The ABCs of RV kitchens

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By Ronnie Wendt

Evada Cooper started her full-time RVing journey in 2007. Looking back, the 10-year RVing veteran laughs and explained, “When I started out, I didn’t know anything, which is OK, I’m a gutsy gal.”

Cooper recalls that she learned a lot very quickly on her road to RV success. One of the earliest lessons was that an RV kitchen is very different from the kitchens found in a bricks-and-sticks home.

The former restaurant owner knew her way around a kitchen, so that wasn’t the problem, she said. The problem was she expected her RV’s kitchen appliances to work like they did in a regular home, but they didn’t.

It wasn’t until she met Terry Cooper, known in RV circles as The RV Professor, that Lady E, as she’s known in the same circles, found out why. Terry taught her the how’s and the why’s of her RV kitchen, and together they created a program that Lady E presents to others.

“There are a lot of sites on the web that cover RV cooking, but if you don’t know how your appliances work then how can you be successful?” she asked. “That’s why I brought my program to the public.

“The program covers how the electrical works in an RV kitchen, the ABCs of operating RV appliances correctly, how to make appliances operate more efficiently, food storage and more.

Turn on the power

The first thing people need to understand is the electrical system in their RVs, Cooper noted. She points out that most people look at an RV’s footprint and other features before they buy, but few investigate the electrical system or think about whether they need a 30-amp or 50-amp RV.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” she said. “Because of this, you may jump into buying an RV that limits you like crazy.”

She explained there are two power cores — 30 amps and 50 amps — but those power cores need to be broken down into watts to understand the true amount of power available.

On a 30-amp unit, there are 3,600 watts available for use, but on a 50-amp, there are 12,000 watts available. Considering that just a single RV air conditioner requires 2,400 watts to operate, and a water heater’s heating element takes 1,500 watts to run, it’s easy to see why 50 amps might be preferred.

“If you have these two things going at the same time, you’ve already surpassed the 3,600 watts available to you in your 30-amp RV,” she explained. “When you start considering the electrical needs of your RV then add microwaves, convection ovens, coffee pots, toasters, etc., on top of them, you’re in a danger zone you never knew existed.

“But, with a 50-amp RV, you can run one or two air conditioners, the water element, the coffee pot and the oven, because you have more watts available to you,” Cooper added, noting that 30-amp power might be sufficient for some people.

A very minimalist person, who plans to cook over the fire or at a tabletop grill and do minimal cooking inside, might be just fine with 30 amps. The same is true if they are OK with propane-fueled cooktops and ovens.

“But for people like me, who want electrical not propane running their kitchen, you’re going to want 50 amps,” she said.

In her seminars, Lady E finds that a lot of RV owners do not know if they have 30- or 50-amp service.

“I put it to them this way, ‘If you trip the breaker every time you run your coffee pot and microwave together, odds are you have 30 amps.’ And, believe it or not, most of the RVs being sold today have 30 amps,” she explained.

Often cooking becomes a juggling act in these scenarios. For instance, if you know the coffee pot needs 900 watts to work, you may have to shut off the air conditioner to run it. The good news is many of 30-amp RVs come equipped with propane ovens and cooktops so that you can cook without drawing electricity at all.

“Propane is a great option for people who live off the grid, or boondock,” Cooper explained.

Waiting on dinner?

There are other challenges to consider when it comes to cooking in the RV kitchen. For example, at a busy campground loaded with full-time RVers, the timing of when you cook also may be a factor.

When everyone comes home from work and starts up their RVs, turns on their air conditioners and begins to cook, electrical demand at the RV park increases, which can lower the electrical feed to your RV.

“Everyone is pulling on it at the same time,” she explained. “That doesn’t mean we won’t be successful cooking, but it does mean it might take longer to cook.”

With a convection oven, for example, it may take 10-13 minutes to preheat normally, but during times of peak demand, it might take twice that long.

“That’s something you don’t have to deal with in your bricks-and-sticks home,” Cooper explained. “But it’s common in RV parks.”

Not only that, but that same convection oven may take longer to cook food during times of peak electrical use.

