Tag Archives: #hotel room cooking

How To Cook In Your Hotel Or Dorm Room

This post is about cooking in hotel rooms, but these suggestions would also work in other kitchen-free settings like dorm rooms.  

As more of us become immunized against the novel coronavirus aspects of our former lives are returning. Although it is unlikely that our leisure and business practices will exactly return to their former styles, we will likely see a sensible re-connection to those practices that are more practical or enjoyable when done in person. Families will once again go on vacation, and workers will travel for their jobs.

When I was active in my medical practice, I worked with individuals who made their living by traveling. I knew one man who was a technician who installed and maintained a complicated machine. He would drive to various Midwest locations and spend 3 days to several weeks at a factory site. I knew another man who sold produce equipment to grocers. Much of his work life was on the road, where he would spend up to a week in a town meeting with store owners. I have also known individuals who temporarily relocated to hotels for prolonged work assignments, such as tradesmen working on distant construction projects.

Many years ago, my oldest daughter and her family temporarily lived in an old farmhouse. The dilapidated structure did not have conventional kitchen appliances. Still, we were able to put together a completely functional kitchen for her using small electrics. She successfully used that setup for the year that she lived there.

On a personal level, I spent two days a week during the last 10 years of my professional career working as a physician in a town about 100 miles away from my home. Every week, I would spend at least 1 night in a hotel. 

Some of you may think that travel work is luxurious. Perhaps you have thoughts of silvered domed room-service trays and four-star dining experiences. However, those perks are reserved for a chosen few. The majority of traveling workers appease their appetites at sub-par restaurants, fast-food drive-thrus, gas stations, and hotel lobby vending machines.

When I started working in another city, I utilized fast-food drive-thrus as they were convenient. However, I quickly got tired of their limited menus. In addition, I realized that what I thought was good value actually turned out to be an expensive proposition. I needed to think outside of the box, and so I developed a small and straightforward packable “kitchen” that I could use to prepare meals in my hotel room. This solution not only made economic sense, but it also offered me more convenience and variety. Around 11 years ago, I uploaded a YouTube video describing my portable kitchen. Despite its poor production quality, it has been viewed thousands of times, suggesting an interest in this topic. 

Many of you know that I turned a cargo van into a camper van. Much of my camping has been in remote locations, and the ability to cook my own food is a must. I have spent a considerable amount of time devising a practical and flexible van kitchen. Being obsessive, I have explored options that ranged from traditional propane/butane stoves to using my solar-powered battery system to power an induction cooktop, microwave oven, and electric pressure cooker. My van needs are such that I’m always experimenting with cooking systems that offer flexibility and energy efficiency in a small footprint.   

My camper van has a full kitchen with a sink, induction cooktop, electric pressure cooker, and even a microwave.

Much of what I will discuss below is common sense. However, it may be helpful for those who have to regularly travel away from home for work. Always follow the rules of your establishment, and always be vigilant when cooking. It is best to have a dedicated spot when you prepare meals, even if you have to re-create that spot every time you cook. You should choose a space that is as fire and damage-proof as possible. In addition, you must have enough free space, so you are not knocking hot pots over or doing other dangerous things.

The topics of van cooking and car cooking are related to hotel room cooking but present enough contrasting issues that deserve their own post. This post is on what you need to successfully cook a variety of foods in your hotel room. I hope that my ideas encourage some of you to try this option. Naturally, be respectful of both hotel property and your fellow guests’ noses. Never do anything that adds unnecessary risks, such as cooking with an unattended flame. Use common sense!

How are you getting to your destination?

For most travelers, this means driving or flying. If you drive to a location, you can pack larger cooking gear. However, it is possible to creatively create a hotel kitchen that you packed in your luggage. I’ll talk more about that later on in this post. For now, I’m going to concentrate on creating a kitchen system for drivers, as such an option illustrates the basic concepts of cooking without a traditional kitchen. Although I plan on covering a variety of methods, I’m confident that there are other ways to cook that I am not aware of.

