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Monday, June 3, 2013

Slow cookers and RV boondocking -- are they compatible?

Boondockers, who by nature want to get away from it all, still need to eat. Combining getting away from it all, with being busy – say sightseeing, fishing, hiking – make for some interesting approaches to cooking. Is there a way to combine the convenience of a "slow cooker" or "crock pot" with the boondocking lifestyle?

One RVer brought up the thought of running a slow cooker with solar panels. He hadn't done it, but did wonder if it were possible. Well, a little math on this one yields up a result:

Assuming the typical "family size" crock pot that draws 275 watts when operating. OK, maybe you have 300 watts of solar panels up on the roof, but that doesn't all translate out to a Martha Stewart, "Good Thing." Remember, you'll need to run that solar power through an inverter which will chomp up around 10 to 20 percent of your power due to inefficiency. If the batteries aren't completely full when you begin your slow cooking, they too, will demand a share of that power. And of course, your solar panels would need full sunlight exposure (and no clouds) while your meal cooks.

OK, so maybe a slow cooker won't cut it. Or will it? Enter the smaller slow cooker. We tracked down a 1.5 quart slow cooker (Rival brand) that scales in at 100 watts of consumption. That would leave room for charging your batteries and feed the hungry inefficiency of an inverter. Others have said they've found a mini cooker from the same outfit that only uses 47 watts. But lookout on the latter: There are certain points where you won't actually be cooking food; those teeny tiny crock pots are basically only good for warming cheese for the nachos.

But don't give up yet, "There are," says Mr. Spock, "always alternatives." Enter thermal cookware. The basic premise is starting your cooking process on the stove top in a specially designed stainless pot, then after a start, you encase the pot in a vacuum container where the heat loss is so limited, the initial heat completes the job over a period of hours. Said to be great for soups and stews, they may be a boon for the slow cooked food loving RVer.

Here's an example: Put your ingredients together for a hearty soup in the stainless cooking pot. Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat, toss on the cover, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, throw the cooking pot into the outer container, close it up, and a few hours later, dinner is served. The system is said to keep stuff 'serving hot' for a minimum of 10 hours. We haven't tried it, and the system isn't inexpensive: Amazon sells a number of these from varying sources, starting at about $150.00.  Search for, "Thermal Cookware" in "All Departments."

Want cheaper, but a bit more labor intensive? Dutch oven in a fire pit!


  1. I'm a big fan of the Dutch oven myself, very versatile and useful for anything from frying to stews to bread and pastries. But there are much cheaper alternatives to the vacuum container depicted here. An ordinary Thermos-type coffee flask works very well for smaller portions and is very cheap to purchase. My grandparents used a hay-box and placed their boiling hot pot into it before going to work in the mornings. A similar thing can be made from polystyrene foam pillows. And what about solar ovens? They can be made cheaply and most designs can be safely left on all day.

    1. I agree! Save your $150 for something else enjoyable. I keep a box of styrofoam peanuts just for this. Heat everything to boiling on the stovetop, simmer 5-10 min., wrap your kettle snugly in a towel, center in a cardboard box of peanuts, close, leave 3-4 hours, and Soup's On!! And as a bonus, there is very little weight--although a box does take up a little more room.

  2. a solar oven works just like a crock pot, they are light weight and all you need in dark cookware to put into it, but your crockpot ingredients in your dark metal covered pot, put it in the solar oven outside and a few hours later you have dinner.

  3. I have a 12-volt slow cooker, have not yet tried it. I was hoping to use it on travel days mostly. There are many versions available from 1 - 4 quart sizes. Hamilton Beach's 4 qt model uses up to 214 watts. Just Google 12 volt slow cooker to find many versions, most of which are posted with their usage info.

  4. You can find 12 volt croks at most large truck stops.
    -Jake Jacobs-

  5. I put the slow cooker into storage and took the Pressure cooker. I don't like to leave appliances on when away from the rv and the pressure cooker is fast and prepares a great meal.