4 tips for cooking for a family. In a van, without an oven.

Here’s the thing, much as I love Mabel (our van) she lacks that little something …she has no oven (or grill). We did contemplate having one fitted but decided that we needed the space for other things since we will be living the #vanlife for at least a year. Also the only available options looked really expensive! So, decision made, no oven, but, we still need to cook family meals and there’s only so much you can do on 3 burners. With that in mind and after lots of research, (including some tinfoil and polystyrene inventions of my own) I’ve come up with some ‘oven alternatives’.

So, here are my top 4 ways to cook family meals without an oven:


#1 The Wonderbag (or thermal cooker)

We really like soups and casseroles …I particularly like soups because it’s one way the kids will eat loads of veg (I blitz it with a hand blender once it’s cooked). The trouble with casseroles and soups though is that they take a lot of time bubbling away in the oven or on the hob, and that uses a lot of energy, (something that we don’t have much of in the van). Also, I wouldn’t feel safe to go out and leave one cooking away. At home I use a slow-cooker /crock-pot but obviously in the van we won’t often have mains electricity so that’s not an option. Then I discovered this – the Wonderbag. We got the large size but it comes in medium and small too.wonderbag

It’s a really well insulated bag that calls itself a slow-cooker – it uses thermal insulation to retain heat and cook food. You just bring your casserole to the boil, stick on a tight fitting lid, then pop it in the Wonderbag, pull the drawstring tight and leave it to cook. No gas, no electricity, it’s perfectly safe to go out for the day and leave it and then you come back to a delicious (if you got the seasoning right!) casserole, curry, stew or soup. It comes with a recipe book and apparently you can also cook rice and puddings in it but I’ve not tried those yet – I’ll let you know how it goes when I do. (UPDATE – this was sooooo useful, particularly on days where we had a long drive – I’d start the stew/soup/pasta/whatever before we set off and then plonk it in the Wonderbag on the back bed and it would happily bubble and jiggle away while we drove.  So when we arrived at our destination, tired and hungry, our tea was perfectly cooked and ready for us).


#2 Get a 3 tier steamer

I realised that loads of the stuff we like can be cooked on the hob – pasta, veggies, bacon and eggs etc. but with only 3 burners and limited space we’re going to have to be clever about it. We also wanted to use less gas, and that’s where the steamer comes in.

3tier steamer

With the steamer (like this one) we can cook three things on one ring, potatoes at the bottom and two different types of veg above it, or even steamed fish or chicken…(A bonus is that the steamer can double up as a colander so it saves even more space). Our first trip out in the van was in mid-winter (rain and gales in North Wales. Definitely not ‘outdoor’ weather!) and I managed to make a lovely, warming meal of sausage, mash, carrots, broccoli and gravy all done on two rings.

#3 A double skillet/ pan

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really, want (sorry)…what I really wanted was a double skillet from www.doubleskillet.com but sadly they don’t seem to be trading anymore so I got a frittata pan a bit like this one instead.

jacket potato_small

Not bad for a first attempt!

I can cook loads of stuff in this (not just frittatas!) and it has the advantage of keeping the cooking smells in, which is really handy in a van! The best thing about a double pan is that I can use it like a mini oven because when both sides are hot it creates ambient heat and so I can bake stuff. I thought I’d try baked potatoes in it and it worked really well! Chris said he couldn’t tell they weren’t cooked in an oven (and he is picky about his baked potatoes, he won’t even touch one done in a microwave). I chose fairly flat ones, oiled and salted them and put them in the pan – cooked them on a low heat for about an hour turning the pan every ten minutes – they turned out really well. I used a heat diffuser  to make sure that …er…the heat was diffused (stops things burning on hotspots). (UPDATE: the doubleskillet company seem to be back in business so once my fritatta pan has died I’ll be getting me a double skillet!)

#4 Outdoor cooking/bbq

Much as we love cooking in the van, we’re going to be spending a lot of time in it and also a lot of time in hot places (hopefully). So it makes sense to have some outdoor cooking options. That way we get to enjoy the outdoors and the van doesn’t smell of fish or onions or whatever…

A barbecue with a lid will work nicely as an oven if you get the temperature/flames just right, but as we are travelling long term we’ve decided we don’t want to hcobb_bbqave to rely on building barbecue fires so we’ve opted for the gas version of the Cobb barbecue

Okay it’s not the cheapest but it’s nice and compact and it does the whole oven thing really, really well – you can even roast a chicken in it. Apparently you can do pizzas too – I’m going to have to try that …so watch this space! UPDATE: We did it! See how it turned out here.