First things first-don’t be a jerk!

Remember, you are a guest at a hotel, and you need to act accordingly. There are many YouTube videos where presenters cook meals directly in the hotel’s room coffee pot and fry foods on the room’s iron. Practicing these parlor-trick options is selfish and rude. Do I really want my coffee to taste like curry because some jerk made a meal in the room’s coffee pot? Likewise, does my wife want a nice bacon grease stain on a dress that she freshened up with the hotel-supplied iron? I should not have to pay the price for your irresponsible behavior and poor planning.

Leave no trace.

The best way to be successful at hotel room cooking is to live in a room where such behavior is invisible. Are you stinking up the hallway by making fish or other smelly foods? If the answer is yes, expect to get a call from the hotel’s manager. Also, the room’s bathtub is not your kitchen sink, and the hotel’s towels are not your dishrags.  

If your housekeeper has to spend 20 extra minutes cleaning a greasy bathtub, you will hear about it. If you are destroying hotel towels, expect that you will pay for them dearly when you check out.  

I always tried to ventilate well, and I was cautious about what I cooked in my hotel room. I “packed away” all waste material in bags from the grocery store, which I sealed with a knot. I then discarded the bags when I left the room the following day.

There are many ways to wash dishes without destroying someone else’s property. Start out with items that are easy to clean. For instance, it is much easier to clean non-stick pots and pans. Keep dishes to a minimum. Here are my two favorite alternative dishwashing methods:

The campervan method.

When I’m camping in the backcountry, water is a precious resource. While my pans were still warm, I wiped them out as thoroughly as possible using paper towels. I would carry a little nylon scraper to dislodge any burnt-on stuff. When the pans were as clean as possible, I sprayed them with white vinegar (poured into a spray bottle), which I also wiped off with a clean paper towel. The vinegar cuts any remaining grease and offers some mild sanitizing effects. You would be surprised how clean my dishes were.

I use white vinegar in a spay bottle to wash my camper’s dishes.

The hotel method.

As above, I removed as much food as possible with paper towels and a nylon scraper. I carried with me a small sponge (cut from a regular one), as well as a small bottle of soap-kept in a little travel bottle. Liquid dish detergent works the best, but liquid Castile soaps, like Dr. Bronner, are also good. I would put a drop or two of soap on the wet sponge and wash the item, rising it in the sink. I minimized the number of things that I washed by using disposable plates and bowls when possible. I then washed down the sink using my dish soap to ensure that no grease was left behind. Utilizing a sink (instead of the bathtub) encourages you to leave it clean. Most of us don’t want to wash our faces or brush our teeth in a greasy sink!

A nylon scrapper is great for removing burnt-on food from pots and pans.

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!).

Think about what you need to bring (or buy) and minimize it. The more straightforward your setup, the more enjoyable it will be to use. Yes, it is possible to pack a complete kitchen if you drive to your destination, but do you really want to haul all of that junk into your room? It is much nicer to have the basics in an easy-to-carry bag or backpack. It is surprising how many different types of foods that you can cook using elementary equipment. You just need to think outside of the box.

Bring or buy?

If you are driving, it is possible to pack many of your essential kitchen items; cooking gear, paper towels, and the like. This will be more difficult if you are flying. However, you can buy items at your destination. A trip to Walmart, a dollar store, and/or a resale shop can score you the inexpensive gear needed to complete your cooking arsenal. Twenty to forty dollars of equipment may be all that you need to create a functional kitchen. Too bulky to fly the stuff back home? Leave it or donate it to Goodwill; you will still be saving loads of money in the long run.

When it comes to groceries, it depends on your circumstance. If you have the time and space, you may find it more economical to bring your grocery items. Conversely, you may find it more convenient to bring some things and buy other items, like refrigerated foods, at your destination. Lastly, there are times when it is impractical to bring any food. In those cases, a trip to the local grocer is your only option.  

Know your eating habits.

