The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild - Dave Canterbury (2016)

Part IV. Emergency Cooking

Chapter 20. Cooking with Your Engine

“To succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well.”

—Isaac Asimov

If you’re caught in an emergency situation where your typical methods of cooking food aren’t available, you can use one of several different unconventional methods of cooking. The first is to use your car.

The engine compartment of a running vehicle traps a ton of heat, and depending on what and how you are cooking there are a good range of temperatures that can be manipulated by raising and lowering the hood.

Remember that there are all sorts of fumes and possible contaminants under the hood, so anything cooked should be covered with a lid or wrapped in foil if possible. Shallow and wide pots and pans will heat faster than tall and narrow ones for any heat source but for this it will help even more.

The radiator is about 180–190ºF while the car is running as long as the fan is working. The areas closer to the engine block such as the exhaust manifold will be hotter than this, so you have a range of heat levels. The best cooking like this is done either in the can with canned foods or in aluminum foil or foil tins. These are the safest methods and will not ruin a good container or contaminate the food. A small log or rock used as a wedge will let you rest the hood almost closed to keep the heat trapped but will also allow you to observe the goodness as your meal cooks.

You can even place foil-wrapped meals in wire mesh and tie them down so they can be cooked while driving down the trail for a hot lunch at midday. Of course there is no exact science to cooking in an engine and there are many variables, but using precooked foods or heat-and-eat meals will work fairly well in most conditions.

Bushcraft Tip

Anything you have left from the last meal can be wrapped into an aluminum-foil envelope and reheated near the manifold. 

Engine-Cooked Recipes

Canned Surprise

Wanna have some fun camping?

Remove the labels from 5–6 cans of random food from ravioli to beans-and-weenies, then make the kids pick a random can

Place the unidentified can near the manifold to cook about 20 minutes, then serve.

Buick Burritos

Leftover cooked meat (a few ounces per tortilla)

Beans, cheese, salsa, hot sauce (as desired)

Corn tortillas

Wrap cooked meat and fixings into a corn tortilla. Wrap in foil and lay across the radiator lengthwise about 10–15 minutes. Serve.

Baked Stuffed Potatoes

1 medium potato (russet works well for this)

Butter, bacon bits, chopped onion

Cut open the potato lengthwise. Add butter, bacon bits, and chopped onion. Wrap well in foil and place on manifold about 30–40 minutes until a fork will pass in and out easily.

Cherokee Cheese Bread

I use my Jeep for this now and again, hence the name.

Ready-mix garlic cheese biscuit mix

Water (as indicated on the package directions)

Stir water into biscuit mix and pour into a small loaf pan. Cover with heavy foil and bake near the manifold 12–15 minutes or until a fork comes out dry.

Tips and Tricks

·        As with anything, trying it at home before you have to resort to it in an emergency can help you be prepared for whatever happens.

·        Almost any recipe that requires just oven cooking can be cooked on your engine. You will have to adjust cooking times.

·        Always turn off the engine before putting food on the engine or taking it off.

·        Only the metal parts of the engine will get hot enough to cook. You can gauge the relative heat of various parts of your engine by running the motor for a minute, then shutting it off, then quickly touching the various parts.

·        Be sure any food you’re cooking isn’t blocking air flow, a moving part, or otherwise interferes with the proper working of the engine.