Cooking up car engine cuisine

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With summer picnic season hot on our bumper, let me share one of my all-time favorite road-trip recipes.

Town Car bratwurst
  • 4 smoked bratwurst
  • 1 can of German sauerkraut
  • 1 clove of Simonetti garlic, diced
  • 1 can of Lone Star beer
  • 1 Lincoln Town Car

Combine food ingredients in pan. Triple wrap with foil. Wedge pan securely atop the Lincoln Town Car exhaust manifold. Close hood. Drive. Cooking time: 40 to 50 miles.

Don’t have all the ingredients handy? No problemo. It’s perfectly OK to substitute Burgundy garlic for the Simonetti. Or Pabst Blue Ribbon for the Lone Star.

Old timers — and if you own a Town Car, you’re smelling what I’m cooking — may have stumbled upon freeway cuisine the same way I did, through an ingenious little chapbook titled “Manifold Destiny: The One! The Only! Guide to Cooking On Your Car Engine!”

The year was 1989. George H.W. Bush was president, Paula Abdul (yes, that Paula Abdul) and Bobby Brown (yes, that Bobby Brown) ruled the pop charts, and Batman made his big-screen debut. (Pop quiz: Which actor starred as the Caped Crusader? Answer at the end of this column.)

Pedal to the metal and veal draping the valve covers, photographer Chris Maynard and journalist Bill Scheller control-skidded into that acid-washed era of excess with an urgent message from the future, which, if reduced down like a fine “demi-glace,” amounted to “waste not, want not.”

Recession recipes

Like all true epiphanies, theirs occurred in the strangest of places: Schwartz’s, a deli in Montreal. This dynamic duo had purchased a pound of Schwartz’s famed brisket to sustain them during their drive back to Boston. Because cold brisket pales in comparison to piping hot, they wrapped their meat trucker-style in tin foil, and a hobby — nay, an obsession — was born.

“Want to really help the planet? Take a triple-wrapped packet of Buffalo wings to work with you and cook them on your exhaust manifold.”

Soon they were steaming shrimp scampi (55 miles), parboiling partridges (140 to 200 miles), poaching perch (40 miles) and slamming down s’mores (40 miles), all prepared “under the bonnet,” with distance rather than clock time being the measure of “done-ness.”

Twenty years down the road, “Manifold Destiny” is back, freshly overhauled, updated and goofier than ever (“Quail a la Veep,” for example, requires the assistance of a certain ex-vice president).

As the current recession reaches full boil, the book has never been timelier:

  • Fuel prices continue their Everest-like ascent. Whether you heat your wok with electric or natural gas, it’s all money going up in smoke.
  • Rising unemployment means longer hours for the working, leaving less time to prepare the evening meal.
  • Rush-hour traffic is a mess almost everywhere, further shortening the dinner window.
  • Your sport utility vehicle’s engine block, which heats hotter than the highest setting on your oven, is a veritable serving table waiting to happen.

Then there’s our carbon footprint to consider. Want to really help the planet? Take a triple-wrapped packet of Buffalo wings to work with you and cook them on your exhaust manifold during that infernal commute home. Feel free to give a wink to those Prius drivers as they catch a whiff.

Step to the plate, Detroit

Granted, manifold cuisine is unlikely to catch on despite its “green” cache for the simple fact that the half of the world that spends the most time in the kitchen finds the whole concept repulsive to the point of gagging.

Which is where Detroit needs to step up to the plate. Literally.

Since the beleaguered automakers are desperately redesigning American cars for greater fuel efficiency anyway, now is the perfect time to expand and enhance the cooking capacity of the internal combustion engine.

I’m thinking a nice flat manifold-mounted George Foreman minigrill, a couple of cast-iron baked potato holders and a bun warmer as standard, with options to include a self-basting chicken rotisserie, crab cake oven and melted butter dispenser.

Sure, it might require an engine compartment the size of the Batmobile. But trust me, Michael Keaton would be all over it.