Some of us can eat a PBJ sandwich every day, some crave burgers, and others can’t stand the thought of eating leftovers. Knowing your eating style can help you craft a kitchen that will allow you to make the types of foods you like.

Know your hotel’s rules.

Many hotels (if not most) will allow the careful and considerate use of some small electrics. This is evident because many hotels now include such devices (like coffee pots) in their rooms. However, they may have restrictions on what types of device that you can use. For instance, they may ban high wattage items or devices with open flames or exposed heating coils. Violating a hotel’s policy can be a reason to be evicted from the hotel. I was always cautious and discrete, and because of this, and I was never questioned about my cooking habits. See “No Trace” above.

Know what is supplied.

By far, the most useful item that a hotel can supply you with is a minifridge. Many hotel rooms now have these, and others will bring one to your room if you request it. Higher-end hotels may try to restrict fridge use by instantly charging you if you remove anything from the “minibar,” preventing you from repacking it with your own food. Some hotels may supply you with a cube fridge at no charge if you have a medical reason for needing it. For instance, you may have a medication that requires refrigeration.

A fridge allows you to buy several days of perishable items (like yogurt), store other things (like salad dressing), and cook larger quantities of food that can be eaten over several meals. 

It is unlikely that you will buy a fridge, so having the hotel supply one is a huge plus.

It is possible to do meal prep without refrigeration. Many car/van dwellers who live permanently in their vehicles do not have refrigeration. Similarly, long-distance thru-hikers can meal prep for months without the benefit of a refrigerator. You can buy expensive dehydrated hiking meals (like Mountain House). Even better, you can find hundreds of inexpensive shelf-stable foods at your supermarket. In addition, it is possible to store commonly refrigerated foods like pancake syrup, catsup, and peanut butter at room temperature. There are countless recipes, strategies, and methods on YouTube, so hunt around for them for some inspiration. Search for “backpacking foods” or “cooking backpacking meals.” 

It is also possible to chill small items using your hotel-supplied ice bucket. However, please don’t be one of those jerks who uses the ice machine to fill a personal cooler, thereby depriving everyone else on your floor of ice. A little ice in an ice bucket can keep a small leftover container chilled for your lunch the next day or a small carton of milk fresh for your morning coffee.

Cooking tools.

It is surprising how few tools are necessary to cook. If your trips consist of only a day or two, you will need less equipment than staying away for weeks or longer. The most basic kits require something to cook in, something to eat in (which may be the same thing), simple seasonings and condiments (which could be fast-food style packets), and utensils, including some sort of a knife. A knife can be packed in checked luggage if you are flying. You can also buy a very inexpensive kitchen knife or a cheap camping/folding knife at a big-box store (like Walmart) on arrival (make sure to leave it if you are returning with only a carry-on). Items like paper plates, bowls, paper towels, and aluminum foil can also be purchased locally or brought depending on whether you are traveling by plane or car.  


What you bring or buy will depend on your particular cooking/refrigeration setup, as well as your personal eating habits. You may want to cook all of your meals, or you may want to prepare only some of them. For instance, it may be more convenient to prepare breakfast and dinner in your hotel room and buy your lunch when you are out and about. 

When I spent 10 years working two days a week in another city, I would pack in all of my portioned-out food for my overnight stays. When I’m vandwelling in remote areas, I pack an entire stockpile of essential foods purchased before leaving on my trip. When vacationing with my family, I am more inclined to grocery shop on the “fly.” Once you start cooking your own meals, you will find the method that works for you and your situation.  

What will you cook with?

My general advice is to try to consolidate all of your cooking needs to one or two cooking devices. It is possible to bake without an oven, fry without a grill, and prepare rice and pasta without a saucepan. Sometimes the best option is to use already cooked or par-cooked foods; at other times, you will need to creatively adapt your existing equipment. For instance, you can bake a perfectly acceptable cake in a microwave oven if you know how to do it. Check YouTube for many examples of adaptive cooking methods.

Sources of heat.

If you are going to cook, you need at least one source of heat. I will list sources by category. I will further give you my opinion on the device in a particular type that I feel is the most adaptable to the widest variety of cooking needs. Remember, KISS.

