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Who cooks in a hotel room?

  • m

Just saw a story on Chow about using hotel room amenities to cook (an iron and coffee maker) It got me thinking about how often i did that when I traveled with my family as a kid. Some of my earliest memories are of my mom cooking chicken in a crock pot that she brought from home for Shabbos (we're Jewish and orthodox) at the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas. I remember the entire floor of the hotel (the old Garden rooms) smelled of her cooking. We also used to take a hot plate (or two) and a couple of small pots etc. We did that in Israel and Europe and Alaska and....

My dad would bring an immersion heater and buy canned veggies which he would heat by sticking in the immersion heater. When the cans were empty, he'd use them as cooking pots to poil eggs or small potatoes.

We always made the best tasting food in those hotel rooms. We were never caught, but once in Israel my sister and I managed to stuff up the bathroom sink with some canned corn or something. When we called maintenance they also sent security who gave us some really odd looks.

Ahhh... the good old days.

So what are your stories of hotel room cooking? I know you've got 'em!

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  1. My ex used to travel with a 1/2 size microwave and had a letter from her doctor saying it was necessary to heat compresses for her legs (true, but she cooked in it as well).

    Coffee pot, hot pot, single burner hot plate were standard items in the trunk of my car. I used boy scout mess kits that converted to both fying pans and plates..

    We used to stay in a tineshare in West Yarmouth, MA that did not allow cooking in the rooms, the ex uses to wet a bath towel and lay it on the floor to block cooking odors from going under the door to the common corridor. She'd spray the towel with air freshener as well.

    1. While I don't think it's cool to break safety rules about cooking in hotel rooms, I can certainly understand why people might have to do it. Keeping kosher is a good reason, since you probably wouldn't be able to eat otherwise (well, maybe in Israel ;)

      My parents used to cook in hotel rooms because they had four kids and eating out got expensive and was also a pain. When we moved across the country, there was a huge delay with our furniture, so we ended up in a hotel for 6 weeks. My mom set up a kitchen, which the staff seemed to know about (oatmeal packets and a hot plate are sort of a giveaway), and we had every breakfast and quite a few dinners in our crappy little Holiday Inn adjoining rooms. I remember her making boeuf bourgignon (with canned soup and jug wine from Gallo) that tasted pretty darn good. No microwave in those days (1972), but the electric skillet worked just fine!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Isolda

        > Safety rules

        I think those portable induction cooktops are completely safe and you can get one for $75, although you'd need to buy the cookware.

      2. I have done a lot of cooking in a hotel. I actually lived in a Hotel for a little over a year. Having no kitchen in the room, my saving grace was a Toaster Oven and a Rice Cooker. I could cook almost anything and even entertain. The only down side was having to use the George Foreman Grill in the Bathroom or all my clothes would smell like food .. Ick.. After that I will NEVER wash anything in a bathroom sink .. I was soo Happy when I finaly got a Kitchen sink to do dishes in.

        1 Reply
        1. re: goddessofDEATH

          I also lived in a motel for roughly a year. I had a small microwave, a plug-in pot, a fridge and a toaster oven. I could make just about anything.

        2. Oh, the memories. When we hit the road, my mother used to pack an electric skillet. She would use it to make Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs or Dinty Moore stew while we were staying in motels.

          1. I lived in a hotel for four months when I was an exchange student in Hong Kong -- all the international students lived in a hotel owned by the university, each of us with a local student as a roommate. We weren't "allowed" rice cookers or electric burners, but nearly every room had one. (They did have a few hot plates in the student laundry area but it was on the 11th floor and it was far less of a hassle to spend a buck-fifty on bowls of congee or ramen in the hotel's restaurant than to find something one could cook in a cheap-ass pot on a cheap-ass hot plate)

            An electric kettle was standard in every room, and managed to eat pretty well. Rice with fried ham and egg from the restaurant, with black beans, hot sauce and vinegar from my own stash (still crave that ham-egg rice). Lots and lots of instant noodles, sometimes with a raw egg stirred in. I even managed an approximation of pasta marinara that satisfied my craving pretty darn well. All of it was supplemented with plenty of fruit and lots of take-aways, of course! :)

            1. Back in my party days I used to have a quite a few hotel rooms.

              My best trick was ramen noodles in the coffee maker. I would put the noodles where the coffee grinds should have gone, then run the coffee maker. When the cycle was finished the noodles would be cooked perfectly. Then I would pour them in the coffee pot, sprinkle the seasoning over them and eat with whatever utensil I could dig up. Aaah, good times....

