Van Life: Making an Inexpensive Kitchen in the Van

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Van Life: Making an Inexpensive Kitchen in the Van

initial layout of van rear kitchen annotated

The van kitchen is working deliciously!

I took a page from the teardrop camper designs and created a van kitchen accessible from the back cargo doors. This means I had to lose a little space in the “living” area and must push the bed up closer to the front of the van, but that’s ok. The bed still lets out fully – there’s just no extra space between the bed and the driver’s seat when the bed is extended.

I can live with that.

So far, I’ve not had to try to figure out what to do about cooking when it rains. I’m sure I could use my little stove inside the van, I just prefer to keep messy stuff — like cooking and icky dogs — outside the van.

Water in the Tiny Van Kitchen

Water supply with hand pump

I’d like to have my 5-gallon water bottle with pump accessible from the back of the van – where the rest of the kitchen stuff resides. However, I use it more up front (for water in the middle of the night or for quick access for me or the dog when we are traveling and get thirsty). So, for now, it stays up front.

As you can see from the photo, it’s secured in place with a bungee cord attached to the driver’s seat so it doesn’t move around when I’m driving. It has worked flawlessly.

Keeping Things Cool

It might also be nice to have the cooler in the back – but, again, I like having quick access to ice and cold drinks up front. Decisions, decisions…

I will be investing in a decent cooler and SOON.

At first, I bought a cooler from K-mart that was NOT effective at keeping ice for more than a few hours. I do not recommend the Titan, and I returned it after the first 6 hours.

Ice, I’ve learned, is essential to my satisfaction with the whole traveling and camping and being “off-grid” experience. So, since I’m not willing to purchase a Yeti cooler, I’ll probably get an RTIC cooler in the near future.

I could use that one in the back for long-term ice storage and for food I plan to cook and use my current Styrofoam cooler (one that a client sent me a ham in a couple years back) in the front for easy-access drinks and ice for my 30 oz drink cup. That Styrofoam ham box works better than the $35 Titan cooler I bought at Kmart. It keeps ice almost twice as long! Thanks, Bruce!


How to cook when living in a van - the van kitchen

I use a Kashiwa butane cookstove, similar to this one, which has been one impressive little piece of equipment. It has an automatic lighting feature and packs away in a little carry case that tucks perfectly in the kitchen area of the back of the van (see image above).

The adjustable flame makes cooking at different heat settings simple. It’s easy to clean, and it’s quick to assemble and put back away (after it’s cooled a bit, of course). It’s one of my best purchases for this adventure.


The Van Kitchen: Utensils for cooking in a van

My utensil needs are minimal. There is an egg-turner spatula coated in silicone (which means it also doubles as a scraper). Mine is a gloriously deep violet color and is amazingly easy to clean. I have a pair of kitchen shears — because I use those constantly anytime (and anywhere) I cook.

I’m currently storing a P-38 in case I ever get around to opening a can. (So far, I’ve just been eating fresh vegetables and meats out of the cooler.) If I start using cans more, I’ll probably add a decent can-opener.

Then there is my great little Damascus knife (similar to this one) that works for everything — but I’m probably going to have to exchange it for one that has a hole in the handle so I can hang it like the other utensils. (Right now, all the other utensils are hung from the back of my “closet” using carabiner clips). It’s a simple solution. Elegant even. And it’s super easy to access, use and replace each item.

I also have a small plastic cutting board tucked away in my kitchen supplies drawer and a small plastic dishpan for cleanup.


Cooking in the van kitchen

My cookware is super simple too. I have only two pans. One of them, the 4th burner pan, was featured in this blog. The new addition (which I like using in my kitchen at the cabin) is a small 8″ ceramic no-stick frying pan. This thing is so easy to clean that I can usually get it clean with a moist paper towel. Yes, it’s THAT easy. So now, I want three essential pans in my perfect kitchen 😉

The 4th burner pan is a Kuhn Rikon pan with lid. I love this pot. It’s great as a kettle to heat water for my french press, I use it to boil eggs, to make or heat soups, and to boil and drain vegetables (the lid has a built in drain function). It also has a silicone coating on the handle, so it never gets hot — so I don’t have to carry a pot-holder.

I plan to look for a flat silicone pan cover to help minimize spattering when I use the frying pan. That item (once I locate it) will also serve to protect my kitchen/cooking/prep table when I need to set down a hot pan.

But, I do not plan to add any more cookware – these two pieces meet all my needs.

Kitchen Storage

Kitchen supplies in lower drawer


I bought a heavy-duty plastic chest of drawers and immediately took them apart in the middle. When I put them back together, the bottom two drawers facing toward the back of the van (to use in the kitchen area) and the top two drawers facing toward the front of the van (to be easily accessed above the bed). The front drawers are secured with a bungee cord to prevent them from opening when I’m on the road. The back doors of the van secure the back-facing drawers.

I’m rather pleased with my little conversion and find it a handy way to have storage with access to what I need where I need it.

That’s the extent of the kitchen, but using this little set up has enabled me to cook a number of fantastic meals… already!

The next step is to do a little organizing to make things easier to find in the kitchen drawer and to *possibly* turn a third drawer toward the back to use as a pantry. 🙂

Food Prepared in the Van Kitchen: Van life dinner

Van life dinner: Prepared in the tiny van kitchen

Lunch Prepared in the Van

Lunch Prepared in the Van


Dinner prepared in the van kitchen

Dinner prepared in the van kitchen

Preparing eggs in the van kitchen

Preparing eggs in the van kitchen

Breakfast is prepared! Morning meal from the van kitchen

Breakfast is prepared!

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