Microwave Ovens.

Many hotel rooms are now equipped with a small microwave oven, and this one versatile appliance may be all that you need.  

Many hotels rooms now have small microwaves.

Home microwave ovens became affordable in the late 1970s, just as I was starting my adult life. I bought one from Sears, and I was determined to become a microwave cooking expert. I was surprised at how many different types of food I could make in a microwave just by learning a few new skills and adopting a few cooking techniques.

Yes, you can heat frozen meals and warm leftover Chinese in the microwave, but you can do so much more. Microwave ovens do a great job cooking all sorts of vegetables and can make a decent “baked” potato. It is wholly possible to cook tender meats like fish, poultry, and hamburger. However, you may have to top them with something to make their appearance look appetizing. You can make cakes and muffins. You can cook rice and pasta. You can scramble and hard boil eggs. However, make sure to watch some instructional videos, so you don’t have an egg “explosion” in your microwave. You can heat water for coffee, tea, and instant soups… and the list goes on. To make a microwave really useful, you will need to bring or locally buy a bowl or other container to cook in. At one point, I had an inexpensive contraption that made rice, pasta, and steamed veggies, and I still own a plate with a special coating that allows actual grilling in a microwave. When purchasing, make sure that your cookware is sized for smaller hotel microwaves. Also, most hotel microwave ovens are lower power than your home unit. You will likely need to adjust your cooking time upwards.

Pyrex dishes and cups work well in a microwave.
Corning ware makes this 20 oz cup with a vented lid. You can buy one for around $10 and it is perfect for making a big cup of tea or reheating a can of soup in the microwave. It is small enough to pack well in a suitcase.
I had a set very similar to this. However, the main cooking pot was too big to use in small hotel microwaves.
I still have a pot similar to this one. It has a special coating that heats up in the microwave and allows the user to make foods like fried eggs and grill cheese sandwiches.

If you want to know how to cook something, just Google, “How do I cook _____ in a microwave?” Like all cooking gadgets, a microwave cooks some things better than others. Tougher meats and items that require dry heat don’t do well in a microwave unless you use special equipment.

If you don’t have a microwave oven in your room, you may have access to one in a common area, like the lobby. However, this option is considerably less desirable and is useful mainly for reheating foods.

Even if you have a microwave, you may find it convenient to have an additional cooking device. Let’s look at some options.

Stove-like Electric Heating Devices

You can buy a traditional hotplate for under $20 or a table-top induction burner for less than $75. Add some pots/pans, and you have a complete cooking system. However, these would not be my first hotel cooking choices unless I was planning on a very extended hotel stay and needed a lot of cooking flexibility. 

Both devices are high wattage appliances that can trip circuit breakers. In addition, traditional hotplates stay dangerously hot for a very long time after being turned off. Lastly, when you add pots/pans and other add ons your kitchen setup can become large, complicated, and cumbersome. 

A cheap hotplate can use most any pot. However, its open coils stay very hot for a long time.
You can buy an induction cooktop for under $100 and they work great. However, they are large and require special pots.

With that said, I use an induction cooktop in my campervan, and I love it. In that setting, I have ample storage and dedicated cooking space for the cooktop.  

Open Flame Devices.

Open flame devices range from tiny backpacking stoves to large two-burner camp stoves. Fuels can vary from canisters of propane, butane, and isobutane, to liquids like white gas and alcohol, to gel fuels like Sterno. Such devices can be used effectively to cook meals, but they would not be my first hotel cooking choice. You may worry about carbon monoxide poisoning, but that risk is minimal when quickly cooked foods are prepared in a well-ventilated room. A much more significant risk is the risk of fire.

Two burner stoves are great when camping, but they are large and bulky in a hotel room.
Tabletop butane stoves are easier to manage than a traditional camp stove. However, like them, they have an open flame.
Backpacking-type stoves and tiny and easy to carry. However, their small vertical-style proportions can make it easy to tip a pot unless you are very careful. Many of these small stoves have poor flame regulation. They are either on or off.
You can find various stoves that use gel fuels like Sterno.
Alcohol stoves (also called spirit stoves) do work, however they combine the dangers of both an open flame and a spillable fuel.

