What to Include in an Overlander’s Kitchen

The Coleman stove-top oven

Packing list with essentials for our overland kitchen. What we eat keeps us going. To prepare food we need the right equipment and utensils in our kitchen. (Photo shows the collapsible Coleman stove-top oven; it can be used on any stove burner.)

We are planning to start a section with vegetarian, easy to prepare “on the road” recipes. Some of these rely on useful equipment not every overlander thinks to include in their kitchen, or contain ingredients, like sauces, not commonly found in Latin America. These are the little things which can spice up ordinary day-to-day supplies!

Many of you might look for different things in a ‘Packing List‘; items like camping gadgets, rescue equipment, or vehicle spares. All of these are certainly useful, but what keeps us going every day is the food we eat. Supplies in many regions of Latin America can be rather limited and boring, so we want to show you a few ways we have learned to make tasty vegetarian meals out of ordinary fresh supplies combined with a few extras we tend to carry.

Kitchen Equipment we’re glad to have packed in our overland kitchen

You won’t find some of these things in Latin America or, if so, of substandard quality. So better pack them at home and bring them along. We have listed these by frequency of use during our full-time overland trip. So let’s start with the essentials!

Stove-top toaster

Stove-top toaster. We wouldn’t recommend using this on a diesel or gasoline burner.

Simple Stove-Top Toaster : we like to camp away from settlements, so we often carry bread which is a day (or more) old. With our small toaster on the gas flame we can revive most bread and make it palatable.
We find these toasters not useful

We find these toasters not useful

Ours is the typical Australian version, but you can buy similar toasters in outdoor stores or on Amazon. Most of these toasters rely on a fine steel mesh to spread the heat evenly; this mesh will burn through after some time, so pack some spare mesh (ours last between 6 and 10 months of constant use, if you toast for 4 people this time might halve). Don’t buy one of the type where the slices are stacked around a centre pyramid, as these only work with sliced bread of a particular shape and size. We use ours also for bread rolls, baguettes, etc.

Wok Shaped Frying Pan : we have one from Ikea™ with a flat base, so it is more stable. The flat base can also be useful if you want to fry some egg dishes. We use our wok regularly to prepare stir fries, fried rice, fried potatoes, risotto, pre-fry eggplant, and, and, and. A fitting lid is essential to prepare some dishes. Don’t buy the largest wok as burners on camping stoves are often too close together; a smaller wok will leave more room for another saucepan on a second burner.

Grating cheese

Grating cheese. Grated cheese adds flavour and protein (and calories!) to many dishes.

Stainless Steel Grater : in general, good cheese is difficult to find in Latin America, and grated cheese can be near impossible to buy outside large cities – and then it’s often imported and expensive. Many of our recipes call for grated cheese as a way to add flavour and protein. A grater can also be used for many vegetables, like carrots. You will have to pack it well so that the blades don’t become blunt (from the vibration of driving on rough roads) by rubbing on things next to them; we have ours wrapped in a bubble wrap envelop, laying on top of a plastic storage box.

Plastic Storage Containers (Tupperware™ style) in various sizes: to store dry food, put left-overs into the fridge, mix ingredients. We even use some to store things like pens, camera cables, spare batteries, and USB thumb-drives. Make sure the lids fit well and don’t come off on rough roads. You can find replacements along the way, though quality might vary. Tip: if they can be stacked into each other when empty they take up less room. We have (among others) these from Ikea™ ; and find them good value for money.

Salad Spinner : nice to have and useful, but not a ‘must have item’. It’s just nice to eat lettuce which is not full of water. We find a salad spinner is not a single use item, as the outer bowl can be used for other purposes too. One thing we use ours for is to soak all fresh produce in a vinegar solution .

Whisk : take one, or better two – they don’t weigh that much, but can get entangled in other cutlery. Beat egg whites, make scrambled eggs or omelets, mix salad dressings or sauces, create a desert – you will need one of these (a large and a small one are a good combination).

Pressure Cooker : yes, they’re bulky and heavy, but they can save a lot of energy and time. A vegetable stew can be cooked in a pressure cooker in minutes. If you include legumes, an important source of protein, it would need to simmer for well over an hour in a normal saucepan. We know of other overlanders who use theirs even more frequently than we do.

