TRAVEL: A Spring Break road trip offers new opportunity for cooking

Strapped securely to the engine of her car was a picnic lunch for a reporter exploring the Hill Country during Spring Break. (Photo by Kate Ludlow)

By KATE LUDLOW

Here’s a secret that truckers and motorcycle enthusiasts have known for years. It’s entirely possible to cook a full meal using the heat from the engine in your car. Stories have been told about folks who cook a package of hot dogs on their way to family reunions or heat up shrimp while taking the family to a tourist attraction. So, when Spring Break came, and I wasn’t able to take what some might call an actual vacation, I decided to try my hand at it.

That’s how I found myself buying kabobs, wrapping them in foil, and strapping them to the engine of my car, allowing the heat from the engine to cook the food. Not bad for a nice Spring Break day.

Food prep was a breeze. The kabobs came pre-assembled and perfectly seasoned from Parker’s Corner Market. I added asparagus and yellow bell peppers to the mix, which were sliced, and then sprinkled with olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper. We took the kabobs and vegetables, and assembled foil packets for them, wrapping them in multiple layers to keep it safe.

To be scientific, we used a digital infrared thermometer to figure out which parts of the engine emitted the most heat. My car has a reputation for being energy-efficient, so it tends to run cool. We located three spots which were warm, and wouldn’t interfere with the engine’s operation. We secured the foil packets with a bit of baling wire, loaded our dog, Bill Murray, into the car and headed out.

There are books dedicated to cooking in exactly this manner, and the one we checked showed we would need about two hours of driving time to get the food to safe eating temperature. We headed north to the Hill Country. I had always wanted to go back to the Canyon of the Eagles in Burnet, and Google told me it was about 1.5 hours to get there. The drive was amazing. The grass was green, and there were so many wildflowers you could almost imagine we weren’t right in the middle of a terrible drought. The dried-up boat docks told a different story, but it was still gorgeous scenery. Winding roads, scenic views, and perfect weather.

We toured the park before stopping at a picnic area. Camping spots for both RVs as well as tent campers, shower and bathroom facilities, an outdoor amphitheater and for those who don’t care for the full outdoors experience, a resort and restaurant.

We opened the hood, and carefully pulled off the packets. Using the infrared thermometer guesstimated that the kabobs were only about half-way done.

We headed to the next spot, Paradise Point, on the opposite side of the lake. Why Paradise Point? Why not? The name sounded lovely.

We hopped in the car and drove for another 40 minutes. Bait shops, classic cars, shops and salons are lined up next to immense vacation rentals as the road snakes around the island. We had Elvis Costello guiding the journey with his album “Get Happy” and every so often, the smell of meat would waft through the A/C vent. A perfect road trip if ever there was one, complete with pelicans.

We checked the temperature of the food again, and it still needed a few more miles to get it over the edge. Hungry, we decided to drive the hour and a half back home to see where it was then.

We made the drive back, the smell of meat tempting us, driving past restaurant after restaurant, hoping our silly idea wasn’t going to lead to a vacation day lunch of cold leftovers. We pulled back into the driveway hoping that our day would be more than just a pretty drive. We unwrapped the foil wrappers, and saw success. Perfectly cooked kabobs, grilled asparagus and delicious sweet peppers. Even better, since we were at home, we got to eat on plates. My only negative review was that absent the actual fire, the meat didn’t get a nice char going, which is one of the highlights of grilled meat.

We decided to try this again, only next time, we’re going to do it on the way to visit family in Odessa. It’s a six-hour drive, and with a dog and a four-year old, it’s hard to stop and sit down for food along the way. I envision a nice packet of sausage and potatoes, to be enjoyed at a rest area somewhere between here and there. Maybe a nice rack of ribs thrown in for the drive, and we’d have dinner that night. Who knows?

For now, I’m just happy to know of yet another way to skip the fast food lines, and enjoy the fine American tradition of driving and grilling.

This was an experiment in trying out a thing because you could, not because there is a real purpose other than “its fun.” And it was fun. Though I didn’t get to linger too long at any of the stops, I got to jump out and take a few pictures, breathe a little of the air, and plan where I want to go next time. I found roads I didn’t know existed, I saw pelicans. The world through a window, and I was still home early.

Editor’s Note: The USDA recommends cooking all whole cuts of meat to 145 degrees as measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, then allowing the meat to rest for three minutes before carving or consuming.