Is Meat the Only Thing You Can Cook With Your Car’s Engine?

When it comes to the comforts of home, cars usually fall behind RVs and dedicated campers. After all, you can’t really put a bathroom in a normal car. And at first glance, if you need to do some cooking, an RV seems like the better choice. However, with a bit of work, it’s possible to cook something like a turkey using a car engine. But is meat your only option when it comes to car engine cooking?

What kinds of foods can you cook with your car’s engine?

A tailgater cooks sausages on a grill by a car
A tailgater cooks sausages on a grill by a car | Chris McGrath/Getty Images

At its core, cooking any food—meat, veggies, bread, etc.—is about the measured application of heat. Since every ICE car’s engine produces heat, it’s natural to assume you can use it to cook something.

Indeed, the simplest way of doing so is basically wrapping whatever you have in aluminum foil and firmly wedging it by the exhaust manifold, Autoblog reports. Though any part of the engine that’s hot enough for you to recoil away is hot enough for cooking, the Washington Pilot reports. Just drive around until the food’s fully-cooked, and enjoy. And while modern cars have plastic engine covers and turbochargers, it’s still possible to use their engines for cooking, Autoweek reports. Though be sure not to block off any airflow.

However, as for what you can cook, your options are a bit limited. Basically, it’s whatever you can keep securely wrapped in the foil, Complex Rides reports. So, no soups, stews, or freshly-baked bread. But that doesn’t discount things like potatoes, hot dogs, green beans, or even seafood, TheReadyStore and Outside report. Theoretically, it’s possible to cook some more exotic things with your engine, but it requires a fair bit of modification, Hagerty reports.

Is the food cooked on a car engine safe to eat?

Naturally, the idea of cooking with your car’s engine may raise some health concerns. After all, gasoline and diesel combustion create by-products like CO2, NOx, SOx, soot, and other such emissions. So, doesn’t that mean you should throw out that salmon you just snagged from the engine bay? Not necessarily, WP reports.

True, if your food is under-cooked, it’s not safe to eat, same as at home or in a restaurant. Also, you should avoid cooking cans with your car’s engine at all costs, YourMechanic reports. The cans have plastic liners which can melt in the ambient heat. And if your car has an exhaust leak, a broken head gasket, or a similar mechanical issue, don’t use the engine as an ersatz oven.

However, in a mechanically-sound engine, those waste products and gases vent through the exhaust and into the catalytic converter. As long as you securely wrap your food and don’t under-cook it, it’s safe to eat, WP reports.

The alternative approach

Of course, if you’re not comfortable cooking with your car’s engine, some models offer an alternative approach.

Rivian, for example, is developing a camp kitchen for the R1T that slides out of the electric truck’s “gear tunnel,” Autoblog reports. It features an induction stovetop that runs off the pickup’s battery pack. Though as of this writing, the slide-out kitchen hasn’t been released.

Land Rover LR4 with Egoé Nestbox Supertramp
Land Rover LR4 with Egoé Nestbox Supertramp | Egoé

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There’s also the option of installing a #vanlife-style kit in your car from a company like Egoé. While some of these kits are meant for vans, others are designed to fit wagons, smaller SUVs, and crossovers. Or, if you have a pickup truck, you can get a bed camper from a company like Scout, which has an actual cooktop.

But rest assured, meat isn’t the only thing your car’s engine is capable of cooking.

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