There I was: Using a wetted white chlorine-bleach smelling hotel towel as an oven mitt to pull a ham out of my convection oven. To me, pulling pineapple slices off a fresh baked hotel room ham seemed normal, just another day at the office I thought. I think it wasn’t until I took my first bite into my hotel room creation that I realized how odd my life had become. I had finally made the transition from a comfy apartment resident to a homeless hotel room nomad.
I stay in hotels a lot, sometimes for long durations of over a month. This means that I am not your normal hotel room guest. I have gone pro.
Currently, I am on another one of my month long hotel room excursions which means it’s an excellent time to share some of of my culinary hotel room secrets. Even if you aren’t a hotel nomad like myself, I’m sure a lot of what I have learned will be helpful to anyone who travels and is looking to find alternative ways to cook.
Could great tasting meals really be cooked in a hotel room?
Getting food is probably the biggest challenge during long hotel stays. Granted, most hotels have hotel restaurants and are located within a few minutes drive from various food options. Even so, the thought of eating out every meal for a month from both a health and financial point of view seemed unappealing at best. Thus, my only option was to find a way to cook in my hotel room, at least for some meals.
Sure, I could have settled for what most people do in the way of hotel room food: Microwaveable soups, frozen meals, or waffles cooked on the iron (yes people do this), but that’s just not me. I wanted to set out to discover a way to reliably cook proper meals in my hotel room with limited supplies.
But how could this be accomplished? Hotels don’t come with an attached kitchen and provide little more than a microwave and mini fridge in the way of cooking supplies. I don’t know if you have ever tried to cook any type of raw/uncooked meat in a microwave, but the end result of the five minute radiation merry-go-round ride the food endures results in that piece of what was once meat becoming converted into an inedible rubber-like substance. Microwave meals were considered, but due to their high salt content and general poor quality, I felt I would fare better eating at Mcdonalds every day. I sat and thought about this problem for a bit until finally finding a solution.
Enter the convection oven
Convection ovens are essentially miniature versions of full sized kitchen ovens and can be bought for under $50. They are similar in appearance to toaster ovens but have one key difference: Convection ovens use a small fan to circulate air within them. This fan helps prevent food from burning like it would in a toaster oven, provides a more uniform cooking temperature within the oven, and helps accelerate the cooking time of food. Large kitchen ovens do not need a fan because their size naturally allows convection currents to form.
Adding a convection oven to the microwave and mini fridge created a trifecta of hotel room culinary possibilities. This allowed me to cook meats like one would in a conventional oven in the convection oven, steam vegetables in the microwave, and store food in the mini-fridge. It seemed like a perfect solution.
Meal planning and shopping
The next problem to solve was to find meals that could be cooked reliably in the convection oven and also be stored for up to a week in the mini fridge.
Through two weeks of trail and error, I developed the following protocol:
SHOPPING: Shop for a week at most, mini fridges have limited storage space and tend to work poorly when they are nearly full.
MEATS: Buy meats that are not frozen and won’t spoil within a weeks time. This can be kind of tricky, but is a necessity. It is difficult to assure meats will stay frozen in a mini fridge and food could end up spoiling. Thawing meat without a kitchen sink is also difficult and time consuming. Try to buy meats that are vacuum wrapped in plastic packaging versus meats that come in styrofoam trays because they stay longer.
Some good choices are:
- Pre-wrapped and marinated pork tenderloins
- Hams, as long as they are cut into small portions (4 lbs max)
- Pre-wrapped, and marinated non-frozen chicken breasts
- Baby back pork ribs raw as long as they are vacuum wrapped (they actually come out amazing but need to be cooked for a few hours).
VEGETABLES: Cook all vegetables in the microwave. Buy vegetables that are frozen and come in a microwave streamable bag. Non-frozen vegetables are not ideal because of refrigeration issues. You will find controlling and segregating a freezing and non-freezing zone in a mini fridge is difficult (more on this later). Because vegetables are nearly 100% water, you will likely end up freezing them by accident. After making a few rock solid tomatoes and celery popsicles, I humbly forsook fresh vegetables.
CARBS AND DESERTS: Carbs are tricky. Without the ability to boil water, cooking pastas and boiling rice is out of the question. Microwavable quinoa and rice are good options. For dessert? The convection oven will bake cookies, pies, muffins, ect. better and faster than traditional oven.
ADDITIONAL SUPPLIES: Without a kitchen sink, all of the meals need to be easy to clean up. This means buying disposable plates and silverware. Before cooking meat in the convection oven, cover the tray with tin foil. Apply a light coating of vegetable on the tin foil to prevent food from sticking. After the meal is cooked, simply throw the tin foil away… wallah, no cleanup. Cookies can’t be cooked reliably on tinfoil because they will stick turing them into aluminum-chip cookies. Bake them on the tray with a coating of vegetable oil. Use a sponge and dish soap to wash the tray in the bathroom sink.
Storing food in the mini fridge
After you finish shopping, you will need to maximize your mini fridge’s food storing potential. You will likely end up with about a 50% mixture of frozen vegetables and thawed meats. The trick is to keep the vegetables frozen and the meats thawed. Most mini fridges have either a small, inadequate freezer area, or a lack one all together.
If you don’t have a freezer, turn the temperature control on the mini fridge all the way down to its coldest setting. This will likely produce freezing temperatures throughout the entire fridge in a few hours. Now locate the chilling plate or cold air duct on the fridge. This is the coldest area in the fridge.Take one of the shelves out and wrap it in tinfoil. Use this shelf to isolate the plate or duct from the rest of the fridge. this will effectively create two temperature zones within the fridge and will allow you to separate frozen and un-frozen foods.
To facilitate an easy cleanup, wrap the baking tray in tin foil and coat it with some vegetable oil to prevent food from sticking.
For certain foods like ribs or chicken legs, place another layer of tinfoil on top of the meat to keep in moisture. This isn’t necessary for roasts or chicken breasts.
For cooking time and temperature, treat the convection oven like you would a regular oven. If a pork roast takes 45 minutes at 350 degrees in a regular oven to cook, use those temperatures and durations in the convection oven. I have found that sone convection ovens run a little cooler than their temperature selector advertises, so adding about 15 degrees to the cooking temperature is not a bad idea.
Oven mitts… Yeah you probably don’t have them. Soak a hotel towel in water and use that.
Let the meat cool for 5-10 minutes like you normally would.
When the meat comes out of the oven, put the microwaveable vegetables in the microwave. By the time they are done, the meat will be cool and ready to serve.
Ok, I will admit, I’m not a professional chef and this certainly isn’t my normal area of expertise, but the meals I ended up making in my hotel room were more than acceptable. In fact, I was able to cook reliably in my hotel room and ended up saving a bunch of money in the process. If you are ever stuck in a hotel room for a good amount of time, consider buying a convection oven. Even if you throw it out at the end of your stay, you will probably make up for the 50 dollar cost by not eating out.