If you have thought of converting your van into a do-it-yourself campervan, the first thing you will need to ponder is where you will have your kitchen. Yes, building a kitchen in your van will make life much more convenient while traveling the outdoors. Having the freedom to cook in the outdoors will allow the flexibility to travel anywhere at any time.
Whether you are camping in the woods, at a campground, or even just down the road, having the amenities of a home-grown kitchen will make your life that much easier. Believe it or not, you can fit all the basics – a refrigerator, stove, sink, and cabinets – all within the confines of your van. Read on to learn about different kitchen plans to determine which is best for your needs.
Decide How You Will Use Your Kitchen Van
Why have a van kitchen? Not only does it save money from constantly eating out at restaurants while on the road, but it also gives the convenience of cooking delicious meals anywhere without fail. You also do not want to rely on unhealthy food from pit stops or gas stations. Instead, you can cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner with ease.
Your van kitchen does not need to be elaborate and can be useful, comfortable, and even stylish while fitting in the essentials. Below will discuss a few ideas for the best van kitchen plans for your conversion and the essential items needed.
- The size of your van will play an important part of which conversion plan will work best for your travels.
- You will also want to think about whether you would rather cook outside or inside, which usually depends on the weather and the ventilation of the van.
If you live or travel in climates with harsh weather, then a kitchen plan with good ventilation will add to the luxury of cooking inside. If the weather is comfortable, cooking outside is enjoyable.
Side or Back Door Slide-Out Van Kitchen
If you live or vacation in an area where the weather is nice, building the kitchen area on the side or back door can allow for cooking outside and give you extra space inside the van itself for appliances and seating. This plan is ideal for low-top vans because you will not hit your head inside while cooking, and it extends the area for vans shorter in length.
If your van is shorter in length and you would like more room towards the front for a bed, seating, or storage, you will probably want to design the kitchen off of the back door. If not, either the side or back door will work fine. Just remember that this plan will require you to cook outside unless you have a stove on the door and inside the van.
You will then need to decide whether you will have a professional install your slide-out kitchen area or do it yourself. If you are handy with construction, the materials you need to develop this kitchen area vary depending on how elaborate you will have your slide-out kitchen, but some basics include the following:
- Drawer runners so that the kitchen can slide out properly
- Plywood which can be cut up easily and fit into the van
- Screws to hold everything together
- Hinges for your sink so that it lays flat when you are not using it
- Knobs for the cupboards that are flat enough to not get in the way when they slide in
- For smaller vans, a simple two-burner stove will suffice
Smaller vans can even have a slide-out drawer kitchen that just has a camping stove for cooking. This allows smaller vans to still have room inside while sliding out a small stove for meals on the road. You can also have some protection from inclement weather because you can stay inside while cooking since it is just a small drawer that slides out.
If you design your entire kitchen on the side or back door, remember that this plan is only ideal if you live or travel in a warm climate with marginal rain or inclement weather. But, this option is perfect for travelers who need more space inside. You can add built-in storage, counter space, a cutting board, anything you need to prepare your meal.
Entire Kitchen on the Side or Back Door
If you do not have the ability to develop a kitchen that slides in and out and you do not have sliding side doors, you can construct the entire kitchen area on the side or back door. This is another great option for enhancing the space inside of your van because everything is on the doors – countertops, storage area, sink, even the stove.
This option is perfect for small vans and is not difficult to construct. You can cook some excellent meals on the road with simply a fold-out van table connected to the door, a small stove, and some food preparation accessories. If you are intimidated to build a slide-out kitchen but could handle a do-it-yourself fold-out style, you may only need:
- Some sheets of sanded plywood (size depends on how big you want the door kitchen)
- Hinges with screws to hold everything together
- Brad nails
- Grommets, bolts, washers
- Some wood and wire for the supports
- Wood glue
The above list is just suggestions and is not all-encompassing. But, with a few tools, you can make a simple fold-down table on the door by measuring the door’s dimensions, constructing the supports, and then add a table. Then, you can incorporate a small stove and area for chopping food. You can even add hooks on the door for items.
