Preparedness blog

How to Cook on Your Car Engine

By Jeff and Amy Davis
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Winter storms have hit across the United States and you should be prepared. What would you do if you were stranded and needed to cook food?

You can use your car to cook delicious meals, keeping you and your family warm, safe and upbeat if you’re stranded in the snow storm. Here’s how you do it:

1. Spread multiple sheets of heavy-duty tin foil on top of each other. You’ll want to create a sheet with multiple layers so that no juices or food escape the bag during heating. It’s better to have too much tin foil rather than too little.

2. Spray the tin foil with butter or a non-stick spray. (Optional in emergencies)

- Read about 10 Awesome Uses for Tin Foil - 

3. Add a single serving of a meal of your choice to the center of the tin foil sheet. You can add a slice of meat along with some vegetables and seasoning. We’ve included some sample recipes below.

4. Do not use dishes that are overly juicy. If the juices escape, they can cause drastic damage to your engine.

5. With the serving of food in the middle of the tin foil sheets, fold the right half of the tin foil to the middle of the dish and press the tin foil together. Then fold the left side to the middle and secure. Pull the top and bottom over the top of the dish.

6. The serving of food shouldn’t take up the whole space of the tin foil when it’s folded. Begin to fold sections of the tin foil up and press down. Continue this process until the package is as small as possible.

7. Make sure the engine is off and open the hood of your car.

8. After the car has been running for a few minutes, hover your hand over different parts of the engine to determine which is the hottest part of the engine. Very hot parts of the engine are great for thick meats while warm parts are good for vegetables or fish. If you’ll be driving with the dish secured, you’ll want a cooler section so the food doesn’t burn.

-Read about how to winterize your home -

9. Now that you’ve figured out where you want to place your food, make a simple tin foil cone with extra tin foil. Place the cone in that section and close the hood. Open the hood and see if the hood smashed down the cone at all. This will give you a gauge on how tall your meal can be. If the hood didn’t smash the cone, you can cook it in that location.

10. If you’re going to be driving around with the food cooking on your engine, you’ll need to secure the food using wiring.

Note: Just a few things to consider when choosing a location for your dish. Don’t block any airflow in the car while cooking and don’t block any moving parts of the engine. Especially the accelerator linkage (the part that connects the gas pedal to the carburetor or fuel-injector system). If you mess that up you won’t be starting or stopping your car for a long time.

11. Cook the food by allowing the engine to run.
Different meats will need different time to cook. Here’s some ideas to help you know how long to cook the dishes:
• Shrimp - 1/2 hour
• Salmon - 45-55 minutes
• Boneless Chicken - 1 hour
• Pork Tenderloin - 4-6 hours

If you’re driving, plan on driving a few miles at an average of 65 mph. Here are some ideas on how far you’ll have to drive to cook those dishes:
• Shrimp - 35 miles
• Salmon - 40 miles
• Boneless Chicken - 60 miles
• Pork Tenderloin - 200-300 miles

12. Turn off the engine and open the hood to the car.

13. Remove the dish with tongs or another tool so you don’t burn your hands.

14. Open up the tin foil carefully and enjoy!

Car Engine Recipes

These recipes are from Manifold Destiny: The One! The Only! Guide to Cooking on Your Car Engine! While they may not be able to be used in an emergency (due to supplies), they still would give you practice if you ever needed to use this skill in an emergency.

Good & Simple Cajun Shrimp/Crayfish - Cooking distance: 35 miles
I love shrimp, and this is a quick journey. For most, it's an average morning's commute. What a way to start the day.

• 1 pound large shrimp or crayfish tails, in shells.
• 6 small green hot peppers
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 medium onion, finely chopped
• Butter or spread
• Salt & pepper

Remove seeds from peppers and mince with the onion and garlic. Butter your foil, add the shrimp and cover with your spicy mixture. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper, then triple-wrap and place in a medium-heat part of the engine. Delicious, seasoned, spicy shrimp or crayfish await.

Any-City Chicken Wings (sweet) - Cooking distance: 140-200 miles
Is there a better snack food than buffalo chicken wings? I can't think of one. Feel free to swap out ingredients according to how hot/spicy/tangy you like your wings.

• 18 chicken wings
• 1/2 cup ketchup
• 1 cup red wine vinegar
• 1-2 tsp red pepper flakes
• 4-6 minced jalapenos
• 3 cloves garlic
• 1 tbsp oregano
• Pinch of salt

Blend together all of the ingredients (except wings) and pour over chicken wings. Cover tightly in the fridge for at least 24 hours. Drain wings (save the marinade) and divide into three foil packages. Brush with marinade, then triple-wrap each package tightly and place on medium-hot part of the engine. I like my chicken well done so I do the 200 miles, or around 3 1/2 hours.

- Read more about what to include in an auto emergency kit -

Feedback Time
Have you ever cooked on your engine? How did it go? Were you able to do so in an emergency? Comment below and share your knowledge.

