It’s truly amazing what you can do on an outdoor outing if you just have the right ideas. Two favorite off-the-wall ideas of mine are Backpack Chicken and Car Manifold cooking.

Backpack Chicken

Cook your chicken in a backpack while going on a hike.

  • 1 (3-pound) whole chicken
  • 18-inch heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • 3 rocks (see instructions below)
  • Tongs
  • Heavy gloves
  • 2-inch stack of newspaper
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • 1 medium-size backpack

The key to “backpack cooking” a chicken is in selecting the right kinds and sizes of rocks that will be heated to cook the chicken. Select rocks that are completely dry and have not been sitting in water or in a streambed. When wet rocks are heated, they can pop open and even explode. Also, avoid using sandstone or limestone rock, as they are too porous.

  1. Select one rock that is the size of both your hands clasped together. This should fill the cavity of the chicken. Select two rocks the size of a loose open fist, for placing under the wings during cooking. Scrub the rocks with soap and water and thoroughly dry. (Don’t worry — the small amount of time the rocks are wet while being washed will not cause them to explode.)
  2. If you are concerned about the cleanliness of the rocks, wrap them in foil.
  3. Build a campfire.
  4. Always wear heavy gloves when working with hot rocks. After cleaning the rocks, set them on the open fire and allow to heat for 35 to 45 minutes. With tongs or a stick, turn over the rocks and leave them in the fire until they are thoroughly heated. Rocks can be heated on a very hot bed of charcoal briquettes or over gas burners; turn the rocks frequently to heat through evenly.
  5. While the rocks are heating, locate your two-inch pile of newspapers. Take each section of newspaper and open it as if you were reading the center pages. Stack the newspapers on top of each other until you have a one-inch stack.
  6. Clean the chicken and place it in the center of a sheet of 18- inch heavy-duty aluminum foil large enough to go around the chicken with about 7 inches left on each side.
  7. Put on heavy gloves. Stretch the chicken cavity and insert the largest hot rock. Place another rock under each wing.
  8. Check the rocks to see that they are sizzling and the chicken is beginning to cook. Heat from the rocks actually cooks the chicken. Pour 1 cup of barbecue sauce over the chicken.
  9. Using the drugstore wrap (see “Get Wrapped Up in Aluminum Foil Cooking”, bring the foil sides together at the top of the chicken, roll into small folds, flatten the sides and roll ends to the center. Place the wrapped chicken at the corner of the newspaper pile. Roll the chicken again and again in the newspapers, tucking in the sides as you roll. Use all of the newspapers around the chicken. Place the wrapped package inside the backpack. If it feels too warm against your back, add more layers of newspaper between the wrapped chicken and the backpack. Papers are insulation to hold the heat inside the chicken. The internal temperature of the chicken should reach 175ºF. Two to three hours later, unwrap and enjoy!

Roughing It Easy

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Car Manifold Cooking

Here is another idea that will keep your friends smiling.

Cooking on the manifold is really amazing. You can be driving to your destination while your food is actually cooking under the hood. This inventive way of cooking is possible if you can find an open area on your car’s manifold — a consistently hot part of the engine.

To find the manifold, look under the car and locate the exhaust. Follow it into the engine . . . The point where the pipes connect into the engine is the manifold. If there is an open area on the manifold where you can secure a foil package with wire, if needed, you can cook while you travel. Place the food on a piece of heavy-duty foil and wrap it using the drugstore wrap (see above link). Seal it tightly to protect against juice leakage.

Once you’ve secured the foil package to the manifold, begin driving. The food will cook about as fast as it would at medium temperature in a home range. The first time you will have to watch it carefully because the heat output differs from car to car.

When the food is about half cooked, stop and turn it over. My car takes about 10 miles per side to cook a hamburger patty. Imagine stopping on the side of the road to turn your hamburger and a police officer pulls over to see if he can help. Just tell him you are turning your hamburger. This will be a great story for him to add to his repertoire.

This method can add a note of whimsy to any long-distance trip. If your manifold is big enough and you are planning to drive from three to four hours, you could cook a chicken. Meat loaf is another manifold favorite. SUVs tend to have excellent manifolds for this type of novelty cooking.