This is a more simplistic type of construction of your kitchen because you do not need any additional materials to develop the slide-out function. However, this plan will not work for sprinter vans because they have sliding doors. This will only work for vans that have two doors that pull out to open, like many cargo vans on the market.
Kitchen Parallel to the Front Seats of Your Van
Another really good option for vans that are shorter in length is planning your kitchen so that it is parallel to the front seats because it uses the width of the van, not the length, for the kitchen. This provides quite a bit of room in the van because the countertops, sink, and even the stove can all fit on that one side of the van right behind the seats.
- Since the kitchen takes up the width space, not length, your shorter van can still have a small couch, refrigerator, and bed along the longer ends of the van for comfort.
- It will also allow for more convenient access to leaving the van, especially for vans with a slide door, since the kitchen itself does not block any of the sides of the van.
- You do not need to build a wall to separate the front and back of the van because you can use the drawers and countertop as the separator.
However, this option does not give you a clear walking space from the front seats to the back. Therefore, it is not ideal for sprinter or high-top vans because you will need to keep getting out for access.
If blocking the ability to walk from the front seats to the back of the van is not ideal, you can split the kitchen in two sections so that there is a more convenient walkway from the front seats to the back. That way, you do not need to keep getting out of the van to get to the back area. However, this may have the kitchen take space away from the van.
Kitchen Parallel to the Side Walls of Your Van
If you want a clear walking way from the front seats to the living area of the van, planning the kitchen so that it is parallel to the side walls is your best bet. This option is perfect for sprinter or high-top vans that allow for more space or standing up while cooking. You will not need to exit the van if it is raining or cold just to go back.
This option mirrors a traditional kitchen area, as the sink, stove, refrigerator, and countertops can be placed on the side walls.
- The stove can be placed right in the countertop or on the side.
- Depending on the length of the van, there will still be room for some seating for comfort if the kitchen is placed towards the front of the van itself.
This plan can either have the kitchen all along one side of the van, or you can have a split kitchen design. That way, the stove, and the sink are parallel along one side of the van, and then the refrigerator and more counter space can be on the other side by the side door. This will allow for a larger refrigerator and extra cabinet space under the sink.
This plan can also be adapted for smaller vans with a low roof because it maximizes smaller spaces well. You can place a smaller kitchen parallel to the side wall with a sink and one-burner propane stove on top and pipes and tanks hidden below next to built-in storage bins, cabinets, or drawers for uncluttered countertops and food prep space.
Have an Even Smaller Van? Try a Trunk Kitchen
If you have a small van, you may not have a lot of options for a kitchen, storage, and seating area. This is where a trunk kitchen plan comes into play. Now, this is probably not the most ideal kitchen situation for a van conversion because it is only outdoors and a tight space. But for a tiny van, it may be your only option for a kitchen.
You can get creative with planning your trunk kitchen.
- For example, you could have a sink and countertop stove built on top of some cupboards and a small refrigerator.
- You could even have more storage space constructed along the side from top to bottom and then have the kitchen area on across the back.
Because the space for this option is only as much as the length and height of the trunk, counterspace will more than likely be limited. You will probably only have room for the essential appliances and some storage space like cupboards. Similar to the slide-out and door options, this alternative requires you to cook outside, weather permitting.
If DIY construction is not for you, there are “kitchen in a box” options available. These items can be placed in the trunk and then pull-out for a quick meal and usually include a built-in sink and food prep area. They also have a holder, so you can place a two-burner stove on top. They are not for large meals but great for small spaces and a quick bite.
Purchase Appliances to Fit Your Plan
Now that you know where to place your van kitchen, you will need to complete it with a sink, cabinets, a refrigerator, and a stove. Before you run to the appliance store and start picking out your favorite items, you need to consider how much space is available, where you are cooking (indoors or outdoors), and electrical and ventilation options.
