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Van Life Kitchen Essentials You Need to Cook Up a Feast

Cooking while living in a van can be a challenge. But having the right van life kitchen essentials can make a huge difference. When you’ve got the right tools, you’ll find yourself more motivated to cook rather than head out to eat. This is a win-win situation because you’ll save money, spend more time with traveling partners, and get to experience classic vanlife.

To help you round out your collection of must-have camper kitchen accessories, we reviewed countless products. We looked for things that were helpful, convenient, and easy to use. We found lots of good things to include on the list of the best van life accessories, but we also found plenty that weren’t worth recommending.

Of everything we’ve tested, we like the Duo Crisp 11-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker with Air Fryer Lid the best. If you could only buy one appliance to cook your meals while on the go, we’d highly suggest you make it this one. It can bake, boil, fry, and more, all in a compact unit that’s easy to clean up.

Keep reading to learn more about our top picks and to see helpful advice about how to pick the right van life necessities for yourself.

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1. Duo Crisp 11-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker with Air Fryer Lid – Best Van Life Kitchen Essential for Versatile Cooking

Instant Pot Duo Crisp 11-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker with Air Fryer Lid

Quick and easy way to make all kinds of van life meals

Cooking while living in a van can be an interesting proposition. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver, and you may not always have the tools to prepare more elaborate meals, like pot roast, BBQ ribs, or jambalaya. That all changes when you purchase an Instant Pot Duo Crisp 11-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker with Air Fryer Lid.

One of the latest iterations of the world-famous Instant Pot brand, this machine packs a whole lot of versatility into a compact package. With the air fryer lid off, the unit measures under 11 inches tall, so it’s the perfect size for storing on a countertop or in a cabinet.

In addition to the super-easy pressure cooking for which Instant Pot is known, this machine adds air fryer functionality. This is amazing because we love to eat fried foods, and as much as we thought about purchasing a separate air fryer, we just couldn’t sacrifice the space. Now, we don’t have to.

I’ll admit, when we first got the pressure cooker, we were a little nervous: I’d heard so many horror stories of these types of machines blowing up! It turns out my fears were unfounded because this thing couldn’t be any safer. It’s got more than 10 built-in safety features, and it’s quite intuitive with its settings, so there’s no way to get things wrong.

What We Liked

  • Versatile appliance lets you air fry, bake, dehydrate, slow cook, and more
  • Compact size makes it appropriate for even the smallest campervans
  • Tons of presets take the guesswork out of cooking

What We Didn’t Like

  • There are two separate lids to store
  • You may often see fingerprints when handling it

2. Gotham Steel Stackmaster Pots & Pans Set – Best Van Life Kitchen Essentials for Compact Storage

Gotham Steel Stackmaster Pots & Pans Set

Van life necessities if you like traditional cooking

As much as we consider our pressure cooker a van life cooking essential, we’ll admit that there are times we prefer to cook our meals in a more traditional fashion. There’s just something relaxing about pulling out pots and pans to put together an incredible meal. What used to be not-so-relaxing was figuring out how to fix everything back in the cupboard when we were done.

If you don’t already have stacking pots and pans, we highly recommend them. We went with the Stackmaster series from Gotham Steel, and seriously — game changer. They save so much room compared to our last set.

Part of the secret is in the interchangeable lids. All the pots and pans have a similar circumference, so there’s no need to have a collection of lids. This set comes with just four, and we’ve never had a need for more — nor have we had to go digging to find the right lid.

Another huge benefit is that they’re so easy to clean. They are non-stick coated, so you don’t have to worry about food sticking or having to use so much oil. We actually tried a fried egg with no oil or butter, and it didn’t stick!

While the manufacturer claims it can stand up to metal utensils, we wouldn’t recommend using them. These are such nice pots; why wouldn’t you want them to last as long as possible?

What We Liked

  • Stackable pots and pans take up less storage space
  • Interchangeable lids make cooking more convenient
  • Non-stick surface makes clean up easy

What We Didn’t Like

  • Manufacturer promotes the use of metal utensils, which is a bad idea
  • Stay-cool handles can get quite warm to the touch

3. Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet – Best Van Life Kitchen Essential for Cooking Almost Anywhere

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

Can help you cook almost any kind of van life food, almost anywhere

Speaking of traditional van life cooking methods, does it get any more classic than cooking over a wood fire with a cast iron pan? We picked up this Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet because we wanted to have a way to cook anywhere — inside, outside, over by the picnic tables, or down by the stream.

