A guide to RV cooking appliances and the power they require - Caravan World Australia

A guide to RV cooking appliances and the power they require

Written by: John Hughes; Photographer: John Hughes and supplied

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John Hughes takes a look at the various cooking appliances available to modern caravanners to make memorable meals on the go.

Food is always more fun when you are caravanning. Time slows down and meal preparation can be more of a focal point of the day rather than a chore to fit into a busy schedule. Similarly, the luxury of more time provides the opportunity to savour the meal itself, particularly when we can share it with other caravanners. 

Appliances can be broadly divided into gas-powered and electrically powered and some that are a combination of both. Gas has been the mainstay of camp cooking for decades as it provides a cost-effective way to bottle (literally) a large quantity of energy and bring it with you to use anywhere. Electrical power has historically been great when you are plugged in at a caravan park but very limiting off-grid. 

Advances in lithium batteries and inverter systems are enabling onboard electricity to be a much more viable option for powering appliances. Electrical power is still an expensive solution, but it is trending down and gaining in popularity. This has seen a surge in the use of portable electrical appliances for cooking. 

If you have a mega electrical power bank with multiple ways to recharge it, you may never have to worry about the power usage of your RV kitchen appliances or how many you use at once. However, with more modest power systems it is important to use your cooking (and other) appliances judiciously. We will provide some typical usage data to help you think about that.

Abundant electrical power supply has also seen a trend in some high-end vans to go completely ‘gasless’ which impacts on your fixed appliance choices. The cooking experience can also be divided into inside cooking and outside cooking. We’ll have a look at both and explore how gas and electrical power impact on these forms. 

Inside cooking

Let’s start at the bottom with the most minimalist RV cooking and work our way up to the more sophisticated appliances. Technically, the most minimalist is no cooking facilities inside at all. I don’t think I have ever seen a full-size van without some form of cooking gizmo, but it is not completely unusual for hybrid vans. If you are sure cooking inside is not for you, then omitting appliances will save some cost and weight and allow more room for better bench space and storage. I guess you would just have to think about whether it may have an adverse effect on resale value. 

Fixed appliances

If we think about fixed appliances first, a bench-fitted cooktop would be the most common starting point. The simplest of these would be two-burner hot plates. These have minimal impact on bench space or under-bench storage. Hot plates are available as gas-fired or 240V induction-powered appliances. A variation of the two-burner gas stove is the type fitted with an integrated sink. These are light and have a compact size, meaning they won't take up much space which is ideal for small RV kitchen designs. 

Next, we move up to three or four-burner cooktops. They can be configured as all gas burners, but it is also quite common for one of the plates to run off 240V electricity. Having one electric hot plate means when you are in a caravan park you can save using up your bottled gas or you can still cook if you run out of gas.

Moving along, a common variation is a four-burner cooktop with an integrated grill underneath which is great for open-toasted cheese sandwiches and the like. Typical grillers found in caravans are exclusively powered by gas.

At the top of the tree is the full combination four-burner cooktop, grill and oven. We all know an oven gives you the luxury to bake cakes and create roasts. Fan-forced versions can take your culinary endeavours to the same level you could create at home. Like grills, traditional ovens are exclusively powered by gas. This means you won’t find either of them in ‘gasless’ vans

This brings us to the microwave — a handy addition in any van but more important in a gasless van as they are 240V powered. A regulation microwave is great for heating up food and you can cook all sorts of stuff in them if you are interested in learning microwave cooking techniques. The introduction of flatbed microwaves which don’t require turntables to rotate while cooking is a meaningful advancement for caravan applications. They enable larger dishes to fit inside, and you don’t have to worry about the loose glass turntable bouncing around and smashing in transit. The apex of microwaves is the convection version. It incorporates two key aspects of traditional ovens, being a heating element and a fan. These clever hybrid microwaves can brown and crisp like a traditional oven.

Our final internal appliance is the companion to the cooktop. The rangehood makes inside cooking a much nicer proposition by capturing odours and airborne fat.