Devices that heat water.

Hot water is used to cook or reconstitute a great number of foods. Let’s look at some inexpensive cooking devices that make hot water.

The room’s coffee pot.

Your room-supplied coffee maker can also make hot water to reconstitute many foods. However, do not use the pot itself as a cooking vessel; use it to make hot water to add to instant oatmeal bowls, dehydrated soup cups, and other foods. Do you want to drink coffee from a pot used to make the last occupants spicy ramen? Water made in a coffee pot won’t be as hot as water made using other gadgets. There are better ways to get boiling hot water. 

The electric kettle.

Sometimes supplied in hotel rooms outside of the US, these versatile devices can quickly bring relatively large quantities of water to a rolling boil. Most kettles will automatically turn off once the water comes to a boil, which is a good safety feature. Kettles come in a variety of sizes, including ones that are specifically designed to pack in luggage. Some kettles have a coiled heating element in the water chamber, making it impossible to clean burnt-on food, so boil the water in these kettles but “cook” the food in another container. If you decide to cook directly in any kettle, make sure that it is your own device. 

Electric kettles do a great job at boiling water and they shut off automatically.

There are many foods at the grocer that reconstitute simply by adding hot water. Dehydrated soup cups and instant mashed potatoes are two of many examples. You can “cook” other shelf-stable foods by using the “cozy” method. This is one of my favorite ways to cook real food when hiking. Dried foods are mixed with boiling water in a container that is insulated in some way. One good option is a wide-mouth thermos. However, you can also use a container with a lid that you cover with an insulator, like towels. You then let the trapped heat cook the food. As a rule of thumb, allow about twice as much time to cook as if you were using a traditional stovetop. For instance, if the package says to simmer for 10 minutes, I would typically leave the food in the cozy for 15-20 minutes. A little trial and error are necessary. You may need to reduce the amount of reconstituting water (you won’t lose it as steam). If you use a thermos, pre-heat it with boiling water before adding your food for even better results.  

Pro Tip 1: When I hike, I make my own dehydrated meals and portion them out into 1-quart freezer Ziplock bags. I then add hot water directly into the bag, stir, and place the bag into a cozy that I made from Reflectix and duct tape. I eat directly out of the bag, so there is no clean-up! Only use a freezer-type bag as the regular bags will melt with boiling water.

Pro Tip 2: Learn the art of substitution. Powdered milk (I have also used coffee creamer) can take the place of milk, and a little cooking oil can take the place of butter when rehydrating a shelf-stable food. Substituting shelf-stable ingredients can boost your flavor when cooking without the need to have refrigeration. 

Pro Tip 3: You can forgo certain ingredients and still get an acceptable result when making packaged dehydrated foods. For instance, if a box mix asks you to add a pat of butter, you can omit it, and the resulting food will still be edible.

Pro Tip 4: If you are making your own freezer bag meals use par-cooked food when possible.  For instance, use instant rice instead of regular rice.  Can you make regular rice using the cozy method?  Yes, you can, but it will take a long while.

Instant rice will cook-up much quicker than regular rice.

ProTip 5: You can combine different types of shelf-stable foods to add variety to your freezer bag meals.  When you are doing meal prep you can combine a Knorr pasta side with a packet of tuna and a small can of mixed vegetables for a one “pot” casserole meal.

The hot pot.

When I attended boarding college in the early 1970s, microwave ovens were not common campus appliances. Although I had a meal plan, I also needed to have a way to cook late-night study snacks. My solution came in the form of a Proctor-Silex hot pot. A hot pot is similar to an electric kettle but with a few crucial differences. Generally, a hot pot is broader and more saucepan-like. Also, the heating element is never exposed. A hot pot can be slower than a kettle to boil water, but it is usually easier to clean. In addition, a hot pot does not shut off automatically after the water boils. This can be a good thing when cooking, but it also means that you need to watch your pot more carefully. 

