should get you started so you are happy in your vanlife kitchen. What do you think, are there some vanlife kitchen essentials I have missed in my list?