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Method/recipes for cooking while traveling by car?

Hubby and I are taking a car trip to/in Alaska in July. We will be hotel-ing and restaurant-ing it much of the time. However, because of the extremeness that is Alaska we would like to have self-sufficient alternatives. We are planning to take a cooler so we can store cheese, produce and beverages if we want. But for cooking I'm looking for ideas - should we buy a hibachi type grill (or is there something else out there that you like better?) - does anybody have pros & cons on which to buy, how to use, etc. Can you bake/roast a potato on a hibachi? Should we take a roll of thick tin foil? Simple yet delicious recipes would be nice. We love ethnic (Asian/Mex) as well as comfort foods (meatloaf/roasted chicken). Any and all tips are extremely appreciated. thx

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  1. I would think that carting around charcoal and an ashy hibachi would not be so fun, but to answer your question, yes, you can bake/roast a potato on a hibachi (poke holes in the potato and wrap it in foil). You can also do my favorite "camp fire potatoes" - cut up potatoes, onions and cheese, put in foil with salt/pepper, put in/near fire. YUM.

    If it were me, I'd take a propane camp stove. They are inexpensive, more reliable, easier and cleaner than a charcoal hibachi and you can fry, boil, etc. on one without any problems.

    1. Since "baking" in foil is really steaming, it's great for fish. A steamed potato is not a bad potato, it's just a steamed potato, which is very nearly a boiled potato. You do not get caramelization here. For me, score a potato deeply (~1/4") all around several times, to give a hashmarked look and bake until done. The scoring will caramelize and also let you take thebaked potato apart easily.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mrnelso

        Would this work on a hibachi?

      2. i know this might be silly but there is a book (maybe two) on cooking in your car (while you are driving) that might be fun .. I've heard the guys who wrote it on the radio and if my memory serves they tell you how to cook meals under the hood while you are driving. I'd bet there are recipes for meatloaf and roast chicken.

        2 Replies
        1. re: oliveoyl

          i know a guy who cooked a brisket on the radiator or something while driving! he said it was pretty good!

          1. re: bluedog67

            There is a book called Manifold Destiny that explains how
            to cook food on your hot car engine. It's out of print and expensive.

            Manifold Destiny

            Here are some other web pages with info about cooking on your car engine.

            Cooking with your car

            Step-by-step car engine cooking

            How to cook on your car's engine

            Cooking great meals on your cars engine

            A little skill can feed the driver

        2. I would not do a habachi I would do a small gas barbque it is about the same size as a habachi but no mess. They are inexpensive but I would go with the higher priced ones they are more trouble free. Like a Weber I think they are like $75 and you have alot of options that way. Then just take a few small propane cylinders. You can cook evreything and put a sauce pan if you need to.

          1. How about a griddle or toaster over?

            1. These little guys are great: http://www.amazon.com/Deluxe-Butane-B...

              We take ours camping all the time. They pump out an amazing amount of heat for their size.

              Camping/Outdoors stores have a nice selection of stackable cookware and other interesting items like dutch ovens, etc.

              For ingredients - look at dried/dry foods (dried chorizo, dried tomatoes, rice, etc.)

              2 Replies
              1. re: fmed

                these are great little units. I recomend getting something like this but made for outdoors - wind will be a factor. Both in keeping it lit and in keeping enough heat on the pan. The smallcans of gas they take as opposed to lugging around a propane tank is very nice. Little cans of by coleman are available almost everywhere here. I reccomend a small two burner unit - with a windscreen. Burners usually convert to griddle, and grill and burners. If you are looking to do some cooking - traveling in ALaska - I would expect you to have a wonderful time.HOWEVER - be aware of bears - store your food properly and do not store any where you are sleeping. . Even dirty grill smells will bring a bear.
                Yes to the foil - a big pot - a pan or two - I use my big pot as a water heater for washing and dishes - and I have it for pasta and one dish meals.
                We do have farmers markets at that time of year - and a lot of wild edibles if you are knowledgable.

                1. re: fmed

                  The hot-plate style butane burners are easy to use. The cheapest sources (for stove and fuel) are Asian groceries, since they are commonly used for table top cooking. But finding fuel might be hard outside of larger towns like Anchorage.

                  A stove that uses a 1 lb propane canister is nearly as easy to use, and it is easier to find fuel. Propane is also better in cold and windy conditions.


                2. My boyfriend and I took a road trip up through the Carolinas a couple of summers ago. We brought along a two-burner propane stove and did most of our cooking on that. We also brought a small heavy sauce pan, a cast iron skillet and a thin cutting mat. I devised a few one-dish meals. One very simple favorite was curried couscous. To make it, I sautéed some curry powder and minced garlic in olive oil until fragrant, then added some chopped carrots and celery. After about a minute, I poured on water & brought it to a boil. I immediately took it off heat and added couscous and one drained and rinsed can of chickpeas, then covered and let it sit for five minutes. Sorry for the vagueness, I'm a very imprecise cook!

