Monday, June 11, 2018

Car Cooking

I originally had a completely different article in mind for today, but I had a small emergency on the way to work and school: I needed breakfast and I had no time to cook it before I went.

Since my commute is a good hour to hour and a half depending on traffic, I knew it would have plenty of time to cook, so I grabbed some week-old leftover garlic bread and fixings, threw it in a foil package, and away I went. By the time I got to school, it was cooked, and it tasted excellent.

Here's the important part: I cooked it in my car, specifically on the exhaust manifold.

(For those of you who are thinking of The Roadkill Cookbook, and thought it was a joke, you obviously don’t know enough Cajuns and or Rednecks.)

Two methods of cooking food in your car are popular: The “on the go” method of putting foil-wrapped food on your engine manifold, and the “stationary” method of using your car as an oven and baking with it.

Foil on Manifold
The foil wrap method is fairly simple: Take your food, wrap it in heavy-duty non-stick aluminum foil, and place it on your car's engine manifold.

The food should be completely enclosed and not dripping anything from the package (if that happens, it tends to generate a burning smell), and it works best if the food selected still tastes good even if it's a little under- or over-cooked -- it can be very hard to determine the exact cooking time with an engine, and it takes some effort and practice to get it just right.

When you put the package on the manifold, make sure that it will not slide around or catch in any moving parts! I have never had an issue with this, but I've been told that it makes an unreasonable mess. Thankfully, I haven't heard of anyone causing actual damage to their car from having potatoes fall out in the engine compartment.

I have found that food cooked this way works best if it is cut into small pieces, has some kind of oil mixed into it, and is inside a package that can be laid across the manifold, giving the food maximum contact with it. I've also discovered that this method works best with food that isn't frozen when the trip starts, mainly because that generates a lot of liquid and you don't want your package to leave (see above).

For a short trip like to and from work I prefer to cook things that just need heating, whereas road trips are opportunities for better-cooked meals. Some of my personal favorites are sandwiches with melted cheese, hot dogs, baked steak (or cheese steak), and MREs in foil packets.

For those of you who live in a hot climate, you will be familiar with how hot your car gets in the summer -- it basically becomes one big solar oven, which is how this method cooks food. This method does not work well in most climates during the winter. In the summer, however, even in the far northern US, you can bake things in your car.

This method works wonderfully to heat food that does not have to be baked precisely; it is very difficult to set your car to 350 degrees F for exactly 2 hours. In my experience, a cookie sheet with parchment paper on it works best. I leave the product that I am baking on my dashboard and make sure to park facing the sun. Once again, it takes some practice to get this exactly right.

My personal favorite with this method is to bake cookies, but I've also made made soup, cake, and baked potatoes. That last one is difficult, but after a day of hiking in Arizona they were great.

I am sure that with some experimentation you can find out what works for you. There are a lot of very tasty foods that you can cook with these methods, and it is surprising how many foods can be cooked in the field this way,  even in “field expedient conditions”.

Have some fun. Experiment. Don't lick the wires, but you can lick your fingers afterwards. 

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