How Do You Do Thanksgiving in an RV?

chicken dinner

After reading my last article about camping on Thanksgiving, you decided that this is the year you want to finally want to change things up. You want to spend Thanksgiving in your RV. How do you still treat your family or friends to a holiday feast?

Here are some tips for putting together Thanksgiving in an RV:

  • Know that things will look different this year
  • Downsize, downsize, downsize
  • Clear your fridge
  • Cook what you can in the day(s) before
  • Use the stove, grill, or Crockpot for the sides
  • Cook the turkey in the oven or in a deep fryer
  • Don’t be afraid of instant options or prebought food

As the above pointers show you, it’s very much possible to do Thanksgiving in an RV if you’re willing to shed a few of your usual traditions and embrace the new. Keep reading for actionable tips so you can have your most memorable Thanksgiving yet!

9 Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving in an RV

1. Know That Things Will Look Different This Year

Okay, so first thing’s first. You cannot go into this year’s Thanksgiving thinking that you’re replicating your usual Thanksgivings cooked in a home kitchen but in your RV.

If you’re the type who puts together Pinterest boards as early as September for Thanksgiving table spreads and researches recipes long before November, I know this can come as a disappointment.

You’re used to putting on Thanksgivings of a certain caliber.

As I said in the intro, this year is going to be different. Different doesn’t have to mean bad, just different.

My advice? Disregard traditions for once. Be willing to embrace the unexpected, as you’re going to have a lot of unexpected moments this year.

Most importantly, just let this holiday be what it’s going to be. Give it room to breathe, grow, and be its own day rather than squeezing and forcing it to conform to Thanksgivings of the past.

You may find that camping on Thanksgiving is more fun than staying at home. You might also find that by the time the day wraps up that you miss home more than ever.

There is no wrong answer, but you’ll never know until you try!

2. Downsize, Downsize, Downsize

One of the first ways that your Thanksgiving will be radically different this year is that you’re going to have to downsize everything.

Yes, everything.

Let’s start with the guest list. More than likely, whoever is in your RV at this very moment is the only people who are coming to Thanksgiving dinner.

If you usually eat the turkey and stuffing at a large table surrounded by all your family, then reducing the table size to only your immediate family can be a bit jarring.

But remember, different isn’t bad, it’s just different. You might find that you enjoy the quietness and intimacy of the meal more than you do trying to engage in five different conversations with family at once.

You also have to downsize the menu. If your Thanksgiving spread usually includes seven or eight sides, cut it down to three or four, maybe five tops.

Remember, your RV kitchen cannot top your kitchen back home in spaciousness, accommodations, and cooking options.

If you try to overdo it, you will burn yourself out before you ever sit down for the big meal. Once that precious time finally arrives, you won’t even be able to enjoy it because you’ll be so exhausted.

Strip back this year’s Thanksgiving and keep it as simple as you can. It will still turn out great.

3. Clear Your Fridge (and Freezer)

In the days leading up to the big holiday, you’re going to need as much fridge and freezer space as possible.

You need to store the bird (you know, the turkey), the ingredients to make all your sides, premade food, beverages, and dessert ingredients (unless your dessert is prebought, in which case it still requires some fridge or freezer room).

That means that whatever foods are currently occupying your fridge and freezer have got to go. Plan to use up what you’ve got unless you have a portable fridge or freezer and storing it in your RV won’t throw your weight distribution out of balance.

4. Cook What You Can in the Day(s) Before

thanksgiving side per-prepared

Most people cook everything for the Thanksgiving spread on the day of the holiday. This does make the food ultra-fresh and delectable, but it means spending all day in the kitchen, and that’s no fun for you.

You need to strategize what you’re going to cook in your RV for Thanksgiving and how you’re going to cook it. This will inform you of what needs to be cooked a day or two ahead versus the day of.

For instance, you can bet that your oven will be off-limits, as you’ll probably cook the turkey in there. It’s not your only option, and I’ll talk more about that later, but it’s the common cooking method.

Keeping that in mind, if you have any other recipe that must be cooked in the oven, then you should cook it before Thanksgiving.

If you’re determined to make a handful of sides because your family insists, then do yourself a favor and prepare at least several sides in the day or two before the holiday.

You can even make dessert ahead.

The more that’s done when you wake up on Thanksgiving morning, the less stressful your day will be. You’ll also have more spare time to enjoy precious moments with your family on a nature walk, a hike, or just sitting outside and catching the breeze.

5. Set up Cooking Stations Inside of and Outside of the RV

Even if your Thanksgiving meal isn’t as gargantuan as usual, you’re still going to whip up quite a feast. It will certainly be more food than you usually prepare in your RV.

At no other time will you push your RV kitchen to the limits more than this. You’ll realize how tight the space is when you quickly run out of countertop space.

That’s why I recommend having cooking stations both indoors and outdoors.

Most RVs only have an indoor or outdoor kitchen, not both. Yours is probably the same way, so that means make-shifting your outdoor cooking stations.

You might use fold-out tables as food prep surfaces. If you do, then make sure the tables are properly assembled so they’re sturdy enough for you to slice, dice, and otherwise prepare your meals for the oven, grill, or stove top.

You could group the items in your food stations by the type of cuisine so you don’t run around your RV like a chicken without a head.

For example, all the sides you didn’t make the day before would be outside while all the main course meals would be prepared inside.