This cast iron skillet comes pre-seasoned, so you don’t have to worry about going through the lengthy process of seasoning it yourself in an oven. That was a big plus for us as our van life stove/oven probably can’t reach high enough temps to season a pan.

If you have any experience with cast iron, you know that it’s incredibly durable. So long as you maintain it, there’s really no reason it can’t last a lifetime.

This cast iron pan is available in several sizes ranging from 3 inches in diameter to 15 inches. We chose the 10.25-inch version because it offered enough space for our meals and was still compact enough for easy storage.

As far as what to cook with the pan, the options are really limitless. We’ve used it to fry french fries, make scrambled eggs, prepare pancakes, stir fry vegetables, and more.

What We Liked

  • Comes pre-seasoned so it’s ready to go right from the box
  • Can be used almost anywhere, from stoves to wood fires
  • Versatile pan for baking, broiling, frying, and more 

What We Didn’t Like

  • You really have to maintain it; otherwise, use and cleanup will be a chore
  • Pan is rather heavy and gets very hot, so be careful about setting it down

4. AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker – Best Van Life Kitchen Essential for Coffee without Electricity

AEROPRESS Coffee and Espresso Maker

Must-have camper kitchen accessory for coffee lovers

We wouldn’t exactly describe ourselves as coffee addicts, but we definitely can’t start our day without a cup of the good stuff. A big problem that we initially ran into (and that many van lifers may experience) was the lack of space and electricity for a coffee maker. We really didn’t have the counter space to dedicate to a larger machine, and if we found a spot, we’d have to run an extension cord to power it.

Rather than deal with all that inconvenience, we researched non-electric coffee maker options, and we fell in love with the AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker. It was exactly what we wanted in terms of size, price, and convenience, and it’s worked wonderfully since the first day we got it.

Picture this: You’ve decided to camp away from the van for a night. You’ve got a kettle of water on the fire and your favorite ground coffee and the AeroPress in your bag. This is really all you need to enjoy fresh coffee, even in the middle of nowhere.

What We Liked

  • Requires no electricity to brew a fresh cup of coffee 
  • Compact and lightweight, so you can take it anywhere
  • Made of BPA- and BPS-free plastics

What We Didn’t Like

  • Capacity isn’t as large as a regular coffee maker
  • Requires proprietary coffee filters

Read more // 8 Ways to Get Your Camp Coffee Without Using Electricity

5. Oneida 20-Piece Everyday Flatware Set – Best Van Life Kitchen Essentials for Everyday Use

Oneida Satin Nocha 20 Piece Everyday Flatware

Van kitchen idea that’s affordable and less wasteful than plastic

When we first hit the road many years ago, we used plastic cutlery. At the time, it sort of seemed convenient because the lightweight, plastic spoons, forks, and knives were easy to stow in a drawer, and we could toss them whenever we were feeling lazy. But as time wore on, we realized that we really hated using plastic, especially those awful knives.

We invested in this Oneida 20-Piece Everyday Flatware Set because we wanted something elegant but sturdy enough for everyday use. We also realized that real flatware would take up as little space as our plastic cutlery did, so why not make mealtimes a little more pleasant?

This flatware set comes with service for four, which is just enough for traveling couples or small families. Each set comes with dinner spoons, dinner forks, dinner knives, salad forks, and teaspoons.

The pieces are made from stainless steel, so they’re durable, but we have noticed that they don’t look as shiny as they did in the beginning. However, they do have a nice weight to them, so they still feel fancier than they actually are.

We don’t have a dishwasher in our campervan, but they are dishwasher-safe if you’ve got one. We wash them by hand with no issues, and we’re really happy we made the eco-friendly choice to ditch plastic.

What We Liked

  • Service for four includes forks, spoons, and knives
  • Steel construction for added durability
  • More eco-friendly than using disposable cutlery

What We Didn’t Like

  • Finish has faded over several months
  • Set doesn’t come with steak knives (and dinner knives don’t always suffice)

6. Corelle Livingware 12-Piece Dinnerware Set – Best Van Life Kitchen Essentials for Durability and Class on the Road

Corelle Livingware 12 Piece Dinnerware Set

Lovely dinnerware for serving your van life meals

While we’ve never regularly eaten off disposable plates while traveling in our campervan, we did once have this awful set of plastic dishes and bowls. As with the cutlery, we decided there was no reason to cheap out on nice dinnerware, so we upgraded to this gorgeous Corelle Livingware 12-Piece Dinnerware Set.

If you don’t know about Corelle, let me be the first to tell you that it’s some pretty amazing stuff. Its dishes and bowls are made from a tempered glass that’s resistant to chips, scratches, and even breakage. We’re not going to say that they’re indestructible, but we’ve dropped a plate or 10, and we’ve never had it crack or shatter.

