Culinary Adventures on the Road
Cooking with Gas
At the start of our journey, we equipped ourselves with a gas cooker powered by a 5.6kg gas cylinder. Gas cookers come in numerous variants and models nowadays. However, what we quickly realized is that dealing with gas during travel is far more complex than we initially thought.
Gas cylinders lack standardization, meaning that each country has its own types of gas cylinders and connectors.
Our first destination was Sweden, and we are grateful that we didn’t run out of gas there. Otherwise, we would have had to purchase another gas cylinder. The German gas cylinder wouldn’t have been accepted or exchanged in Sweden. We would have needed to buy a new one and carry the German cylinder with us.
This isn’t a problem when you have plenty of space. However, when every inch counts, like in our case, having a second gas cylinder takes up too much room.
An alternative option (which we’re also familiar with) is to use Campingaz cylinders. These can be purchased in many European countries. However, they are relatively expensive.
Especially when your van needs to be registered as a campervan, using a large gas cylinder becomes more problematic.
According to regulations, the gas cylinder must be placed in a gas locker with ventilation holes leading outside, and it must be connected with a rigid gas pipe. This entire setup needs to pass inspection.
By the way, after the regulations were revised in 2022, additional considerations must be taken into account. It’s best to research online or directly inquire with the relevant authorities.
The Compact Gas Stove
The most well-known cookers are the ones that use small gas cartridges. We always carried such a cooker for festivals. We still keep one as a backup, and it’s also handy during our hiking and canoeing trips. (Feel free to check out our post X for more on this topic.)
However, for those traveling extensively with a van and having journeyed through various countries, a pattern quickly emerges.
The cooker is in constant use, especially in winter. Making coffee, tea, using the Omnia oven, boiling water for pasta, or preparing rice and sweet-and-sour sauce – these activities can quickly deplete the gas.
The Issue of Disposal
Disposing of gas cartridges is challenging, and unfortunately, most people simply throw them in the trash.
In many countries, waste is a significant problem. Anyone who has traveled through Italy, Greece, or Albania has witnessed the scale of the issue. (Even though the locals might not always be fully aware of the problem or have other concerns.)
For us, who understand the complexity of waste disposal, we needed an alternative solution.
Moreover, the price of smaller gas cartridges plays a role. Continuous use of these cartridges can become expensive.
One alternative is to use wood and cook over an open fire. Wood is available almost everywhere, and in many countries, making a fire isn’t a problem. However, there are two weather conditions when relying solely on an open fire might not be practical.
During storms and rain, cooking indoors is preferred. Additionally, in many regions, there’s a risk of wildfires during hot weather.
Hence, it’s crucial to be cautious in these situations.
Three months after our visit to Bordeaux and the Dune du Pilat, a severe wildfire broke out there. The forest we had visited was completely gone. Similar situations can occur in regions like Germany’s state of Brandenburg, Siberia, or Canada. These fires can have devastating consequences.
Our soluton: Spirit Cooker
After several years in our small van, we can claim to have found the optimum setup for ourselves. After careful consideration, we opted for a spirit cooker.
This type of cooker is more commonly known on boats, but what works on a ship works in a van too! The cooker is operated using a cartridge filled with denatured alcohol.
The most famous brand for this kind of cooker is Origo. Unfortunately, the alcohol stove Origo by Dometic is rarely in stock. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find it on eBay. However, that’s a matter of chance. There is an alternative (which we purchased) from compass. .
Isn’t it dangerous?
No, not more dangerous than cooking with gas. When cooking over open flames, caution is always required.
Is the cooker as efficient as a gas cooker?
Our cooker has a power output of 2kW. This is slightly less than a gas cooker, but it serves us well. The only issue can be strong winds!
Therefore, protecting the cooker from side winds is advisable.
We’ve shielded the cooker from the sides with our cooking box, and this works effectively. And when the wind gets really strong, you can simply remove it. The beauty of this cooker is its portability.
This means we can also easily bring it inside when the weather turns unpleasant outside.
The Pots: Heat Exchanger are a must!
Additionally, we use pots with heat exchangers. (By the way, these are also useful when using gas, as they speed up water boiling!)
The principle is simple: a ring of fins beneath the pot’s base distributes heat more efficiently and requires less energy. There are various manufacturers of cookware with heat exchangers, and we highly recommend using such a pot.
Thanks to this configuration, our cooking is highly efficient.
Fuel and where to find it
Of course, a cooker requires fuel. In Germany, you can find denatured alcohol in any hardware store. But what about other countries? Is denatured alcohol available everywhere?
The answer is: Yes and no! In Europe, we’ve traveled through many countries and never had to go without our coffee or worry about finding fuel.
The fuel for our spirit cooker is alcohol, and it’s available everywhere. However, finding it at the best price can sometimes be tricky, especially if you don’t speak the local language.
If things had gotten really difficult, we could have always gone to a pharmacy to buy ethanol.
By the way, alcohol with a content of over 70% is the best choice. Sparkling wine or wine aren’t suitable, and most alcohol-based cleaners don’t burn well.
Denatured alcohol is available in almost every hardware store (OBI, Globus, Baumarkt, etc.). Very few didn’t have it in stock.
Getting denatured alcohol here was particularly easy. In larger supermarkets (e.g., Carrefour), you can find it under the name “Alcohol Brulee,” even in 5-liter containers!
Finding denatured alcohol ("Alcohol denaturale") wasn’t always straightforward. However, after we found our way around, we could find it everywhere. Unfortunately, denatured alcohol isn’t available in as large containers as it is in neighboring France. In larger supermarkets, you can find denatured alcohol in 1-liter bottles (also at Carrefour). We also checked out hardware stores and found it there. By the way, you can also look among the cleaning products. We once found a cleaning solution with alcohol (85% alcohol). Occasionally, you can also find bioethanol.
In Portugal, a Portuguese friend helped us find “Alcohol azul.” It’s blue to indicate that it’s not meant for consumption. The blue dye contains bitter substances. In some cities, there are small hardware stores or “tool shops.” They sell denatured alcohol in 1-liter bottles. Just ask around!
Finding “Denaturat” was no issue at all here. We found it easily, especially in hardware stores. We were also told that you can get ethanol at some gas stations, but we didn’t try that.
You can get “Denaturat” here in supermarkets or at Rossmann, just like in the Czech Republic.
“Sprit” is a blue liquid in around 500 ml bottles. It’s meant for disinfection but is often placed alongside drinkable alcohol, which can be confusing. However, we found it everywhere. In small supermarkets, large supermarkets, and at Metro.
We also checked hardware stores and found the cheapest alcohol there!
In November, we found denatured alcohol everywhere in supermarkets here, even at LIDL. However, it wasn’t available there anymore at the end of winter (March). Maybe it’s a seasonal thing? But it was available in every other supermarket. Here, you’ll find the alcohol in odd quantities, just under 500 ml.
The blue was replaced with pink, and you can find denatured alcohol in 1-liter bottles again. We had no issues finding denatured alcohol in supermarkets here. By the way, besides France, we spent the least on denatured alcohol here.