One of the great things about travel is exploring local foods and flavors. However, eating out every meal can be hard on your family’s budget (and diet). This is especially true for big families like ours (mom, dad, and seven kids). Our solution? Hotel cooking! Save money by staying in hotels with “kitchens” and enjoy the local experience by visiting neighborhood farmers’ markets, co-ops, farms, and supermarkets. In this article, we’ll go through everything we pack to get the most out of cooking family meals in a hotel “kitchen”.
What to Expect
Having stayed in countless Residence Inns, Homewood Suites, Hyatt House, and other hotels with “kitchens” on adventures like our 10000 mile cross-country family roadtrip, let’s start with what to expect. At a minimum, most hotels with “kitchens” (i.e. more than just a microwave and mini-fridge) will have a 2 burner cooktop, microwave, toaster, fridge/freezer, and a sink. Larger kitchens may include a full range, larger fridge/freezer, and a dishwasher. In both cases, the cooktops/ranges are always electric, often coil-top and occasionally glass-top. For cooking, there are often a few Nylon cooking tools (e.g. flipper, spoon), a mixing bowl, a colander, a few small knives, a thin stainless-steel/aluminum pot, and a pan. If there is a full range, there is often no bakeware other than at best, a broiling pan. In addition to the kitchen, many hotels often have grills available for use by their guests. Even with these basic capabilities, you can cook amazing scratch-made family meals with a little packing/planning ahead.
The pot provided by the hotel is often very thin and only good for heating liquids (e.g. water for pasta, soups, etc). The hotel furnished pan is almost always useless. So here’s the cookware we bring to maximize options and minimize space:
- Stainless Steel Pot – we love wide pots that are basically oversized saucepans with higher sides, thick base, and a lid. We will use these pots for anything from sauteeing (e.g. chicken) to sauces (e.g. fresh tomato sauce) to stews (e.g. chili). The pot can also be used for bakeware (e.g. casseroles) or as solid mixing bowl (e.g. mashed potatoes). Depending on the length of trip, we will bring one of our 6 quart Calphalon or 8 quart All-Clad pot/lid.
- Non-stick Pan – we’re not the biggest fans of non-stick pans, but there are a few things they do really well including eggs and light frying. As we already packed a wide stainless steel pot we can use for sauteeing, the non-stick pan gives us a wider range of options over bringing a stainless steel pan. We typically bring an 11″ Fundix non-stick frying pan as it also has a removable handle for convenient packing.
- Aluminum Foil – we love the versatility of aluminum foil. We can use it on its own for or wrapped around the oven racks for baking. You can also use aluminum foil for a “lid” or splatter guard.
Many hotel kitchens will have table knives and a couple of steak knives. At most, they may also include a cheap heavily serrated carving knife. So here’s what we pack:
- Chef’s knife – pack whatever is your “go-to” all purpose knife. For us, it’s our 8-inch Messermeister San Moritz Elite Chef’s knife. This knife is incredibly light and stays sharp with minimal effort.
- Scallop utility knife – in addition to our bigger Chef’s knife, we like to bring our Messermeister San Moritz Elite 5-inch scallop utility knife. This small knife is handy for slicing anything from bread to cheese to tomatoes.
- Kitchen Shears – kitchen shears are so handy and you’ll rarely find them in a hotel “kitchen”. So if you have a pair you like to use at home, definitely bring them on the road.
- Knife Roll/Bag – we also recommend you pack all of your cutlery in a knife roll or bag to keep them, and you, safe.
- Sharpener/Steel – depending on the length of the trip and the knives you bring, don’t forget to bring a sharpener or sharpener steel.
- Cutting board – if the hotel “kitchen” has a cutting board, it will be very small. We typically pack a couple of flexible cutting boards/mats (one for meats and one for everything else).
Hotel “kitchens” will often have a serviceable can opener, wine opener, Nylon spoon and flipper. Adding to these tools, we often pack:
- Tongs – tongs are our favorite all-around kitchen tool. We use them for sauteing, frying, grilling, even stirring.
- Mitts – one thing hotel kitchens never really have is a good oven mitt. At most, there might be a small quilted square. We find that packing one good oven mitt is typically enough as we can always add the “quilted square” or a kitchen towel in a pinch.
- Flippers – while the hotel often provides a Nylon flipper, we like to pack both our own Nylon flipper as well as a stainless steel one. While we don’t have to bring them, we like to have more options and they don’t take up much space.
Herbs & Spices
One of the most expensive mistakes you can make while packing to cook on a trip is to forget your dried herbs and spices. For travel, we like to pack our herbs, spices, salt, etc. in resealable plastic bags. So for any trip, we decide what to bring and then we will pack the herb/spice pouches in either a large gallon bag or a plastic container to keep them separate from everything else. Herbs/spices we typically pack include: basil, Mexican oregano, Herbes de Provence, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, Aleppo pepper, Ancho chile pepper, chipotle pepper, and sweet paprika. We will also often pack Kosher salt and ground pepper, although most hotel kitchens do have table salt packets and pepper packets.
Once we get everything together, we’ll pack it up in a large reusable shopping bag or small suitcase. We’ll fit the herb/spices bag inside the stainless steel pot and put the oven mitt in the nonstick pan to protect the finish. Everything else then fits around it. We hope this tips are helpful as you plan your next great adventure and for for even more ideas, like cooking in a hotel without a kitchen, you might like these stories from Traveling Praters or The Kitchn.
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So what did we forget? Share your own hotel cooking tips in the comments below!
Photo credits: Full Van Fun