The most important things to think about when you are completing your van kitchen plan are the following:
Below will discuss the various options of each of the above to make sure you have all of the proper amenities to make your van kitchen the best it can be.
Sink and Countertops
Are you going to be installing your own sink, cabinets, and counter? If so, you need to think about what options are safe, functional, and convenient. A stainless steel compact sink and water pressure pump work nicely for small spaces, but remember, plumbing is difficult to get right. You may want a professional to save yourself time and frustration.
Consider how large the basin should be for doing dishes, hand washing, and cooking. You will also need to consider the shape before you purchase the countertops. Rectangular sink basins work well for smaller spaces because they do not stick out. You can also purchase a sink cover for more counter space when the sink is not in use.
If you are intimidated with plumbing and do not want to pay for an expert plumber to come in, you can even purchase a portable sink that works just as well as the installed option. Portable sinks can be converted properly and are practical in a van kitchen plan. And, they are perfect for individuals who are on the road only a few times a year.
Depending on the material you use, van countertops could end up being a bit pricey for preparing your meals on the road. You want your countertops to be durable and attractive but also economical. Laminate countertops work well, are inexpensive, and could be a DIY installation project if you end up paying a professional to install the sink.
Refrigerator Options Depend on Your Space Needs
A refrigerator is a necessity in a van kitchen plan, but it will also use quite a bit of power from your electrical system. Therefore, your van’s electrical system will determine what time refrigerator you should purchase for your van. Then, you can choose what type of refrigerator will give you the most storage and maximize space:
|Type of Refrigerator||Qualities|
RV and marine refrigerators
|Best for an electric system with limited power supply.|
Can run on solar power, DC, and AC.
High-efficiency with a compressor that draws little power from the van. Does not run constantly, so it consumes less power.
Top loading refrigerators
|Opens from the top, so you will need to remove anything on top to get food that falls to the bottom (baskets can alleviate this problem).|
They are energy-efficient because they slowly use energy, so their power draw is pretty small.
May be more expensive than a standard upright refrigerator. Need more room than an upright fridge that holds the equal amount of capacity.
|Looks like a standard mini-fridge and comes in a variety of sizes.|
Much easier organization because it is shaped like a traditional refrigerator.
May be more difficult to access if you need to get down on your knees to access the food.
The shelves may fall down when traveling if not secured properly.
Portable 12-volt refrigerator
|A compression option that can be used indoors or outdoors.|
Works similar to regular refrigerators and will keep food cold outside even on warm days.
No matter what type of refrigerator works best for your van space, you will need to make sure the appliance has the proper ventilation because refrigerators have a tendency to overheat. This will also determine where your refrigerator will be placed within the van’s living area. Then, you can determine what type of stove will work best in the kitchen.
Stoves are Essential for Outdoor/Indoor Cooking
You cannot have a van kitchen plan without a stove to cook your delicious, home-cooked meals while enjoying the outdoors. Van stoves are a key component to your kitchen, and the type will come in two primary options: propane-powered and induction stoves. What type depends on if you are cooking outdoors, indoors, or both.
In addition to considering where you want to do your cooking, you also need to determine your overall cooking needs – are you making elaborate, complicated meals or a simple grilled cheese? Then, consider your space limitations, power capabilities, and the budget you want to spend on a stove to determine propane versus induction.
Propane Stoves Work Indoors or Outdoors
Propane-powered stoves work indoors or outdoors and are more appropriate for complex cooking that will need longer cooking times and specific temperatures for the meals. They use inexpensive propane canisters, not electric, so they save on energy. You can also use a larger refillable tank that would last longer than small canisters.
You can install a permanent propane stove into the countertop, but this will take up quite a bit of counter space. Having a smaller, separate propane stove indoors may be a better option because you can measure the area and purchase what size is needed. If you have a kitchen plan that requires outdoor cooking, propane is also an option.
