Several months back, I wrote an article here at Camper Report about RV kitchen accessories. While all these extras are nice to have, they’re not exactly necessities. Could you live without a dish strainer or drawer organizers? Sure! Your trailer kitchen might be a little messy, but you could still enjoy food from the comfort of your vehicle.
What about the base features in a travel trailer kitchen? I’m talking about the must-haves, the things you can’t go without if you plan on living in your trailer. Some people get so excited when shopping if they see a queen-sized bed or a bathroom with a toilet and a shower in a trailer that some things get overlooked.
It happens. You don’t want to find out too late though that you bought a trailer that’s missing some crucial components. That’s why, in this article, I’m going to go over the seven things your trailer kitchen should absolutely have. You shouldn’t sign on the dotted line if more than two of these things are missing. Oh, and just for fun, there’s a bonus item thrown in as well.
The first must-have item your trailer kitchen needs is a stovetop or oven. Otherwise, you’re just going to be eating cold foods and packaged snacks. You won’t be able to truly cook nice something unless you gather ‘round a fire on a campsite.
There’s typically room for an oven with a stovetop like the one you know back home, but only if you own an RV. With a travel trailer, it’s different. Some manufacturers wedge the oven within the cabinets, and sometimes there’s even a row of cabinets beneath the oven. This saves on space, but it doesn’t seem too safe. You’d have to be careful with the contents of that drawer beneath the oven. If there were plastic bowls, cups, or cookware inside, these could all melt. You also wouldn’t want the kids going near the hot oven to access something in that drawer. They risk burning themselves.
Some smaller trailers will not have ovens at all. Instead, all you’ll get is a stovetop. That means that baking is out of the question most of the time. You’ll also have to get used to making meals on the stovetop rather than throwing them in the oven and warming them up there.
The smallest trailers, like the teardrop trailers I wrote about recently, will often not have indoor kitchens. Instead, parts of these trailers will retract to reveal an outdoor kitchen setup. In inclement weather, you’d need an awning to keep your food dry.
E.coli, shigella, salmonella, hepatitis A, and norovirus: those are the five most common foodborne illnesses. How are they spread? Plenty of ways! Eating contaminated food, sharing close quarters with other sick people, and, oh yeah, not cleaning your hands after cooking with fish, poultry, meat, and eggs.
That’s all the reason you need to have a sink in your trailer kitchen. If you always have to run to the bathroom sink to clean your hands when cooking, you’re inevitably going to touch something or someone. That could spread bacteria. E.coli has a pretty long lifespan on kitchen and trailer surfaces. It will survive 24 hours or more. All someone has to do is touch what you did with bacteria on your hands to potentially get sick.
You’re already living in close enough quarters on a travel trailer. Make sure everyone stays healthy by purchasing a trailer with a kitchen sink.
You might not go grocery shopping quite as often when traveling in your trailer as you would back home, but you still need a place to keep your food cool. The refrigerator is it. From milk and eggs to vegetables and meats, you’ll rely on your trailer fridge as often as you would your home fridge.
That said, you can’t expect a travel trailer fridge to be nearly as large. These have very specific space restraints to fit, so they’re often shorter and squatter than a home fridge. Some brands, like Dometic and Norcold, sell fridges with dual doors. Each door has four shelves or more for stashing condiments, small bottles of beverages, and more. Inside, there four or five shelves for all your other essentials: eggs, meats, salads, beverages, and anything else that needs to stay frosty. There are also several plastic drawers for organizing fruits and veggies.
You won’t necessarily have to skimp on your grocery list if you have a fridge by one of these brands. There should be enough space to stash food for the whole family.
Another thing worth mentioning is how RV fridges run. It’s not the same as a household fridge. Your trailer’s fridge is powered by a heat source. That warms up the water in the generator. It travels up to the separator, where it becomes ammonia vapor. The condenser will release some warmth so the unit doesn’t overheat and become a fire hazard. The rest of the ammonia vapor will move down to the evaporator, where it’s now hydrogen. Lastly, it travels to the absorber, becoming first dissolved ammonia and then water once more and starting the whole process over again.
Now, you may be wondering, so what if a travel trailer doesn’t come with a refrigerator? Can’t you just buy one yourself? Well sure, you could, but this is quite an expensive venture. Those Dometic and Norcold fridges I talked about above can cost several thousand dollars each. Even when you shell out that kind of money, you then have to pay to get the fridge installed by a professional. Attempting to do so yourself without any prior experience can lead to injury and sometimes even fatalities.
So yes, it’s definitely better to just get a trailer that already comes with a fridge.
If you’re truly lucky, your trailer fridge will also include a freezer. Unless you’re buying higher-end appliances like those mentioned in the section above though, this isn’t a guarantee. Even if you do get a fridge that happens have a freezer, don’t expect much space. You could maybe load an ice tray and a few frozen meals in slim boxes or packages. That’s about it. Bigger, bulkier items will often not fit.
That’s why many RV enthusiasts have looked into alternate means of freezing their food. After all, what’s a camping trip on the road without ice cream?
One such option that’s very popular is a portable freezer. This one from ARB comes up again and again as a top pick. Now, I do have to say that it’s not exactly cheap. On Amazon, you’d pay $849 for a 37-quart freezer. For 50 quarts, it’s $878, and for 63 quarts, it’s $1,092. If you need it, there’s an 82-quart option available, but it’s going to cost you…$1,294, to be precise.
