I’ve had a travel kitchen for many years. Want to stop during a five hour trip for a cup of coffee? I got it. Are you getting hungry, but don’t want fast food or a sandwich? No problem. I pretty much felt like the supermom of travel cooking! But what about staying at a hotel? Could I cook there? Would I set off a fire alarm? Yes, and yes, but I promise that the fire alarm was coincidental.

We just got back from a three day stay at a waterpark hotel. Each year we go as a family  while my husband attends a conference. After a day of traveling and setting up a hotel room, I’ve always hated having to go out once again to eat and shop for breakfast foods (this hotel does not have a continental breakfast). I wished that I could finish setting up a room and just have a nice meal ready to go because my children were starving and cranky by that point. And, honestly, so was I. So I planned. Should I bring the slow cooker? Or maybe the pressure cooker? Well, I bought myself an early birthday present and brought this instead:

It’s a thermal cooker. To prepare a meal you simply bring your ingredients to a rapid boil in the pots provided and continue boiling long enough to make sure that everything inside is heated thoroughly. Then you place the pot(s) in the thermal cooker, snap the lid shut, and bring the cooker with you. No electricity needed and no fuel is used after the meal has been initially heated. I tested out a recipe at home, and then used it on this trip.

This was not a cheap investment, but because my family travels a lot, and because I like to cook and stretch the dollar as much as possible, this purchase made sense for my family. It’s worth checking out at the Saratoga Jacks website. I’m not paid for any endorsement.

On our travel day, I started a chicken dish with rice at home, put it in the thermal cooker, and put the cooker in the car where it would be safe from tipping over for the three hour drive. After setting up the room, we opened up the thermal cooker (8 hours later) and chowed down the delicious meal! Success!

The first morning, I nervously set up my camping stove near the patio window. I worried that the heat might cause a problem. I was only boiling water so I didn’t think there would be food odors or anything to burn that would set off a fire alarm. I opened the patio door for extra ventilation. I’d read that many people who cook in their hotel room will cook in the bathroom with the door shut and the fan on, but our hotel room had the sink area with countertop separate from the bathroom. The bathroom had no space to do any cooking, so this was my alternate plan.


The first morning I made eggs in a bag. I’ve made this on camping trips, and it’s a hit with the kids. I thought it would be a good test for the first time I set the hotel room on fire cooked in the hotel room. I nervously paced and checked all of my connections, sticking my hand underneath the stove to feel if the table was getting too hot. No heat! With the burner on full blast and the water boiling inside – there was no heat transfer to the table! Score! I also couldn’t feel any heat from the cooking process when I stepped only a few feet away. Win! The eggs were a hit, see?

We played in the water park, came to the room for lunch, swam some more and then went to our favorite restaurant for our only restaurant meal of the trip. Finally crawling into bed at 11:30pm, we were happy and exhausted. Then, only an hour later, the fire alarm went off! Honestly! I sat up in bed and declared, “It wasn’t my fault!” Still half asleep, we opened the hotel room door, and a wall of heat and smoke hit our faces.

“We have got to get out of here!” my husband exclaimed. “The hallway is filled with smoke!”

All of the training from grade school was tossed out the window. Did we check the door with our hands to feel for heat before opening the door? No. Did we immediately leave the room without grabbing valuables? No. Did we open the door several times, talking to the other guests in the hallway trying to figure out what was going on as steam and running water was both seen and heard? Yes. So much for fire safety!

It turned out that a hot water pipe had burst at midnight, and the steam from that water set off the fire alarm. This happened on the first night after I cooked water to boiling in my hotel room making… steam. Great! After we were reassured that everything was under control, we went back to our room and tried to sleep. It took awhile, especially since all I could think about was if I would have the guts to cook again the next morning.

I did. I made another breakfast of eggs in a bag and that night, the alarm never went off. Clearly, it wasn’t my fault! The last morning, I made a meal that would go into the thermal cooker while we continued to play in the waterpark and attend a water ski show. We wouldn’t eat it for at least 8 hours after I made it. Here’s what it looked like.

I opened eight cans for this recipe. Using my travel kitchen (you can see the drawers and part of the carrying case in the upper right corner of the picture) allowed me to have all of the tools that you see.

With all of the ingredients ready to go, I browned the beef and everything was fine. I added the onion, still no fire alarm and no knock on the door asking me what I was doing. I added all of the drained beans, the canned tomatoes, chilis and the taco seasoning. Then the smell filled the room. Taco salad! My girls said that it smelled awesome! I just hoped that the smell wasn’t a problem outside of my room.

I brought it all to a boil for four minutes, following the recipe. Then I put it in my thermal cooker, snapped the lid, and got busy packing up the room for checkout. There were dishes to be done, but as you can see, there weren’t many!

Checkout was by 11:00am and we were cleaned up and out of the room at 10:51am. I didn’t start packing up or cooking until 9:00am, so I felt that we did a great job! The girls had breakfast (cereal), I cooked our supper, did dishes, and packed everything up. When we left the room, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was NO SMELL in the hallway! No one was walking around asking, “What’s that smell? Is someone cooking in their hotel room?” We were pretty much invisible. The minute you opened my hotel room door, the smell of taco seasoning hit your face as strongly as the steam had hit our face a few nights earlier, but we could have used the microwave to make that smell!

With all of our gear and our supper safely stashed in our car, we played in the waterpark all afternoon, went to the waterski show, and then found a small park where we could have supper before the drive home. I pulled out my travel kitchen, and like the supermom of travel cooking,  I served up a hot meal of yummy taco salad that had been started almost nine hours earlier! Yum!

Will I do it again? Heck, yes! But please, no fire alarms next time!