Car Food Warmer Options

Here's how to cook, warm, or heat food in your car

Fast food may be the quickest and most convenient way to eat when on the road, but it usually isn't the cheapest or healthiest. If you spend a lot of time in your vehicle, whether you're a long haul trucker or a fan of road trips, then a car food warmer may be the best way to maintain a healthy, frugal diet.

What Kinds of Car Food Warmers Are out There?

There are three main types of car food warmers: microwaves, combination warmer/coolers, and dedicated cookers that use some type of heating element. The one feature most of these devices have in common is that they run off 12v power. You can usually plug them into your car's cigarette lighter without popping a fuse.

In other cases, you may need to use an accessory socket or install an accessory circuit with its own fuse. The main outliers are car microwaves, which are scaled-down microwaves intended for use in recreational vehicles (RVs) and boats. These small microwaves are great if you need to heat up some pre-cooked meals, but they require a whole lot more power than regular food warmers.

If you want to cook raw food, you may need to install a car power inverter with its own dedicated circuit and fuse.

Car Food Warmers and Cookers

12v RoadPro slow cooker
A slow cooker that runs on 12v is one of the most foolproof ways to safely cook or warm your food on the road. RoadPro 

Car food warmers and cookers can be slow to heat up. This makes them well suited for anyone who spends a lot of time on the road, but there are several different types worth considering.

One of the best ways to heat or cook food on the road is with a slow cooker or Crock-Pot. Relying on the principle of "low and slow," a slow cooker that's compatible with your vehicle's electronic system is a great way to cook a meal on the road if you have plenty of time to spare.

If you want to heat up food on shorter trips, then you may want to look for a dual power AC/DC unit that runs on either 12V DC or 120V AC. That will allow you to get your lunch started on your commute, then plug it into the wall at work and have it ready for lunch. Of course, you can always wire in a car power inverter and use a travel-sized food warmer that runs on 120v AC.

Electric Lunch Boxes and Combination Car Food Warmer/Coolers

Portable food warmer
Portable food warmers, like the RoadPro 12v Portable Stove, can heat, warm, or cook your food. RoadPro 

Electric lunch boxes are great if you have a hot meal that you want to keep warm. These units aren't capable of cooking a meal, nor are they suited for reheating food that has gone cold, but they can keep a hot meal hot until you're ready for it.

A few units are capable of reheating leftovers, so make sure to check the specifications if that's what you're looking for. Combination units are similar to electric lunch boxes but provide a lot more utility. The actual warming and cooking part of the equation remains the same, so you won't be able to cook breakfast on the way to work. However, these units can double as coolers to keep beverages icy cold.

Car Microwaves

The best type of car food warmer for people with short commutes is a car microwave. Unlike traditional car food warmers, car microwaves can heat up or cook food very quickly. But they require a lot of energy.

Given the amperage requirements, you may have to wire the microwave into the fuse panel or directly to the battery with an in-line fuse. Running a power-hungry device like this with the engine off is a great way to drain or deplete your battery.

Finding the Best Car Food Warmer

There are a few use cases that suit certain situations. A traditional warmer is a good choice if you’re on the road for long periods of time, but a microwave can get the job done faster.

You don’t have to look exclusively at devices marketed as car food warmers. Although there are a lot of devices in that category, there are a lot more cookers, warmers, and other food prep gadgets designed for the RV market. And since most of those devices run on 12V DC power, they can likely work in your car as well.

Just make sure your alternator and battery are up to the task. For example, some car food warmers and microwaves with especially high amperage requirements may call for a high output alternator.