Here’s another consideration to keep in mind, especially when prepping food outside.

Use your overhead awning so the food doesn’t begin to bake in the sunlight. Make sure you have a bear canister or some other protectant in case the smell of your raw food attracts the local wildlife.

If you can, try to cook the outdoor food station items first so you can quickly get them indoors. You don’t want your sides stolen by a hungry bear, after all!

6. Use the Stove top, Grill, or Crockpot for the Sides

crock pot sweet potatoes

Speaking of sides, how can you cook them?

Well, dishes like biscuits and casseroles will have to go into the oven. That’s why you should have made those either the day before or the morning of Thanksgiving before the turkey goes in.

Other than the oven, you have plenty of other inventive options for baking or cooking up your sides to perfection.

Do you have a portable grill that you bring on your RV travels? Although you often use it for summertime cooking, I say why not dust it off in November for cooking your Thanksgiving sides?

You can grill vegetables to bring out their delectable flavor or even grill fruits for a side. If corn on the cob is still available in your neck of the woods this time of the year, grilling corn will always beat canned corn kernels, at least in my book.

Grilled potatoes and sweet potatoes are also so much more flavorful and unique than microwaved potatoes!

The Crockpot is another handy tool for making Thanksgiving side dishes. You can mash potatoes quickly, whip up rice, and steam veggies like carrots and broccoli.

Even if the oven is in use by the turkey, you can still access the stovetop if your RV kitchen has one. The stovetop comes in handy for making sauces, including the tart, delectable cranberry sauce.

7. Cook the Turkey in the Oven or in a Deep Fryer Outside

Now it’s time to talk about the star of the show, the dish that makes Thanksgiving, well, Thanksgiving.

You know what I mean. It’s the turkey!

Remember how I talked about downsizing earlier? Well, nowhere will that be more evident than in the turkey.

Since you’re not feeding as many people as you usually do for Thanksgiving, there’s no need to buy such a big bird.

Okay, but what if a showstopping turkey is the family tradition?

Well, let me put it to you this way. A large turkey will not fit in your RV oven.

I talked about RV oven size constraints in my article about baking in an RV. The average size of an RV oven is 17 inches wide. The largest models are 21 inches wide.

Household ovens are anywhere from 24 to 30 inches wide and 22 to 24 inches deep.

You’re missing out on nearly 10 inches of width when you cook in an RV oven. You need a small turkey, end of story.

The only exception is if you’re willing to deep fry your turkey.

A deep fryer is a lot larger than an RV oven, so a full-sized turkey will fit. That said, deep frying comes with its own set of inherent dangers.

Make sure you always follow these safety tips when deep frying!

  • Have a fire extinguisher on hand so that if the oil ignites, you’re ready. The best type of fire extinguisher for an oil fire is a dry-powder, multipurpose extinguisher.
  • Wear long sleeves when deep frying even if it’s an unseasonably warm day.
  • Oven mitts and potholders should be insulated to prevent burns.
  • Fully thaw your Thanksgiving turkey and allow it to dry out before putting it in the deep fryer. If the turkey is too moist or not properly thawed, the oil bubbles can overflow and possibly lead to a fire.
  • Keep pets and children away from the deep fryer, even when it’s off. After cooking, it can take several hours for the oil temperature to cool down.
  • Put the deep fryer on flat, level ground. If the ground is uneven, the oil can spill.
  • Always make sure an adult is monitoring the deep fryer. Take turns if need be, but someone must always watch the thermostat to ensure the temperatures don’t rise too high.
  • Don’t add more oil than necessary to the deep fryer.

8. Don’t Be Afraid of Instant Options or Prebought Food

If you were making Thanksgiving dinner at home, the thought of using instant food or prebought meals would be unthinkable. You prefer to make everything from scratch, as that’s been the family tradition for as long as you could remember.

Well, this is the year you buck tradition, so don’t eschew premade or instant food.

It’s easy to make, heats up immediately, tastes reliably good, and brings about some of the comforts of home even if you’re hundreds of miles away.

Trust me, your family won’t mind a few instant options or a premade pie or bread even if you usually make these items from scratch. It’s a different type of setup this year, so no one will think less of you if that’s what you’re worried about.

Plus, with all your homemade goodies, the instant items won’t really get much attention anyway.

9. Don’t Forget Dessert!

This last tip is an important one.

No Thanksgiving meal is complete without dessert. Not everyone likes pumpkin, so maybe your family doesn’t do pumpkin pie.

Whatever kind of dessert you do serve, make sure you have it for the family to nosh on after they eat all the turkey they can handle.

As I’ve made clear, there’s no shame in picking up a premade pumpkin or apple pie.

If you do decide to make dessert from scratch, you’re going to have to plan it accordingly. Since many desserts require oven time, that means baking it the day before so your oven is free and clear for the turkey.


Thanksgiving in your RV is quite an adjustment. There’s no football, no parade, and no boisterous family gatherings.

To bring the creature comforts of the holiday to your RV, you can cook up a spectacular Thanksgiving meal using the items available in your vehicle.

Even if everything doesn’t go according to plan, that you tried at all is the most important part. After all, Thanksgiving isn’t about the food or the football but the family togetherness!

Nicole Malczan

Nicole Malczan is a full-time professional freelancer for 10 years and counting. Some of her favorite topics to write about are camping and RV life. She quite loves spending time outdoors and dreams of owning an RV of her very own someday!

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