None of my vans have had a built-in kitchen. I’ve used several different methods for cooking and keeping food cold. Today I’ll share what I’ve learned about stoves and refrigeration while van dwelling.
I’ve used three kinds of stoves while van dwelling: one-burner propane, two-burner propane, and one-burner butane.
The one-burner propane was my least favorite. With this kind of stove, the propane bottle sits in a round base. The burner screws into the opening on the propane canister and sits on top of the contraption. [amazon template=image&asin=B00GVLDK4A]
The pros of this cooking method include:
#1 The unassembled stove uses minimal storage space.
#2 It’s easy to find stores that sell propane canisters.
The cons of these stoves include:
#1 Even with the propane bottle sitting in the base, the whole setup seems precarious, especially if a strong wind is blowing while a heavy pot of beans is sitting up there.
#2 The cook needs a lighter or matches on hand to light the flame.
#3 The cook has to set up the whole contraption before any actual cooking can occur.
The last time I looked at Wal-Mart, the price on these one-burner stoves was between $15 and $20.
[amazon template=image&asin=B00GVK9WDO]During the time I was fighting to heat beans and rice on my one-burner stove, my vendor friend Mr. Phoenix turned me on to a flat, one-burner stove that burned butane. I bought one of those stoves at Wal-Mart for about $20, then sold the propane stove for $5 at a flea market.
I loved the flatness of the butane stove. No longer was my pot of food up in the air, perched precariously on a burner. I also like that the stove was self -igniting. I didn’t have to fumble with a lighter or a match; one turn of the knob, and I had a flame.
What I didn’t like about the stove was finding butane. Not every Wal-Mart carried it. In one desert tourist town I had to run around to five businesses before I found the canisters I needed at the hardware store. While propane canisters tend to run about $3 each at Wal-Mart, the smaller butane bottles tended to run from $3 to $4.50. (The best deal I ever got on butane was packs of four canisters for $6 at one of those stores in a tent in Quartzsite in the winter.)
I also didn’t like the perpetually low flame on this stove. Because the flame didn’t get very high, it seemed to take forever to heat food or bring water to a boil.
I wasn’t longing for a new stove, but one day I saw a Coleman two-burner propane stove in a small-town thrift store.
The price? $10 I scooped it up. I don’t use both burners very often, but it’s nice to have them both when I need them.
In addition to the convenience of two burners, this stove also has stability because it’s flat. Although I do need to have a lighter or a match on hand to light it, the flame gets really high, and my food is ready to eat much sooner than with the butane stove.
After I bought the two-burner stove, I sold the butane stove to a vendor friend at the Bridge for $5. The flat stove was an upgrade from the one-burner upright propane stove she had been using.
All of the stoves I’ve mentioned so far were Coleman brand. I tried using two Ozark Trail brand stoves from Wal-Mart several years ago, and was left sorely disappointed. My ex and I were going to a music festival, so we bought the cheapest Ozark Trail double-burner propane stove. When we tried to use it before we left for the festival, it didn’t work. We exchanged it for the more expensive Ozark Trail model. We tried it in the parking lot, and it worked, but when we got to the festival, it didn’t work. We had the displeasure of eating cold soup all weekend. Since then I’ve used Ozark Trail stoves friends had, and the stoves worked fine. However, I would never buy an Ozark Trail stove at a thrift store unless I was absolutely desperate. If I were buying new and I had the extra dollars to go with a Coleman, I certainly would.
Despite the warnings on all of the camp stoves I’ve had, I do cook in my van when I need to. I prefer to cook outside on a table, but that’s not always practical if it’s dark or cold or rainy when I’m ready to cook. If I’m cooking in the van, I make sure a window is open. If it’s not too cold out, I completely open the windows on both side doors. Usually I’m just boiling water or heating beans and rice, so I don’t have the stove on for a long time while cooking a complicated meal.
I’ve never had a refrigerator in my vans either. What I do have now is an ice chest. I’ve tried several methods of storing food in an ice chest until I found something that currently works for me.
The first method I tried was simply dumping the contents of a sack of ice over the food in the cooler. As you can guess, after a couple of days, my food was floating in a sea of melted ice. My cardboard egg carton was a soggy mess and water had leaked into the container of hummus. Gross! The results were just about the same when I left the ice in the bag. The bag was riddled with holes and the water leaked out as the ice melted.
Next I bought a cheap plastic dishpan and put it in the cooler. Then I put a block of ice into the dishpan. The block melted more slowly, but if I didn’t stay on top of dumping the pan of ice melt water (which involved removing all of my food from the cooler), the water ended up out of the dishpan and in the bottom of the cooler. Of course, once water was sloshing around in the cooler, all of my food got wet, and some of it was spoiled by the water.
Before I hit on my current cooler method, I did buy a plastic egg suitcase in the Wal-Mart sporting goods department. In this plastic case, the eggs are protected much better than they are in a cardboard carton. In the past I sometimes lost eggs to breakage once the carton got wet and disintegrated. Not anymore! Also, the egg suitcase talks up less space than a carton. I paid under $3 for mine, and I think it was well worth the investment.
My current cooler system consists of a Styrofoam cooler in my plastic ice chest. The food goes into the Styrofoam cooler and the ice goes between the Styrofoam and the plastic. Yes, this system leaves less space for food, but I’m willing to make that trade-off in order to keep my food out of the melt water.
At some point, the Styrofoam starts floating in the water from the melted ice, and I can’t get the plastic cover to close. When that happens, I drain the water through the spout underneath. Sometimes ice gets under the Styrofoam cooler, pushing it up too high for the plastic cover to close, and I have to take out the Styrofoam cooler, dump the ice into a container, and reassemble. It’s a pain in the ass, but (to me) not as big of a pain as losing a container of hummus that’s now full of water.
Please feel free to post comments about what kind of stove and refrigeration system you use in your vanhome.