So yes, all that said, this isn’t the cheapest option on the market. You could just put that money towards buying a fridge with a freezer. Of course, that doesn’t solve your space issues. With up to 82 quarts available, if you need some serious freezer space, you can make it happen with this ARB portable freezer.
What do you get for all that money? I’m glad you asked. Let’s focus on the 50-quart model, which is middle of the road in terms of storage space and price. The freezer has a dairy compartment that’s over eight inches high, nearly 12 inches wide, and almost six inches deep. The main compartment is practically 16 inches high, just about 12 inches wide, and roughly 13.5 inches deep. In other words, you can fit a lot of food in there.
You also get everything you need for setup and use. This includes an AC power cable plug (for a household AC power outlet) and a DC power cable (for your 12 or 24-volt DC power outlet). It can even double as a refrigerator if necessary, reaching temperatures as low as zero degrees.
Oh, and in case you were worried about all your food spoiling if you park overnight, it won’t happen with the ARB portable freezer. It runs when your trailer doesn’t. You can even use the adjustable automatic battery protection system if you fear the freezer will drain your trailer battery.
5. Counter Space
While cooking is possible in your trailer, it’s not as easy as it is back home. You won’t necessarily be able to make multi-part meals with several sides and a main. You just don’t have that kind of kitchen space for such involved cooking. It’s better to stick to simple recipes.
When you’re checking out various travel trailers, make sure that you’re looking out for how much counter space each one offers. It’s easy to forget to check for counter space because other kitchen features can distract you. That’s fine until you go to cook and then find you don’t have the room.
Counter space is useful for more than just cooking prep. If you want to set up extra appliances in your kitchen, such as a microwave or a coffeemaker, your counter is where these would go. Without decent counter space, you’ll have to leave those appliances at home. Yes, that means buying coffee each day on the road, which is costly.
6. Fuel Source
Like your kitchen at home, the kitchen in your travel trailer will run on a fuel source. There are three sources that are common for RVs and trailers: diesel, electric, or gas. Of these, diesel is used the least often.
In most cases, you can expect your oven and stovetop to use gas. Your refrigerator will also often need propane to ignite the heat source and run. Everything else in the kitchen, such as a portable freezer, a coffeemaker, a microwave, and other similar small appliances are powered by electricity. Most fridges need an electrical connection, too. Using both gas and electricity like your fridge does is known as two-way power.
If your fridge runs on two-way power, you have options. You can rely on the shore power at a campsite or park while you’re staying and power your fridge that way. If you don’t have a source of shore power, though, it’s recommended you run your fridge exclusively on gas if possible. Electricity sources can run out fast without shore power. As you probably know, using too much electricity can quickly drain your trailer battery. That’s not a great scenario to be in.
7. Graywater Holding Tanks
There are both graywater and blackwater holding tanks in your vehicle. Blackwater tanks are for your toilet, so I won’t be talking about those much further. Graywater holding tanks can be used in both the bathroom and the kitchen. No matter the room, their purpose is the same. These tanks are used for storing shower and sink water. The waste in there can look grayish depending on how much soap you use, so that’s where the infamous moniker comes from.
These tanks don’t hold infinite amounts of waste. You will have to dump your graywater holding tank periodically. You can’t do this just anywhere. If you’re staying at a campsite or park, you must use an appropriated dump station. This is where all that watery waste is intended to go.
Besides that, you’ll also have to flush the tank. This cleans it of any leftover waste, which sometimes does accumulate within the tank’s walls. To make your life easier, there’s a tank flush opening in many graywater (and blackwater) tanks. This varies by manufacturer, so put that on your must-have list as you browse trailer kitchens.
You might be interested in getting a portable graywater holding tank. This one from Tote-N-Stor is available on Amazon for under $150. It can hold 15 gallons of waste. With wheels and a handle, you can roll it out to a dump station and empty it out. It’s fast and convenient.
Bonus: A Smoke Alarm (and Carbon Monoxide Detector)
Here’s the bonus must-have kitchen item: a smoke alarm! Fires and can do happen. Unlike your home, where the fire may be contained to a single room or two, if your travel trailer goes up in flames, it’s probably done for. It’s so small compared to a house that there’s often no saving it.
Mistakes happen, and if they do, a smoke alarm will tell you and your passengers to get out of the vehicle as soon as possible.
In that same vein, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector as well. There are some detectors made specifically for RVs and trailers, like this one from Atwood. It’s available on Amazon for $60. You do a lot of cooking and showering in your trailer, but this Atwood carbon monoxide detector is made to determine between false gasses and humidity so it doesn’t go off unnecessarily. This is due to its fuel cell technology, which ensures correct readings.
You’ll get 10 years of protection with this carbon monoxide detector. With an easy-to-read LCD display, you’ll know if carbon monoxide levels seem high. Remember, carbon monoxide often does not have a smell or a taste. It can absolutely kill. Keep you and your fellow passengers safe each time you take a trip in your travel trailer with a carbon monoxide detector.
As you start browsing travel trailer floorplans or look at the vehicles at a store, you should pay special attention to the kitchen. There’s much more to a functional kitchen than a fridge and nice cabinetry. That fridge needs to be spacious. If you don’t have a freezer, you might want to consider getting a portable one.
You’ll also need an oven or stovetop (maybe both!), a sink for hygiene reasons, adequate counter space, and a graywater holding tank. Don’t forget your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector for the safety of everyone onboard your trailer.
Once you can check these seven (or so) items off on the trailer kitchen you’re looking at, you know you have a winner. Good luck!