For being so durable, this dinnerware is incredibly thin and lightweight. If you’re used to ceramic plates, you’ll notice the difference immediately. A set of four Corelle dinner plates can easily stack in the same space as just one ceramic one. That means that this complete set of 12 pieces takes up a fraction of the room a traditional dinnerware set does.

Corelle is available in lots of different patterns and colors, but we went with the classic white scheme. It’s really classy, and we figure that if we need to replace something or expand our set, it shouldn’t be difficult to find more.

What We Liked

  • Tempered glass dinnerware resists chips and other damage
  • Dishwasher and microwave safe
  • Lots of colors and patterns from which to choose

What We Didn’t Like

  • Metal cutlery can leave grey marks on the white dinnerware
  • Bowls are a bit on the smaller side

What We Looked For in the Best Van Life Kitchen Essentials

As longtime vanlife travelers, we know the struggle of finding kitchen essentials that work with our unique lifestyles. In most cases, you can’t just run to a big-box store and pick something up. You need to pay careful attention to size, function, and quality to ensure you’re making a smart purchase.

While reviewing products for this list of best van life accessories for the kitchen, we looked for things that met the following criteria:

  • Affordable — We’re not made of money, and we know lots of you aren’t either, so we looked for products that were high-quality but still within an affordable price range.
  • Compact — The biggest problem most vanlife campers deal with is lack of space, so we looked for appliances and accessories that worked with the typical limitations of life on the road.
  • Ease of use — When you’re traveling, you don’t want to waste time on difficult-to-clean appliances or accessories that require a lot of work to put away. We looked for products that were easy to use, because you already have enough distractions when on the road.

How to Choose the Right Van Life Kitchen Essentials

We consider the Duo Crisp 11-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker with Air Fryer Lid a van life cooking essential for so many reasons. It’s extremely versatile (it can seriously cook anything!), and it’s easy to store when you’re done.

But depending on your current setup and collection of camper kitchen accessories, you might be in the market for something different. No matter what you’re shopping for, use the tips below to ensure you make a good purchasing decision.

Need

We’re all human, so we’ve all gone through experiences when we’ve seen a cool van kitchen idea and felt as if we had to have it. But you don’t need us to tell you that space is a premium in the vanlife world, so you can’t always stock up on every neat gadget that you see.

When shopping for van life kitchen essentials, ask yourself whether you have a legitimate need for items that you’re perusing. If you already have a cookware set but another catches your eye, you have to decide whether it makes sense to ditch your current set for something that’s new and shiny. In some cases, the answer might be yes. But if it’s not for you, keep looking for something that will make a bigger and better impact in your day-to-day life on the road.

van life kitchen essentials

Budget

Budget is an important consideration for all purchasing decisions, whether you live in a van or not. When shopping for a particular product, an easy way to set a budget is to do your research first. Learn more about what’s available and what the price range is like. From there, you can decide whether something on the low-end is sufficient or whether you want to spend more on a premium upgrade. Just remember, buying cheap can often mean buying more than once.

Size

The best van life accessories are those that store easily without causing too many problems. Of course, because vans are much smaller than traditional houses and even RVs, you have to take extra care when reviewing a product’s size to make sure it fits within your rig. 

A smart thing to do before shopping for van life necessities is to clear space for whatever products or accessories you’d like to buy. When you know exactly where that pressure cooker or cutting board is going to go, you’ll have a much easier time finding one that’s just the right dimensions.

Convenience

It probably goes without saying, but convenience is king when it comes to vanlife. Products that require a lot of care or setup might not be appropriate for taking on the road. 

For example, when we were shopping for a new cookware set, we came across one that required a special cleanser. We knew right away that this level of maintenance was more than we wanted to deal with, so we passed.

When considering a product’s convenience, think about how easy it is to use, clean, and store. If you run into a snag with any of those criteria, you might want to look for something that’s not as complicated.

van life kitchen essentials

Wrapping Up

Shopping for new van life cooking products can be tons of fun, but to make sure you pick up something that will benefit you and work with your camper setup, you need to consider its size, price, and convenience factor.

We think that the Duo Crisp 11-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker with Air Fryer Lid ticks off all these boxes, not to mention that it’s incredibly versatile. We’ve enjoyed plenty of use out of ours, and if you cook just about anything while on the road, we think you’ll find it pretty useful too.

A lot of people consider ovens to be the ultimate campervan essential. If you’re in the market for a new one, check out our guide to the best campervan ovens for help finding just the right one.

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