Tips & Techniques

How to Take Your Kitchen on Vacation

May 21, 2013

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: As Memorial Day weekend -- and summer vacations! -- get closer, Christine Rudalevige (a.k.a. cheese1227) breaks down the essential tools and ingredients you'll want to haul with you to the beach this summer.

packing for vacation!

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Memorial Day weekend traditionally opens the gates to summer vacation season. Whether you’re heading to a cabin in the woods, a cottage at the beach, or a pied-à-terre in a yet-to-be explored city, bringing along a few essential kitchen items from home can be the key to make cooking in the rental a joy rather than a hassle.

Whether you're traveling by train, plane, or automobile, it's wise to plan ahead, and try to fill only a single bag, box, or basket with kitchen gear and supplies. Here are the essentials you'll want to plan on taking with you:


Nothing turns a fabulous vacation bad like a jagged cut from the dull knife that comes with the rental. One, sharp, utilitarian knife -- in its guard -- should be packed first. A peeler, or even a tri-pack of peelers -- straight edge for potatoes and fat asparagus bottoms, julienne for Zuccaghetti and easy slaws, and serrated to remove the fuzz on peaches and the slivery skins in fresh tomato sauce -- can get tucked in next.

cast iron skillet

It’s heavy, but a seasoned cast iron skillet works for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so it’s worth the weight. A baking sheet is needed to pull off warm peanut butter cookies for that one (hopefully it’s only one) cold, rainy afternoon when everyone is sitting around reading. It doubles as the lid for the cottage’s topless pasta pot, and then triples as a MacGyvered tart pan for Amanda’s summer Peach Tart.


If you know your farmer and love her summer herbs, they should come too, unwashed, each wrapped in a damp paper towel, nestled inside a large zippered bag so they stay fresh for a week. Pack several more bags with favored grains (farro, freekah, and brown sticky rice) that you are not likely to find at the provincially quaint, but not well-stocked, corner store near the cabin. The bags get repurposed for marinating chicken, makeshift picnic salad bowls, and wet bathing suit transport. 


Snack-sized bags can ferry enough salt, black peppercorns, and red pepper flakes, and cumin and coriander seeds to keep your staple dishes well seasoned while others carry just pinches of cardamom, saffron, and vanilla pods to make them special.


You can employ a little beer cooler to house half-pint canning jars of olive oil, champagne, balsamic and rice vinegars, and soy sauce on the journey. The last jar in this portable kitchen six pack -– this clean jar also serves as a vacation cocktail shaker – can hold a small container of Dijon mustard, capers, tubes of anchovy and tomato paste, and a few honey sticks. The contents of the mini-cooler are, of course, adaptable to taste and circumstance.  

What parts of your kitchen are you planning to bring with you on vacation? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mary J Nieberg-Berry
    Mary J Nieberg-Berry
  • healthierkitchen
  • Amy Schleider
    Amy Schleider
  • Loving It
    Loving It
  • Betsy T.
    Betsy T.
I am an excellent eater (I have been all my life). I’m a pretty good cook (Ask my kids!). And my passable writing improves with alcohol (whether it's the writer or the reader that needs to drink varies by sentence.). I just published my first cookbook, Green Plate Special, which focuses on delicious recipes that help every day cooks eat more sustainably.