“The wattage output will affect how fast the food cooks,” she said, noting that if a convection microwave has an output of 850 watts, it will take longer to cook the food.

“It’s not until you get to 1,000 watts of output that you can start using those recipes straight off the recipe card or off the package,” she explained.

Lady E started RVing with a propane oven. She thought she’d arrived when she added a convection oven to her RV, but she says she quickly learned it didn’t operate quite like the ones she had used at her restaurant.

“Most of convection ovens do not have enough power output. Once I knew the boundaries, I could use it successfully,” she explained.

If a unit has low power, then it’s important to add time to a recipe. If the recipe calls for 350 degrees at 17 minutes, it may be necessary to add three to five minutes to fully cook the food.

“The truth is that you just have to play with the unit until you figure out exactly what the oven you have requires,” said Cooper. “You can take some of the mystery out of it by knowing the wattage output, but you do need to play with your own equipment to figure out how to get the desired results.”

Keeping it cool

RV refrigerators do not run on compressors like the ones in your home; they run on chemicals. They come in several different sizes, including 8, 12 and 14 cubic feet. In comparison, most residential refrigerators are 21 to 22 cubic feet in size.

“An RV refrigerator is significantly smaller,” Cooper explained. “They look quite large and deep from the outside, but the cavity holding everything is actually only half the size because there is tubing and storage for the chemicals needed to operate the unit located behind it. These are necessary to keep everything cold.”

There is a cost to adding a residential fridge to your RV, she added. A residential refrigerator that offers 22 cubic feet of storage space retails for $2,000 but in an RV a similarly sized refrigerator would cost about $4,000.

And, if the coils on the back side of the refrigerator need replacing, it will cost another $2,000 to repair.

When using a residential refrigerator, you need to consider how you will keep things cool while traveling.

Lady E has a residential refrigerator in her rig. However, she relies on a piece of equipment called an inverter that sits between the RV battery and the refrigerator to power the refrigerator when they are not connected to the power grid. As her RV runs down the road, she turns on the inverter, which pulls power from the unit’s batteries to keep the refrigerator cooling to 38 degrees.

“The batteries are powered by the truck as it moves down the road, so when we stop for the night, I have about 10 hours of power after we disconnect from everything. This way my refrigerator stays cool until I turn the truck back on,” she said. “I also have a generator.”

A place for everything, and everything in its place

When Lady E purchased her first RV, the kitchen she wound up with was small and lacked storage.

“As time has gone on, I’ve chosen better,” she laughd.

The reality is that most RVs do not have as much storage as their owners would like, and for that reason, owners must get smart with their appliance choices. Lady E appreciates the appliances that can be used for more than one purpose.

For example, a new instant pot on the market offers a variety of features. It is a pressure cooker, a slow cooker and more and can be used to make everything from cheesecake, to roasts, to steaming rice.

“There are more and more of these kinds of appliances coming out,” she explained. “It’s always nice to have an appliance that can do multiple things.”

Whether it’s electrical power needs, refrigerators, or simply storage, when it comes to RV kitchens, Lady E advises doing your homework — before you buy.

“No. 1, consumers need to be educated about RVs. Without education, we make all the wrong decisions and spend our time fumbling around with a rig that doesn’t meet our needs,” said Cooper. “Before jumping into it, it’s important to know how everything works, once you grasp that, the rest will fall into place.”

In celebration of the RV industry’s 100th anniversary in 2011, Cooper published the RV Centennial Cookbook: Celebrating 100 Years of RVing. Not only does it offer dozens of recipes submitted by RVers themselves, the book includes a glimpse at the history of RVing and offers tips to better enjoy the outdoor or travel lifestyle.

For more information about cooking in an RV, visit

Ronnie Wendt

Ronnie Wendt

Ronnie Wendt has been a writer/editor for more than 25 years, working in law enforcement, aviation, supply chain and the RV industry. She's not a stranger to RVs, however. She grew up camping, and still camps as many weekends as she can every year. She is the owner of In Good Company Communications and can be reached at

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