A Kitchen Built For the Road

Build a portable kitchen that's perfect for your campsite or tailgate.

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Preparing meals in a campsite or at a tailgate can be chaotic. Build yourself the perfect portable kitchen and make cooking outdoors more fun and more like home.

Tools and Materials

  • table or circular saw
  • hammer or finish nailer
  • cordless drill with bits and drivers
  • wire cutters
  • (1) 4’x8’x1/4” sheet of plywood
  • (1) 1”x3”x6’ piece of hardwood trim
  • (1) box 1.25" exterior grade screws
  • (1) box finish nails
  • (4) 30" bar clamps
  • (3) 1" galvanized hinges
  • (4) small screw eyes
  • (4) .0625" Cable Swages
  • (1) 6" length of .0625" steel cable
  • (2) screen door handles
  • (2) screen door hook latches
  • (1) quart spar varnish
  • (1) quart stain or paint
  • (2) medium paint brushes

Cut Plywood

Using a circular saw or a table saw, cut all six sides out of your 1/4"x4'x8' sheet of plywood. Use a straight edge to make sure that your cuts are square. This will be important to ensure that all sides align neatly.

Attach Sides to Panels

Attach the two side pieces to the top and bottom panels using wood glue and four 30" bar clamps. Make sure that you've glued your case squarely by measuring corner to corner across the two largest panels on both sides. Make any necessary adjustments before the glue dries, then drive three finish nails into each joint.

Attach Back Panel

Once the wood glue has dried, turn your box on one of its open ends and attach the back panel. Use the same method of glue, clamps and a few nails to make sure that it stays in place.

Construct Inner Shelves

Starting with your largest item on a flat surface, build a small cavity that fits around it with a little extra wiggle room. Use 1x6 pieces to provide the support and provide a place to screw the shelves to the case. Once you've measured and test fit your first cavity, glue and nail it together in the same fashion as the previous steps.

Build Interior Shelves + Compartments

Once you have your first cavity built, you can continue to make shelves and compartments to the width and depth of the opening in your case. It's helpful to test fit your largest items as you decide how to configure your compartments. Use a few 1x3's at the ends of your shelves to give you a strong place to screw everything together. Make sure that nothing sticks out of the front, or it will interfere with the door closing.

Attach Side Cleats

Screw two 1x3's cut to 20.5" to each side of your case using 1.25" screws. These two cleats will provide you with some place to screw your handles and distribute some of the weight across the side of the case.

Apply Finish + Sealant

Apply a stain or a paint of your choice to the entire project. Make sure to coat the inside and outside of the case, the whole shelving unit and the lid. Once your stain/paint application is complete, it's essential to add a sealant to protect your kitchen from the elements. Use a spar urethane sealant, and apply up to three coats for the best results.

Attach Shelving Unit

Once your project has dried, it's time to begin final assembly. Attach the shelving unit to the case using three 1.25" screws on each side and the bottoms. Make sure to drive your screws into the 1x3 supports you put on each side of your shelving unit. This will hold your shelves in place as you move your kitchen from place to place.

Attach Lid

Using three 1" hinges, attach the front lid to the case. Make sure to align your door and your hinges so that it closes tightly and evenly. Start with one screw in the middle of each hinge on both sides, then open and close the lid a few times until you've got it aligned neatly. Once it's in place, drive the rest of the screws into both sides of the hinges.

Attach Screw Eyes

The front door to your camp kitchen needs a strong support to hold things up while you cook. Insert a screw eye inside each wall of the case an inch or two down from the top. Then place a corresponding screw eye in both upper corners of the door.

Add Lid Support

A thin, steel cable is ideal for supporting the lid while it's open. Buy 6 feet of 1/16" steel cable and four cable swages. Pass the cable through the screw eyes, and use the swages to form a loop. Pull the wire tight, so it's supporting the lid, then crimp the swages tight with pliers. You can also use a lightweight aluminum chain and small spring links to connect it to the eyelets.

Attach Handles

Next, attach the handles to the cleats on both sides of the case. You'll want to make sure that the handles are fastened tightly. Once loaded, your camp kitchen is going to be relatively heavy, and you'll want to have a secure place to grip it.

Install Gate Latches

Place a gate latch at each end of your lid to secure it when it's closed. Now, you can attach any other accessories to the inside or the outside, like bottle openers, a folding paper towel holder or even a folding cup holder for the chef.

Load Your Cooking Gear

Organize your kitchen with containers to keep everything you need right at hand. Your new kitchen will sit on a tailgate or fit perfectly in the back of your van for your next adventure. It's an organized place to keep your dry goods, pots and pans, stove and even a bottle of wine to help celebrate your newfound love of the outdoors.

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