So those are 4 quick tips for cooking family meals without an oven – I’m also going to try cooking with a Dutch oven on the fire so I’ll let you know how that goes too, but in the meantime if anyone has any other ideas or tips for ‘oven’ cooking without an oven I’d love to hear them – so please let me know in the comments below.

UPDATE: I never did try cooking in a dutch oven so I can’t tell you how that went, however I have a confession…we did manage some ‘oven’ cooking by ..er…getting one of these ..I know, I know it’s kinda cheating but we were about 6 months into our trip and found that we actually had electric hookup a lot of the time. It meant we could grill and bake ‘non-fritatta pan’ things  so there were loads more foods we could eat. Plus, as if the universe had designed it that way, it fits perfectly in the bottom of the wardrobe when not in use ..so I don’t care, I’m keeping it!


10 thoughts on “4 tips for cooking for a family. In a van, without an oven.

Leave a Reply to Albert Bue Cancel reply

  1. Pat 5 years ago

    Hi, Lottie –

    Have you thought of getting a pressure cooker? They are brilliant at cooking pulses and beans, and for stews and casseroles. Cooking times are vastly reduced, saving on fuel. And the pan can also be used (without the pressure weight) as a normal saucepan.

    We divide our time between home and our boat, so totally identify with your cooking challenges! I also use a three-tier steamer often – a great way to save fuel!

    I have never heard of the wonderbags, but am going to look into getting one for us.

    Am looking forward to reading more about your adventures.


    1. Lottie 5 years ago

      Thanks Pat, I hadn’t thought of a pressure cooker – I do have one at home though – I think I’ve lost the weight but I’m sure they are replaceable. I’ve never really used it much as I wasn’t sure about timings etc – but you’ve inspired me to give it another go!

  2. Ted and Judy Smith 5 years ago

    Brilliant Lottie! You have really done your homework. I will certainly be following your journey. Best of luck to all.
    Judy Smith

    1. Lottie 5 years ago

      Thanks Jude – I’ve done a lot of homework but still have so much to learn! It should be fun learning though 🙂

  3. dave 5 years ago

    Manifold cooking ?

    1. Chris 5 years ago

      Now that is an interesting idea, thanks Dave. It certainly meets our criteria of everything being dual purpose. Might start simple with a baked potato in tin foil experiment. Will definitely posts the results on here when we try it.

  4. Linda 5 years ago

    Hi guys!
    I am typing this having finished work yesterday and now with 4 weeks to go till our own 12 month trip starts in our Hymer (anxiously trying to find insurance – who did yours?) and am very pleased to have found your blog. I couldn’t believe it when I saw your van – it has a very similar layout to ours although a little older and more stylish! Ours was imported a few years ago and we love it! Hope we did the right thing with our choice of layout….
    Anyway, we also have no oven and I wanted a double skillet but like you couldn’t get one. I did discover a cool thing about hob baking though. I have still to test it but it’s a pressure cooker. Stews, tagines etc take 15 mins when up to temperature and it’s like magic! I have now done these but what I haven’t done is turned it into an oven.
    The trick is for baking, to remove the gaskit and raise the floor by sitting a pan inside it on an empty tin can or something. I am not going to test this till we are actually on the road and we may make our own blog about it. Thought you might be interested.

    Thanks for posting!

    Linda and Phil

    1. Lottie 5 years ago

      Hi Linda and Phil,
      Sorry for the slow reply! You must be getting really excited now that youare about to set off. We love the layout of our van – especially with the kids as we have two separate areas so we can have a little peace and quiet …although not much! Would be interested to hear how you get on with your hob baking – I almost bought a pressure cooker as someone else recommended one but we decided we just didn’t have room. I have to say the wonderbag has been amazing though – I’ll quite often start a stew or a curry in the morning and leave it in the back (on the bed) in the wonderbag and it’s ready when we arrive at our destination in the evening …no moaning about ‘when is tea ready mum?’. Re insurance – Adrian flux has done the van insurance and at the moment we are on short term (45day) travel insurance with our bank account as we’ve had to pop back to the UK briefly a couple of times so it’s worked out that the trips have fitted into the 45 day windows. The next trip out will be several months though so we’re still working out options. Good luck with your trip and let us know how you get on – if you’re on Facebook we tend to update our page and answer messages there more quickly. Bon voyage!

  5. Albert Bue 3 years ago

    Hey! I though of getting a hand blender, but I can’t seem to find any solution with my 12 volt batteri… Do you use a hand blender with integrated iattery or what?

    1. Chris 3 years ago

      Hi Albert,
      Thanks for your comment. No we used a regular hand blender, either on hook-up or through the inverter. There are definitely cordless, rechargeable hand blenders available but the ones I’ve seen are pretty pricey – better off using the money towards a decent inverter I reckon.