Conventional wisdom says cooking a Thanksgiving meal in an RV can’t be done but I’m here to tell you otherwise. Sure, RV kitchens are compact. Yes, you’ll be hard pressed to feed a crowd. Of course, like any big holiday dinner, it takes serious planning. But once you’ve made Thanksgiving dinner in your mighty (or mini) rig, you’ll be living proof that it can be done.
In my camper, there’s no compromise. It’s always turkey, stuffing, sweet and mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, a veg or two, and pie for dessert. I’ve been known to host six (with leftovers) though sometimes it’s just we two.
Before you begin thinking about preparing a holiday (or any other) meal in your RV kitchen, there’s a myth we need to bust. Cooking in an RV kitchen is no different than cooking in any other kitchen. What you may notice, however, is limited space. Countertop space is usually at a premium. Consider adding a pull-up shelf or placing a folding table near the counter to provide a little relief when needed. Appliances are compact. A typical RV oven compartment is a small-ish square that fits a single casserole or tray. We’ve added a toaster/convection oven to our galley arsenal with great results. The refrigerator is not as roomy as you might be used to. The good news? It performs better when it’s full. A smattering of small appliances including a high-speed blender, crockpot, and food processor help round out my RV kitchen’s performance. Outfit your RV kitchen based on your cooking habits.
Start with a Meal Plan
Let’s start with the planning:
- Develop a Thanksgiving Day menu. Perhaps it’s as traditional as when you were a child. Maybe it’s a mix of past and present. Perhaps you want to add an ethnic twist to the table. Write it all down in simple dish terms.
- Get yourself a long piece of paper and make a detailed holiday grocery list. Shop your pantry for items you already have on hand. Include weights or measurements of ingredients to purchase.
- Plan to shop far enough out that if you buy a frozen turkey it has time to properly defrost.
Concerned about cooking a big bird? Here’s my major turkey tip. While I enjoy dark meat, for space and convenience sake, I buy a turkey breast to decadently prepare in my crockpot. It’s a consistent winner and is so easy it’s almost embarrassing.
- The day before dinner get out pots, pans and casserole dishes. Label them with what they’ll be used for. Organize utensils and set out standard spices.
- Jot down a cooking schedule. Unlike a meal on the fly, this one takes forethought to come together. Make note of the kitchen appliance (crockpot, toaster/convection oven, stovetop, oven, etc.) you’ll use for each dish. I don’t pre-prep ingredients but you certainly can chop celery, cut veggies, etc. the day before.
T-minus One Day
All but one dish is prepared on Thanksgiving Day. The exception? Mom’s Famous Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce. It’s the one recipe where I bend my “always fresh” rule. Truth be told, it tastes like my childhood and I revel in the memories.
I’ll also admit here and now, I’m no baker. That means pie is on my shopping list. Maybe you have a favorite bakery or adore a farmer’s market baker that is taking pie pre-orders. Maybe you just pick one up at your local store. If you choose to make your own pie, do so the day before.
I wake up eagerly anticipating my favorite holiday. After all, it’s about gratitude and food, two of my favorite subjects. I mean really, Escapees live an enviable lifestyle, one by our own rules, that while not always easy is always ours. We get to reconnect with friends and nurture family bonds. We have an opportunity to forge new relationships, teach our children by living examples, and try new ideas on for size.
As for food, our nomadic lifestyles allow us to sample the best of everywhere we go and incorporate newfound flavors into our old standards. For example, did you fall head over heels for New Mexico’s famous green chiles? Consider adding them to this year’s stuffing. Picked up some pecans in Georgia? Perfect for your sweet potatoes. Care to cheer your good fortune with some gourmet bubbly? Tip a glass of craft-brewed sparkling cider from your swing through Washington or New York.
Get Cookin’ Good Lookin’
My Thanksgiving looks like this: up at 9am, coffee and a light brekkie, start prepping and get cooking. Dinner is usually served around 4 or 5pm.
I use a 6-pound bone-in turkey breast, poultry herbs, white wine, chicken broth, and butter. The trick to a tender, savory bird? Place the turkey breast skin-side down. Refrain from removing the skin, that helps keep it moist.
Early on I get Aunt Lucy’s Thanksgiving stuffing working. That means sautéing chopped celery and onion, tearing bread, beating eggs and having a heavy hand with paprika. Because the turkey is just a breast, I cook the stuffing in a casserole dish in my RV oven.
