You might be surprised to learn you don’t have to toss your foil-wrapped food in your truck’s engine bay to cook or warm up food while on the road. There are better ways!
In this guide, we’re looking at all the ways you can cook on the road in a variety of vehicles including cars and crossovers, SUVs, trucks, vans, and big rig trucks. Here you find information for the best products you can use to warm up a lunch you prepared earlier or even cook an entire meal while on the road.
Of course, the options you have greatly depend on your vehicle and setup. Mostly we’re looking at 12-volt appliances that can simply plug into your vehicle’s lighter socket. However, the circuits and fuses on smaller vehicles, such as sedans or crossovers, generally can’t handle the same amperages as larger vehicles like pick-up trucks or tractor-trailer trucks. In any case, it’s important to make sure you purchase an mini electric food warmer that fits your vehicle’s space and electrical requirements.
When Are These Products Useful?
- If you’re a professional truck driver, then avoiding unhealthy fast food or truck stop food is one of the best reasons to use a portable food warmer or slow cooker. Your wallet and your body will thank you.
- Long road trips in a car often mean stopping at expensive, unhealthy fast food joints. You can prepare a meal ahead of time and have it warming up in your car waiting for you to have a picnic at a rest stop.
- Camping, van dwelling, or other unique living situations are made much easier by simple technology like a portable food warmer.
Another thing to keep in mind is that these type of products have many names that mostly mean the same such as, portable food cooker, portable oven, electric lunch box, or food warmer. The end is the same which is to heat up food on the go and possibly even cook a meal from scratch given enough time.
Let’s jump right into some of the most versatile portable food cookers that are great for any situation.
Presto 06012 Nomad 8-quart Traveling Slow Cooker
Our top pick for warming up food or cooking a meal on the road is the Presto Nomad. It’s great for any vehicle, has a secure lid, and spacious 8-quart capacity. It’s a little pricier than some of the other lunch box-style warmers, but the quality seems to be better.
The main issue with using normal-sized slow cookers on the road is that they generally draw too much power for a typical car’s circuit and they’re not very easy to seal securely. The Presto Nomad traveling slow cooker has a rugged build and travels well.
It’s important to temper your expectations when it comes to a lower powered slow cooker. They cook slower and you need to plan accordingly. It’s a good idea to do a test run and see how long it takes to cook a typical meal you like. Cooking from frozen and the ambient temperature around the cooker are going to affect cooking times, but with the Presto Nomad it’s cooler-like design makes it more insulated from the exterior than some other models we’ve seen.
Truckers, van dwellers, and road trippers can certainly benefit from the Presto Nomad and enjoy healthy meals instead of greasy fast foods.
- Operating Power: Warm – 40 Watts, Low- 235 Wats, High – 275 Watts
- Weighs 8.55 lbs
- Dimensions: 12.25″ x 15.75″ x 8.5″
- Great for soups, stews, casseroles, chicken, roasts, and more
- Built-in cord storage
What We Like
- Rugged design with excellent heat output
- 8-quarts is very large capacity compared to a lot of portable food warmers
- Removable non-stick cooking pot is easy to clean
- Like many of these products there isn’t an LED indicator light that it’s powered on, so make sure it starts warming up and the cord is plugged in properly
The Presto is relatively large and its design is convenient for tucking it away on the road and letting it warm up your food, but you may be looking for something a bit smaller. Crock-Pot has a line of ultra-portable slow cookers that are ideal for warming up food on the road or in an office setting.
The issue you might run into with the Presto is that the wattage might be too high for some 120V car outlets. The 275W power draw on high is within the range you can find a power inverter for your vehicle if you don’t have an outlet in your car. It’s a good idea to check your car manufacturer’s specifications to see what the peak wattage of your power outlets is.
Crock-Pot SCCPLC201-G Portable Lunch Slow Cooker
This slow cooker from Crock-Pot is a perfect size for preparing lunch and conveniently warming it up at your desk or in your vehicle. The 20-ounce capacity is enough for a filling meal and the form factor of this slow cooker is similar to a typical lunch box with a carrying handle and travel lid.
Warming up leftovers, soups, oatmeal, or burrito bowls is easy and you could even use two to prepare breakfast and lunch if you work long shifts. With this Crock-Pot being affordable and portable, making the change toward being more frugal and healthy just got easier.
The inner container is removable and can be washed in the sink when you’re done. No more waiting for the microwave at work.
Another great feature is that you can leave the Crock-Pot at work and remove the inner container and bring it home each day to refill. It has its own lid and just sets down inside the Crock-Pot body.
- Dishwasher safe removable food container with inner lid
- 20-ounce capacity
- Dimensions: 11.50″ x 7.75″ x 6.75″
- Easy travel lid with carrying handle
- Weighs 1.65 lbs
- 50 Watts
What We Like
- Size and features are ideal for office or on the road (using an inverter in your vehicle)
- One of the easiest to clean with the removable container
- Well-known brand with customer support
- The cord isn’t easy to wrap up correctly
If you’re looking for either a 120V cord or a 12V cord in particular, then the Hot Logic might work for you. You can buy it with either option and it’s ultra-portable with a smaller form factor than the Presto.
Hot Logic Food Warming Tote
The Hot Logic Mini Warming Tote is small enough to rest in your car seat or tucked away on the floorboard. It evenly cooks or reheats fresh or frozen meats or vegetables without burning or drying out the food as it holds in moisture with the insulated interior.