A hot pot is shaped like a saucepan which makes them easier to clean than a kettle. In addition, some have a temperature control.

As a student, I would heat cans of soup and Spaghetti-Os (don’t judge) by partially submerging the opened cans in water, bain-marie style. The method worked well, and there was no clean-up. It is possible to do actual cooking in a hot pot, such as boiling pasta and making hard-boiling eggs. Some hot pots have temperature control which allows for more cooking options. In addition, you can now buy many Asian-type hot pots in the US. They come in various styles, and you may find that one style better fits your cooking needs. The traditional US style hot pot can be had for under 20 dollars, making it a real bargain. 

Ensure that you are aware of the size and wattage use of anything you decide to buy. A hot pot is a more versatile cooking device than a kettle. I would recommend it over a kettle if it was to be your only method of cooking. 

The humble rice cooker.

The first automatic rice cooker was introduced in the 1950s, and many of today’s rice cookers use that exact same technology. With that said, you can also buy expensive rice cookers that use computer chips and fuzzy logic. For this post, I am referring to the simple 2 or 6 cup appliances that sell for under $30. These gadgets usually have a single level that switches the machine from cook to warm (around 150F). However, you could also consider slightly more expensive cookers that may have additional features, like a saute function. Rice cookers make perfect rice, but they are capable of cooking so much more. 

You can buy a basic rice cooker for under $20. It is amazing how many foods you can cook in these gadgets.

A rice cooker boils (steams?) rice and water until all of the water is absorbed into the rice. Water boils at 212F at sea level, and when all of the water is absorbed, the pot’s temperature starts to rise. The rice cooker sensed that rise, which turns off the high heat and switches to a gentle “warm” setting. This automatic switching makes rice cookers very safe to use, as there is little chance of causing a fire, even when left unattended (but don’t do that). 

The rice cooker’s pot is removable and easy to wash. A 6 cup (3 cups dry) machine has a small footprint, yet it is ample enough to make a meal with leftovers. In addition, most small rice cookers use only 200-400 watts of power, so they are unlikely to trip even the most sensitive hotel circuit breaker. Lastly, many rice cookers come with a steamer basket, which adds to their versatility.  

Beyond rice, a rice cooker quickly cooks almost any grain, including quinoa and oatmeal. In addition, a rice cooker can function as a pot for making pasta, cooking hot dogs, warming canned chili, steaming vegetables, and boiling eggs. There are countless rice cooker recipes for delicious foods like real mac and cheese, “fried” eggs, and chocolate cake. If you want to go beyond making rice, it is essential to learn new cooking techniques by following established recipes or watching YouTube videos; rice cooker cooking is different from traditional methods. I believe that a rice cooker is the most versatile cooking device in this category. It is inexpensive and relatively small. If a 6 cup device is too big to pack, you can consider a smaller 2 cup cooker. Rice cookers can be found anywhere where small electrics are sold.

Dry Heat Cooking Options.

Two portable options come to mind, the toaster oven and the air fryer. Although you may find that one works better for you than the other, they both do similar things. These gadgets are big, bulky, and power-hungry. I would only recommend them in rare cases because of this. For instance, if a person was on a very long assignment (months), they may find it helpful to pick up one at a resale shop. However, unless you live for frozen tater tots, there are probably better cooking choices. 

Dry heating devices, like this toaster over, are big, bulky, and high wattage gadgets.

Slow Cooking Options.

A standard small slow cooker is inexpensive and versatile. You can buy one new for under $30 and one used from resale for much less than that. Another slow-cooking option is the Hot Logic Mini. Think of this gadget as a hybrid between a slow cooker and a soft-sided cooler. The Mini is smaller and flatter than a Crockpot, making it a better option if you have to pack it in luggage. 

Basic slow cookers are cheap and you can almost always find one at a second-hand stores.
The Hot Logic Mini works like a slow cooker, but it is more packable.

