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Vacation rental kitchens can be a crapshoot, but these easy meals can be made anywhere.

One of the biggest joys of summer vacations is packing up your friends, family, and a cooler full of goodies for time spent in a beach house, lake house, or mountain house. And thus begins the game of rental kitchen roulette: how to gracefully execute crowd-pleasing meals when you’re never quite sure until you get there what the state of your rental kitchen will be in terms of equipment and cooking staples.

Travel Tips & TricksHow to Cook on VacationIn my own game of this roulette over the years I’ve experienced kitchens that have lowered my self-esteem by having sharper knives than my culinary school training suggests mine should be, whose available tools are plentiful and as niche as even a spaetzle maker; but then I’ve also experienced those whose available heat sources for cooking top out at a toaster oven.

What to Bring With You

Rather than rent a U-Haul to basically transport your entire kitchen beach side, keep it simple with balanced, low-maintenance meals that adhere to a few rental kitchen-friendly principles. It is advisable to bring a few must-haves with you: an informal social media poll of well-practiced vacation cooks returned a pretty consistent list of tools and staples which you should bother to pack up, but little more than a backpack should manage those. Top answers included:

  • an all-purpose knife
  • sturdy cutting board
  • peeler
  • Microplane
  • high quality cooking oil
  • salt
  • a few spices

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(To avoid an altogether different form of roulette, maybe also bring a French press and good coffee. And see our guide on making great coffee while traveling for more tips.)

What to Make on Vacation

At the end of the day you’ll want to spend more time watching the sunset, playing games, or hanging by the fire than extensive prep and cleanup anyway, so consider these seven meals and guiding principles to put more play and less work into your vacation this summer.

When in Doubt, Pasta Salad

Muffaletta Pasta Salad

Easy Muffaletta Pasta Salad recipe


Regardless of whether or not I’m on vacation, pasta salad is one of my top summer meals: starch, protein, and veggies come together in endless combinations for a cool and hearty dinner that’s as easy to make for two as it is for 20. One pot and one bowl will basically get you there, and even if there’s no colander a slotted spoon can help you get the draining done. My favorite part of this robust pasta salad is that dry salami is easy to transport even without much refrigeration, while bringing I-mean-business flavor. Get our Muffaletta Pasta Salad recipe.

Minimal Cooking Required

Rotisserie Chicken Enchiladas

Easy Chicken Enchiladas recipe


Here’s a lesson in letting prepared foods do some of the heavy lifting for you, but still allowing you to come off as a vacation chef deity. If the local market has rotisserie chickens, great. If civilization is dozens of miles away, no problem: pack some bagged, refrigerated rotisserie chicken already pulled from the bones. There’s no end to what can be built with this flavorful base: soup for a rainy or cool day, hearty salads or sandwiches for lunch time, dips for happy hour, or these intensely flavored enchiladas made additionally easy with dolled-up, prepared tomatillo salsa. Get our Rotisserie Chicken Enchiladas recipe.

Read More: 11 Easy Recipes Made from a Rotisserie Chicken

Put a Stick in It

Beef and Vegetable Shish Kebabs

sirloin steak kabob recipe


If your cabin or beach house includes a grill, now you’re really in luck! The benefits of kebabs or skewers for vacation dining are many: you can enlist the entire brigade to help with chopping and assembly, you can cater to everyone from meat-and-potatoes types, to vegetarians, to paleo participants, and you can even transfer them from the skewer to a tortilla for something resembling fajitas, or to a bun for a tasty hot hero. Provide a quick-and-dirty condiment selection to accompany and you will obviously be declared vacation MVP. Get our Beef and Vegetable Shish Kebabs recipe.

One Pot to Rule Them All

One Skillet Mustard Chicken

Out there somewhere is a vacation rental or two (or dozens) whose “fully stocked kitchen” literally includes one solitary sauté pan. Fully stocked for whom, you may wonder. But this doesn’t mean you need to be any less impressive. This recipe for a complete, savory, winner winner chicken dinner comes to us, appropriately, from The Beach House Kitchen blog. As an added bonus, chicken thighs are equally tasty as they are budget friendly. Get the One Skillet Mustard Chicken recipe.

One Sheet, One Love

Sausage and Acorn Squash Sheet Pan Dinner

Admittedly, sheet pan dinners rely on either a cool enough evening or at least a strong enough air conditioning unit for you to want to turn the oven on in the rental kitchen in the summer, but if all systems are go, sheet pan dinners are absolutely maximum impact for absolutely minimal fuss, and can accommodate just about any protein you can imagine from seafood, to large cuts, to ground meat, to eggs, and everyone’s favorite: sausage. Get the Sausage and Acorn Squash Sheet Pan Dinner recipe.

Read More: 11 Effortless Sheet Pan Meals

Toaster Oven Triumph

Frosted Strawberry Pop Tarts

homemade strawberry pop tart recipe


It may be small, but it is mighty. Don’t forget that at the end of the day, a toaster oven is actually an oven, and so long as it fits, anything that can be made in a conventional oven can be made in a toaster oven. Cornbread is a good candidate. Or quiche. Or really swing for the fences with homemade breakfast pop tarts utilizing store-bought pie crust and a little strawberry jam. Pro-tip: you hardly need a rolling pin with all of those empty wine bottles around. Something tells me your friends will wait on you hand and foot for the rest of the day when you treat them to these first thing. Get our Frosted Strawberry Pop Tarts recipe.

Keep it Cool

Chicken Taco Salad

easy chicken taco salad recipe


And if your power goes out, electrically or metaphorically speaking, sometimes it’s easiest to just give the kitchen itself a vacation, chop up a load of greens, and call it dinner. Many classic salads are meals unto themselves: Greek, Caprese, and Niçoise, for example, but the salad most capable of keeping the vacation vibes strong is obviously taco. Get our Chicken Taco Salad recipe.

Related Reading: What to Make When It’s Way Too Hot to Cook

Header image by Chowhound

Pamela Vachon is a freelance writer based in Astoria, NY whose work has also appeared on CNET, Cheese Professor, Alcohol Professor, and Diced. She is also a certified sommelier, voiceover artist, and an avid lover of all things pickled or fermented.
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