How to Cook While Living Van Life

Something that is a little harder in a van than at a house is preparing meals and doing the dishes. Here are our top tips for cooking while on the road.

Our typical cooking setup

Built-in Kitchen

If you have a high budget for your van build or are planning to buy a converted van then odds are you’ll have a built in kitchen. By this I mean you are able to cook fully inside your van, usually with the help of a large propane tank. This is a very nice luxury accessory that if you are worried about being uncomfortable, put your mind at ease and add a built in kitchen. It is extremely convenient to cook from inside your van without an external assistance, and be able to also wash the dishes. This is a big setup however being that you need a large propane tank hooked up to a stove or cooktop on a counter, you’ll also need ventilation and a carbon monoxide detector as well. The fact is this; if you are on a budget then you will probably not have a cooktop in your van and while this is an inconvenient, it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t live a homefree life.


When we first started on our trip we had a hotplate and a camp stove. We very soon learned that our camp stove is broken being so old and until we could get a new one we were stuck using a hotplate. This is a poor idea for the long term van living and here is why. The hotplate uses electricity, a lot of it as it turns out. We have a simple battery setup with two RV/Marine batteries and an inverter to charge them while we are driving and for us that is usually enough, except when we would use the hotplate we would lose power almost always within 10 minutes. This is a huge pain in the ass unless you have huge batteries and potentially solar panels to charge while you are parked. If you don’t have a built in kitchen cook top then odds are you also don’t have that much battery either, as was the case with us. There are some positives to the hotplate like you can cook inside without a carbon monoxide detector because there is no combustion but that’s about the only pro. If you are currently using a hotplate to cook or are planning this as your main way of cooking, please read along to the next option as it is much better!

Camp Stove

Ah yes, say hello to your old friend the camp stove. We have a Coleman Manual Start Camp Stove and we love it (especially compared to the hotplate)! When we are at a campsite or an allowing Harvest Host we setup the stove along with our propane tank. We use a 20lb propane tank connected to our stove which you have to buy a $20 adapter to do but it is definitely worth it as the other option is using those small 16oz green canisters which run out after 2-3 meals. With this setup we can cook with two burners at once and our propane lasts much longer! The downside with this option is that you need a table to set the stove on. Now this can be fixed by either having a standing stove, bringing a table with you, or connecting your stove to the door of your van. Or if you are on a budget like us then when you are at a place with a picnic table, make a bunch of food and put it in containers to eat later, that is if you don’t mind eating cold food!


Another method of cooking is with fire, if the fire restrictions permit. Many campsites have firepits that you can put a rack over and cook that way. This may not be the fastest way but certainly would be the cheapest, if you don’t have to buy firewood. A downside of this though is that in the peak summer months many campsites have fire bans because of droughts and fire danger. If you are unable to start a fire then you cannot cook food.

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