Car Cooking: Meals from Under the Hood

Manifold Your Destiny: Guide to Cooking on Your Car Engine book cover

You have probably noticed that when you are on vacation, quite a few dollars go into getting fed. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good restaurant meal as much as the next gal, but sometimes it is nice to do your own “home” cooking while you are on the road. How? By cooking while driving.

Thanks to the genius of Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller and their completely awesome book Manifold your Destiny, your car engine can become your very own “crockpot.” If you want to learn how to make meals on a car engine, read on.

Many of the car engine recipes in the book take significant time to cook.  If you are driving for 8 to 10-hours at a clip, making the whole pot roast may be feasible. However, my drive limit is around four or five hours. If this sounds more your speed, read on for how to cook on your car’s engine without it taking all day.

My best tip for cooking while driving is to prepare the meals in single serve packets. Smaller packets equal a shorter drive time. The drawback here is finding enough spaces on your engine to stash several packets, not just one. However, with a bit of creativity, it can be done. One time in Banff, I managed to find enough nooks and crannies to cook a meal for 10 people.

Cooking on your Car Engine will Make You Infamous

Outside of having a “hood-cooked” meal when you reach your destination, engine block cooking has a couple of other not so obvious benefits. One benefit is getting “coolest traveler ever” points from your friends and family. Another is the entertainment value in seeing the looks on the faces of everyone else in the parking lot. Dislodging aluminum packets from under the hood does tend to draw attention. Finally, this is a good way to meet other people who will have loads of questions as to just what the heck you are doing.


Engine cooking warning sign

In all seriousness though, before you embark on your own engine cooking adventure there are three really important things you must remember.

First:  NEVER, EVER, EVER put your food packet anywhere near a moving part under the hood. This a terrific way to lose your food on the road. More importantly, it will also create an ugly, smelly, and burnt mess. If you are truly unlucky, it will screw up the inner workings of your engine. If you are using a rental, food that is either burnt onto the engine or inside the carborator will be tough to explain upon return. You may also find yourself paying a hefty cleaning and/or repair charge.

Second:  Make sure you are using heavy duty aluminum foil and that you double wrap it. Basically, the cooking method you are using here is called braising. You want the juices to stay inside so your food cooks and does not dry out. Double wrapping is how you keep the juices in. Regular foil rips too easily and is too thin to provide decent insulation.

Third: Poultry and pork must be fully cooked.   Make sure there is a microwave at your destination in case you need to add an extra zap to your cook time.

Engine Cooking Pro Tips

recipe ingredients for cooking engine block fajitas
  • Plan ahead of time when you will be cooking engine meals and the ingredients you will need. Only do this when you will have a long enough drive time. Drive times will be a bit longer in cold weather because it will take the engine longer to heat up.
  • The smaller your packet, the faster the stuff inside it cooks. Also, the thinner your slices or smaller your chunks, the faster it will cook. This is true for both meat and vegetables.
  • Unless you are cooking vegetables that take a while to cook like carrots or potatoes, plan on heating them in your hotel’s microwave.
  •  Keep perishables in your cooler on plenty of ice until you are ready for the drive. 
  • If you need a spice or special sauce, bring it with you. I bring little packets of spices I know I will need. This saves me from buying a full bottle at the destination.
  • I routinely bring a collapsible knife (packed in my luggage, of course). With a knife and duct tape there is nothing you cannot make or fix.
  • I buy the heavy-duty aluminum foil and zip bags when I get to my destination. You will find a million and one uses for both while you are there.
  • If you are visiting friends or family that live a couple of hours away, surprise them with an engine-cooked meal. This makes for a rather fun dinner conversation and will score you points with your host and hostess.

If you don’t want to wait for your next vacation to try this out, just take a scenic drive somewhere and have a picnic. Or take a drive around the DC or Baltimore beltways at evening rush hour. You will have dinner when you get home. Think of it as a free Grubhub delivery. To get you started, I have posted a recipe for Engine Block Fajitas that you can download for free. More recipes for cooking on your car’s engine will be uploaded in the future so be sure to check back. Let me know how it goes.

Want to try this on your next road trip but need help? I can get you all of the logistics.

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By Carolyn

Carolyn is a seasoned traveler who finds amazing things to explore wherever she goes. Carolyn has explored all 50 states in the U.S. and has traveled widely throughout Canada and Europe, including Iceland. For over 15 years, Carolyn has been helping people make the most of their get-a-ways by personalizing their travel adventures. She believes "tailored to you" is the only way to make the most of your next adventure.

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