Portable propane camp stoves are available for cooking outdoors or indoors and are inexpensive compared to indoor propane-powered stoves. If using it indoors, you simply put the portable stove on the countertop to cook your meals and then store it away when you are done. If the weather is beautiful, move it outside and enjoy the outdoors.
Cooking outdoors is also ideal when cooking something greasy like bacon or French fries unless you purchased the recommended grease screen. You will also avoid the need of ventilation. Similar to a refrigerator, a propane oven requires proper ventilation, such as opening windows and using a fan, to avoid deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
Induction Stoves Only Work Indoors, Are Safer
The second choice is an induction stove, which is perfect for less elaborate, quick, and easy meals on the road. These are not ideal for the culinary expert, but they are easy to work and clean after making a fast meal. Unlike the propane option, induction stoves use quite a bit of power and will need a battery bank and inverter to work properly.
You will really need to think about the amount of power an induction stove can consume from your van before purchasing your battery bank. If not, you will not be able to even use your induction stove. They are much more complicated to set up electrically and are more expensive than propane-based stoves while not working well for complex meals.
If this is the case with induction stoves, why do people purchase them for their van kitchens? They are deemed to be a safer option when cooking indoors because you are not combusting propane gas inside of your van. They are also perfect for bad weather, do not need the same amount of ventilation, and are available installed or portable.
For indoor cooking that is simple, such as making a one-pan meal, heating up milk or a cup of coffee, or boxed mac and cheese, induction stoves work very well and are safe to use indoors. Some travelers even have both – an induction stove indoors for quick meals on a cold day and an outside propane stove for more elaborate meals outdoors.
Other Items You Will Need to Plan Your Kitchen
Once you have your plan design down of where your kitchen will go in the van ,and you purchased the proper appliances, you need to think about filling out the kitchen with some travel-friendly and inexpensive items. That way, you can properly optimize the space in your brand new van kitchen while traveling safely and comfortably.
Below is a list of common kitchen accessories and tips that will help maximize space and make your new DIY kitchen feel like home:
- A magnetic bar in lieu of a knife block holder and counter holder for metal spatulas and whisks will help free up counter space. Make sure it is a quality product, so you do not have knives flying off the wall while driving.
- One high-quality knife for your kitchen can be used for chopping your foods and will save space then having an entire knife block.
- Avoid metal, glass, and ceramic dinnerware. Instead, plastic plates, bowls, and glasses do not rattle as much as glass or ceramic while driving.
- Plastic condiment containers also work perfectly in lieu of glass to avoid rattling while driving to your favorite spot.
- If you want to enjoy a glass of wine under the stars, opt for plastic wine glasses. There are high-quality options, and they will not break or rattle around, and the wine will still taste lovely.
- Staying with the plastic, you should elect for collapsible storage items like Tupperware, food storage items, measuring cups, cutting boards, strainers, and anything else that can collapse for more storage space.
- Bamboo utensils do not rattle when driving and are easy to keep clean and store away when not in use. They also look great if you are hanging them on the walls.
- Quick-dry towels absorb more water and then drier quicker than the average towel are great for washing your plastic dinnerware.
- Drawer liners placed inside the drawers will also help alleviate rattling and noise by keeping your items from sliding around while moving.
- Fruit hammocks are easy to hang and can hold fruit and other items to also free up your counter space.
- Hooks and straps are great for holding coffee mugs, common utensils, and other items. Straps, in particular, will help alleviate any rattling of mugs by keeping them in place rather than rattling around in the cabinet.
- A grease screen can help protect walls, clothes, blankets, and sheets that are nearby while frying up your favorite foods.
- A stainless steel pressure cooker is a must for making soups, stews, or anything else outdoors or indoors.
- A pop-up trash can is perfect for compressing down for storage while holding nearly 30 gallons of trash when you are on the road.
Not all of these items are absolutely essential, but they will greatly increase your convenience in your kitchen van. You want your kitchen van to have as many amenities from home as you can. These items allow you to get that experience without sacrificing space.