One of the most difficult aspects of becoming an over-the-road truck driver is getting accustomed to the lifestyle. Being successful as a driver is just as much or more about learning how to live than it is about shifting gears and backing into a dock. A person can make a great living as a driver, but not if you spend all your earnings on food. It is very easy to do. Truck stop food isn't cheap, and let's face it - it generally isn't worth what you're paying for it. Gone are the days of the roadside 'greasy spoon' where you could load up on country-fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy for less than $10. You either get a full service restaurant that comes with a $15-20 bill, or junk food from fast food in the Pilots and Love's.
I own my truck, and I understand that it is a little easier for me than it is for a company driver that isn't allowed to modify the interior or even have an inverter. I'll do my best to try to add tips for company drivers as well, but I have to speak on my experience. You'll just have to take the examples I provide and be creative.
Here is a list of all the necessary things I've amassed over the years that helps me stay out of the truck stops and allows me to send more money home.
First and foremost - an Inverter, Mine is 1500 watts. It is a Power Drive that I got from Pilot. It's the second Power Drive I've owned and they have been reliable so far. I plan on upgrading to a 2500 watt, but first my alternator is going to need some help.
I used a 40 qt Coleman Power Chill thermoelectric cooler for years. It does an OK job, but just isn't practical for heavy duty cooking. The last two I've owned had to be hard-wired to the truck because the cigarette lighter plug would always melt and stop working. The last time my cooler died, I was looking at $100 for a new one. I stumbled across a 4. cu. ft. Frigidaire refrigerator at Lowe's one day. It was only $40 more than a new cooler and so in the truck it went. I removed a cabinet behind the driver's seat and placed the fridge there .(I drive a 2007 Century Class Freightliner 70" Condo with double bunk.) It fit perfectly. I needed to make sure the fridge was secure and that it didn't fall over when cornering. I cut two 6-inch pieces of 1" motorcycle strap. I made a slit in the end, put it over the stud that held the former cabinet, and the used the nut that held the cabinet to tighten it down. I then took two 1/4" self-tapping screws and secured the strap to each side of the fridge. I also bought a lock hasp to put on the front door to keep it from opening while I was moving. Both fixes work perfectly. I was also surprised to find that the refrigerator uses LESS power than did the thermoelectric cooler. It's much quieter, has a LOT more room, and maintains a much more even temperature.
I have four electric appliances I use for cooking - an electric skillet, a toaster oven, a microwave (that I rarely use anymore) and a single-burner hotplate. I also have two Burton ovens, the kind you can buy at Pilot or loves for about $20. They are excellent for cooking. If you pour some water in the bottom, about 1 cup, it creates steam and will cook very evenly and quickly. You can make a sweet or baked potato in about 1 hour. It's hard to do that in my oven at home!
I bought two microwavable plates and four bowls from Walmart. They are shatter-proof and easy to clean. I also use paper plates and bowls. I have nearly all the cooking utensils you would see in your home kitchen - ladles, egg turner, spatula, whisk, electric mixer, meat tongs, knives, and silverware.
I also bought a dishpan to use as a sink to wash the dirty dishes. I bought a 7 gallon water tank from the camping section at Walmart to keep filled with water for dishes. I do NOT use this water for cooking. I don't trust that it's always potable, so I stick with bottled water for cooking.
The first tip I'll start with is to start SLOW!! Don't get in a big hurry, especially if you're an inexperienced cook. Start with a cooler or a fridge, if you can have an inverter. Go to Pilot or Love's and get a Burton oven. You can get a 5 pack of bread pans at Walmart for about $3.00. Get some spices - salt, pepper, garlic powder, italian seasoning, etc. Try seasoning and cooking a chicken breast and a baked potato. (It's best to have two Burton ovens on hand, one for each piece. Season the breast and wrap it in foil. Poke holes in the potato and wrap it in foil as well. Place each one in an aluminum pan and add about a cup of water to the bottom of the oven (NOT in the pan). The potato will take about an hour and the breast about 30 minutes or so. MAKE SURE TO HAVE SOME CLOROX WIPES or disinfecting cleaner on hand when dealing with chicken! Salmonella isn't something you want to be sharing the cab of your truck with. Check to make sure the breast is done by cutting into it make sure the juice runs clear and there is no pink left inside. Use a cloth or paper towel to squeeze the potato to make sure it's done. (Don't squeeze it with your bare hands. It's been in a 350 degree oven and will hurt. Can you tell I have experience with this?)
That meal would cost about $5 and it will taste a lot better than what you'll get in the truck stops.
I'll continue to share recipes and tips along the way. The sky is the limit once you've made the initial investment. I've even had Filet Mignon in the truck!
Send me comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep the shiny side up and the greasy side down.