                  Pilafs of rice or orzo were also very easy to make in the cast iron skillet.

                  Because we were on a budget, most of what I cooked I made with fuel conservation in mind. So, lots of quick-cooking rice noodles, lots of vermicelli.

                  I'm not generally a fan of instant mixes, but a friend we met on the trail had a pack of powdered hummus mix -- I think Fantastic Foods makes it? With a drizzling of good olive oil and some fresh lemon juice, it was actually pretty good.

                  1. I do a lot of this stuff being an artist selling at festivals and on the road a lot (festival food can be bad, boring and always expensive!). I travel with a small propane stove, a good sized soft sided cooler, an electric water kettle (draws too much power for my little truck's system but comes in handy at an available outlet), and a small hot/cold thermo cooler that runs off the cigarette lighter (very handy). In addition I carry a roll of heavy duty aluminum foil, a few zip-locs in various sizes, a few plastic containers in various sizes, a small sautee pan and a small pot. Sometimes I take a small electric frying pan with a domed cover if I know I'm going to have electric available. I can bake, roast and braise in that as well as fry. A heavy duty power cord rated for outdoor use and an outlet strip can come in handy too. A small cleaning kit (dish soap, scrubby, sponge, bleach for sanitizing), paper towels, knife, fork, spoon (not plastic, can double for cooking duty) hot pad, dish towel. I do use sturdy paper plates and styro cups for soups but my travel mug handles all beverages. I use plastic grocery bags for trash, etc. because a bunch of them crush down to a very small size and I usually don't generate a lot of trash in the course of cooking a travel meal. A sturdy paring knife and a small poly resin cutting board (easy to clean and sanitize) pretty much completes my kit. For the cooler I find I prefer gel packs to ice because I don't have to deal with melted ice water. If you're staying in hotels you can refreeze them in your room fridge or if you don't have a room fridge usually the front desk will be happy to toss them in the hotel fridge overnight. Write your name on them in sharpie. This sounds like a lot of equipment but actually it all packs down into about a beer case sized plastic tub. I usually travel with two small propane cylinders and more if you need them can be picked up almost anywhere along your trip. Oh yeah, and carry a few gallons of water. You can always refill when they get empty instead of buying more.

                    Practice cooking some of your meals at home with your travel kitchen before you go and explore the grocery store for some great pre-made options.

                    I'm a big fan of some of the vacuum foil pouched meats: pre-seasoned and cooked burger (there's a tex-mex burger that's great for road food mexican), lemon pepper salmon are among my favorites. There's some nice already seasoned and cooked rices pastas and grains out there that come in pouches and just need reheating. I've found that some of the ones that say "microwave" can be reheated nicely removed from the pouch and warmed in the pot. Some are boil-a-bags. Always good for cutting down clean up. There's lots of decent road food on the shelves that when supplimented with fresh produce and other goodies you pick up along the way can be turned into very satisying meals on the cheap.

                    But definitely explore the shelves and practice some meals at home. It makes it so much easier when you're actually out on the road and are ready to cook.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: morwen

                      GReat advice from morwen - however don't expect electricty here unless you are staying in a desgnated place - hotel or RV park. Also based on the food descriptions of morwen - we have very different food in the stores here. Look to Safeway( know as carrs here ) if they have a online site that will give you some idea of brands and size. Our stores are quite good really -
                      Also on a personal note I see the ease of paper and styro foam... and I do bring a few paper cereal bowls. I do have metal plates and silverware since im washing anyway. Good advise on the water Pay attention to potable and non- potable water hoses up here

                    2. Your trip sounds like a lot of fun!

                      I agree with the others, a propane camping stove is easier to use than a hibachi. I have an inexpensive Coleman two burner for camping and can cook most anything. Here is the link to the one I have, but there are lots of other options on the Campmor website.

                      As for packing cookware, I bring a medium sized frying pan, flat griddle pan, a large pot for cooking pasta and used to wash dishes in. I use a small 2-5 cup coffee perk pot to make coffee and boil water. A thin silicone cutting board, a few decent knives (make a cardboard holder for safety), pancake turner, large mixing spoon, can opener, tongs, large two-prong fork, etc. Also things like foil, zip lock bags (large and small), trash bags, etc. Dish detergent, sponge/dish cloths, dish towels. I pack my cooking and cleaning up gear in mesh bags inside a plastic clothes basket. This allows them to air dry completely after towel drying so they don't get funky from being in a closed container. In particularly active bear areas you might need to tie the food and cooking gear up in a tree rather than leaving them in the car, so bring some extra mesh or canvas bags for this. Bring some strong rope and bungie cords. I feel that you can never have too many bungie cords when camping.

