Tips and tricks for boosting limited cabinet and counter space and cooking like a pro in your RV’s kitchen
Whether your idea of meal prep in your RV’s galley is slapping together a ham sandwich or creating an authentic Monte Cristo, the fact remains that space can be a limiting factor. From tight counters to cramped cabinets and compact refrigerators, the quest is endless to come up with the perfect gadgets and refinements to make cooking easier and more fun.
For my wife, Seana, and me, it’s all a bit of a game. We both like to cook, and it’s something we do together. We also try to eat healthy, so that adds another level to the challenge. And then there’s the test of cooking together in the tight quarters of our 23-foot hybrid trailer, and every square inch matters.
Our friend and colleague Lorisa Pierson and her husband, Ron, have a larger travel trailer than ours, but they’re still challenged for space in their kitchen and, like us, are always on the prowl for tips, tricks and gadgets to raise the bar.
So off we go on a virtual shopping spree to compile the consummate list of space-savers and efficiency-expanders to help up your RV-cooking game.
Whether you’re in a full-timing fifth-wheel, a slide-in truck camper or anything in between, there’s just never enough counter space. But there are a few ways to make it seem like your RV counter is bigger than it is.
Most newer RVs are shipped from the factory with a sink cover, but if yours doesn’t have one, adding one is probably the single best way to maximize the kitchen’s potential meal-prep area.
Likewise, many new RVs are factory equipped with a stovetop cover or cutting board. The Piersons’ trailer has a nice stove cover that’s flush with the countertop and works seamlessly as additional counter space. When slicing and dicing, they protect the countertop with a set of reversible polypropylene chopping mats. We recently got a cutting-board-style stove cover with a nonskid shelf liner on the bottom, and it practically doubled our counter space — bam!
If your rig is accommodating, with the right space and countertop style, consider installing a counter extension to add another strategic foot or so to the galley counter. Camco makes an oak-finished extension (pictured) that’s sold at Camping World and other RV-accessory outlets. It extends the counter 12 inches, folds down when not in use and is attractively priced. Honestly, if you sourced the hardware and butcher block yourself, you’d pay almost as much but without the easy-to-install package. We put one in the bathroom and can’t imagine RV life without it.
Maximizing storage space is the Holy Grail for most RVers. We can’t even dream about adding a wing on an RV the way we can on our sticks-and-bricks homes, so the next best thing is using the space we have in the most efficient ways possible. To that end, there are a number of innovations that help us store and organize our stuff so it’s easy to get to, whether it’s right up front or way back in a dark corner.
The cubbies in our pantry are dark and 14 inches deep, and we knew early on that we’d need to improvise to use that space wisely. We discovered sliding baskets and installed them on all three shelves. These baskets come in many shapes, sizes and materials, and we find them indispensible for shelves that are deeper than they are wide.
But even cabinets that are easy to see into can use some organizing, because every cubic inch, top to bottom, is valuable real estate. We like sliding wire shelves that give us the ability to store things in layers, be it dishware, glassware or dry goods.
Once the shelving was in place, though, we quickly realized the need to keep all that stuff from tumbling out when opening the cabinets after being in transit. The solution for that challenge was tension rods. There are white ones and faux-wood ones, and they come in a few lengths to fit just about any cabinet or refrigerator.
No, they don’t keep the contents of the shelves from shifting while we’re traveling, but cups, plates and the food in the refrigerator no longer wind up on the counter and floor when we arrive in a new campsite.
Because we like to cook, we’ve grown fond of a number of spices, from garlic salt to our own dry-rub recipe. Cooking with spices is one of our tricks to eating healthy, but it also adds up to more than a few spice bottles that need to be organized and reachable without taking up too much space in the cabinet. Camping World, for instance, carries at least a half-dozen options for solving this dilemma, including spice racks that stack the bottles and slide into the cabinet, and racks that can be mounted on cabinet doors or on the wall so they don’t take up valuable shelf space.
There are multiple options from other retailers, as well as myriad DIY possibilities for keeping spice jars organized in a small footprint. Lorisa and Ron, who are equally fond of cooking with spices, found a quick way to add a spice rack in their galley. They simply attached an adhesive-backed 3M Command hook and a hook-and-loop strip on the pantry door and hung the rack on it — voilà!
Collapsible … Anything
Also under the category of taking advantage of every cubic inch of space are collapsible kitchen gadgets. Through the miraculous science of plastics and silicone, there seems to be almost no limit to this category.