Portable Appliances

As discussed earlier, portable cooking appliances are surging in popularity due to the electrical power available through lithium batteries and inverters. You can bring along virtually any appliance you can plug in at home. Air fryers are among the most popular as they are a great substitute for a gas oven. Air fryers in fact are much more like an oven than a fryer. They mimic deep-frying by circulating hot air rather than flooding food in oil. Fried-style cooking is achieved by placing the food in a basket that optimises the hot air crisping effect.

Coffee is such a part of life for many that it has become a primary motivator for having a powerful enough electrical system to run the espresso machine. Other appliances worth considering bringing along are the humble toaster or sandwich maker for a making quick simple meal.

Outside cooking

If we start at the bottom again, there are plenty of vans that don’t have an outdoor kitchen with a dedicated cooking appliance installed. But virtually all vans have an external access hatch to store a portable cooker. Compact gas cookers such as the Weber Baby Q are very popular with caravanners as they can be placed on a portable table or it’s even better if you can place them on a slide-out. They are very versatile cookers because the high-domed lid and wide range of achievable cooking temperatures means you can roast or even bake a cake in addition to the more traditional grilling and frying associated with a barbecue. A great alternative portable appliance is the stand-alone induction cooker. They are usually a single hot plate that plugs into 240V power and can also be used on a little table or slide-out.

If you are keen on outside cooking, nothing beats the dedicated slide-out kitchen. They are a great addition that includes a meal prep surface, a sink and of course, a cooktop. Again, the cooktop can be gas or 240V induction powered. Gas-powered cookers tend to have shields to help against wind snuffing out the flame, but they still can be temperamental in the wind. This is where induction cooktops have an upside as they perform flawlessly in the wind.

(Image Emma Warren)

Some caravan builders who think outside the box also fit microwaves in external access hatches. And nothing is stopping you from using the various portable electrical appliances we already listed outside provided you protect them from the elements.

Electrical power requirements 

When using power-hungry 240V appliances off-grid you need to understand how much power you will use so you don’t run out. In addition, you need to understand how much power you can store and how much power you can put back into your system as you deplete it. Very simply, how much power you can store relates to your battery capacity, and how much power you can put back into the system relates to recharging through solar, running your car or plugging into mains power when you return to civilisation. If you want to learn more about this topic and get some peace of mind when it comes to your power usage, have a read of our article ‘A Guide to Power Management’. 

Here we will have a quick look at power consumption. We have put together a table of a variety of cooking and non-cooking appliances. We opted to show both because you need to have an understanding of your total consumption. The table shows how much power the various appliances use in watts and the estimated run time per day in hours. Multiplying these two numbers together gives us the column of watt-hours per day. This can be used as a guide to how much power you could draw from the battery in a day. It is interesting to observe that cooking appliances use nearly as much power as air-conditioners and hot water heaters but their demand on the battery over the course of a day is a lot less because cooking appliances tend to have much shorter run times. 

If you are looking at the ratings of your appliance it is critical that you are using the input power as this is how much the appliance is consuming as opposed to the output power which is how much the appliance is delivering. A classic example is microwaves are generally described by their output wattages, as this is a great way to rate their ability to cook. This number can catch you out as it is significantly less than the actual power used due to the inherit inefficiencies of electrical devices.

You would also need to consider what rating inverter you require based on which 240V appliances you want to run at the same time. Inverters are the devices that convert your battery voltage to 240V. They are rated in terms of the watts they can deliver. In simple terms, you would add up the wattages (first data column) for the appliances you want to run concurrently, and this would determine your inverter requirement.

If your appliance use aspirations are minimal, a modest investment in tech may be all that is needed. If you want a whole suite of appliances and want to use them all at once, then your investment could run into the tens of thousands of dollars. This is an area where close consultation with your caravan manufacturer is important to understand what you want to achieve.

Typical watt hours/kilowatt hours per day consumption

The wrap

We are spoiled for choice with cooking options in modern caravans whether you like to cook inside or out. Gas-powered appliances continue to be the most typical setup due to their simplicity and minimal capital outlay. More and more vans are having their gas systems complemented with simple electrical systems that enable a small amount of 240V power to run one or two portable cooking appliances. At the high end, big electrical systems make it possible to run whatever appliance you like just like a regular house.

Thanks to NCE and Thetford for the background information and images provided for this article. 

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