Tips & Techniques

Pack These 10 Tools and Go Boldly into Rental Kitchens

June 22, 2016

It wouldn't be fair to say that all summer rentals have poorly equipped kitchens. But if you've ever tried to make, oh, I don't know, a pie or even a simple salad dressing or a marinade in a friend's kitchen, let alone a rental house that might go unoccupied for half the year, you know the feeling of opening drawers and peering into the darkest back corners of cabinets looking for some kind of vinegar or a cutting board or salt, of all things—and coming up empty.

While you don't want to have to pack a whole extra suitcase just so you can make dinner, it's worth it to put a couple of your kitchen standbys on your packing list (or your buy-as-soon-as-I-get-there list) so that you know you'll be able to pull off whatever you're hoping to cook before heading back to the beach. (Psst—it also helps to have a sense of what you're going to be cooking before you embark, so you know that if you are planning on making a pie, you can add a rolling pin or at least a bottle of wine for repurposing to your rental-cottage-kitchen-survival-bag.)

Here are the 10 things we won't enter a rental kitchen without:

Photo by Bobbi Lin

A Knife You Love and Know Is Sharp

No more sawing at herbs or pressing firmly and hopefully into fruit or a loaf of bread. Pack the knife you use every day and you know that what's perhaps your most essential, most all-purpose tool will be up to snuff. Bonus points: If you have space, pack your go-to cutting board, too.

The Spices You Use Most

Salt and a pepper grinder are both smart packs. But beyond that, pack whatever else you reach for daily—red pepper flakes? hot sauce? vanilla extract? cumin? cinnamon?—so you're not left in the lurch.


Clean off the remnants of the last renter's grilling projects. Wrap up any leftovers. Make packets of vegetables to grill over a fire. Use it as a makeshift baking sheet. Foil will step into the fray for you over and over when your kitchen lacks tools.

Shop the Story

More: How do we love thee, foil? Let us count the ways. (Fifty. Fifty ways.)

A Spatula

Something to turn fish or pancakes, to stir caramelizing onions around, or to nudge a pizza off the grill—or, in a pinch, to toss together a salad or a bowl of pasta.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

A Strainer

A collapsable one is especially packing-friendly, but any strainer you have will help you wash berries, rinse clams, or strain pasta (which you can make with almost nothing else in the kitchen at all).

Cast-Iron Pan

Yes, it'll be heavy. It might not be the best choice if you need to walk for a ways to get to wherever this rental kitchen is. But with a cast-iron pan, you can fry eggs. You can make a frittata or pancakes, a stir-fry or a steak. You can put it on the grill, put it over a fire, slide it into the oven to make biscuits. You can make a whole meal in a skillet! It is your baking sheet and your skillet, your cake pan and your sauté pan. What we're saying is that it earns its (heavy) keep.

All this can be yours! If you have a can opener.

Can Opener

A can opener is the key to the city. Your rental kitchen might have one—but if they don't, there's the scary task of MacGyvering into a can of tomatoes or beans.

Measuring Cups and Spoons

Or, if you're really tight on space, the ones you use the most—maybe just the cup measure, a teaspoon, and a tablespoon. You'll save yourself a lot of finger-crossing and eyeballing.

Photo by James Ransom

Some Kind of Multipurpose Oil

If you can pan-fry something (egg, fillet of fish), dress a salad with it, and grease a pan with it, it should join you on vacation. Pick it up on your first visit to the grocery store in Vacation Central, USA. Make sure it tastes good!

Vinegar of Some Sort

This, plus the oil you smartly packed (or purchased once touching down), means you have salad dressings. Sprinkle some onto hot potatoes and you have potato salad (practically). Make switchel or shrubs for post-beach refreshment purposes. Pack whichever one you use the most! My vote: apple cider vinegar.

A Few Smart Extras You Could Add to Your List

A Corkscrew
It's pretty hard to get into that bottle of icy white if you don't have one. Although, you could always use our Design & Home Editor Amanda's Hail Mary technique:

Plastic baggies, jars, or other food storage containers
For snacks on the go or any leftovers that resist being wrapped in foil.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I've cooked in rental kitchens all over Europe and the only things I actually NEEDED were a corkscrew and a can opener.”
— Leah

Tell us—what's the tool you truly could not cook without for a week? Or tell us which tools you've been glad you carried with you on vacation.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • drbabs
  • Rachel
  • Catherine Oliver
    Catherine Oliver
  • Leah
  • Caroline Lange
    Caroline Lange
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


drbabs June 23, 2016
We fly, too, so some of that stuff is out of the question (and making do is part of the fun, right?). I always travel with an inexpensive knife sharpener like this:

It at least will sharpen the cheap knives that most rental places seem to have, so you can use them safely.
Rachel June 22, 2016
Great list Caroline. I would add some metal tongs to the list. Cheap or expensive, nothing beats a set of tongs to flip brats, steaks or grab grilled vegetables or to toss salad or pasta.
Catherine O. June 22, 2016
I can use a coupe of forks but yeah.
Catherine O. June 22, 2016
As mentioned, what I carry depends on car or plane. Driving the sky's the limit! Flying I carry a chef's knife, microplane grater and meat thermometer. And yes, spices and small amounts of olive and vinegar.
Leah June 22, 2016
I'm sorry, but this list is ridiculous for a traveler. A cast-iron pan and a colander? A cutting board? Do you know how much they charge for luggage these days? It would be better to make sure the kitchen you're renting has the basics and make do than lug all of these things with you. I've cooked in rental kitchens all over Europe and the only things I actually NEEDED were a corkscrew and a can opener.
Caroline L. June 22, 2016
A fair point, Leah! I was admittedly thinking of vacation rentals that were reached by car rather than by plane. I agree, though, that it's wise to make sure the kitchen is well equipped before you arrive!
Leah June 22, 2016
Well, shoot, if you're going by car then load it up! :)
Rachel June 22, 2016
if you're REALLY in a pinch with opening a can, take it outside. Turn it upside down and rub the top rim on the sidewalk (press down hard). Once you've worn it down, flip it back over and gently squeeze the sides. The lid should pop off. If not, flip it back over and continue rubbing on the concrete. Not a foolproof solution, but better than stabbing yourself in the hand with a knife trying to puncture a can.