6 Things I’ve Learned from Many Summers of Cooking in Vacation Rental Kitchens

updated Jul 27, 2022
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At this point in my life, I feel pretty good about my kitchen and the things I have in it. If you were to ask me right now, there isn’t anything that I’m really dying to get or anything that I really hate and want to get rid of or replace. I am pretty content. (Imagine that!)

That’s not to say, however, that I’m not open to the power of suggestion — or that I don’t scope out other kitchens for things I might need. This is especially true when I spend a considerable amount of time in a new kitchen — say, when I am renting an Airbnb on the beach or by a lake for summer vacation.

These kitchens never fail to teach me something (even if it’s that my own kitchen is pretty awesome). Here are the top things I’ve learned from vacation rental kitchens over the years.

Credit: Wes Frazer

1. A slotted metal spatula works wonders.

A few years ago, while renting a 189-year-old house in the Catskills, I discovered the usefulness of a slotted metal spatula — specifically for pancakes, but also eggs, French toast, and fish fillets. Shortly after this discovery, I bought one for my own kitchen and it is now one of a very few utensils that I consider mandatory.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. An automatic coffee maker is essential.

In my kitchen, I have two small coffee makers: a French press and a Bialetti stovetop coffee maker. They don’t hog up counter space, they don’t need to be plugged in, and they make good coffee.

However, every time I stay in a vacation rental, I appreciate the presence of an automatic coffee maker. I still think they’re generally kind of ugly and take up too much space, but they are easy to use, easy to clean up, and they keep your coffee hot. Every single time I pack up my things and go home, I think about stealing the machine from my rental (jokes!), so I recently went ahead and bought one for myself.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Good knives are not optional.

I can’t actually remember when I learned this lesson, but it involved trying to cut something with a dull chef’s knife and almost slicing off several fingers. That was a while ago and now I always (ALWAYS) travel with my chef’s knife and my paring knife (and sometimes my bread knife).

Credit: Kelli Foster

4. When it comes to cutting boards, bigger is better.

I once stayed in a cottage on the North Fork of Long Island that had just one cutting board and it was about the size of a postcard. What does one do with such a cutting board? It is a mystery to me, and I ended up ordering a regular-size cutting board from Amazon, which I then left as a gift to all future renters.

In my kitchen now, I have two cutting boards: a plastic one that, like my knives, travels with me and a huge wooden board that is roughly half the size of my kitchen counter.

5. It’s worth bringing your own sponges and dish towels.

To be fair, I have stayed at vacation rentals where they supply never-opened sponges and dish towels. This is right and as it should be, but you can’t count on it. Your very own sponges and dish towels are probably grosser than you think, so just think about vacation rental sponges and dish towels.

See? Get some new ones to bring just in case. While you’re at it, you might want to bring your own gloves, too, depending on how much cooking (and cleaning!) you plan on doing.

Credit: Lauren Volo

6. Ovens are finicky creatures.

There is something that happens over time, so slowly that you might not notice it: You and your oven develop a rapport. You understand that 350 degrees is really more like 325, or that when you put the brownies on the top rack, the bottom gets burnt while the inside stays raw.

This is because ovens are finicky, and I have yet to meet two that operate in exactly the same way. With that understanding comes this reality: Your vacation may be over before you figure out what makes your vacation rental oven tick. Just know that you may have to watch something a little more closely than usual.

Your turn: What have you learned from cooking in other people’s kitchens?