Frying potatoes in our wok

Frying potatoes in our wok

Measuring Cups : they don’t take up much space (or weight). Many recipes provide the required quantities by cup sizes.

Stainless Steel Steamer : commonly used in Asian cooking. We tend to use it a couple of times every month, particularly to cook (steam) broccoli or cauliflower. The simple collapsible steamers seem to be the best as they fit into different sized pots (occasionally you can find them in Chinese shops here in Latin America).

Oven: this last item on the list is certainly a ‘nice to have’, but not everybody will have the space for it. There are two possible versions: a built-in gas oven, usually part of your stove, or a stove top oven. Coleman sells a fold-down, stove top oven which many travellers praise (see photo on top of post). Since I first wrote this we had dinner with friends, who baked a quiche in their Coleman oven – it tasted delicious and was very nicely baked. So now I can truly recommend this oven! (PLEASE NOTE: the Coleman Stove-Top oven isn’t available in all countries, you might have to order it in the USA!)
A smaller stove-top version is the Omnia oven , which looks like a round baking dish with fitting lid. If you’re planning on regular camp fires you might also consider a Dutch Oven.
We don’t use our built-in oven as frequently as expected, but that’s partly because we still haven’t mastered the art of bread making. Also, often when we need bread and would like to make some, we’re in a place too hot to want to warm up our camper with an hour of baking bread.

As a general recommendation we believe that you should look for good quality stainless steel items to use in your kitchen. We spent considerable time looking for a suitable set of camping saucepans without the annoying fixed handles (which make storage so inconvenient). The commonly sold aluminium camping cookware carries some serious health risks, which you probably don’t want to expose yourself to for an extended overland trip.

Rice-noodle salad with vegetables

Rice-noodle salad with vegetables

There are some ingredients we also like to carry as regular supplies

These are solely dependent on our personal taste. You might come up with a completely different list. Some are easy to replace in all countries along the way, others can be outrageously expensive in one country and cheap in the next, and a few are near impossible to find anywhere.

Vegetable Stock in cubes or powder: we won’t cook with meat or chicken stock – in many countries that’s all you will find. Occasionally you might be lucky in a large supermarket in a capital city, particularly if it’s close to the residential area of diplomats or foreign company executives. Some that you find consist of nothing but palm oil, salt and MSG. So do yourself a favour: stock up on it before you leave and re-stock whenever you find some along the way (even if it appears to be overpriced). Stock powder tends to lump quickly in tropical humidity, so you might as well buy cubes in the first place.

Asian Sauces: we love to add flavour to various dishes with these! We carry a whole collection: plum sauce, sweet and regular soy sauce, fish sauce, several chilly sauces. Sometimes half a teaspoon (or less) will add the desired change in flavouring. Some of these are easy to replace, and others not, e.g. regular soy sauce can be found almost everywhere, but sweet soy sauce is very difficult to find (although not impossible). Same suggestion as with vegetable stock: stock up before leaving, re-stock every time you find some. Search for Asian speciality stores, which can be found in most large cities.

Asian Noodles: we’re actually surprised how often we find these. We usually carry some rice noodles and egg noodles to make an Asian inspired stir fry. This is a quick dish, where the chopping of vegetables takes almost longer than the cooking; a good way to prepare the standard fare of limited vegetable supplies in a different fashion. This also requires the above mentioned sauces.

Dried Spices and Herbs: most things can be re-stocked along the way, only more exotic things are harder to find; these include tarragon, cumin seeds and powder, ground ginger, etc. We love to use pine nuts in some dishes, like Risotto and salads. They are near impossible to find, and some border inspections might not let you carry them.

Coconut Creme: a must-have ingredient for most curries. In some countries you find imported cans for a near-fortune ($5 or more), but then in Brazil it’s a very common item, often sold cheaply in small cardboard boxes, which are easy to store (we’re now in Europe and still have some packets left from Brazil).

Vegetarian Mushroom Risotto

Vegetarian Mushroom Risotto (always better with fresh mushrooms).