Both devices use very little electricity. They can be left unattended, promising the owner a delicious dinner after a long work or fun day. However, many hotels frown on guests leaving cooking appliances plugged in unattended. Some maids are instructed to unplug such gadgets if they are discovered during a room clean. In addition, slow cookers are not instantaneous heaters. If you want to heat up a can of soup, it will take you much longer than if you used other methods. With that said, some travelers are devotees to these products. Slow cookers require planning, but they open up many food possibilities. If you can’t leave an unattended device, cook the next day’s meal during the night before and then refrigerate the food in the morning for a microwave reheat later in the day. Another option is to use the gadget for hearty breakfasts; for instance, you can cook steel-cut oats while you sleep. 

Grill Options.

I consider a grill anything that cooks food directly on a very hot surface. Let’s explore some grill options.

The waffle iron.

An electric waffle iron can cook more foods than waffles. Some people use them to make everything from grilled sandwiches to pizza waffles. However, they can be a pain to clean and are limited cooking devices.  

You can cook more than waffles in a waffle iron. However, they are still fairly limited cooking gadgets.

The sandwich maker.

These gadgets go in and out of popularity. They are inexpensive new, and you can likely find one at a resale shop. They can seal in a filling while grilling bread. They can easily make anything from grilled cheese sandwiches to homemade pizza puffs. In addition, it is possible to cook an omelet or bake a snack-style cake in their baking cavities. Their small size makes them a travel contender, especially if you dig the type of foods they are good at making.

Sandwich makers have been around for a long time and you can probably pick one up at a resale shop.

The George Foreman Grill (and others grill/griddles).

A basic George Foreman grill is small and inexpensive. However, its greasy nature can make packing it a challenge. These gadgets excel at the quick grilling of meats and vegetables. However, they are capable of other cooking functions, such as making grilled sandwiches or frying eggs. Some grills offer flat-surface and waffle accessory plates, making them larger, more expensive, and more versatile. A small grill uses around 800 watts of power, while larger units can consume well over 1000 watts to operate. 

A basic George Foreman grill is cheap and surprisingly versatile.

The Electric Frying Pan.

You can buy an electric frying pan for under $20 or spend over $100 for one. I think an electric frying pan is one of the most competent tools for hotel room cooking. When I was spending one day a week in a hotel, my kitchen kit’s primary cooking device was a 7″ electric frying pan that I bought for $16 at Big Lots. As I write this, you can buy a similar pan for less than $20, or get a family-sized 11″ or 12″ unit for under $30. An electric frying pan can boil water, warm up cans of soups and stews, make pasta, cook oatmeal, fry eggs, make grilled sandwiches, sear a steak, and much more. An electric frying pan can do it all. Some pans are relatively small while still offering thermostatic heat control.  

Electric frying pans can do it all from boiling water to making pancakes. They come in many sizes from small to party size.

A small pan will use around 600 watts, a typical inexpensive pan consumes around 1000 watts, and a high-end pan can need up to 1800 watts of power. With a bit of practice, you can cook just about anything in an electric frying pan. I have baked cakes and made pizza in them. Naturally, you will need to learn a few simple techniques if you want to get the most of these devices. Still, there are many YouTube videos available to guide your every step.

The Instant Pot/Electric Pressure Cooker.

Electric pressure cookers have been around long before the famous Instant Pot, and they are fantastic and versatile appliances. You can buy electric pressure cookers in smaller 2 and 3-quart sizes which are better for travel. These smaller units are surprisingly energy efficient and can do many kitchen functions beyond making stews and soups. In fact, you can scramble eggs and brown ground meat using their saute function.

I am currently testing out this 3-quart pressure cooker for vanlife use.

I’m testing a small 3-quart electric pressure cooker in my camper van kitchen. It has a non-stick inner pot and uses only 600 watts when pressurizing and even less energy when cooking.  

