Life on the road takes a toll on your body and wallet. Musicians, performers, traveling chefs and anyone living the van or RV life knows that. But it doesn’t have to. Bring in the Suitcase Kitchen and say goodbye to unhealthy hot dogs, burritos and instant noodles.
Cooking just one or two meals per week saves a fair amount of cash and benefits your mind and spirit—the better your diet, the more energy you’ll have for your gigs or sightseeing.
A portable kitchen doesn’t have to be a huge, costly project; you likely have a lot of this stuff lying around. The first item you’ll need is a clean, sturdy suitcase you don’t plan to use for clothes. I found a used one at a thrift store for $15 and it worked out great.
Consider your specific diet and the number of people you plan to cook for—the fewer the meals and number of people, the smaller and lighter the kitchen. As an exercise, cook your favorite meals for a day and write down everything you used.
Select light-weight and multi-functional items that you know work well. Test the items at home to make sure they’re functional, so you don’t end up packing a can opener that doesn’t function.
- Basting brush
- Cheese grater
- Potato masher
- Rubber spatula
- Wooden spoon
- Plastic spatula
- Measuring spoons
- Measuring cups
- Kitchen sheers
- Cheese knife
- Chef knife
- Honing steel
- Bread knife
- Utility knife
- Can opener
- Vegetable peeler
Consider cookware carefully—you have to find the right functionality while keeping the weight of your bag down. It’s OK to leave items behind in favor for multi-purpose tools. Before you go, test your items with a favorite recipe on the burner you plan to bring. You don’t want to get stuck in a pickle when whipping up some grub for the crew after the gig.
- Stainless steel skillet
- Non-stick skillet
- Sauce pan with lid
- Soup pot with lid (nothing too tall to be sure it fits)
- Mesh strainer
- Mixing bowl
- Immersion blender
- Light weight cutting board
- Kitchen towels
- Wide-mouth thermos
- Tea egg
- Coffee grinder
- Small French press
Consider the pros and cons of disposable dishes. You will be creating extra garbage, which is a con for the planet. There are compostable versions of paper plates and silverware on the market however, most require a municipal composting program to avoid the landfill.
If you decide to use disposable serving items, I suggest only buying disposable plates, bowls and cups as needed and skipping the utensils and cups. Enameled camping bowls and plates are heavy side if you have more than a couple –they’re also durable and easy to clean. Tupperware or plastic are also valid options, but make sure they are durable.
I found that a butane burner is the most consistent heat source with the added benefit of being light-weight. If you’re flying, find a store that sells the butane when you get into town as flying with it is a no-no. If you try an electric burner include an extension cord long enough to reach outside your hotel room.
Most hotels frown on cooking in the room, so ask permission first or look for lodging with a kitchenette. When the weather is good, find a park or rest stop to cook at – many are equipped with grills and BBQ pits. Go old school—grab some charcoal or wood from the store. Always follow the safety guidelines.
- Portable butane burner
- Propane camp stove7
- Electric burner
‘Tis the Seasoning for Travel
Buy the herbs and spices you like in the bulk section. This will help you buy less than what you need and also ditch the containers.
The containers that spices come in are made of glass and heavy, the ones that aren’t in glass jars tend to be the “Value” size which means that you will get more but it will be a lesser quality. I store my seasonings in snack-sized zipper bags to maximize space. I stash seasonings inside of other items in the case–I also use spice blends that I like, such as curries to save weight and space.
If you are adventurous, you can make your own seasoning blends at home–be sure to test out the mix first. Dried mushrooms and seaweed add a savory umami flavor to stocks, so I keep some in the case as well as instant potato flakes, which are a good thickener. If you use it sparingly, bullion cubes can add that extra something to a dish, but use it at the end it doesn’t end up too salty.
- Whole black pepper (in a grinder)
- Curry powder
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
- Dried mushrooms
- Dried onion pieces
- Red chili flakes
- Bay leaves
- Dried thyme
Other Suitcase Kitchen Tips and Tricks
Leaving on a jet plane? If you plan to fly with your Suitcase Kitchen, look at checked baggage rates. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly first class since you get three free checked bags. This will vary depending on airline, but if you work it right you can travel in style and save money.
Include a few jumbo garbage bags in your suitcase kitchen. Besides storing garbage, leftovers or even dirty dishes in a pinch, they can be used to line an empty suitcase and create a wash-basin.
I pack dish liquid and iodine into my Suitcase Kitchen for cleaning. These two are essential, but add your own personal favorite cleaning supplies. Bleach is good for killing germs, but it’s also caustic and somewhat dangerous.
At the end of the day, it’s all about finding what works best for you, and the way you like to cook and eat. It takes a little effort to put together a useful Suitcase Kitchen, but once you have it dialed in, it’s worth it. There’s nothing like a home-cooked meal.
Find this useful? You might also enjoy the 9-Step Recipe to Successful Cooking Classes.