Vanlife Kitchen Essentials: What You Should Bring

Next to your bedroom, your kitchen space requires careful thought when starting your home on wheels. Whether you want your kitchen to be easily pulled out from your van door or just sitting right in front of you, this needs to be decided initially before getting started. No one wants to spill their cereal before they can reach their coffee. You might think that planning your kitchen’s layout is a highly technical topic, but the factors influencing your decision can be learned as your ABCs.

1. Vanlife Fridge: Best to Keep Your Food Fresh

One of the most important additions to your van is a fridge so that you can keep things cold while you are on the road. If you’re the type, who loves to quench your thirst with icy-cold beverages or to eat ice cream while watching your favorite movies, consider buying a fridge or cooler. Storage is also better with a fridge or cooler inside your van.

Your fridge may come solo or with a freezer. You can choose from various types such as upright, chest style, top-loading, and built-in fridge. A built-in fridge is usually situated inside your kitchen cabinet for safety. Top-loading and chest style fridges function similarly, with your preference and area size mainly to consider. The chest-style fridge commonly saves space by placing it inside a drawer for easy pull-out. The upright fridge also has less space requirement but is not popular among vanlifers. 

A picture of inside the fridge

There are many brands and models of the fridge, but let’s talk about the most trusted names. Dometic, Angel, and ERB are popular for their top-loading models and are leaders in the industry. Isotherm is known for its upright fridge models. Other brands you can add to your list are Nova Kool, Norcold, and Truck Fridge.

Power requirement is a major consideration in choosing your fridge. For instance, you might prefer a 12-volt over a 110-volt refrigerator. Your power source is the determinant! Whether you will be installing a solar power system or just using batteries should be answered first before buying one.

Coolers are way cheaper. The only drawback is the use of ice – you have to look out for melted ice as water may fill the cooler space. Buying ice to fill your cooler as soon as the stocked ice melts is another problem. Nevertheless, you’re good to go with a cooler even without a power source or an installed solar panel.

Among the top choices for vans are RTIC coolers. Their heavy-duty insulation keeps the cold for days. Pelican is another great choice, together with Igloo, Orca, and Ozark Trail. Crucial in choosing fridges and coolers is their insulation capabilities and power requirements, aside from the usual size and space considerations.

2. Countertops and Cabinet Installation: Great for Organization

Among the many items you’re jotting down on your list, make cabinets and countertops a priority. A base cabinet is where your countertop sits, while the wall cabinet stores glassware, plates, pans, and other stuff. Cabinets are essential in determining the rest of your kitchen layout, so you better install them first.

Your choices for countertop and cabinet can range from brand new to recyclables and second-hand. If you’re on a tight budget, recyclables and second-hand units can spare you from financial trouble without sacrificing your kitchen’s functionality. 

Wood, stainless steel, and melamine are a few of the materials you can select from. Countertops can also be eco-friendly using Avonite or made from stone or butcher block material.

3. Stove and Oven Options: Choose the Best for Cooking Your Meals

Van cooktop and a sink

Depending on your preference, you can opt for a full oven in your small kitchen. You might also consider purchasing a portable stove. Since cooking can be done both outdoor and indoors, a portable stove gives you flexibility in this aspect. Easy stowing to increase your counter space makes a portable stove better than built-in ones. Built-in stoves are obviously for inside cooking only.

Propane-powered stoves are ideal for dishes that require a specific degree of heat and longer cooking time. Otherwise, an electric stove will be sufficient. Just remember to check your ventilation when using propane tanks inside your van. Carbon monoxide can accumulate and may cause poisoning. You can also use either spark igniters or lighters based on your preference.

An induction cooktop is another great option for your kitchen space. This is relatively safer because no gas combustion occurs when used. A downside to induction stoves, though, is their costly electrical setup. Portable induction stoves are likewise available in the market.

4. Kitchen Sink: Some Ideas for Your Vanlife Floor Plan

Your sink is an essential part of the kitchen design. Its main use is in washing hands, doing dishes, and cooking, so you’ve got to have a sink size that’s convenient for all these. As a suggestion, having a sink 8-9 inches deep will suffice. You can also have a sink made from stainless steel or creatively use a bathtub sink instead.

A blurred picture of sink

For your water system, there are four possible alternatives for your van. First is the use of a gravity-based system, the simplest among the four. The water container is placed higher than the sink or cup, and with the use of a faucet, you’re ready to access water any time of the day. You just have to position your water jug or container securely.

The use of a hand pump sink is another way out. A manual pump brings pressure that will draw water up, going into a tube and out of the faucet. Little space requirement and a less complicated pump system make this easy to install and use. Expect, though that the pressure is not the strongest under this setup.

A foot pump sink is another feasible alternative. Its framework is similar to a hand pump, but the major difference is in the level of control over the flow of water and its hands-free operation. An electric sink pump can also be used for consistent water supply and easy operation.

