For the past couple of summers, it’s gotten to be ridiculously hot at this point in the year; the heat index yesterday around here was 120 degrees. Last summer, I decided to stop wasting all of this solar energy that was pouring down on us from above and start putting it to good use. Mission: cooking without adding one iota (either metric or imperial) of heat to the house.

Dashboard dinner

It’s almost stupidly simple. All you need is something you’d normally bake in an oven – say frozen pizzas and frozen chicken filets like these – and some towels. You want the towels so whatever you’re cooking the aforementioned frozen items on doesn’t leave a permanent imprint on the dashboard by melting into it. Fold them over to make them thicker, or use pretty thick towels to begin with.

Please have oven mitts and whatever other precautions you’d normally take handy, because you’re using the trapped / increasing heat of your car to cook. You’re basically turning a parked car into a climb-in oven. When you go to retrieve your food, you WILL need oven mitts, or super-careful, good-enough-to-work-in-a-restaurant skills in holding / carrying / balancing stuff that’s on the towels. You CAN burn yourself this way.

A friend of mine left a thermometer in open sunlight in his vehicle the other day to gauge the temperature, and came up with 160 degrees F. In the shade, in my car (which has a dark interior), it’s closer to 185 degrees. You’ll need to do some mental math to figure out how long to leave stuff in. It’ll take longer than what the directions on the box say. Sometimes a lot longer. (The chicken cordon bleu filets you see in this picture got to stay out in the sun all day long.)

Think carefully about where you’re parking your car, and in which direction. An east-west orientation gives you the most options – you can actually use it as an oven timer of sorts. The sun rises from the east in the morning, and due to the rotation of the earth, “travels” overhead and then sets in the west, and you can use this to your advantage. If you can park in an east-west orientation, put stuff that doesn’t necessarily need full heating all day in the east-facing windshield. (If your car doesn’t have enough of a “shelf” in the rear windshield for you to put a pan in, disregard this section obviously.) As the sun changes its position in the sky, the direct solar heating of the items in the east-facing windshield will only last a few hours and then they’ll be shaded. They’ll still be heated, but no longer necessarily cooking. For items like bread sticks or cookies or biscuits, this is ideal. They’ll still be warm; they won’t be burnt to a crisp.

If you start at around 10 in the morning, with an east-west parking orientation, both windshields should have a pretty good stretch of direct lighting / heating. Stuff that needs to cook longer – like those pesky chicken filets – should go in the west-facing windshield so they have direct solar heating all day and not just the residual heat trapped in the car.

Use a meat thermometer. There’s a reason I haven’t given anyone food poisoning in all the time I’ve been doing this. Pay attention to what the packaging says the internal temperature should be. Some stuff, like pizza and cookies, you can just tell by looking. Those pesky but delicious chickens? You can’t. As “imprecise” a way as this seems to cook, there are in fact very precise ways to see if it’s working. Science gives us tools to help us be non-stupid. Let’s use ’em.

Oh, and by the way, it does work.

Dashboard dinner

Holy hell, I just went all Alton Brown on y’all. Well, Alton Brown by way of Mythbusters.

Allow me to make on additional point here, while I’ve got your attention. THIS IS WHY YOU DO NOT EVER, EVER LEAVE PETS OR CHILDREN IN A PARKED CAR DURING THE SUMMER. Even opening the windows would only increase the flow of already-hot air, and would just let more bugs get all over my food. It wouldn’t decrease the temperature in the car in any (survivably) significant way. YOU WOULDN’T PUT YOUR KIDS OR YOUR CRITTERS IN THE OVEN, SO WHY WOULD YOU LEAVE THEM IN A CAR LIKE THIS, SINCE IT’S EFFECTIVELY AN OVEN?

If you do leave your kids or pets in a hot car, I’ll do three things.

  1. Break out your windows to save them, without a moment’s hesitation or regret. If you want to get on my case about the value of your vehicle, proceed straight to step #2. Actually, proceed straight to step #2 anyway, because…
  2. I will kick your ass. And I’m willing to bet that a line for this may be forming by this point, which may or may not include Chuck Norris. I suggest you run at this point, because I will then…
  3. Not give you any of this delicious pizza. (Not that you’ll be in any kind of position to eat, what with your ass having just been kicked and all.)

Here endeth the lesson. Let’s eat.

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Earl Green ()

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