                      I often do Asian or Tex mex meals and bring along some basics like soy sauce, cooking oil, vinegar, salsa, salt, pepper, mixed seasonings like 5 spice and a Mexican variety. Uncle Bens Ready Rice (for the microwave) is fine heated in a pan with a few drops of water and come in a variety of flavors, including whole grains. They work great in some quick stir frys with local veggies. Pack some tortillas, pre-shredded bags of cheese, some onions and with the salsa you can always make quick quesadillas. When shopping along the way look for individual vacuum sealed chicken breasts, either plain or pre-seasoned. I also usually bring along some vacuum sealed tofu, too. Use zip lock bags to marinade chicken/meats. There is always the quick favorite of PB and J, on some whole grain bread.

                      Since I love to cook, I find the challenge of creating really great meals while camping to be a key part of the fun.

                      1. I would not recommend a charcoal grill, hibachi or other, unless you are already in the habit of using one for picnics. Lighting the coals and letting them burn till ready for grilling takes time. It takes more time to let them burn out. Handling the ashes is a pain. The grill itself gets ashy and greasy.

                        Some of the picnic sites will have fire rings or grills on stand. If so, you can get foil and charcoal along the way.

                        For a cooler I'd recommend the the largest 3-5 day rated one that will fit conveniently in your car. We keep things like mayo, mustard, lunch meat, and cheese in the cool. Lunches are usually sandwiches using these. Since we are usually camping, breakfast and supper are cooking in camp using a small stove. But stove can be handy at lunch for heating water for instant soup, coffee or tea.

                        Besides the cooler, we have a small duffel that holds snacks, and a plastic box that keeps things like chips and soft bread that would be crushed in the bag.

                        I used to use paper plates and bowls, but now usually use easy to clean plastic ones. For example there are Orikaso brand folding plates and bowls. I also use a lot of heavy duty paper towels. It is usually easier to dispose of paper garbage than dishwater. A cheap plastic table cloth is a nice touch.

                        One of the biggest hassles with a cooler is keeping contents dry as the ice melts. Freezing water in 1/2 gallon rectangular juice bottles works for 3-4 days. But for a longer trip I have to use store bought ice, preferably blocks. Zip bags are probably the best thing to keep food separate from the melt water.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: paulj

                          For car travel (not camping), Coleman makes a cooler that plugs into the car's system then converts to 110 for use in the hotel. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

                        2. What a great trip. How long will you be on the road? We used to take 3-4 day trips and used a Coleman propane stove, which was great. I premade burritos, wrapped in foil and heated them on the air filter as we drove. Pre made curry,stews, rice, spaghetti, kielbasa, vegetables, burrito meat, beans and sealed in Food Saver bags to heat up in boiling water. Freeze them first so they'll keep longer. Easy and allows more time to enjoy the scenery and company.

                          1. If you look at the big truck stops (Flying J, etc.) they sell some cookers that plug into your lighter - AB's Feasting on Asphalt mentioned them I think. The one's I've seen are not big, but big enough for a 2 person dish.

                            I use a portable butane stove from a restaurant supply store - Asian groceries usually have them too. Seen the price between 22 - 32$. I have had much better control of the heat with these than I ever had using very nice camp stoves. If you go this route use it before you are on the road. You may find you need a - can't think of the word - flame tamer? - the metal plate w/ handle to keep the pot from getting too hot. Also be aware that in moderate winds the flame can be hard to keep lit.

                            A multi layered steamer is very handy. Ex: Rice in pot, fish next, veggies on the top layer. A non-stick pan with maybe a spritz of Pam is easier than a regular pan & a bottle of oil. Bring more ziplocks than you think you need! Great for marinating. The new hand-held battery operated food storage vacuum would be very handy for this trip too.
                            Lots of paper towels for cleanup & several sponges. The bleach wipes are good for sanitizing when you don't have hot water.

                            If you are concerned about perishable condiments, at times I have purchased boxes of the pre-packs from Sam's or Cosco. I do this with half & half when traveling. Doesn't need the cooler & you don't have to worry about spilling or waste. Mayo, mustard, ketchup are all available. Most times I hate the excess packaging, but they are sometimes a good solution. Camping World & some kitchen shops carry a round multi-spice dispenser which has most of the basics.

                            Chopsticks are handy too - use to eat, stir, as tongs - cuts down on extra tools.

                            If you have access to a food dehydrator try to prepare some celery, carrots, onions etc. Saves room, easy to stir into soups & one-pot meals.

                            Don't do the hibachi - it is way too problematic and it will become a big pita. But bring charcoal - in the lower 48 at least there are frequently grill's available at camp grounds and rest areas.

                            Have a fantastic time!