August 6, 2008

How to Assemble a Portable Kitchen for Hurricane Season

Lisa Dozois – Master Food & Nutrition Volunteer, Pinellas County Extension

A kitchen you can take anywhere sounds like the long-awaited answer to the nightly dinner dilemma. Having around-the-clock access would definitely make it easy to prepare meals no matter where you are. Maybe one day, but for now, I will show you how to put together a portable kitchen for those times when today’s modern conveniences are temporarily out of reach.

Unless you are the adventurous type and spend a lot of time outdoors, you have probably never considered the need for a portable kitchen. Not being much of a camper, I never thought about one until my house lost power during a particularly bad storm. That is when I realized, if you live in Florida, a portable kitchen is as important a part of your hurricane kit as your battery operated weather radio.

When the power goes out during this year’s hurricane season, or anytime during the year, you will be glad you took time to assemble a portable kitchen in advance. And even if you do not lose power, with a pre-assembled portable kitchen at the ready, you’re one step closer to surviving the great outdoors!

Everything including the kitchen sink
Today’s portable kitchens really do have it all, including kitchen sinks. You could easily spend hundreds of dollars on a pop-up workspace with all the storage, cook tops, and hook-ups you could ever need. If you will get a lot of use out of it, consider spending the money. But for most of us, that’s overkill and the top of the picnic or patio table will do just fine.

Having the right tools makes any job easier, even the job of cooking without electricity. Just remember that without electricity, everything in your portable kitchen needs to operate manually.

Let’s break the portable kitchen down into three tasks: meal prep, cooking and eating, and cleanup.

Meal preparation

  • Disinfecting hand wipes (or soap and wash cloth)

  • Can and bottle openers

  • Vegetable peeler

  • Utility knife (If possible, pack an assortment of knives for slicing and dicing and be sure to protect the sharp edges before packing)

  • Kitchen scissors (a great multi-purpose tool)

  • Whisk

  • Cheese grater

  • Cutting board

  • Condiments and spices (especially salt, pepper, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, ketchup and mustard)

  • Cooking oil

  • Regular and slotted mixing/serving spoons

  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil

  • Clear plastic wrap

  • Set of measuring spoons

  • Set of measuring cups

  • Timer

  • Corkscrew
  • Mixing bowl (to save space, substitute a saucepan for mixing)
  • Plastic tablecloths or sheeting to cover prep/eating surfaces

Cooking and eating
It is one thing to have space to prep food and clean up after meals, but what about the actual cooking area? Before you can finish assembling your portable kitchen, it is important to know what you will be cooking on. A quick call to the campground can provide this information. But if you plan on using your portable kitchen at home during emergencies, you will need a grill of some sort. Making sure you have a heat source, powered either by propane or white gas or with charcoal briquettes, cannot to be overlooked. Whatever you choose to cook on give it a trial run when you are not under pressure, so you know how to work it later when it is time to banish those hunger pains!

  • Wood or charcoal and starter fluid or portable stove plus extra propane/butane canisters

  • Matches stored in a waterproof container

  • Lighter

  • Cans of sterno

  • Fire extinguisher

  • Heavy-duty pots and pans

  • Spatula

  • Tongs
  • Colander
  • Pot holders (can do double-duty as trivets)

  • Mess kit for each person OR enough plastic or disposable plates, bowls, cups, and utensils to go around

  • Coffee pot (can also be used to heat water)


  • Dishcloths or sponges

  • Dishtowels

  • Dish washing detergent

  • Pot scrubber

  • Sandwich-sized, quart-sized and gallon-sized storage bags or plastic storage containers

  • Plastic garbage bags
  • Roll of paper towels
  • Disinfectant

  • Bleach

  • Plastic bins for washing dishes

With your portable kitchen and a bit of ingenuity and patience, you really can prepare meals anytime of day or night, even in the absence of electricity. Before you go out and buy these portable kitchen essentials, look around the house for extra supplies. Then shop at yard sales and discount stores for everything else you need.

Once you have gathered all the supplies, you will need some place to store everything. If you’re a skilled packer, you can organize most of these supplies right inside the plastic bin you will later use for cleanup. If that does not work, get a larger-sized waterproof storage bin with locking top. Even a suitcase or tote bag will work. Then find a place to store your portable kitchen until you need it.

When you’re cooking outdoors with your portable kitchen, always remember the most basic rule: Safety First. Have fun and bon appétit!


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