Editor's note: This post was updated on Nov. 25, 2013.
At some point, we've all been tasked with the thankless Thanksgiving job of holding a casserole dish overflowing with piping-hot buttery potatoes on our laps while speeding down the highway over the hills and through the woods to Grandmother's house. And how about getting all those leftovers home after Thanksgiving dinner? While Auntie May's pumpkin pie may seem perfectly pleasant perched atop a lace doily on the dining-room table, it can become a dangerous projectile if not secured properly in the car.
To help you and your family out this Thanksgiving, I selflessly volunteered to indulge in some early holiday grub and experiment to find the best techniques to safely and cleanly transport your Thanksgiving feast faves in the car.
Piping-hot casserole dishes can literally be a pain to the person holding them in their lap in the car. The heat from the dish itself can burn your spouse's lap — not to mention the damage that could occur if it spills and your hubby is left with 350-degree green-bean casserole drippings on his, well, you get the idea. Placing the casserole dish on the floor rather than on someone's lap isn't much better. Do you really want to be cleaning oyster stuffing out of your car's carpet and floormats for the next three months?
Instead, invest in a travel casserole dish. I purchased one from Target recently for just $14. It comes with a Pyrex casserole dish, a secure rubber lid, a microwaveable gel pouch to help keep the goodies hot on the road and an insulated carrying case. You don't, however, want it to be loose on the car's floor. If you have to brake quickly to avoid another holiday road warrior, the casserole dish could become a dangerous projectile.
Instead, try securing your travel casserole dish in your car's trunk, safely away from the passenger compartment. You can borrow a grippy drawer liner from your silverware drawer to help keep the travel casserole dish from sliding around in the trunk. It also doesn't hurt to wedge it in with other larger, less messy items.
If you don't have a travel casserole dish and don't want to invest in one, you can use a casserole dish with a lid and secure the lid to the dish's handles with two rubber bands. This can then be secured inside a tote basket or laundry basket lined with towels. The basket can be stashed snugly on the floor behind the driver's seat or even better yet, secured in your car's cargo space using a few bungee cords and the tie-down anchor points in the cargo floor. If the dish happens to have a leak during transport, the towels will soak up any messes. If you don't have a leak, your kids can roll the towels up after dinner and use them on the drive home as pillows to sleep off that turkey-induced fog.
By some estimates, something weighing just 20 pounds (a turkey, a slow cooker or whatever) can hit a person with 600 pounds of force if involved in a crash while the car is moving just 35 mph. Slow cookers with locking lids are the surefire option for transporting food in the car and will help keep any leaks or spills from getting on your fabric upholstery. I purchased one recently from Amazon for just over $30. Again, you want to keep slow cookers out of the passenger compartment if possible.
Portable 12-Volt Heater/Coolers
If you're really serious about keeping your sweet potatoes at the perfect temperature while on the road, a portable 12-volt heater/cooler is the way to go. This plugs into the 12-volt outlet in your car, can be switched to heat or cool, and keeps your marshmallow-laced sweet-potato puree inside it at a consistent 140 degrees. While you're limited as to where you can secure it in the car based on where the outlet is located, you still want to secure it safely. Again, getting creative with bungee cords is a great option.
Tinfoil is your best friend when transporting pies. If you're transporting just one pie, take an extra metal pie tin, flip it upside down and use it to tent the pie. Then seal the edges of the two pie tins together with a strip of tinfoil. Just to reiterate: You don't want a pie to hit you in the back of the head if you get in an accident, so secure it in the trunk. Use the grippy-drawer-liner technique to keep the pie from sliding around, or better yet, stash it in the laundry basket next to your casserole.
To transport two pies, place them side by side on a baking sheet, wrap tinfoil around the pies and baking sheet, and then secure the tinfoil around the baking sheet's edges. Store the baking sheet in your trunk with a grippy drawer liner under it to keep it from sliding around.
All Those Yummy Leftovers
If you're going to take some goodies back home, be prepared and arrive with your own plastic storage containers and zip-close plastic bags rather than having your granny dig some up for you and the rest of your finicky family. Pack a load of disposable plastic containers in a reusable fabric bag. You can pack the containers full and have a convenient tote at the ready to carry them to the car.
Use the bungee-secured laundry basket you used earlier to transport your pie and casserole dish to dinner to then get your leftovers home.
If you have any additional tips or suggestions for keeping your car clean and your passengers safe while transporting Thanksgiving Day food on the road this season, share them with us in the comment section below. If we don't reply right away, we're stuffing our faces (in the name of journalistic integrity) with pumpkin pie.