Mary J. April 25, 2015
Follow Dutch Girl Dinners [email protected], my blog about easy recipes and handy hints for great dinners, gardening and a fun life!
healthierkitchen July 18, 2014
I know this is an old thread, and I have to admit that I travel with very little and just try to make do with what's there (some of our most memorable parts of trips have been "remember that kitchen that had no can opener and the owner told us to hack cans open with a knife" or remember the kitchen that had no oven", etc. Somehow the grumbling we do then provides many laughs later on) I have come to appreciate that my s-i-l sometimes thinks to pack an immersion blender. Comes in handy for pestos, purees as well as cocktails.
Amy S. September 8, 2013
Guessing I should consider myself lucky for retaining my sharp knives from the clutches of "knife stealers." I do have a handy little plastic case from WS that snaps shut very securely. It is so nice to have a favorite knife from home while staying in a rental. The little citrus squeezers for limes are certainly handy for drinks and making pico de gallo and or guacamole while visiting the beach. Just some of the fav beach snacks and the beach is my favorite. I love all of the different ways people vacations eat.
Loving I. June 9, 2013
I was looking at the comments about knives. Knife sharpener is a great idea. I always travel with a very sharp chef knife in my checked bag. I always make sure I have the cutting edges and point well guarded and covered. I don't want anyone to hurt themselves by reaching into my bag to check something! I also don't want my knife to poke a whole in my bag.
Betsy T. May 23, 2013
A vacation gadget must have is a proper Champagne bottle stopper to keep that bubbly bubbly!
cheese1227 May 23, 2013
If I am on vacation, I typically finish all the bottles of bubbly beforr they neec the stopper.
beejay45 May 23, 2013
What a good idea and a timely reminder. I always bring my little rice cooker -- it cooks and steams so many things, my Kuhn Rikon Epicurean Garlic Press and Auto Safety Lid Lifter. No place ever has a good can opener or any garlic press at all, in my experience. I like a boning or filleting knife for general use -- you can slice with it, yet is not too unwieldy to peel fruit or veggies. The bowl of the rice cooker is a great place to stash bits of this and that, too. Oh, and my plastic sprouter lid turns a jar into a great shaker for grated cheese. ;)
cheese1227 May 23, 2013
How big is a little rice cooker?
beejay45 May 23, 2013
I just looked in the bowl, and the top mark is 0.6 litres. Small, but big enough to cook a pound bag of lentils or about 3 cups of rice. It's just the little add liquid, put the lid on, and press Go, kind, so, small and lightweight.
Zeldaz May 22, 2013
With a piece of window screening cut to fit the screw band, the empty jar also becomes a strainer.
dianetoomey May 22, 2013
perfect for a sprouter too!
cheese1227 May 22, 2013
I think there must be a contest in there somewhere. Best use for an empty jar?
SFoodGeek May 22, 2013
I LOVE this article!! Thank you for the great tips. I fall into the category of "everything but the kitchen sink" when I pack all things for the kitchen. I love how you pared everything down to the essentials- the tip about the canning jars and the beer cooler is genius. I made copious notes in my travel notebook. Thanks a lot. Cheers!
cheese1227 May 22, 2013
Let us know where you are going with your new svelt vacation kitchen in tow!
Zeldaz May 22, 2013
Now, why not bake the cookies on the cast-iron skillet? Just flip it over for a baking sheet and cook less time.
cheese1227 May 22, 2013
Wow! Are they extra crispy that way?
The J. May 22, 2013
Great article! I'm glad I'm not the only neurotic person who packs a small kitchen for my vacation rentals. I always bring good quality coffee with my pour over set-up. Another essential is a mesh strainer - great for straining iced coffee, rinsing grains, or straining juice for cocktails.

