We have come a long way from the “cooking dinner on the manifold” days! Back then, that was the only way we could prepare hot food in the truck. Reminiscing with a friend about the “old” days of trucking, he told me that back then he was pretty good at wrapping a steak and potato in heavy-duty aluminum foil and timing it out just right to get a perfectly-cooked meal. Today, with big sleepers, inventive kitchen appliances, generators, inverters and the like, we can cook just about anything in a truck. And I, for one, think it’s about time we truckers start eating better, home-cooked meals while out on the road.
Cooking on the road was always a challenge in the early days of trucking, but some guys (and gals) could get pretty creative. An old friend of mine told me this story, but his name has been omitted to protect the guilty. “One day I decided to throw an unopened can of pork and beans on the engine and then proceed to go trucking. The sound of the explosion couldn’t be heard over the sweet sound of the straight pipes humming down the highway for three hours. Everyone knows that this was way too long and, yes, the end result was baked-on baked beans – baked on the manifold, the motor, the turbo, the hood, everywhere – it was a mess!” To this day, he won’t cook in the truck, even though he now drives a truck with a big bunk and a kitchen most of us would love to have.
Back in the 1990s I used to have a crock pot and cook things like a roast with all the veggies, chili, bean soup, and even Thanksgiving dinner, one year. Today, a crock pot is still one of the many useful appliances used in most trucking chef’s rolling kitchens. Now, there are so many to choose from, it boils down to personal preference, available space and electrical power options in your truck. Drivers are now creating meals that look and taste like they came from of a 5-star restaurant – right in their truck!
Inverters, which allow you to use regular household appliances in your truck, have opened the door and made kitchen appliances standard equipment for the driver who is passionate about cooking on the road. Here are some I have found that people like and use: Aroma Rice Cooker, Ninja 3 in 1 Cooking System, Cook Essentials 6 Qt. Pressure Cooker, Koolatron or RoadPro 12 Volt Lunch Box, Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker, RoadPro 12V Skillet, George Foreman Grill, NuWave Oven, Rival Toaster Oven, Nostalgia Electrics 3 in 1 Breakfast Station, 12V Microwave, Coleman PowerChill, Coleman Butane Stove, and various waffle makers, coffee makers, blenders and more. For more details about these (and so many other) products, search for them online.
Years ago, it was usually an owner operator that had the luxury of a big inverter or an APU and a built in fridge, but today a lot of company trucks have these things, as well. This has enabled the company drivers to cook in their trucks, save money and eat healthier, too. With great success, company drivers and owner operators alike are doing just that – and, through the internet and social media, sharing their recipes, pictures and results with fellow truck drivers.
I was recently made aware of two sites, and I liked them so much I became a part of their closed groups. In fact, they were the inspiration for this article! Both welcome drivers that are serious about learning and sharing their cooking experiences on the road. “Big Truck Cooking” is on Facebook and has a website, while “Cooking On The Truck” is on Facebook, Pinterest and has a blog. The photos posted on these sites will make your mouth water and, hopefully, inspire you to join in on all the fun.
On the Facebook page for Big Truck Cooking, as well as their website (www.bigtruckcooking.com), you will find hundreds of recipes and pictures. On the website, there is a wonderfully laid-out section about how to organize and setup your rolling kitchen, complete with pictures of several appliances you can use in your truck. At the time I’m writing this article, there are over 2,600 members in the Facebook group, but it is sure to continue growing. The Big Truck Cooking group is also planning a get-together on the opening day of the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, held at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa on July 9th, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. This will give people in the group the opportunity to finally meet face-to-face. I will give you more details about this event as I get them. I will be there, and hope to meet many of you, too.
Cooking On The Truck does has a Facebook page, but this group was accidentally setup as a “secret” group, so it is a little harder to find and join. If you would like to join this group, you will have to send a private message through Facebook to Al Kohl or Jennifer Black Cordero and tell them that you would like to join. From there, they will “friend” you and then send you an invite. It sounds difficult, but it must not be that hard because they currently have over 7,000 people in this “secret” group! There is also a blog for the group (www.cookingonthetruck.blogspot.com). You can also find the group on Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/CookOnTheTruck). These sites share so many great pictures and recipes that can and are being made in trucks out there every day.
I love the clever and creative names that drivers have come up with for their rolling kitchens. There is the Café Dre’, 379 Grill-N-Motel, Ventura Highway Café, and the Bouncing Bistro. A few more I saw included the Whitestar Diner, Woo Pig Sooie Rollin Café, Pro Star Café and Lounge, and the Puddle Jumper Café. There is also the Peterbilt Bistro, Cheruss Bed & Breakfast, SGT’s Mess Hall, the K-Whopper Café, and Rhino’s Rockin Rollin Café, just to name a few. These truck-driving chefs are running up and down the road every day – and having fun while doing it.
After joining these groups, I met a woman named Emeralde, who I might have originally met at the TA East Truck Stop in Ontario, CA back in the late 1980’s, where she used to work at the fuel desk. Small world. She has been driving on and off since 2001 with her husband Leonard. He started her “cooking on the truck” fascination when he showed her a chicken potato bake he had made in his lunch box oven. After showing him how he could have made it even better by adding more spices and flavors, she was off and running. It became a challenge for her to make everything in the truck that she used to make at home. Now, they tell everyone that they can make anything in the truck. Misfit and Twiggy, as they are known on the road, love to share with drivers starting out how to save money and eat well on the road.
Getting to know Emeralde through chatting in the groups, she suggested that someone should do a regular feature in a magazine about cooking on the road. Well, it is with great pleasure that I would like to announce that this article will be kicking off as a regular feature in 10-4 Magazine very soon. It will include a featured “chef” and his/her favorite recipe, including pictures. I will also share some of the names that people use for their private rolling establishments, so if you didn’t see yours listed here this month, look for it to maybe appear in a future issue. Thank you to everyone in these groups for sharing your cooking talent with the rest of us grateful drivers. And, special thanks to Emeralde for suggesting this idea and to my editor, Dan Linss, for letting me do this for our readers – I am really excited about it!
So, get out there and start cooking up some magic in your truck. You will eat better and healthier, save money, and have a lot of fun, too. Look for my new column soon in an upcoming issue of 10-4 Magazine. If you would like to submit one of your favorite recipes with pictures, join the groups I mentioned in this article and share them there – I will be watching for good ones to feature. Also, feel free to share the name of your OTR eatery, and then look to see if I featured it in the magazine. Let’s have some fun with this. Until next month, be safe out there and keep on cooking!