              7 Replies
              1. re: croissantkelly

                Gawd, what did the coffee taste like when you made it afterwards? >P

                1. re: Michelly

                  <grin> I suspect it was the next guest who had that delightful surprise!

                  1. re: Michelly

                    And didn't the ramen have a coffee flavor? Maybe it enhanced the basic flavor packet.

                    1. re: croissantkelly

                      WOW!! I drive a truck and love to cook (at home), so have tried to work out ways to feed myself blissfully at the end of a day driving down the road. I have a small coffee maker that gets the water really hot and I make a lot of Cup-O-Soup but it never occurred to me to put the noodles in the grounds basket!! Do you use a filter? I bought one of those "Ready-Set-Go" things but burned out some wiring and thought the appliance was at fault. Turned out the wiring to my inverter had bitten the dust due to age. I may try it again, now that I have new and heavy duty wiring. I have no room for a microwave because my printer takes up that space. Got a real fridge, tho, so should be able to put together some great meals. Husband is now teaming with me and I'm getting really fed up with $40 to $50/day meal bills at truck stops, never mind the food is barely adequate health-wise. I (for a really SHORT time) used a 6" skillet that plugged into the cigarette lighter receptacle but it had no heat control - it would fire up to about 400 degrees and incinerate pretty much whatever you put in it. Also, the cord was about 12" long so I had to put the skillet on my pillow (the plug receptacle was just above the pillow) and watch it like a hawk so as not to set fire to me, the pillow, the dog or whatever. I retired the skillet. Life is tough but necessity is the mother of invention. I love the noodles in the coffee basket!!

                      1. re: caiatransplant

                        caiatransplant, there is a book you SO need. I bought it for my husband who belongs to an off-roading club and often comes off the trail late in the evening, tired & hungry and miles from anywhere to buy food. It's called 'Manifold Destiny' and it contains recipes for cooking on your engine,...you can find some ideas just by googling 'cooking on car engine'. Foil packets are heavily involved...they've done pork tenderloins, lamb chops, roasted vegetables, pre-squashed panini, sausages, potatoes, and their favorite, s'mores. It also amuses the heck out of them. You would need a cooler & some basic seasonings and tools to prep your packets the night before.

                      2. re: croissantkelly

                        You remind me of a scene from some book I read years ago where a woman used to make a drink she called Boil-O by filling the coffee thing with cut up oranges and lemons then perking whiskey through the pot rather than water.

                      3. We almost always cook in hotel rooms while traveling domestically. I am tired at the end of a long driving day and often have no interest in going out to dinner. More comfortable to tuck into soft clothes and have a drink while preparing our in-room supper.
                        NOTE - this changes when fabulous options present themselves.

                        My standard gear includes: a fitted picnic basket with all the plates, glassware, silverware. A plastic bin holds pantry essentials and cookware. A traveling fridge which plugs into the car as well as the AC-DC hotel room current carries perishables. My portable gas cassette also accompanies. Yes, my wonderful husband schleps this in and out of the hotel each night but he actually considers himself to be the lucky one! We look like the Beverly Hillbillies when we move in.

                        For our first night on the road, we've established a beef stroganoff tradition. I saute extra beef tenderloin for our picnic lunch the next day (blue cheese mayonnaise + cucumbers make a great sandwich).

                        On some trips, I will have made and frozen one or two meals to reheat. Otherwise, I cook dinner from scratch each night. When we find a Farmers' Market or some local speciality, I'm especially pleased. The Saturday FM in Portland OR was a bonanza of treats!

                        No one at any hotel has ever said "boo" about our meals. When we're there for more than one night, it is patently obvious what's going on but we have never heard from management. If there is any problem about in-room cooking, why do so many hotel rooms have a microwave?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Sherri

                          My tip is that if you outfit a nifty little overnight bag (rather than a picnic basket) with your cereal, bowls, sugar, silverware, coffee pot, coffee, cups, and breakfast rolls, you can waft through the nicest hotel lobbies with a straight face. Just clean up nicely and nobody will ever know where you had breakfast.