We particularly like collapsible measuring spoons, measuring cups, colanders, bowls for mixing and storage, and, one of Lorisa’s favorites, a collapsible dish drainer. Lorisa says these space-saving gizmos have been game changers in the Pierson galley, and she just wishes she’d known about them sooner.
Almost as cool as things that are collapsible are things that nest. When an entire set of pots and pans, including a 5-quart stockpot, a 2-quart saucepan and a 10-inch frying pan nests into that 10-inch footprint, it can occupy a fraction of the space of a mismatched set of cookware. Camping World carries the Magma seven-piece nesting set (pictured) that comes with three professional-grade pots and pans, along with two lids, an interchangeable handle and a storage cord. The 10-piece version ups the ante with two smaller saucepans and a second removable handle, and still fits into that 10-inch footprint.
Among the things that help make the best use of space in our galleys, there are also gadgets that do multiple chores. Chief among these in our trailer is a handheld immersion blender.
These pint-size appliances generally have blender attachments for soups and smoothies, choppers for nuts and salsa veggies, as well as whisk attachments for desserts. And we love that all those options can be stored in an RV-friendly footprint.
Of course, we can’t talk galley these days without mentioning multicookers that act as a slow cooker, rice cooker, pressure pot, steamer and oven. While these all-in-one cookers are an acquired taste, they do promise multiple functionality in a single footprint.
Bob Livingston, Trailer Life’s publisher emeritus and a full-time RVer, says a pressure cooker is one of the best tools for any RV kitchen. He and his wife, Lynne, use an Instant Pot multicooker in their fifth-wheel for cooking everything from a whole chicken to chili made with ground turkey and beans. “The best part is not having to watch the food while it cooks,” Lynne says.
We can hardly discuss RV galleys without a little banter about coffee. For some of us, climbing out of bed in the morning and pouring our first cup of coffee are one continuous action. And, for those of us hopelessly habituated, we like what we like, and compromise is a nonstarter.
The Piersons, for example, are drip-coffee fans. They aren’t looking to economize on space by rethinking their morning brew, and they don’t leave home without their programmable 12-cup coffee maker and an ample supply of ground coffee beans stored in a compact, airtight container. When boondocking, they’ve been known to fire up the generator just to get their coffeepot going.
I’ve long been a fan of stovetop percolator coffee. It’s honestly kind of an artform and brings me back to the days of waking up to the smell of my dad’s percolator coffee in the 1956 Shasta. But there are times — when the pooch’s gotta go, for example — that I need a quicker cup than the percolator joe. On those mornings I turn to my AeroPress. The manual-press coffee maker gets me a great cup and out the door almost as fast as I can boil water.
By definition, cast-iron cookware seems like it should be incompatible with RV living. After all, it’s seriously heavy. But cast iron, especially a skillet, griddle or Dutch oven, is versatile and allows for some great recipes that might make it worth finding room in your galley for these items. In our RV kitchen, a cast-iron griddle was recently the perfect platform for a delicious pistachio-crusted salmon (pictured).
If soups and stews are your idea of great meals, a Dutch oven might be an excellent addition. There are even dessert recipes that add to the appeal of having a Dutch oven. Also, cast-iron cooking transfers outside to the campfire for even more versatility.
With all these ways to enhance meal prep and seemingly add space to our galleys, or at least make the existing space more efficient, the Dawsons and Piersons are cooking more — and better — than ever.
RV Kitchen Must-Haves
As first-time RVers and the proud owners of a lightweight bunkhouse trailer, Lorisa and Ron Pierson shared their top-30 RV essentials last year on the Trailer Life website. Since then the post has become one of the most-visited pages on the Trailer Life website.
Among the couple’s must-have accessories are a number of items earmarked for the galley, including a dish-towel rack that hooks over a cabinet door (top center), an anti-fatigue mat that keeps the floor under the sink dry (above center), a space-saving collapsible dish drainer (above left) and a folding trash-bag holder. They even list their compact, portable ice-maker among the gear they can’t go camping without.
In the two years since the Piersons got into RVing, they have continued to stock up on supplies, especially when it comes to the galley. Recent additions include an under-the-cabinet paper-plate dispenser (top left), an over-the-cabinet plastic-bag holder (top right), a sponge cradle that attaches to the kitchen sink with suction cups, and wire caddies for napkins and plastic utensils (above right).
Trailer Life Production Director Bob Dawson is a second-generation RVer as well as a fitness, photography, video, tech and outdoor enthusiast. Bob was a photojournalist in a previous life, and his photos and articles have appeared in Trailer Life publications for more than 20 years. You can see more of his video work on our TrailerLifeDIYTV YouTube Channel.