Van Essential: Camp stove
I remember the days when I was simmering up some meal on my two-burner propane camping stove in the van. Or the first time I made van-cookies in my Camp Chef Stove & Oven combo. Oh, those days. I am not sure what it is, but the excitement of making a meal in a vehicle/van – just does it for me… go figure. Recently I started thinking of the different stoves I have had in the vans over the seven-plus years I’ve been at this and how each fit the job. Below are four stove types that I will give my take on.
First, the smallest; backpacking stoves. I had one of these for use in the mini camper van in 2012. The van was intended for weekend trips up and into the Rocky Mountains without bringing all the luxuries and space of Big Blue. The space in the mini van was so much less than Big Blue, everything had to be down sized as well. Since backpacking stoves pack into such a small space, it was the perfect type of stove for weekend trips where I needed nothing more then to re-hydrate some backpacking food. The downside to this small of a stove is how easy it would be to tip over, and we can all imagine how bad that would be inside a vehicle. Having a built-in and level counter space is a must to ensure stable footing for any stove. One down side is that the fuel is pretty darn expensive (per ounce) and not always easily found; sporting good stores are your best bet. One of these little guys can be had for as little as $9. Be warned, the fuel is considered “three season” fuel and may not work so great in extreme cold and/or high elevations.
Butane singe burner stoves
The next level (at least in size, and size does matter) is a butane single burner. Though I never used one in my van, I can see where having something larger than a backpacking stove would be better. Not only for the added heat, and larger space, but also for the stability in the platform. These stoves usually come with a case for easy packing and storing while not in use, and let’s face it, cooking is only done for a few minutes each day so having the ability to store the stove away is super helpful. Weighing in at only a smidgen more than nothing, it is easy to take out to the picnic table to cook that bacon and avoid the grease splattering all over the interior of the van. Fuel can be found at most Walmart and sporting good stores, and you can even occasionally find them in grocery stores. Usually starting around the $20 range, they are a good budget stove for cooking simple meals.
Propane double burner camp stoves
The propane double burner stove was the true work horse of my time in a van. Thankfully the interior space of my van is huge, with a 70 X 24 inch counter top, which allowed me to mount my two burner stove to the counter and just keep it there. There really was no other place to put it thanks to it’s size anyway.
It wasn’t often that I used both burners at the same time, but when I did I sure was happy I had two burners. These stoves usually come with another step up in heating power (BTU rating) and with the extra BTU’s comes extra propane use. Expect to burn through a 1 pound canister of propane every week or two, depending on how complex your cooking is. Many of these types of stoves can be had starting at $40, which is fair price considering you are getting double the stove over the butane single burner. Heck, some can be folded down to only slightly larger then the single burner type, so don’t start drilling holes just yet. The fuel canisters (those green 1# bottles of propane) can be found almost anywhere nowadays. Even if you can’t find one, a hardware store will have a propane bottle normally used for a blow-torch that works exactly the same for the stove. Or, if you wanted to save every penny possible and already have a larger 5# or 20# propane bottle, a bulk adapter hose will allow the stove to plug directly into that larger tank. Bulk propane is many-many-times less expensive per gallon then the 1# bottles.
Propane stove / oven combo
Lastly, and what I currently use in my van, is the stove & oven combo. I recall drooling over the idea of one of these when I first saw one. Not only to cook a stove top meal but to be able to bake in the van too? How cool is that? Let me tell you, it is damn cool. However, I did have to build a custom platform for it to be mounted into as the size demands just that. The stove top includes two burners, and once again the BTU power kicked up a notch, using even more propane (going through 1# bottle every four to seven days). In fact, the burners produce so much heat it is extremely difficult to simmer a dish. They all simply boil over without some planning ahead and stacking pans to mellow the heat.
As for the size, it is smaller than a normal RV oven, but still fits (barely) a 16 X 9 cookie sheet. It can be picked up and moved outside the van easy enough (which I do often) for a middle-aged guy like myself, but may be too heavy for some. Beyond the extra propane use, and the size, the other down side is that the oven does not automatically control the temperature. Instead, you must go back every few minutes to monitor the temperature and adjust the heat setting manually. This becomes moot after a few uses once you get use to where the knob needs to be to [roughly] hold 350, 400, or 450 degrees. Costing in the $200 range (give or take a twenty) they are pricey, but I can guarantee that all your fellow van-dwellers will envy you for the baking possibilities.
So, there you go. If you were in the market for a stove for your van, there are my opinions. Only you would know what is best for your needs, but at least you know the pros and cons of each. You can find more of my opinions on van essentials here.