Living in a van does not mean your kitchen or meals have to be boring – in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
One of our favourite parts of travelling in our Sprinter van is that we get to take our home, including our kitchen, on every adventure. This gives us the luxury of enjoying delicious and comforting foods, even during the busiest road trips. Our days of camping with just a cooler, dehydrated meals, and instant ramen are long behind us. There are two important factors that help optimize how you cook in your Sprinter. The first is having a functional kitchen set-up that provides space for prepping, cooking, and cleaning up. The second is having van-friendly cooking accessories that make cooking easier and more enjoyable.
Functional Van Kitchen Set-Up
Whether you like to create gourmet, home-cooked meals or enjoy simple one-pot recipes, it’s important to find a kitchen design that’s right for your style of cooking. Consider how often you’ll cook in your Sprinter, what kind of meals you prefer to make, and the amount of food and kitchen accessories you’ll need.
Ensuring you have sufficient countertop space for your cooking process doesn’t necessarily mean you need a huge, open countertop that takes up most of your kitchen. While this is always an option (thanks to the space available in the Sprinter), we suggest designing your kitchen to include sections that are multi-purpose. Choose countertops and tables that can double as workspaces or areas for hobbies and crafts.
Countertop space that can be moved is another excellent option, such as tables that fold away or slide in under the bed. You may also want to consider a table mount; this allows you to simply remove a portable table top from the mount whenever you don’t need the extra surface.
Portable Stove or Stove Cover
While a stove is crucial to cooking in a Sprinter van, it does take up a fair amount of space. Many vanlifers choose to cook on a portable stove that folds up and stores away when not in use. This takes up a bit of countertop space while you’re cooking, but allows for extra room during prep and clean-up.
An alternative option is building a stationary stove into your design. This eliminates the process of folding your stove out, setting it up, and dealing with gas or propane hook-ups each time you use it.
Fan for Proper Ventilation
Ventilation in your van’s kitchen is critical. A ceiling fan works as an exhaust to remove steam, smoke, and lingering smells. It’s extremely important to have one running when using any sort of fuel source, especially with a propane gas range. Including a fan in your kitchen design is not only a key safety feature, it will also help ensure your van doesn’t smell like the stir fry you made a week ago. Sales and Marketing Advisor François Laforest at Safari Condo, says:
“The most important thing (in my opinion) is ventilation, especially when cooking indoors. I always open my back window and turn on the fan. It’s perfect that way. Having a compact space doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t create miracles without the smell staying for two or three days afterward.”
Sink with Cutting Board Cover
Having a way to clean our dishes after each meal is an absolute must for us. A sink connected to running water allows you wash all your dishes inside the van and tidy up after a meal. As you’re cooking, it’s also a huge help to be able to move dishes and utensils into the sink when you’re finished with them. Cleaning up as you go creates more room for the actual process.
If you’re looking for even more space for eating or creating your culinary masterpiece, there’s a super-handy cover you can get for your sink to provide a larger surface that doubles as a cutting board.
Refrigerator or Cooler
Having a way to keep food cold on the road allows you to cook in your Sprinter a wider variety of meals and store more food. A front-facing fridge is the most spacious option and can be added to the Sprinter by your upfitter. Alternatively, a cooler can be conveniently stored under a bench seat or on pullout slides, taking up less space in your kitchen design.
Best Cooking Accessories
Similar to having a functional layout, having the right cooking accessories can make or break your vanlife cooking experience. We always try to buy kitchen items that are dual-purpose, like many of the other items we travel with.
“Being a former chef, it is very important for me to be able to cook and eat well in my van. You can cook in your Sprinter almost like at home; it’s just a matter of being well organized.” – François Laforest, Safari Condo
With non-breakable dishware, we don’t have to worry about our dishes smashing, scratching, or rattling around too much. There are numerous materials you can choose from, including melamine, bamboo, or vitrelle. We’ve valued these durable dishes even more since growing our family, as they are lightweight and safe for kids to use.
Most custom van kitchens include a cooking stovetop but very few include an oven. After some time on the road, we missed being able to bake. Having a stovetop oven allows you to bake anything from cookies to dinner rolls. You can even get fancy with a vegetable bake, cheesy lasagna, or quiche.
“An outdoor stove and a stovetop oven are both part of my must-haves in the Sprinter van. We also make sure to have good knives, olive oil, vinegar, spices, and herbs that we love so we can prepare any dish that we want.” – François Laforest, Safari Condo
Quality Knives with a Magnetic Knife Strip
A functional kitchen doesn’t need to include every type of knife that exists. We’ve found that having just three high-quality staple knives does the trick. All you really need is a chef’s knife, a serrated knife, and a paring knife. To fully utilize every square inch of your home on wheels, you can also store your knives on a magnetic knife strip. This clears up more storage for other kitchen accessories that require drawers or cabinets.
Collapsible Colander and Cookware
With limited storage space, we’ve learned to embrace any and all cookware that collapses, but especially a colander, seeing how it’s one of the most space consuming items. If you’re like us and love to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables on the road, or make pasta, we definitely recommend a collapsible colander.
A pressure cooker is an appreciated luxury in a vanlife kitchen. With busy work schedules, long stretches of driving, and day-long adventures, our pressure cooker allows us to create delicious, home-cooked meals in a short amount of time while dirtying very few dishes. Amongst our favourite easy meals are pot roast and teriyaki chicken. Once the meal prep is complete, you simply throw your ingredients in and focus on something else while it cooks – not to mention it’s a wonder for cooking frozen foods quickly.
Living in a van also means having the chance to cook outdoors in beautiful spots. While exploring remote lakes and beaches in our Sprinter van, we often need a portable option. That’s why we love having a dutch oven with us on the road. It allows you to cook pretty much anything you want directly on a campfire and gives you flexibility when you’re out exploring.
A vanlife kitchen with a layout designed just for you, and stocked with the perfect cooking accessories, can make all the difference on the road. Say goodbye to gas station meals and fast food! You can now fuel your adventures with healthy and delicious, home-cooked meals.
Explore your upfitting options at https://www.mercedes-benz-vans.ca/en/upfitters.