For my most recent trip, we knew we wanted berry crisp, so I pre-mixed the dry ingredients for the topping and brought the sugar and cornstarch for the berries in plastic baggies. It was helpful not to have to buy supplies where we only needed a bit.
The J. May 22, 2013
I also forgot to mention that I always bring my own cutting board. I've seen too many very grimey looking boards at rental houses, so a thin bamboo board is light and sanitary.
cheese1227 May 22, 2013
Yes, a cutting board! I have one attached to the lid of the picnic basket I always bring, so I didn't think to add that to my list.
Tammy,Kimbler May 22, 2013
This looks like my camping gear setup, although I had not thought to put a peeler or capers in the mix. Also thinking that anchovy paste would be a great addition. Gotta take the good knife. Brilliant!
cheese1227 May 22, 2013
Love the idea of a rustic dish being made earthier by the anchovy paste.
anita May 21, 2013
Sea salt and a mini pepper mill filled with tellicherry pepper are essential
cheese1227 May 21, 2013
Indeed, both favorite salts and peppers are crucial!
creamtea May 21, 2013
Thanks for some great ideas! We travel with a small electric "5th burner", knife, a 2-quart pot, collapsible bowl, wooden spoon and flat pasta strainer. Also a miniature cheese grater, some bags of TJ's sun-dried tomatoes, TJ's Israeli cous cous blend and several tins of chick-peas. We buy olive oil, herbs, lemons, lettuce fruit and fresh tomatoes when we arrive at our destination, whether domestic or international. Coffee cones & filters and good loose tea from Mark T. Wendell or Camellia Sinensis come along for the ride too.
cheese1227 May 21, 2013
So wonderful to read about everyone's travel strategies. Thanks for sharing creamtea.
MrsWheelbarrow May 21, 2013
Great list, Christine! Yes, yes and yes. Dr. Babs - love the sharpener idea! We rent a beach house in a fab location with the worst kitchen you have ever seen. I bring jars of all sorts, which should come as no surprise. And my burr grinder for coffee, french press pot(s), microplane, a couple of exceptional cheeses, cheeseboard and three or four little pretty bowls or ramekins, cheese knives and spoons. Don't forget candles!
Nomnomnom May 21, 2013
I like the way you roll, bringing your own burr grinder! Great article. Once again, Food52 comes through!
cheese1227 May 21, 2013
Candles! Nice touch!
ChefJune May 21, 2013
All of you who say you "can't" take your knife.... sure you can. Just one, in its sheath, and well wrapped. It takes up little space and doesn't add significant weight. But what a difference having your own sharp knife makes! It's worth checking a previously carry-on bag for.
drbabs May 21, 2013
We've hidden stuff like that in checked bags and had it stolen.
cookinginvictoria May 21, 2013
Us too! But next time we are in the States, I am going to order one of those cool knife sharpeners. Thanks for the tip, drbabs.
ECS May 21, 2013
You have gotten me thinking -- no dreaming -- of my week on the Cape and what I will cook and bring! Great inspiration (though agree that stove-top espresso maker must find a home in my box.
cheese1227 May 21, 2013
Indeed, ecs, I have seen you without you morning coffee.
cookinginvictoria May 21, 2013
Love this article! Like drbabs, we are usually flying, often internationally, so we don't take knives or a cast iron pan (too heavy in our already heavy bags). I like taking a microplane rasp for zesting citrus, grating Parmesan cheese, etc. I also pack a box of good artisan pasta and a hunk of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese for the first night's dinner, especially if we are arriving late and everyone is just too exhausted to run out for a grocery store run. A jar of good jam for breakfast is also a must! Yes too to packing caffeine -- coffee and our favorite tea are de rigueur.
cheese1227 May 21, 2013
Of course. The microplane!
mrslarkin May 21, 2013
well done, Christine! We always bring coffee, moka pot and milk frother. Not a vacation without cappuccino.

drbabs, i need that knife sharpener! it'll make a GREAT father's day present. ;)
cheese1227 May 21, 2013
Totally neglected the caffeine angle. I'm a tea drinker so I only need hot water to keep me going. Thanks for bringing it up, mrslarkin. Perhaps I should have guided everyone to bring along High Lawn Farm milk too!
mrslarkin May 21, 2013
oh my gosh, tea also, and preferably Yorkshire Gold loose leaf.

Did I ever tell you that Great Great Grandpa Larkin worked there as the shepherd for many years, when he came from Ireland?
drbabs May 21, 2013
I give the knife sharpener to everyone. I think it's great.
cheese1227 May 21, 2013
You did indeed. That is the milk I grew up on. Cousin Georgie delivered it all the way to the fridge three times a week in glass bottles!
drbabs May 21, 2013
Great and timely article. We stay in a Florida panhandle beach house for a week every summer. It has a fully equipped utilitarian kitchen, but the knives are never sharp. Because we fly, we can't really bring knives with us. So we bring an Accusharp knife sharpener:

I also print out recipes I want to make while we're there so I don't risk my iPad breaking while everyone is hanging out in the kitchen.
cheese1227 May 21, 2013
Knife sharpener, brilliant! I can't tell you how many times I've held my breath when I opened my checked luggage to see if my knives made it through!
drbabs May 21, 2013
We've had so much stuff taken from checked luggage, it's ridiculous.
cheese1227 May 21, 2013
I always put my knives in plastic bags and wrap them in Andy's dirty socks.
Darlene W. May 22, 2013
What's your vacation menu?