Cooking In a Very Small Vehicle (Ideas and Tips)


When it’s very cold, windy, rainy, or I’m simply feeling spooked by my surroundings and feel safer locked inside my vehicle, I sometimes find myself cooking inside it.

As you can imagine, there isn’t a lot of room in the back of my Mitsubishi Montero (I now have an AWD Astro Van, which feels like a palace compared to Mitzi) but I manage. I have an old cushion off a three-person garden seat down one side, which acts as my bed. This is set up on the passenger side of the vehicle. I usually lay in bed with my head behind the passenger seat, and my feet pointed to the tailgate.

From my bed, I can reach everything I need and use on a regular basis. Immediately on my right is my cooler. Naturally, I keep fresh food in here, but the top of it also becomes a handy little table to cook off, rest my computer on when I watch a movie, or just use it as a table. It has a slippery top, so I have to be careful (especially when the vehicle isn’t perfectly level), but it works well.

To the right of my feet on the driver’s side, I have a large plastic storage box. Inside this, I keep the rest of my food, and some kitchen items such as my two mugs (one for coffee, one for tea), my two stainless steel plates, a chopping board, and my small set of pans. I usually keep my MSR stove set up and ready to use inside the vehicle (the disposable canister one), and the Dragonfly (has a refillable fuel canister) has it’s own little storage box which is under the bed and forms part of the base for my bed. I have found that two of the plastic shoe boxes available at Wal-Mart, will sit inside the lip of the blue boxes’ lid perfectly, and except DSC_8891on the roughest of roads, will stay put while driving. One of these boxes holds all my toiletries and medicines, soap, first aid, etc. and the other all my kitchen utensils, pan grippers and such.


Between the blue box and the cooler is a space that I use to keep my bag of clothes, and whatever else needs to be moved around out of the way while living in the back.

When it’s time to cook in the back of Mitzi it’s often a juggling game, and I have to be very careful. When there is a camp stove set up on top of the cooler or the blue box, with a pan of boiling water on top, one has to move slowly and carefully. Every move is thought out and calculated so that nothing accidentally nudges the stove or box it is sitting on and spills it all over everything,  and especially so that nothing (such as a shifting sleeping bag that is partially wrapped around my legs and body), comes into contact with the open flame. That would spell disaster, and it could happen all too easily with just one hasty movement.

Naturally, when I cook, I try to make sure I have everything I need out of the box or cooler before I start to cook, and have the items set somewhere that I’ll be able to find them easily. However, it is inevitable that I often forget to get something out of the box or cooler during the cooking process, and the item I need is always in the box the stove is set upon. Additionally, no matter how careful I am at putting things out where I’m sure I can find them, something always vanishes. This happens simply because I move around on the bed while preparing and cooking the food, either cross-legged, or kneeling, and my movement makes the bed move, and that makes everything else move, and something will find its way onto my slippery sleeping bag, which will then slide off down the crack between the box, cooler, or clothes bag, and nestle out of sight in the basement (the space beneath my bed).

It can be very frustrating at times.

I have learned a few little tricks to make it easier to work in the back of Mitzi. I keep two trash bags, one at either end of my bed. The one at the tailgate is usually larger and is also handy to use when cooking on the bumper. The little one I keep near the cooler. It may seem extreme two have two trash bags, but I can’t always reach the bag near the tailgate when needed, as when I’m all wrapped up in a sleeping bag, it can be awkward to move around. I use a grocery bag at the tailgate and a doggie doo-doo bag at the other end. If you can get the kind with the handles, they also come in handy as a trash can up in the cab. I simply hook the handle over the stick shift, and it works great.

In cold weather, I also keep two small pans out and the MSR stove set up ready to use. The trouble with disposable canisters is that they don’t work worth a hoot when they are cold. The canisters need to be warmed up before a decent flame comes forth. So I take one pan and put a tiny bit of water in the bottom, warm it slightly on the stove (at this point the flame will be practically non-existent). Once the water is warmed, I set the canister stove inside the pan, and a second later the flame roars to life. (I have to be careful at this point, not to set something on fire). Then I set the second pan on top to get hot water for my morning cup of tea. This is the quickest way to warm the canister. I’ve tried sticking it under my armpit, or inside my clothing, but all that does is make ME cold. Brrrr.

It’s not easy to cook back there, balancing water, cups, pans, and cans, chopping things, etc. but it’s doable. Clean up isn’t too bad, a quick wipe out to get the worst, and I’m done. I can always wash the pans better another time.

There are a zillion little details that I could offer tips on, but man.. that would make a very long post. However, if YOU have some ideas to share, please feel free to comment and share them.

So until next time,

Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature

(Oh yeah, and don’t forget to crack the window when using a camp stove indoors, but only if you want to live to see another spectacular sunset).

Until next time, bye for now, OH, and if you’re using a phone to read this keep on scrolling down and look for the MORE TO EXPLORE link which will guide you to a huge array of categories and posts from the past that include How-To’s, Tips, Travel, Tales, Travel, Philosophy, Safety, Poetry and more.

Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature

(Originally posted in January 2013, and republished November 2019).

Ko-Fi and Buy Me a Coffee help creators get support from their fans:


$3 each ~ Accepts Credit Cards$3 each ~ Accepts PayPalSupport Me Via PayPal Direct

Nomad for NatureMore Than Just a Travel BlogExplore With Me!Breathtaking Images from Places I've Been

3 responses to “Cooking In a Very Small Vehicle (Ideas and Tips)

  1. Pingback: Cooking In a Very Small Vehicle (Ideas and Tips) - The VanLife Shop·

  2. Roxy,

    Do you use your Dragonfly for all your cooking?

    I picked up a 1.1 gallon propane tank in the Yukon several years back. It is a little more than 12 inches tall and about ten inches in diameter. It costs about $3.50 to fill and depending on how much I cook or bathe, usually lasts about a week. (I’ve seen similar tanks at the C.A.L. ranch stores for $55.00.)

    I also bought a device that enables me to refill the small green fuel bottles.

    I’ve to been using it for several years with the same (green) bottles with no problems. I use a small stove — similar to the Dragonfly (propane tho) — to make coffee in morning and/or whenever and a Coleman two-burner for preparing meals.

    Just (1/24/20) discovered you via Rolling Steel Tent.

    Happy Travels!!

    Wahnfried der Nomad


Feel free to comment, but please be kind; there is no room for hate in my life. Your comment may not appear immediately, so be patient.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.