And it all fits into one big tote bag! 

By Stacey Ballis
July 07, 2021
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You pulled the trigger on that summer vacation rental and are getting ready to pack up your car and your crew and hit the road for a fabulous getaway. You have visions of languorous pajama clad breakfasts and brunches, picnic lunches, afternoon cocktail hours with elegant snacks, and leisurely dinners. You have researched the local farmer's markets and butchers and fishmongers and amazing gourmet shops. 

So, there is nothing quite as disappointing as arriving at your home away from home to discover that the "chef's kitchen" advertised is equipped with one stock pot, a chipped and peeling nonstick skillet that looks like a wolverine attacked it, and drawers full of dull knives and random useless utensils. Many rentals invest in great appliances, but cheap out on small kitchen equipment that can easily disappear. I've been in vacation properties with Wolf stoves and Sub-Zero fridges and cabinets full of gear that I believe must have been sourced at a dollar store.

So, I vowed never to arrive unprepared again, and now you can, too. Because I've come up with (and road tested) the ultimate packing list for any and all vacation rentals… and designed it to fit in one tote bag!

Vacation House
Credit: Getty / Maskot

The ultimate cooking gear packing list (and the tote to put it all in)

After years of frustrations and last-minute searches for gear (and paying too much for it), here is how to build an all-purpose vacation rental kitchen gear tote. 

Yeti Tote
Credit: Courtesy Amazon

Best tote bag: YETI Camino Carryall 35 

For starters, you need a large, heavy-duty tote bag that can easily accommodate your kit, preferably one that is coated inside for easy cleaning. I use the YETI Camino 35-gallon tote, which is large enough for all my gear, but still easy to carry, and can be wiped down inside and out. I especially love the solid flat bottom, which many totes lack, so that it is easy to pack and stays upright. Once I unpack the kitchen gear, it is the perfect tote to take on a picnic or schlep to the beach, or to take to the store for groceries, so it gets a lot of use on vacation beyond just transporting my equipment.

Buy it: YETI Camino Carryall 35 ($149.98), amazon.com 

Step 1: Roll up these 15 kitchen tool essentials

These are the items you'll want to have on hand to make sure you can cook the way you want to (and that are often missing from that vacation rental kitchen drawer). A good way to pack these items is in a chef's roll (also called a knife bag), which is a heavy-duty fabric panel of pockets that hold gear this size and rolls up tightly for transport. First, here's your packing list: 

  • Chef knife
  • Paring knife
  • Serrated/bread knife
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Dough whisk
  • Can opener
  • Wine bottle opener
  • Large silicone spatula
  • Small silicone spatula
  • Cooking spoon
  • Cooking scissors
  • Tongs
  • Hand-held zester/grater
  • Flat whisk
  • Fish spatula
Chefroll
Credit: Courtesy Amazon

Best Chef's Roll: HERSENT Chef's Knife Bag

Sure, you can wrap all this stuff in towels or napkins and shove them into the tote, but the smartest way to carry your tools is the way the pros do: with a knife bag! Here's an inexpensive workhorse made of heavy-duty waxed canvas with 17 pockets, which will keep everything safe coming and going from your rental house. 

Buy it: Chef's Knife Bag with 17 slots ($19.99), amazon.com 

Step 2: Assemble these 12 cookware essentials

Before we pack everything up, collect the following must-haves that are often wanting at a vacation rental house. 

  • Large, thin wooden cutting board (can double as charcuterie serving piece)
  • Large sheet pan/cooling rack
  • Parchment paper
  • Cast iron skillet (great for searing meats and baking and can be used in the oven and on the grill)
  • Nonstick skillet
  • Large metal mixing bowl (can double as serving bowl and even ice bucket!)
  • Colander
  • 2-cup measuring cup
  • Measuring spoon set
  • Mini-chopper appliance
  • Pepper grinder
  • Side towels (can double as oven mitts)

Step 3: Pack up your tote!

Here's a step-by-step guide to getting everything into that one big tote bag, ready to pop in the car! 

1. Place the tote on its side on the counter, so that you can load it easily by stacking things inside each other

2. Begin by sliding in the cutting board and cookie sheet, with a small stack of parchment sheets between the pan and the rack. 

3. Nest the nonstick skillet inside the cast iron skillet, and slide in next. 

4. Put measuring spoon set inside measuring cup and nest in the colander along with mini chopper, pepper grinder, and side towels.

5. Nest loaded-up colander in mixing bowl and slide in on top of skillets. 

6. Tuck an optional immersion blender on one side of the stack, and your packed chef's roll on the other. 

7. Are you a big baker and are going to go wild on this vacation? Slide in a rolling pin. 

8. Spot a little extra space once the tote's upright? Consider tucking in a few cooking essentials like kosher salt, spices you love, good vanilla extract, a few small squeeze bottles of oil and vinegar, and your favorite coffee or tea bags. 

And you're packed! Now you can walk into that new-to-you kitchen knowing you've got all your bases covered for easy, delicious cooking.