Arborio Rice is a special variety used for Risotto, which we love to create occasionally to vary our diet. We still remember our last trip, when we circled a supermarket in Bogota for several days until we finally bought a kilogram for over US$15 – this time we almost overstocked. It can be found along the way, but prices might deter you from buying it… TIP: if you love Risotto then stock up on Arborio rice in Southern Brazil; locally grown, cheap, and of excellent quality!

Couscous is another base ingredient we like to use. It is made from Semolina wheat and originates from Northern Africa; the best packaged couscous seems to come from Morocco. The supply situation is similar to the above mentioned Arborio rice: you find it, but often expensive (last we checked a price in Chile it was ~$5 for 500g!).

Disclaimer: links on this page are primarily for illustration purpose; these are affiliate links for Amazon (where we get a small commission) – that doesn’t mean we encourage you to buy there! Although our recommended stove top toaster can be difficult to find in outdoor shops, or you’ll find the Primus™ toaster for twice the price, but no better quality…
Some images are Creative Commons from Flickr (I narrowed the search specifically down). Risotto, Rice Noodle Salad, Grating Cheese. A couple of other images are product photos from Amazon.

Which items do you carry? What can’t you do without in your kitchen on any trip?
Please share in a comment below!


webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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20 Responses

  1. how does the coleman stove top oven work?
    thanks thijs

    • Juergen says:

      Hello and sorry for the late reply (to get ANY internet in Argentina is a challenge!)
      Please google the Coleman Oven – you’ll find heaps of inspiring examples on how to use the oven. For example there’s a youtube video, showing how to bake a cake, and our friends from Landcruisingadventure have a great blog post on baking bread in the oven…

  2. Christine says:

    Great post. Agree with all of it, we use the pressure cooker nearly every day, GSI Outdoors do a small one, good for 2 people. Hand blender is the hand powered one from Tupperware, brilliant. No whisk as a fork will do, no salad spinner, we also eat wet leaves…heading north to the States now and so looking forward to buying that long coveted Coleman oven!

  3. Maria says:

    Very Interesting! What kind of stove do you use? I am gearing up to drive from NYC to Ushuaia, Argentina and bought a primus. But, I’m not sure how easy it is to get those green canisters of propane.

    • Juergen says:

      We have a built-in Thedford Triplex gas stove, which comes combined with an oven (made in Great Britain, after around 15 months we find the quality so-so as some smaller parts have started to rust). We also carry an outside 2-burner stove, bought second hand on eBay which, we must confess, we haven’t used yet! Almost everywhere we have been so far was too windy to be inviting to cook outside. We planned this for the hot and humid climate that you find closer to the Equator. It plugs into the gas line from our large cylinders (same line which feeds the stove and heater inside).
      With these small plug-in refills you will probably run into problems re-stocking! Most likely in the ‘middle’ of the trip, Central America and Colombia. Down in the south, Chile and Argentina, you can buy these refills again. Can’t remember what the situation was in Paraguay and Brazil.
      As with everything: the less propriety stuff [brand name stuff with propriety parts, special connection, etc.] you carry, the easier it will be to get any replacement parts! Last time we had a GE water filter, and couldn’t buy cartridges for it anywhere.

  4. Looks like you covered it all! I never camp, but if I started to I would certainly follow this excellent and thorough list!

  5. A pressure cooker? That would not have crossed my mind but now it makes sense.

  6. Donna Janke says:

    I found it very interesting to read about your equipment list and food supplies for a long time on the road. I’ve never used a pressure cooker, but I could see wanting to bring everything else. I hadn’t considered how storage while travelling might affect an item, such as blades on a grater getting blunt. I’m not on the road as you are, but I hope I remember this information should I wind up travelling in an RV or camper van at some time.

    • Juergen says:

      We’re probably also travelling on rougher roads than you are likely to encounter in the USA or Canada… That said: any RV needs special packing techniques to avoid that things get damaged on the road or fall out when you first open cupboard doors (that used to happen to us in the USA as well – until we learned).

  7. Of course we’re all ears when it comes to vegetarian recipes! And, of course, we totally agree to the pressure cooker and Coleman oven on this list. I do wonder about the steamer because we find the pressure cooker working just fine for that as well. Don’t you use the pressure cooker for steaming? And – yes, I agree with this post in many way – agreed on the stainless steel vs aluminium stuff.
    I have never found sweet soya sauce here but each year bring some from the Netherlands.