The downsides to such devices are that even the small ones may be too bulky. Also, they may be a bit too complicated or intimidating for basic cooks. An electric pressure cooker is an excellent addition to my camper van. Still, it is unlikely that I would use one in a hotel unless I was away for an extended time. In the latter case, their flexibility might outweigh their packing inconvenience.  

When traveling by air.

When you are traveling by car, it is easy to take more oversized cooking items. However, that is not the case when you are flying somewhere. Your amount of time away should determine how dedicated you are to hotel cooking. If you travel rarely, and only for a day or two, you may be better off buying your meals or sticking with simple solutions, like sandwiches.  

For more extended stays, you need to think outside the box. Here are some options:

-If your hotel supplies a fridge and microwave, you may be set. If you are only cooking simply, you can likely find room in your luggage for a small covered microwavable bowl. If you need to buy on-site, you can get some inexpensive cooking gear at Walmart or a dollar store. The money you spend on equipment will be returned to you in dining-out savings after a day or two. You can donate (or leave/discard) your gear at the end of your trip.

You can buy small, lightweight microwave gear that you can pack in your luggage.

-I have heard of many travelers who pack a travel hot water kettle. These small devices can be used to prepare various foods as described in the hot water section above. If you travel internationally, make sure that your kettle can operate at both 120v and 240v.

Collapsable silicon kettles are good travel companions.

-You can take a cue from backpackers who are experts at packing small, lightweight equipment to cook with. Some use little alcohol or Sterno stoves, and there are many tiny canister fuel stoves on the market. A Jetboil is a water boiling device that stacks together in a small package. Some Jetboil models allow you to regulate the stove’s flame, and to use small pots and pans on the burners.

Jetboil makes hiking stoves that boil water very quickly.

-There are many nested cooking kits that include everything from saucepans to coffee cups. These small kits usually have enough interior space to store a backpacking-type isobutane stove. There are even small french presses for those who demand the best morning coffee. Cook kits can range from expensive feather-light titanium ones to very reasonably priced aluminum kits. These pans are thin and require attention when cooking, as it is easy to burn your food. Also, you may prefer non-stick ones. Some frugal hikers use army surplus aluminum canteen cups for cooking; others find tiny frying pans in the kitchen section of stores. The options are limited only by your imagination. However, I would avoid boy scout-style “mess kits.” These tiny sets are impractically sized and are both challenging to cook in and clean. 

You can buy packable cook sets that include everything that you need to make a meal.
There are outdoorsmen who like to cook in army canteen cups. It is amazing to see the complicated recipes that are able to be made in such a simple cooking vessel.
Another popular cooking item is the tiny “One Egg Wonder” pan which can be found where pots and pans are sold.

Naturally, using an open flame presents dangers. Make sure that you follow my suggestions in the sections above to realistically address these concerns. 

Of course, you can’t bring pressurized cans or combustible fuels on an airplane, but you can buy them at your destination. Cans of butane can be found at sporting and big-box stores, and Sterno is available at hardware, grocery, and big-box stores. Alcohol stoves can use Heet (the yellow bottle only), which can be found at many gas stations and other places. I do have concerns about using both open flames and liquid fuels in a hotel, and I would suggest avoiding these options if possible. However, I have used open flame cooking on occasion. When doing so, I cooked in the tiled bathroom, and I never left my pot unattended. Always follow your hotel’s rules in these situations. 

If you are traveling outside the country, make sure you know the power and plug requirements in the country that you are going to. The US uses 120v, while other parts of the world may use 220v. 

My usual hotel kit (see video below) was small and perfectly packable. That kit would be my choice if I had to fly to a longer-term destination and I would pack it in my checked luggage.

My 11 year old YouTube video on my little hotel room “kitchen.”

In summary, you can see that it is relatively easy to prepare your meals even if you don’t have a kitchen at hand. The options are only limited by your imagination. Be careful and considerate, and always follow your hotel’s rules. Hotel cooking not only saves you money, but it also allows you to eat what you want when you want it. Lastly, there are no waitlists or tipping when you are cooking in your room.

Bon appetite!