                        2. I can provide a view from the other side -- my family owns a motel, and I have lots of friends and family with the same occupation. The biggest reasons that hotels (including ours) bans cooking is that a lot of guests are just plain filthy (won't clean up after their cooking) and because of fire codes. I personally have no problem with guests cooking, but have posted rules banning cooking because we get skewered in a fire inspector sees hotplates, indoor grills, etc inside of rooms. We even get fined if you store a small propane grill in your room (and use it outside) and the inspector sees it.

                          A lot of hotels also cannot allow cooking because their wiring can't take that sort of load -- leading to everything from tripped breakers to electrical fires. Hotel microwaves are on the smaller side, so they do not draw a lot of current when operating. Also, a lot of hotels have microwaves and fridges connected together so the fridge does not get power when the microwave is on.

                          Property insurance is also more expensive if guests are allowed to cook.

                          That being said, I've had guests in the situation that a couple posters have mentioned where they stay for an extended period of time. If they are clean when they cook (I'm not paying housekeepers to clean up your spills, grease stains, burn marks, etc), and I know about it so that I can skip that room during inspections, I don't have a big issue with people cooking in rooms.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: neel2004

                            I've stayed in a room where there is a small refr supplied but the manager had kept it turned off. Good thing I checked and turned it on upon arrival.

                            I've stayed in rooms where there is a small refr supplied but stocked with mini-bar supplies. What an idiot. When I removed the mini-bar stuff and put them in a drawer to make room for my own beer, the next day the hotel removed my beer, restocked the mini, and charged me for all the missing mini-bar items! I outsmarted myself that time.

                            1. re: neel2004

                              A filthy person is a filthy person. If they are not going to clean up after cooking, they are going to leave take-out food and debris in the room.

                              A hot plate will not suck more power than a hair dryer and there are other outlets in rooms where you can plug applieances and phones.

                              However, I know the issues and make sure I closely supervise what I cook and aftwerward pack away things in my suitcase so that no one sees the appliance.

                              When my condo was remodeled, I lived in a motel for a few months. Eating out ALL the time loses its charm after a while. Also, I need my coffee.

                              I had a pet, so needed to stay at Motel 6 which tolerates them. They provide coffee at the front desk for a limited time in the morning, but it usually is mediocre and I need fuel upon awakening.

                              I just spent a month in a hotel in Antigua (too hot living in the jungle. Had to get out). So my experience is recent.

                              My equipment of choice is a Sunbeam hot pot express and one of those picnic coolers with cords that can be plugged into the car or walll outlet and functions similar to a fridge (there are limitations, but still ... there's always milk for the coffee and cold cuts for sndwiches).

                              The Sun Beam hot pot is great. It really DOES boil water 60% faster than a microwave. The wide top allows easy clean up and you can cook soups, noodles, vegetables and much more. It is small enough to pack into a suitcase. It is cheap so when I had to leave it behind in Guatemala, it didn't hurt and I just replaced it.

                              I haven't been able to replace the plug-in picnic cooler to my surprise. I thought a year later there would be more and better versions.

                              Both were invaluable when I drove from SF to Gutemala. They gave me the option of choosing better places to eat. If there was nothing good nearby, I still had a stocked fridge. If I was exhausted from the drive, instead of having to search around for eats ... and more likely winding up at a fast food joint ... I had the contents in the fridge with healthy options.

                              The only disadvantage of hotel cooking is the batroom sink is too small to easily clean sutff. I rely on paper and plastic cutlery, cups and plates ... which I dispose of in a plastic grocery bag.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Clean stuff in the tub. That's where I was dishes for about six weeks during a big remodel.

                            2. I've heard something to the effect that some people have used electric irons for cooking, does anybody know anything about this??

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: arktos

                                back in the college days (40 years ago) before they were teflon coated, they made a great grilled cheese, or use as a panini press (one side at a time).

                                Modern irons are too lightweight and have coatings, no good for cooking

                                1. re: arktos

                                  Here's a brief humorous piece from CHOW about hotel-room cooking (including prominent use of the iron):


                                2. I have often self-catered in hotels, but I always eat cold foods - salads etc. I have never felt the need for hot food. (But I don't eat meat, so maybe that makes a difference?)
                                  I did spend about a year in my own home without a kitchen however, which I guess mimics the hotel scenario to a degree. I cooked using a kettle, microwave and latterly a small Foreman grill. Did you know you can cook pizza in a Foreman grill? Sort of. And microwave scallops? Carefully.
                                  When I finally got a kitchen it took a long time to stop thinking in terms of 'can I cook it in a microwave?'.

