When we bought our van, we knew we would get a lot of use out of the stove and oven. Bu we also wanted to stretch our resources as far as we could. Investing in an energy-saving cooking device was essential.
Here is a rundown of what we considered, with some of their pros and cons:
1. Solar oven.
What? Basically a metal box with glass and reflectors which you fold out and point towards the sun. Can be purchased or homemade. You leave it outside for several hours to cook pizza or pasta. We’ve even heard you can make brownies in them.
Pros: would require absolutely no propane, could be left unattended, could secure us a spot among the eco-hip camping crowd
Cons: would require storage space that we didn’t have, require several hours to cook, would be dependent upon weather, couldn’t really use it for things other than baking, could attract bears
We thought: cool idea but too big for our van’s storage space and probably not practical for the foods that we cook everyday
2. Pressure cooker
What? This time-old cooking method uses pressure created by steam to cook things super-efficiently. Now there are several modern versions which overlanders swear by.
Pros: comes in a different sizes, minimizes water use, requires less propane than conventional cooking, decreases cook times in high-altitude environments, can cook a variety of foods
Cons: cannot be left unattended, can make foods mushy, can cause burns if used improperly, can be difficult to clean
We thought: we were about to get one, but hesitated because they were expensive and seemed like a lot of work
3. 12-volt crock pot
What? This slow cooker plugs into a 12-volt plug (you may know it as the cigarette lighter/phone charging plug).
Pros: only requires you to throw the ingredients in and go
Cons: uses lots of battery power, not a very efficient heater, runs the risk of shorting out or melting the socket if not wired correctly
We thought: plug your pasta into the cigarette lighter? We’ll wait til the technology gets better (and safer)
4. Thermal cooker
What? Used mostly in Asia, this stainless steel pot fits inside an insulated airtight container. You cook the food in the pot on high for a few minutes and then place the pot inside the thermal container and leave it for a few hours to continue cooking.
Pros: comes in different sizes, uses less propane than conventional cooking, can be left unattended for the majority of the cook time, retains heat for several hours
Cons: needs several hours to cook, must be at least 80% full to cook properly which means you’re limited to stewy or soupy things
We thought: We liked the crockpot concept without without electricity use.
With our small space and small budget, we could only choose one “alternative” cooking method. We bought this reasonably-priced Chinese thermal cooker.
Here’s how we use it:
The verdictSo far we are happy with our thermal cooker and use it at a least once a week. Our 5-liter pot cooks roughly two to three nights of food.
You still use a bit of propane to bring the liquids to a boil, so the thermal cooker shines when cooking tough grains, potatoes and beans. (It’s great because those things are cheaper than their pre-cooked counterparts!) Each time a recipe says: “simmer for…” we just put it in the thermal cooker instead. This makes it ideal for chilis, soups, and sauces.
We hope this gets you thinking about your camp cuisine!