Are you headed to a getaway cabin or vacation rental sometime this summer? Maybe with your family, or a big group of friends? We get lots of questions about cooking in a vacation house, and I just got back from an early vacation to Wyoming and Montana, where we rented a little cabin and grilled every meal. My trip reminded me of my most essential vacation cabin kitchen tool — which, ironically, I forgot to bring.

Pictured above, my trusty Thermapen. Below, a more basic probe thermometer.
(Image credit: Faith Durand)

My most important vacation rental tool is teeny-tiny and you can probably put it in your carry-on — it's a kitchen thermometer!

As for why, let's think about vacation cooking. If you rent a cabin at the lake, a beach house in the Hamptons, or a getaway in the mountains, grilling is probably in your meal plan. It's the easiest way to cook simply and enjoy local produce, and it's simple to feed a lot of people off the grill without heating up the house.

But what if you're making hamburgers, fresh sausage, or, as we did in Montana, extra-thick pork chops? How do you make sure that they're completely done, but not overdone? This can be a little tricky, especially on a strange-to-you grill. And while you, like me, might be cavalier about eating medium-rare burgers or pink-inside pork chops, you may have guests with you who are more cautious.

For all these reasons, a thermometer is a really handy tool to have while on vacation, and I can report from my experience that vacation rentals rarely have one in their (ill-equipped) utensil drawer. It's a tiny thing to throw in your duffel bag — much easier than packing your favorite knife, bar towels, and sheet pan. Not like I've, ahem, ever done that.

What else do you like to pack when you'll be cooking away from home? Do you just roll with whatever the house has on hand? Or do you carry your arsenal with you?