RV Cooking?

Many people wonder if they can cook regular meals in a camper or RV kitchen.

Most regular meals can be cooked in a camper or RV kitchen. Cooking these meals can be accomplished despite space limitations of a smaller stove surface area and reduced oven baking space. Using smaller cookware, altering food forms, and staggering cooking times combat these space limitations and allow the cooking of regular meals.

On average, there are three burners on a typical camper kitchen stove to boil, fry, or sauté. RV ovens are smaller than traditional-sized ovens, but they provide appropriate temperatures to bake a wide range of foods. Though the oven has less vertical space for baking, a more shallow baking dish allows the cooking of many traditional foods like baked meats, casseroles, or loaves. Most stoves have two to four stove burners on which to cook a regular meal of pasta, fried foods, eggs, and stews – though staggering items may be necessary depending on pot size. In addition, many campers have microwaves, which aid in cooking entrées and side dishes like vegetables and instant potatoes. With a little planning, most meals can be cooked in an RV or camper kitchen.

Cook regular meals in a smaller RV kitchen with the following adjustments:

  1. Flatten whole poultry with a meat mallet to fit the oven
  2. Stagger stove cooking and place cooked items aside
  3. Cut bulky meats like ham in pieces for flatter dishes
  4. Microwave some foods to free oven or stovetop space
  5. Bake potatoes & corn on the cob in foil under the propane shelf
  6. Use wider more shallow cookware to fit in the oven
  7. Use tall medium pots instead of wide ones to save space
  8. Buy a rice cooker or crockpot to conserve space
  9. Make a dish in advance and microwave as food cooks

When deciding to buy a camper, the kitchen was very important to us. As empty nesters contemplating a full-time camper lifestyle, maintaining our healthy diet was important. We weren’t interested in fast food or convenience foods like hot dogs or grilled cheese. We were vegetable stir fry, brown rice, and pasta prima vera eaters.

Would we be able to cook our regular healthy meals in a camper kitchen after years in a house? Would there be enough space? Could we make the transition? How long would it take? Read on for our experience.

Camper oven

When you transition from a full-sized oven in a house to a small RV or camper oven, it is an adjustment. Gone are the hulking hams and towering turkeys commonly baked during holidays. Also gone are consistent baking temperatures. Another challenge is reduced stove top area, regardless of the number of burners.

In all honesty, it took a while to adjust to these challenges. I won’t lie to promote the camper lifestyle because I hate misleading “rah-rah” blogging! Tell me like it is, so I can make a more informed decision. Don’t sugarcoat it to gain followers or glorify your topic. In that spirit, I can not say RV cooking was a quick transition – at least it wasn’t for me. It took weeks before I could cook without being annoyed or missing my stove and oven from my house.

Camper and RV Oven Cooking

I loved the look and smell of our brand-new two-bedroom camper. It was exciting to have the keys to begin our new lives. The first day was celebratory with our favorite restaurant’s takeout New York-style vegetable pizza and scones eaten at our camper’s kitchen table. The next day I would officially join the RV lifestyle by firing up the oven and baking!

Camper oven open
Camper oven open

When I opened the oven to see my culinary workspace, I must admit I was disappointed. It didn’t seem as small when we walked through the camper before buying it. Reality hit; there is not much room in the camper oven, at least not compared with a full-sized oven. It was clean and new, but what the heck could I bake in such a small confined space other than cookies or french fries?

Some of my favorite broiling pans and my dutch oven were too big to fit. My husband bakes once, and only ONCE, a year. He makes a delicious deep dish lasagna. I tried to fit his lasagna baking dish in our oven, and my heart sank. It didn’t fit. This was one of those camper adjustments that would take me a while to get over. Surely something could be done.

My first thought was to move the bottom rack to accommodate larger baking dishes. Silly me, I soon found adjusting that bottom rack for more space was not a thing. Little did I know the lower rack I was tugging on was not only stationary, but it distributed the propane gas flames on its underside. Fortunately, I didn’t break anything. When my husband discovered I was trying to move the gas source, he said we were limited to that amount of space to bake (he said we, but meant me because he doesn’t really cook). In that instant, I realized baking anything larger than a small-sized whole chicken would not be possible. I was bummed.

My compromise with the RV oven’s small space was to use shallow baking dishes and manipulate the food. If I wanted a whole baked chicken, out came the meat mallet (smooth side) to break or flatten the breast bone to allow it to fit in the camper oven. It’s not a pretty chicken, but it eats the same. If I wanted a ham, it needed to be small and cut into pieces to fit the space. With a few adjustments, it is possible to cook regular meals in a camper oven.