                                  1. Way to go Miri1's mom! Hotel room chicken in a crock pot is quite a feat.

                                    I remember my mom taking those packs of cup-o-soups but as a family, we never did any hotel room cooking. My mom couldn't manage to get a self-cooked meal on the table at home with a full kitchen, there was no way she could have cooked in a hotel room.

                                    While we didn't cook, my family did eat IN hotel rooms quite a bit.

                                    Going to the local markets and stocking up on regional food and treats was part of the fun. I have fond memories of laying in bed, watching TV (we didn't have TV at home so watching in the hotel room was hugely entertaining) and passing pints of Ben & Jerry's back and forth. It wasn't that my dad didn't want to eat in a restaurant (we did a lot of that as well) but sometimes if we were skiing, we just wanted to sit around in our long undies at the end of the day.

                                    Getting back to travelling crock pots - My mom works at a ski resort would tell stories about families arriving in the morning with large electric roasters filled with turkeys, crock pots full of stews and such, catering size trays of sandwiches,etc. They would push tables together and run extension cords to the outlets to power this moving feast, let it cook/sit all day while everyone hit the slopes. She described these groups as multi-generational families with grandmas that would stay behind with the food, reading, knitting, etc.

                                    The resort allowed people to bring there own food but this was taking it too far. Many random guests were confused by the spreads and took to helping themselves like it was a customer appreciate day. It also tied up the tables for other skiers that wanted to eat their lunches and dinners. Naturally, this caused problems.

                                    After renovations, the bring your own eating area is now regulated to the basement where there are no access to electrical outlets. There was an uproar but the policy stands.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: cleobeach

                                      The late, great Sam Fujisaka had some wonderful posts on this topic (and on so many others). He madet hotel room cooking an art, or at least a great pleasure - you can find some references in his posts. I miss seeing - hearing - his comments on so many things...

                                      1. re: janeh

                                        Yep, Sam had it down when came to hotel cookin'.
                                        His foundational protein was poached breast of chicken.
                                        And he also confessed to smooth simple glee
                                        of a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli.

                                      2. re: cleobeach

                                        Cleobeach, the funnies part about my mom's hotel room cooking was that it was so much better than her cooking at home!

                                        I have my own travel-cooking routine now that does not include a crock pot, but I do bring a hot pot and spices and assorted kitchenware. I'm very conscious of cleaning up before, during and after cooking, and I always take my trash and throw it in a dumpster outside of the hotel room so that housekeeping doesn't have to deal with it.

                                      3. when I was traveling quite a bit for a company, I brought along a 1 cup rice cooker and a salton mini steamer (single serving of two eggs or veggies), both of which would pack into a fry daddy. Since a few of our installations were in rural areas where there were no places to eat with our schedule, usually folks ended up in my room. Never had any issues from the hotels.

                                        1. Recently stayed in a ********Suites hotel that had a pretty decent kitchenette. Refrig, microwave, dishwasher, cooking utensils, plates, glasses, stainlessware and a coffeemaker. We didn't make much use of it, but on a longer stay we would have. Amusingly, this was the first place we stayed in that had kitchen facilities since a trip to Florida over 50 years ago where we had a $20 room and paid $5 more for kitchen privileges. It was such a bargain that we stayed a week at that place and did cook our own meals.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: DonShirer

                                            I am in month #4 at a ********Suites in Dallas, and I'm finding a modest groove. I bought additional kitchen ware, and made a large batch of Veracruz shrimp stew this evening. I can't grill a burger, so my pan fried burgers always include either carmelized onions or sauteed mushrooms, and a cheese. My new thing is roast ducks, and my Sunday duck hash is becoming a nice ritual.

                                            It is both limiting and challenging, as it was in Mexico for years.

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Tried rigging up a steamer and steaming packets of fish, etc? Bet that would be good-- and easy.

                                              1. re: DPGood

                                                These extended stay hotel suites have stove w/ oven, full size fridge, microwave, so there is a lot one can do. I brought all of my spices and dried chilies from Florida, not knowing when I'll be back to my home.

                                            2. re: DonShirer

                                              I've never stayed in a place that had both a dishwasher AND oven.

                                              I think I'd prefer the dishwasher. I've learned how to reheat a slice of pizza in a frying pan.