    • Yasha says:

      Hi Karen, we haven’t really used our pressure cooker a lot – mostly for soups with lentils or other legumes. And I certainly haven’t used it to steam, even though it came with a steaming basket. One reason is that I’m not sure how long to steam things in there (under pressure) and the other is that it is such a heavy pot that to get it out to steam some broccoli seems an effort… Although, recently I cooked potatoes in water at the bottom and then the broccoli in a steamer basket above, so it meant only one pot to clean. But I confess that I took the seal out and used it as a normal pot… Still lots to learn.

  8. Having been part of a duo who camped (but not the cook), this post was a walk down memory lane. Early in our RTW journey, Pete carried a pyramid-like cheese grater. It’s always surprising to see what people you’re housesitting for use as part of their daily life in the kitchen. Alas, it has been sacrificed to the lack of space gods. Also, concur with your assessment of the pyramid toaster thingie. What a pain it is. Who thinks of crap like that? Another thing we had trouble scoring was an old-fashioned coffee percolator pot. You know, the kind with the glass indicator in the lid and the interior basket for the ground coffee? It took us months to find one (and then of course we saw them everywhere). Fun post!

    • Juergen says:

      We tried several flat graters before, but unfortunately they never lasted either. One was an expensive plastic thing with exchangeable blades; the blades became blunt too quickly and the plastic casing cracked really quickly. On bouncy roads everything needs to be tough (better indestructible, but nobody sells such things in our throw-away society). We have a french press style coffee maker, all stainless steel, bought from the German discounter ALDI in Australia – that seems to last (knock on wood). Last time we bought a similar one from Amazon, sold as “unbreakable”, and the bloody sieve connection to the push-down rod broke within 6 weeks – that’s what I call misleading advertising!

  9. Wow a pressure cooker! That is a helpful addition! I stay in hotels so I don’t have the need to carry equipment, however I think a sharp picnic knife with a cap (to be safe) along with a wine opener are always helpful! By bringing the sauces and the spices I bet you make delicious meals!

    • Juergen says:

      In Latin America it can be a real headache to refill gas cylinders or fixed tanks, so anything which will reduce gas consumption (e.g. cooking time) is a big help. Plus in high altitude things don’t cook very well, for example coffee/tea water is always just a little below the desired temperature.

  10. Melanie says:

    I recommend two things: a knife sharpener (small plastic and metal one from LLbean) and a 6quart Lodge Dutch. Makes soup, pasta, baked bread and even a chicken (if that’s how you roll)

    • Juergen says:

      I agree with the knife sharpener (we carry one), although most of the time I sharpen ours on the bottom rim of our ceramic coffee mugs – which works really well. We also keep sharp cutting knives in cardboard sleeves so that they don’t rub blunt whilst driving.

  11. Ike says:

    Agree 100% with the pressure cooker. The versatility is incredible: rice, stews, meats. We did a roast that was falling apart that was ready an hour [!] after we decided to make it. Our pressure cooker also has a small ‘rack’ that allows us to steam veggies in it.

    Everyone finds utility with their own setup. We cook all the time but find a fork serviceable instead of a whisk, don’t have issues shaking out our lettuce by hand after rinsing, are fine dicing our cheese, and toast things in our cast iron skillet.

    On the other hand, we brought an electric hand blender because we frequently make hummus or re-fried beans. Others would likely find that superfluous. :-)

    Spice-wise: we use a rib-rub spice mix from the States as a secret [no longer!] ingredient for seasoning our french fries and meats, and wish we’d brought some more chili powder; the red pepper mixes in South America aren’t quite the same. A well stocked spice rack provides some real flexibility when cooking.

    • Juergen says:

      Funny, we have an electric blender (stab mixer) and have used it maybe two or three times in 15 months… Refried beans: for them we use the fork. :D You might like our simple quesadilla recipe with beans, chili and hot sauce, lots of cheese, and an avocado and tomato salsa as topping [coming soon].
      Yep, good spices are the spice of life (or any food).

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