9 years ago
9 years ago at 5:55 AM
I have heated canned goods on the engine for years. Take caution with Chiken Noodle soup. After about twenty minutes, the can was not hot but warm enough to eat, I placed the can on the dashboard and opened with a Swiss Army Knife. The instant that I punctured through the can, I was showered with Noodles and Soup. I was amazed that noodles could fit through such a tiny hole. As I said, it wasn't hot, just warm. When I sold the car 2 years later, there was stil noodles in the daswh vents.
9 years ago at 10:17 AM
Hmmm, interesting. You're stranded in a snow-storm, cooking your food in an emergency situation, yet you're supposed to be driving "a few miles" at 65 mph. Yup - I'm sure you're gonna be doing that - stranded in a snow storm. I do sincerely hope you aren't on the same narrow road I'm on!!!!!! Laughing at the noodles!
9 years ago at 10:32 AM
Been doing this for years.I was showed how by my grandfather. The foil is a good idea as is the can we always cared a can opener as well as the milatary mill canesters that locked together with the fold over handle. A OVEN MIT OR TO IS ALSO HANDY.
9 years ago at 4:13 PM
I used to cook cans of C-rations on the heating tubes in my VW van. It worked very well, but, as noted above, you have to be careful when opening the cans.
9 years ago at 9:23 PM
I have used this trick many times while on the road for my job. There is also a 1989 cookbook called "Manifold Destiny" (ISBN 0679723374) written by Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller dealing with the subject of cooking on the surface of a car engine. Updateded in 2008(ISBN 1416596232).
8 years ago at 6:05 AM
When this first became popular MANY years ago I remember hearing about people who had their cars catch on fire from misplaced or leaking foil packages. I have not seen any cautions about that. Pretty expensive & dangerous mistake. Not sure about toxin contamination either. Please use & encourage caution !
8 years ago at 10:17 AM
Ask any pre 1970's heavy equipment operator or truck driver from our northern states and they'll all likely tell you about cooking under the hood. And, yes, if you're going to do it, be careful when opening cans and be cautious about what may drip or leak out of the tin foil you're using. Safe Prepping!
8 years ago at 9:20 AM
you say be careful when opening cans... just exactly what to you do to prevent one from blowing food out? How do you "be careful"?
8 years ago at 5:33 AM
perhaps make a small puncture in the can BEFORE heating so pressure doesn't build up?
8 years ago at 6:25 AM
Ummmm, Motor Doggies...I tried this once with chicken while driving from Florida to Maryland. Swore I smelled that delicious chicken cooking all the way there. When I stopped at a motel, I opened the package. It looked fantastic. When I forked it with my plastic fork, the fork broke. It was raw! I was so hungry I started sobbing, lol. So I had to throw it out and go get some nasty Chinese takeout.
8 years ago at 3:46 PM
Try a can of Pork and Beans. Good hot and not bad cold! Great price, with high satiety and good fiber!
7 years ago at 1:56 AM
I worked on diesel locomotives and we would find food placed on the water pumps by the train crews all the time.
7 years ago at 4:20 AM
This is a great way to heat up your food. safety must be first. I use to have my wife make up burrito"s and used smoked meat off the smoker from the weekend. Really was good. Always think about it when going by a BBQ. place. just make sure to spray so that burrito doesn't stick.
Mike C
7 years ago at 1:50 PM
Good advice is to puncture the can first if not you could have the can blow up, especially a pop top can, speaking from experience.
okey brewer
6 years ago at 7:52 PM
well I haft to agree with the other guy... if you're stranded in a snow storm you won't be driving anywhere if you were to you wouldn't be stranded ...and who carries there kitchen in there car with the seasoning and the foil and the cooking spray or oil and tongs heck you're caught out stranded...I have traveled and heated food but I wouldn't try cooking meat on it much ...and as far as damaging your engine unless you catch it a fire and burn your wires a little grease won't destroy your engine ...sorry doesn't work for me ... I would hate to try surviving that way but you go ahead you might make it
6 years ago at 10:14 AM
you need to poke a hole in the can before you heat it and you won.t have to worry about when you open and the pressure come's out cause there won't be any I've cooked on my motor to and still do on occ.
4 years ago at 1:34 PM
Ah yes. It works. I used to do that on my trips from East Central Indiana to the Evansville area ---a trip of 4-5 hours. Seasoned chicken breast and potatoes cooked nicely in that length of time. Oh yes, I did get the idea from reading MANIFOLD DESTINY.
7 months ago at 12:59 PM
If you are stuck in the snow for a significant period of time, you will probably be running your engine occasionally to keep the interior of the car at least livable. While you are running your engine you can cook on the motor. Even if the food isn't hot, warm is better than cold. A tip from USMC cold weather training: At mealtime, select what you are going to eat at your next meal and put it inside your clothing between your shirt and your undershirt. It will give you a head start when you are trying to heat food in subzero weather. It takes several hours to bring a frozen can of C-rats up to body temp. I know that from first hand experience. Keep your canteen inside your clothing too.