5. Kitchen Utensils and Accessories: When It’s Time to Eat

Here are practical tips for choosing your kitchen utensils and accessories:

You can use plastics or wood instead of metals and silverware. Given the same functionality, you can avoid rattling sounds during trips, giving you a more quiet atmosphere. Multi-use utensils such as sporks further save space and money without sacrificing your kitchen needs.

Wooden kitchen countertops with bowls, kitchen supplies, bread on a basket, and containers with pasta.

Bear in mind also that space is a major consideration in your kitchen setup. Consider using collapsible for easy stowing and conserving space. A fruit hammock is a creative way to do this. Magnetic bars and racks, such as for knives and spices, also make use of side and narrow spaces to save space.

For your drawers to be free from mess during road bumps and sudden halts, use drawer liners. You can also install a vent fan to aid in ensuring proper ventilation inside your vehicle. This is helpful with the use of propane stoves indoors.  

If you love brewing and drinking coffee, consider a coffee maker as an add-on. While a lot of options are available for coffee makers, let’s highlight the thermos style. The thermos style is able to keep your coffee flowing and warm for hours without using additional power.

Your utensils should include the following:

  • Slotted Spoon
  • Tongs
  • Spatula
  • Whisk
  • Peeler
  • Can Opener
  • Scissors
  • Spatula
  • Serving Spoons
  • Wooden Spoons

6. A Quality Cast Iron Dutch Oven: Great for Cooking Meals

Different sizes of cast iron on a wooden surface

For you to have the best outcome when it comes to your daily meals, you would need to purchase a quality cast iron dutch oven. It doubles as two cast iron pans that will provide a versatile way of cooking on your stove. You can cook stews, soups, braises, pasta, risottos, and so much more in the cast iron dutch oven.

The Lodge Combo Cooker Cast IronOpens in a new tab. is one of the best cast iron dutch ovens that you can purchase. It is foundry seasoned and will be ready to use once you purchase it. You use this on all cooking surfaces, such as grills and campfires. The best thing about this cast iron dutch oven is it is oven safe.

When purchased, it includes a 10.25-inch shallow skillet and the cast iron itself. You can sauté, sear, fry, and bake to your heart’s content with this cookware. It would definitely be the best thing to have in your vanlife kitchen.

7. Sturdy Cutting Board: Great for Preparing Your Meals

Cutting board on a countertops with spices in the side.

A sturdy cutting board is a must when it comes to your kitchen essentials. It will not only be good for cutting different vegetables, meats, etc., but it can be an additional platter and plates when you are serving a large crowd or when enjoying a cheese platter with wine.

Making sure that you have a sturdy cutting board, you can rest assured that it will last you for years, no matter how many times a day you use it. Now, plastic or wooden, it would depend on your preference but whatever you think is sturdy and reliable is important. However, I prefer a wooden cutting board myself.

8. Food Storage Containers: Great for Organization

Food storage containers are not just for organizing, but it is also for keeping out little critters. Adding your food in storage containers in your van life essential list can be a lifesaver. You might have a mouse encounter in your van, so it would be best to get food containers.

A lot of food containers

Another food storage container that you should get is a collapsible Tupperware. It will make your meal routine to make meals that will result in enough leftovers for another meal or two. Ensuring that you have reliable Tupperware is critical. It is recommended that every van life kitchen would include reliable Tupperware.

These types of collapsible Tupperware range in four sizes, from 250 ml to one liter. When you purchase this, you will definitely use them regularly!

9. Pegboard and Shelves: Another Way to Add Storage Space

Use a pegboard. You can hang pots, pans, or canisters conveniently by using your wall space. 

Use your cabinet tops, sides, doors, and bottoms. Be as innovative as possible. You can hang stuff at the cabinet sides or place storage baskets on top. You can also place a bulletin board or similar things at the back of your cabinet doors.

Consider the idea of folding chairs and fold-down tables. These items can be used at any time you want without the burden of storing them. Convert your backsplash into storage. A narrow shelf, a magnetic knife bar, or a rail can be mounted for added storage.

Pegboard with kitchen supplies

Install narrow shelves where possible. This is applicable to any small space you can find!

Hang everything possible. This option will give you more storage area than you could possibly imagine. You have decors, too, in an instant!

Add shelf risers where you can do this anywhere in your van to free up space. Build burner covers for double counter space. When your stovetop is not in use, you can convert it into an extra counter! Add more space using half of your sink. You simply put a cover on top, and your bonus space is ready!

Use a pull-out counter. This is a perfect space saver and a creative way to keep your counter away until you need it.

Final Takeaway

You need not fear starting your own mobile home as there are a number of ideas that will help you begin. Your kitchen isn’t just a leftover space but an integral part of your van life experience. The various tips and options we have explored will save you great time and energy in your planning phase. For now, take a pen and jot down your preferences. Use your imagination to draw a picture of your kitchen on wheels. You’ll see what a great help they would be as you start your van conversion journey. If you want to know about van life self-care tips, here is an articleOpens in a new tab. that I have written for you. Happy van life!

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