Sure, you love cooking in unusual places - for fun grilling recipes that you can try out almost anywhere, I recommend the Campground Cooking e-Book - but as adventurous as you are, you might wonder why you would ever want to cook food on your car engine. I say, why wouldn't you?
It can be a practical solution on long road trips: Now you won't have to eat that crappy fast food. Or it can be something to try just for fun. It's really easy to do. All you need is aluminum foil, a car and some food.
- Decide what you want to cook. You can cook almost anything on your car engine. It works like a slow-cooking microwave, so, depending on how long you'll be driving, you can make most meals work. I wouldn't suggest soup, but other than that, have at it!
I chose a chicken sausage since I knew it was pre-cooked (so I wouldn't kill myself if I messed it up), easy to wrap and wouldn't take long to be ready.
- Wrap your food well. If this is your first time, you may want to stick to foods that aren't very greasy or drippy. May I suggest a potato or some veggies? Hot dogs can be greasy, but they're easy to wrap up tight, so if you're into meat I'd suggest something in sausage-form.
As long as you double or triple wrap your food, you shouldn't have a problem, but pay attention to where the creases in the foil are. You don't want anything dripping onto your car engine or other important wires and connections.
Additionally, you probably don't want anything that might be leaking from your car to get onto your food. Adding marinade is one thing, but soaking your steak in washer fluid probably doesn't taste too good. Since you're placing your food on top of your engine this typically isn't a problem, but just something to consider while you're preparing your cooking surface.
As long as your car has passed its smog (or emissions) test, which it should have to be on the road in the first place, you'll be safe from contaminants like exhaust. Your car is designed to send exhaust out the (you guessed it) exhaust pipe, which sticks out the back of your car.
Unless you start cooking lots of meals this way, there's nothing to worry about in terms of health risks. And while I encourage utilizing this strategy every once in a while, I think it would be just plain weird if you did it all the time.
- Pop your hood and find a good spot. Once your food is wrapped up tight, then wrapped again, then covered one final time just to be safe, you need to figure out where to place your meal. You want your food to be as secure as possible while getting as much heat from the engine as possible. This can be a little tricky because you don't want to interfere with any connections, such as your brake lines. This is more important, obviously, than the heat factor. So find a place away from all the wires and lines.
You'll need to find the warmest area. Start your car for a while (or do this after your next short drive), then turn it off and pop the hood. Without touching the engine, feel around to determine where the most heat is radiating from. It's not necessary to actually touch the engine, but if you do you may want to wet your fingers first and touch it lightly and quickly. If you lay your hand on something hot, like a car engine, you're going to burn it!
- Secure your food. Now that you've found the hottest part of the engine that doesn't have anything potentially hazardous around it, you'll need to secure your wrapped food to the engine so it doesn't slide around. Make sure it's in a snug space.
It can help to use the aluminum foil to secure your food, but remember that it's going to get hot. Don't attach it to anything that might melt from the heat. Most of your wires are insulated, but double check before you decide to cook those along with your sausage.
- Drive. Now it's time to drive. If you've never cooked food on your engine before, you may want to stop after a few miles and check on the position of your food to see if it has shifted. I suggest pulling over on a side street. People are nice and tend to stop and help you if your car hood is up and you're standing there looking at your engine. It might be difficult to explain to friendly passersby that you're really just checking on the progress of dinner.
Each car and engine is different, so it may take a little trial and error to determine how long it takes to properly cook each food item.
Don't forget that freeway driving vs. city driving may also affect how quickly your food will cook. Just because you're stuck in traffic doesn't mean that sausage isn't still heating up, and may even be heating up faster than it would at 65 miles per hour! Check out the most popular book on this subject: Manifold Destiny, for tips on average driving times and how best to approach different dishes. (Manifold means car engine...if you didn't know that, it might help explain things.)
- Check on your food. As I mentioned in step 5, you may want to pull off on a side street to check on your food. Then people won't look at you funny...or at least fewer people will.
You should use the same techniques you usually do to determine whether your food has cooked. Is it warm to the touch? Has it, in the case of my sausage, blistered and expanded? Does it smell yummy? Still not sure....cut into it and check on the color of the center. You know how to tell if something's cooked...
If it's not cooked yet, you have a couple options:
- First, keep driving for a while and check again in a few miles. How long you drive will depend on how long you've already driven to get your food to its current state of "cookedness" and how much more it needs to be cooked.
- Second, you can stop the car and let the food continue to cook on the engine for a while. Once the car stops, the engine will remain hot for some time. For instance, my sausage wasn't quite done when I arrived at my destination (remember I only drove 10 miles), so I left it on the engine for another 20 minutes...perfect!
Hopefully you remembered to bring along any condiments or other edible accoutrements to go along with your meal.
- Enjoy! Now it's time to mustard that dog up and chow that puppy down!
Note: I only had a piece of bread and not a hotdog bun. I think that might go along with cooking your food on a car engine though...I never said I was gourmet!