Next come the potatoes and veggies. Cubed white potatoes can be boiled, drained, and mashed on the stovetop, sweet potatoes scrubbed and cooked in the microwave or toaster oven. I often make fresh green beans in a skillet and steam asparagus.
Gravy is last. In a medium saucepan, I make a roux using olive oil/butter, flour, sweet onion, and turkey drippings. It’s addictive.
The cranberry sauce and dessert are already done so it’s a wrap. The only thing left to do is dine!
Around the Table
Depending on the weather and the crowd, my helper has set a beautiful table inside or out. I love centerpieces but with table space at a premium, I’d prefer to put some of the food on the table. We always use real plates and flatware and the fanciest glasses we have.
We’re space-challenged in the RV kitchen so as soon as an item is dirtied and done, it’s washed and put back in its place. Ingredients are used and returned to their cupboards. Some cooking utensils will have to double as serving pieces so once cleaned, off to the side they go.
On the counter, you’ll find the turkey is sliced, stuffing alongside it, the mashed potatoes are in a big bowl, sweet potatoes are covered up in a napkin-lined basket, vegetables are in a serving bowl and/or plate, and some of the gravy is in a pitcher. On the table, you’ll find the cranberry sauce, another pitcher of gravy, butter and olive oil, and salt and pepper.
Corny as it sounds, we go around the table, sharing our blessings and appreciating another Thanksgiving with those we love. I wonder if this year you’ll count your excellent RV kitchen Thanksgiving dinner among the many reasons to be thankful.
Crockpot Thanksgiving Turkey Breast
4-6 pound bone-in turkey breast
handful of fresh poultry herbs – rosemary, thyme, sage – contained in cheesecloth
1 small yellow onion – sliced thick
3/4 cups of each – dry white wine and chicken broth
4 tablespoons butter (half a stick)
Remove turkey breast from packaging and rinse well. Pat dry and trim any excess skin or fat. Rub with salt and pepper and place breast meat down in crockpot. Place bouquet garni (herb sack) on the bottom of the crockpot. Add onions to the sides of the turkey and inside the cavity. Pour liquid around the turkey breast. Place the butter cube in turkey cavity.
Place the lid on the crockpot and cook until meat reaches an internal temperature of 160-165 degrees. If cooking on high, check at 3 hours and plan for 3-5 hours cooking time. If cooking on low, check at 5 hours and plan for 5-7 hours cooking time.
When the turkey reaches 160-165 degrees internal temperature (or the little poker pops up) remove from the crockpot, place breast side up on a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest for approximately 20 minutes. Juices will redistribute and the temperature will reach a perfect 170 degrees.
Slice and serve.
Aunt Lucy’s Thanksgiving Stuffing
1 stick butter
12 cups white bread (1 loaf) – torn into medium pieces
6 tablespoons onion (1 medium) – chopped
1 1/2 cups celery (4-5 stalks) – chopped
5 eggs – hand beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika (or more – for color and flavor)
Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add onion and celery, sauté lightly until soft but not brown.
Tear bread into large bowl. Add onion/celery mixture, eggs, salt/pepper, and paprika.
Mix well. Add more paprika if desired. If too thick, add a splash of milk.
Spoon stuffing mix into a 9×9 Pyrex baking dish, cover with foil and cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Mom’s Famous Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce
1 3-oz package red Jell-O – your favorite flavor
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup canned crushed pineapple* with juice
1 16-oz can cranberry sauce – with or without berries
1 medium apple – peeled, cored and diced
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add cranberry sauce and mash until dissolved. Add pineapple and stir.
Pour into bowl or mold and chill approximately 2 hours. Stir in the apple and walnuts and chill overnight or until firm.
*Stick to canned pineapple. Fresh pineapple reacts to the gelatin and interferes with setting.
Evanne is sure she got the wanderlust bug from her Grandpa and Nana who traveled the U.S. in their city bus conversion in the 1940’s as what we now call ‘workampers’. In 2000 she and her husband Ray set off on their own RV adventure, affectionately called Operation Sunshine, from hip but rainy Portland, Oregon. A nod to their “love to travel, love to eat” philosophy, these young fulltimers founded the RV Cooking Show, as seen on TV stations across the country. They believe in RVs as all-access tickets to adventure and have adopted the motto: simple dishes as souvenirs and menus as memory makers.