While grieving the lack of baking space, I noticed an additional ‘challenge’ while baking my beloved sweet potato fries. The constancy of flames stunk! I would place the oven at a certain temperature and view the flames to ensure the propane was lit. I have always been skittish when cooking with gas, so I double-check to ensure the gas is lit, so there are no explosions (I know, too many spy movies). Minutes later, I look through the door and wonder where the heck are the flames. Instead of seeing the healthy long streams of blue fire coming from the space-limiting stationary bottom rack, I see stubby blue dots. You can’t bake with stubby blue dots! I’d turn the oven control higher to elongate the flames, and it would initially work …. but the flames would later recede.

Camper Lasagna

In a camper, you can’t just place your food in the oven for 45 minutes. You have to actively monitor and adjust while baking if needed. You can heat frozen foods with inconsistent heat, but you can really mess up a cake with fluctuating baking temperatures! Since I LOVE cake and brownies, I admit I was more than just disappointed, I was downright pissed off. Depending on your camper’s make or model, this may not be an issue for you. It was in our 2019 camper.

Though the small baking space and fluctuation in temperatures were a hassle, baking became manageable. I just had to be in close proximity to the oven (not a big ask in a camper) to adjust the oven temperature based on my runaway fickle flames. Full disclosure, I baked a little less, but I still baked certain foods. BONUS: My husband baked his yearly lasagna, and it was fantastic as usual! He halved the recipe and used a shallow casserole dish.

Camper and RV Stove Cooking

Our camper had a 3 burner stove. I was thrilled to have 3 since we had seen some with only 2. Plus our house had 4 burners, and I rarely used all four at the same time unless it was a special occasion. I did not believe it would be much of an issue going from 4 down to 3. Boy did I underestimate the difference!

The space with 3 burners was limiting. Very limiting. It was difficult to have more than 2 burners going at the same time because the burners were so close to each other. If you have a large boiler for something like corn on the cob, you would be well served by cooking in stages – or investing in an Instant Pot or electric rice cooker like we did (if you have storage space). You can also use microwave recipe dishes when space is an issue for numerous dishes in larger meals.

The space is not there if your pots or pans are average sizes or larger. For example, my favorite pan is a large wok that I make all kinds of foods in from soups to sauces to stir fry to Indian and Italian food. When I cook with my wok, it’s harder to place a pot on either of the other 2 burners. In some instances, I can position my wok off center to provide enough space for a small pot of rice. Otherwise, I need to cook in stages placing earlier cooked items on the counter when using my wok.

If you normally cook a 2 dish meal like rice or pasta and a separate sauce, cooking on the stove is manageable. If you normally cook meat, a starch, and a vegetable on the stove, then you will probably need to stagger your cooking due to burner space limitations. Another option is a rice cooker and vegetable steamer combo.

Camper and RV Stove Area Cleaning

One final thing about the stove… splatter happens. You will need to clean the stove top area. Campers and RVs have efficient stove top designs to lift and clean components in the cooking area…but I also discovered you need to be proactive or find a good non-damaging cleanser. Since space is maximized in a camper, there is not a lot of space between your stove and the surrounding walls. Splatter will occur whether frying or boiling food.

Camper Kitchen layout
Camper kitchen layout

Directly behind our stove was an area of little tiles, so it was easy to wipe away splatter there. To the left of our stove top was wood-like paneling that housed the refrigerator.

Camper - Grease Spots
Grease spots next to camper stove

After a few weeks of cooking, I began to notice little splotches on the paneling. I tried soap and water, but the splatter spots remained. I tried a Murphy’s oil soap type cleanser, and it helped a little, but I didn’t like using that around the stovetop. Finally, I dabbed each of the remaining little grease spots with peanut butter and firmly rubbed it. (I don’t know what type of wall you have or will have, so I do not recommend peanut butter because it has oils in it and may make your splatter marks worse OR ruin your wall.) With a little elbow grease, I managed to clean the stains well enough to dull the spots. After this, I placed (and stored) a large cutting board against that wall to stop splatter. It worked wonderfully because the cutting board would catch the splatter, leaving the wall next to the stove clean.

Before you start cooking in your camper, think stain prevention. I would recommend a barrier material to prevent wall stains whether you use a large cutting board like me or some other item like a cookie sheet (make sure it is secure so it will not fall onto the stove). If a barrier is impractical due to your stove set-up, you may want to research stain repellants for the type of wall you have by your stove. I guess it would be similar to the stain repellant for furniture, fabrics, or carpets.

Finally, if you can’t prevent the eventual stains by barrier method or repellant, research and invest in a quality cleanser. Campers have manuals that often provide instructions and recommendations for appropriate cleaning products. Either way, know this is something you will probably have to deal with when using your stove. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

RV and Camper Cooking Overview

Living in a camper full-time is definitely different. One of the biggest areas of difference is cooking, whether you are baking or cooking on the stove. Your livable space will decrease, and your cooking space will too. It can be frustrating, but it takes time to adjust. Once you make the necessary adjustments, you will be able to cook and enjoy regular meals comparable to those made when you were in your house or apartment. While additional planning and steps were necessary, the initial inconvenience of camper cooking learning curves was well worth the flexibility full-time camper living provided us.