Making a meal in an under-resourced cabin kitchen can bring out the MacGyver in a good cook. (Did you know a clean pillow case, vigorously shaken, makes a pretty good sub for a salad spinner?) But if you've got the room to bring a few tools and staples along, it can make a world of difference. Here are 10 that are lightweight and small enough to pack fairly easily.
1. A Good Knife
So many rental kitchens have those cheap starter knives with flimsy plastic handles. The worst! If you're driving — or even if you're flying — consider bringing your chef's knife. Roll it up in some newspaper and a spare dish towel or a beach towel and you're ready to go.
If you're thinking a chef's knife is too big, heavy, and laborious to pack, a high-quality, carbon-blade folding knife is a more compact choice. It's designed for travel, so you can skip the DIY knife roll. Yet another option is the Snow Peak Cutting Board Set — it hides a chef's knife inside a folding cutting board.
2. Swiss Army Waiter's Knife
Nothing's worse than realizing you don't have a corkscrew, just as you're getting ready to break out a bottle of wine. You could bring a waiter's key (we make it a policy to never leave home without one), but a Swiss Army Waiter's Knife is even more versatile. It does the job of a corkscrew, can opener, and bottle opener in one, so you'll be prepared for beans and beers, too.
3. Olive Oil
It's a basic staple, but most rentals don't stock it, and who knows how far you'll have to travel to find a good bottle when you're renting a cabin in the middle of nowhere? Make sure to pack it in a leakproof bottle (because no one wants an olive oil explosion in their suitcase).
4. Sea Salt & Spices in Travel Containers
I'm picky about my salt, so it's totally worth it to pack a couple of Jacobsen Sea Salt Travel Tins. If you have any signature spices you use at home, bring them along too.
Get Road-Ready: 3 Steps for Building Your Own Spice Kit
5. Microplane Grater
This one might seem a little silly, but a microplane grater is lightweight, easy to pack, and makes meals so much easier. When you shop for groceries, pick up lemons and a hunk of parmesan, and use the grater/zester to make a multi-purpose mix of olive oil, salt, and lemon juice and zest that you can use on pastas and salads. Shave some parmesan on top and serve!
6. Meat Thermometer
Grilling or cooking meat for a crowd can be tricky (two want rare, three want medium, one wants well-done), so pack a meat thermometer to stay on the safe side.
Sure, you can use them to eat Asian food, but their secret power is their versatility, especially when you need to hack a missing kitchen tool. Use them to make stir-fries, stir your coffee, or cook scrambled eggs. In a pinch, they can even sub in for tongs!
8. Water Bottle with Built-in Filter
Pack a water bottle with a built-in filter to stay hydrated on the trip, and enjoy great-tasting water when you get there — no matter how bad the tap water might be.
9. Coffee & Coffee Maker
Too many vacation rentals with broken drip machines have made coffee and a coffee maker a travel necessity. Add a grinder if you're planning to pack whole beans. If you're looking for a good compact option, consider the Aeropress.
10. Quart Containers
You're going to have leftovers, and chances are, your rental kitchen will be short on storage. Quart containers are lightweight and stackable, and good for storing everything from cooking supplies to snacks to last night's potato salad.