Using the Hot Logic is as simple as plugging in the 12V power cord into your lighter socket and securing it somewhere safe in your vehicle. You do have the option of getting a standard 120V plug or the 12V plug. If you choose to get the 120V plug, then you can use an inverter in your vehicle and still use the Hot Logic, but you have the added advantage of being able to use it anywhere in your home or wherever you can access a plug.
As for heat, you can easily warm up frozen, pre-packaged meals such as TV dinners. You can expect it to take about an hour to heat up a frozen meal, so prepare ahead of time! The Hot Logic reaches a temperature of around 165 degrees Fahrenheit and maintains that temperature and cannot be adjusted.
If you’re on the road and don’t have access to a microwave, then this is a great option. Also, if you work at a remote site without access to cooking appliances, then this is a great way to warm up your lunch.
- 48″ Cord
- Color options: Aqua Floral, Black, Blue, Green, Houndstooth, Paisley, Pink Purple, Red
- Dimensions: 6.8″ x 8.8″ x 2.5″
- Draws about 3.75 Amps at 12V
- Warms up a frozen dinner in about 1 to 3 hours depending on size and ambient temperature. Most single person dinners will warm up in an hour.
- Material: Polyester
What We Like
- Small, simple, affordable
- Excellent heat output and gets food steaming hot and cooked throughout
- Gets hot enough to make tea
- No LED indicator that it’s powered on
The ultimate versatility is being able to swap out the cord with the lunch box instead of having to buy an inverter or hope you can find a 120V socket. Well, the Travelisimo is the answer to that problem.
Travelisimo Electric Lunch Box 2 in 1
The Travelisimo is the size of a typical lunchbox and has a few added features compared to the Hot Logic food warmer we reviewed above. With the Travelisimo you get a removable compartment that lets you warm up two different foods without them touching the other, which is handy for warming up soup while also warming up dryer foods. Additionally, one major improvement is that the plugs are swappable, so you can plug it up in your car or wherever you have access to a 120V socket.
The interior lining of the Travelisimo is stainless steel while the removable compartment is plastic (BPA-free according to the manufacturer).
Another added bonus is the reusable spoon and storage compartment for the spoon. You always know you’ll have a utensil to eat with.
- 12V and 120V plugs
- 40 Watts
- Material: 304 Stainless Steel and high-quality, BPA-free plastic
- Dimensions: 9″ x 7″ x 5″
- 1.5 Liter Capacity
- Plastic Spoon and storage compartment
- Weighs 1.76 lbs
What We Like
- Able to warm up two different foods at once without them touching
- Onboard spoon means never being without a utensil
- Swappable 12V and 120V plugs mean you don’t have to worry if you’ll have access to the right plug or buying an inverter for your car
- Outside can get hot to touch
There are more traditional slow cookers that are designed for 12V applications, but we’ve found the Crock-Pot Portable Slow Cooker we reviewed above to be one of the most convenient solutions. That brings us to the RoadPro Quart Slow Cooker that has the form factor of a traditional slow cooker, but in a smaller body. The lid isn’t sealable like with the Crock-Pot, but can still be held in place with straps, though it isn’t as secure.
RoadPro Quart 12V Slow Cooker
The Road Pro Slow Cooker is a more traditional style food warmer that’s intended to cook a meal just like a regular slow cooker and the form factor isn’t like the lunch box-style food warmers we looked at above.
This is a great option for truckers or campers if you want to slow cook a meal from scratch. You can expect the Road Trip to reach temperatures between 140 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit. You can secure the lid down with the included stretch cord, though it’s not quite as secure as the lunch box designs, so you’ll want to be extra careful with how you secure it in your vehicle.
The power output, 98 watts, is a bit higher than we’ve seen with the lunch box-style food warmers, so you can expect good heat output from the Road Pro.
- 12V, 8 Amps, 96 Watts
- 6 ft. power cord
- Stoneware crock pit is removable and dishwasher safe
- Glass lid with stretch cord to secure it
What We Like
- Power output is good
- Ultra portable slow cooker
- Quality problems reported with heating failure
- Lid not very secure
Now, there are some other options that are more likely desirable for van dwellers or campers. We’re talking about saucepans and skillets that plug into 12V sockets. They’re simpler in that they’re not designed with insulation, handles, storage compartments, or other features that add bulkiness. They’re just heated pans.
Roadpro RPSP225NS 12-Volt Portable Saucepan
The RoadPro Portable Saucepan heats up relatively quickly in about 15 minutes or less for most foods. Microwaves aren’t ideal for heating many foods, so if you like heating up your meals in a suacepan, then this is exactly what you need.
Perhaps the biggest difference between these electric pans is that they aren’t “slow” cookers. They heat up faster and are meant for more active cooking rather than “set it and forget it” style cooking with slow cookers.
It’s important to remember that non-stick coatings need to be treated with care. You don’t want to use metal utensils that could scratch the surface. This is even more true for the RoadPro saucepan as you have to replace the entire unit if you wear out the coating.
- 12-Volt Power Port
- 2 Quart (1.9L) Pan with Handle
- Non-Stick Inside Surface and Vented Tempered Glass Lid
- Non-Slip Feet Helps Keep Pan Secure when Cooking
What We Like
- Heats up fast
- Simple design
- Non-stick and can cook a variety of foods quickly
- No heat adjustment