Can you use a car’s oil pan as an actual cooking pan? Does a hubcap make a good bowl? Can you use power tools to peel potatoes and carve chicken? Will a piston work as a cup? Will a pushrod function a straw? Does a pickle fork work well as an actual fork? These are things that every rational, sane human has wondered, probably since birth. So to finally gets answers, my coworker Kristen Lee and I prepared a meal using only car parts and tools in an idiotic exercise that likely reduced our life expectancies. But the results may surprise you.
It was a cold and snowy November day when Kristen and I ventured out to my local Detroit-area junkyard to harvest parts for a cooking activity so idiotic that you may wonder if we could possibly have been sober while devising it. Embarrassingly, we were, though in our defense, the plan is a logical extension of my previous article about using a dishwasher to clean car parts (don’t do it!). This time, instead of using kitchen tools to do car things, it was time to use car tools to do kitchen things—namely, cook.
Kristen and I were on the hunt for anything resembling a pot or a pan, so I was naturally inclined to hunt for an oil pan (I mean, it’s got “pan” in the name. It has to work.). But since most engine oil pans have a deep sump that wouldn’t be optimal for cooking, and might not even fit into my oven, I looked around for something flat, ultimately settling on a transmission oil pan out of the 2010 Subaru Forester shown above.
Though junkyard technicians had punched a hole into the sheetmetal to drain the oil, and then shoved a rubber plug into the orifice to prevent leaks, residual automatic transmission fluid had dribbled down into the pan over time. So I had to pour that remaining ATF into a headlight I found nearby (see below), then I spent what felt like an eternity removing 20 bolts, and finally, I dropped the pan. Here’s a look at some of the transmission’s electronics just below the valve body.
With one cooking dish in hand, Kristen and I headed to a 1997 Dodge Ram van, a vehicle whose engine is accessed via a “dog house” between the driver’s and passenger’s seat, meaning, I could wrench from the comfort of the Ram’s cab. I snagged the valve cover off the motor, and before leaving the junkyard, I also nabbed a hubcap.
The plan was to have dessert from this Magnum V8's valve cover after Kristen and I enjoyed a full meal cooked in the Subaru’s transmission oil pan. Here’s a look at all of our ingredients: a full chicken, potatoes, carrots, a salad kit, and Funfetti cake mix.
With our oil pan, valve cover, and hubcap joining some parts and tools I had sitting around my house, Kristen and I began cleaning the hardware using various solvents. I used foamy engine degreaser, which always works well:
In addition to cleaning the parts and tools, I had to figure out what to do with that rubber plug at the bottom of our Subaru oil pan. It wasn’t going to withstand the oven’s heat, and, since the chicken we were about to cook in the pan was—if all went as planned—going to produce some truly delicious gravy that we didn’t want to spill, I needed a solution. It took a few attempts, but I found an answer: I just shoved a bolt into the hole previous filled by the rubber plug, and sealed it all up with some weld:
With the trans pan welded and cleaned, we lined up the tools needed to make our main course: a Sawzall to cut the chicken, a sledgehammer to mash potatoes, a pickle fork (which is normally used to remove steering tie rods and ball joints) to hold things in place, a plastic trim removal tool (this helps pop out the plastic clips that fastens trim on modern cars together) to act as a fork, and vice grips to toss salad.
Not pictured above is the flap disc mounted to my angle grinder, which we used to peel the potatoes. It may sound like absolute overkill (and it was), but I have to say, it worked damn well!
Sure, since the potato is so soft, the disc didn’t just knock the peels right off, it kind of just rubbed the them along the potato a bit, so it wasn’t quite as efficient as actually using a rough scrubby brush or peeler. But it definitely got those potatoes nice and bald, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. More so than using a peeler, for sure.
While I was grinding away the peels, Kristen and I found ourselves coughing quite a bit on potato dust, which still to this day covers much of my kitchen. Here you can see the outline of the tools where they sat during the Potato Grinding Operation:
Now that we had peeled potatoes, Kristen spread a bed of carrots into the base of the Subaru oil pan, laid the chicken over top, and rubbed some salt over the bird. Then we placed the two recently angle-ground potatoes into the oil pan, and Kristen put it all into the oven at 450 Fahrenheit.
While that was cooking, my coworker mixed up some cake batter in a hubcap using the trim removal tool.
Then she poured that into the Dodge Ram valve cover, which—I have to admit—I had a hell of a time trying to get clean. The problem was that, at the base of the valve cover is a big sheetmetal baffle that acts as a “false floor.” This is part of the crankcase ventilation system, and it made it so that there was a volume that I could not access with my cleaning tools. In other words, there was a lot of oil and grime trapped behind that baffle.
For this reason, we never intended to eat the cake we were cooking, but that didn’t stop us from making it. If anything, maybe the oil would act as a non-stick coating? We plugged the holes around the baffle so we wouldn’t end up with inaccessible cake, and Kristen poured in the batter:
Kristen also insisted upon making some greens, so she dumped the pre-packaged salad into an old AMC-era Jeep hubcap, and tossed it using vice grips:
“Beep! Beep! Beep!” Before we knew it, our oven’s timer was telling us our meal was cooked, so Kristen took the Subaru oil pan out of my oven (And yes, she used a welding glove as an oven mitt) and replaced it with the cake batter-filled valve cover.
The main course, sitting golden brown in an oil pan once bolted to a continuously variable transmission, looked better than anything I’ve ever cooked in an actual pan, not of the transmission variety. Just look at this deliciousness:
Have another gander at Kristen’s brilliance:
I did have the honor of mashing the two potatoes whose peels I had angle-ground off. I simply placed them in a hubcap, set that hubcap onto my kitchen floor, and whaled on those spuds with my four-pound slegehammer until they were mostly amorphous.
Next up, I cut the chicken using a Sawzall—a reciprocating cutting tool normally used to do things like cut a car in half.
It was ridiculously violent, with the chicken wings flailing all over the place as the sharp, metal-cutting saw-blade pulled and pushed the flesh and bones with incredible speed.
There was blood and flesh everywhere.
You’ll notice in the top Sawzall photo, the chicken is sitting on an air cleaner lid from my Jeep J10. That lid is what we used as our plate. Kristen placed some salad on there, some mashed potatoes, some carrots, and a chicken leg.
Then it was time for the most glorious part of our master plan. We extracted gravy from our pan, but we didn’t use a baster like one normally does. No, no, Kristen unthreaded the drain plug, and gravy flowed out beautifully onto our chicken and potatoes:
The meal looked and tasted great, all things considered. And yes, I did actually have a little taste of the chicken cooked on the transmission oil pan, though Kristen didn’t want me to for health reasons, which is fair.
The cake, on the other hand, really didn’t turn out well. I had overestimated the ability of motor oil to act as a good non-stick surface, because the cake never really made it off the surface of that Dodge Ram valve cover:
I later tried pouring some milk into a piston, and drinking through a pushrod. This did not work well:
Frankly, this whole thing was pointless and, of course, I strongly discourage anyone from trying this in earnest. Oil can have bearing material in it as well as combustion byproducts—and those can both be very dangerous if consumed. And I can go on and on about the dangers in various cleaning agents and automotive fluids—in fact, I have in a previous article. Check it out. Not to mention, the pans themselves, even if clean, weren’t designed to be used with food.
Kristen and I were just being silly, here, pretending that we somehow lived in a post-apocalyptic world in which pots, pans, and silverware no longer existed. Our new alien overlords had confiscated them all, but somehow left behind cars, tools, and also a functioning oven—all of this is totally improbable.