Car Food Warmer Options

Car Food Cookers, Coolers, and Microwaves

car food warmer options
Some car food warmers are designed to keep food or beverages warm, while others can actually cook meals on the road. Shestock / Blend Images / Getty

Question: What kind of car food warmer should I get?

I’ve been thinking about getting some kind of car food warmer or cooker, but I’m not sure what all the options are and which one is best. Is one kind of car food warmer better than the others, and what kind do you think I should get?


There are three main types of car food warmers: microwaves, combination warmer/coolers, and dedicated car food warmer/cookers. Each category has its own strengths and weaknesses, so the best one for you will depend on exactly how you want to use it. Car microwaves are great if you want to heat stuff up on short trips, but regular car food warmers don’t require as much wattage. Of course, you can also use a lot of compact home kitchen equipment on the road if you wire a car power inverter to your battery.

Car Food Warmers and Cookers

Each type of car food warmer tends to skew toward a specific type of usage. Since traditional car food warmers and cookers tend to take a while to get the job done, they’re particularly well suited to anyone who spends a lot of time on the road. Whether you’re an OTR trucker or just planning a long road trip, a traditional car food warmer is a great way to make sure that you have a hot meal waiting when it’s time to eat.

One of the best ways to heat or cook food on the road, if you have a while for the job to get done right, is a crock pot type cooker. Since many great crock pots recipes rely on the principle of "low and slow," a crock pot that's either designed to run on 12V DC, or one that's capable of running on your inverter, can be a great way to have a hot meal ready and waiting when you get where you're going or it's time for a break.

If you want to heat up food on shorter trips, then most car food warmers won’t do the trick. In that case, 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 just wire in a car power inverter and use a travel-sized food warmer that only runs on 120v AC.

Electric Lunch Boxes and Combination Car Food Warmer/Coolers

Electric lunch boxes are great if you have a hot meal that you want to keep warm. While these units aren't actually capable of cooking a meal, and they usually can't re-heat cold leftovers either, they are well suited to keeping a hot meal hot until you're ready for it.

Combination units are similar to electric lunch boxes, but they provide a lot more utility. The actual warming/cooking part of the equation remains the same, so you shouldn’t expect to cook breakfast on the way to work. However, these units can also double as coolers to keep beverages and other items icy cold during the summer.

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 fast. Of course, they also take a lot of juice. You’ll typically have to wire a microwave into the fuse panel or directly to the battery (with an in-line fuse) due to the amperage requirements, and running a device like this with the engine off is a great way to drain your battery to the point where you car won’t start back up.

Finding the Best Car Food Warmer

The most important thing to remember when you’re looking for a car food warmer is that no single device is the “best” for every single circumstance. 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 in a short amount of time.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to look exclusively at devices marketed as “car food warmers.” Although there are a lot of devices in that category, far more cookers, warmers, and other devices are manufactured for the RV market. And since all of those devices run on 12V DC, they’re perfectly suited for use in your car. Just make sure your alternator and battery are up to the task (some car food warmers and microwaves with especially high power requirements may call for a high output alternator), and you’re good to go.