The simple answer is “yes”, you can cook food outdoors at a rest area in most states. The only exception is Tennessee, which specifically bans grilling and open flames at its rest areas. In addition, there are other states that do allow outdoor cooking at rest areas, but with some limitations. These limitations are focused on using your own cooking equipment, or using the State’s.
Can You Cook Food Outdoors at a Rest Area?
Cooking food outside of your vehicle is allowed at any rest area in any state, with only Tennessee making severe limitations. Some states have lighter limitations focusing on what kind of fire you can start. These limitations mostly require you to contain your fire to a gas grill or barbecue grill. But some states will require you to cook only with the equipment provided by the rest area.
States With No Limitations on Outdoor Cooking at Rest Areas
(Click on each state to read the full set of rest area laws and rules, if any)
1 California specifically states in regulation that “use of gas-fueled stoves, barbecues, or other portable cook tops is permitted. See 21 CCR § 2205
States With Some Limitations on Outdoor Cooking at Rest Areas
(Click on each state to read the full set of rest area laws and rules, if any)
- Florida – Florida Department of Transportation (under regulation 14-28.002) states the following… “(11) Fires are prohibited, except for facilities where grills are present and provided for this purpose. A person using a grill at locations where grills are present will be responsible for completely extinguishing the grill before leaving the area.”
- Idaho – Idaho Department of Transportation (under regulation IDAPA 39.03.50) states the following… “The following acts are prohibited: (12-26-90) Fires. Building fires outside the confines of a stove, grill or fireplace. (3-6-14)“
- Illinois – Illinois Department of Transportation (under regulation Section 533.40) states the following, “c) Wood and charcoal fires are prohibited in rest areas.“
- Iowa – Iowa Department of Transportation has posted signs in each of its rest areas with a list of rules, including the following, “Fires are permitted in grills only and must be put out after use.“
- Maryland – Maryland Department of Transportation (under Subtitle 04, Chapter 07) states the following, “05 Fires.. Fires are permitted only in designated areas and containers. The visitor shall extinguish all fires before leaving. Brush and forest fires must be prevented. Visitors shall extinguish totally all cigars, cigarettes, and matches.
- Missouri – Missouri Department of Transportation has posted signs in each of its rest areas with a list of rules, including the following, “No camping – no open fires“.
- Nebraska – Nebraska Department of Transportation has issued a “guidance document” with several rest area bullet points including the following, “4. Fires are permitted only in grills and must be extinguished after use.“
- Nevada – Nevada Department of Transportation (under regulation NAC 408.605) states the following, “No fire is permitted in a roadside park or safety rest area outside fireplaces or grills in designated areas. Fires must be extinguished after use.“
- New York – New York Department of Transportation (under regulation 17 CRR-NY IV C 156) states the following, “(a) No person shall kindle, build, maintain or use a fire in any rest or parking area or scenic overlook, except in fireplaces provided at the site, in portable fireplaces or charcoal braziers, or in stoves.“
- Ohio – Ohio Department of Transportation (under regulation Chapter 5501:2-4) states the following, “(I) Fires are permitted only in designated areas and containers, and must be extinguished after use.“
- Oregon – Oregon Department of Transportation (under regulation 734-030-0010) states the following, “To preserve state property and increase health and safety in Rest Areas, the following activities are prohibited by Visitors to a Rest Area: (1) Lighting a fire of any kind, other than propane or gas fueled camp stoves and grills.“
- Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (under regulation Title 67, Chapter 443) states the following, “The following specified activities or actions are prohibited in roadside rest areas: (5) Igniting or maintaining fires for heating or cooking equipment, except in areas or facilities designed for the purpose.“
- Tennessee – Tennessee Department of Transportation has published rules on its website for its rest areas, including the following, “No grilling or open flames allowed at any location.“
- Vermont – Vermont Department of Transportation (under regulation 14 053 004) states the following, “The igniting of fires for any purpose whatsoever is prohibited on limited access highways, except in fireplaces or pits in designated rest areas and for highway maintenance purposes.“
- Virginia – Virginia Department of Transportation (under regulation 24VAC30-50-10) states the following, “O. No person shall light, kindle or use any fire within this area, except at fireplaces designed and built for such purposes and the person or persons building a fire therein will be responsible for having it completely extinguished before leaving it.“
- Washington – Washington Department of Transportation (under regulation WAC 468-32-010) states the following, “(4) Open fires are prohibited;“
What Are “Open Fires?”
Most states don’t define the term, “open fire” from a legal perspective. However, it is generally assumed to mean any kind of fire not limited to the confines of a container, or limited to a device that can shut off the flow of fuel.
All states will allow rest area visitors to start fires, as long as the fire is confined to a container such that it cannot grow out of control. Gas grills generally meet this condition because they have a means to shut off the flow of gas, although Tennessee additionally bans grilling.
What About Tennessee?
Tennessee is unusual because it has the most strict language with respect to cooking outdoors at a rest area. It specifically bans, “grilling”, as well as “open fires”. Even though they do not ban other forms of cooking, it would be difficult to cook without a flame of some kind.
The State of Tennessee does not define “grilling”. We are not sure if this also includes a frying pan sitting on a propane cook top, or a kerosene burner heating up a pot of soup. Based on our experiences of using Tennessee rest areas, we believe that they allow propane cook tops because of the ability to shut off the flame through the control of fuel. We think they are mostly concerned about wood fires and charcoal fires getting out of control.
Additionally, effective July 1, 2022, all cooking is banned in public places with the exception of public places that have been approved for cooking. This is in accordance to the Equal Access to Public Places Act of 2012 (read more about that here). The Act includes “cooking” in the definition of camping, and the Act specifically bans on camping in public places.
Don’t Cook While Obstructing the Flow of Traffic
If you choose to cook outdoors while at a rest area, make sure to do so well away from the flow of traffic. This would be on a grassy area, a picnic table, a gazebo, etc. Don’t set up your cooking equipment in the middle of foot traffic or vehicle traffic. This also includes setting up your grill next to your RV in a parking space.
Read More About Using Rest Areas
- Which States Allow Overnight Parking at Rest Areas?
- Are RVs Required to Use Truck Parking at Rest Areas?
- Can You Run a Generator at a Rest Area?
More About Overnighting at Rest Areas & Truck Stops
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