A pro’s guide to eating in your car

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Bill Oakley is a television screenwriter whose credits include The simpsons and Disenchantment. He is currently executive producer and chief screenwriter of Close enough on HBO Max. Follow her fast food adventures on Instagram at @thatbilloakley.

There is no nicer or more suitable place to dine at a fast food restaurant than in your car. The modern genre of fast food was born out of the American drive-through restaurants of the 1940s: cheap, quick and delicious meals designed to be eaten in your parked or moving vehicle.

The car is a restaurant sanctuary: a private and mobile stand to satisfy one’s fast food cravings, (for the most part) away from the prying eyes of foreigners who judge. And since almost all fast foods degrade drastically in taste and texture within five minutes of being cooked, eating in the car offers a quick, effective and obvious solution.

For the ultimate fast food story, check out Adam Chandler’s masterpiece, Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey To The Heart Of The American Fast Food Kingdom.

As a notorious fast food lover and critic, I have documented several hundred fast food meals in my car. With out of school and just in time for what should be a busy few months of post-pandemic summer travel, here are a few things I learned along the way about eating on the road and in your car. :

Eating in the parking lot is easier and safer (Duh)

State the obvious here but: Eating and drinking while driving is risky. In 2019, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 3,000 people were killed as a result distracted driving in 2019. Eating and drinking are distractions. Have you ever tried to find the last fry in a bag while hurtling down a highway? Of course you have. And you took your eyes off the road to do it. That said, everyone does grab a bite to eat in the car and few of us are likely to stop anytime soon, especially since many fast food outlets are still just behind the wheel.

Consider the appropriate material

Dipping items and their sauces are extremely difficult to handle when moving, but two recent inventions make the process easier: the French fries holder and the Dip Clip. If you’re the nutty type who enjoys knife-and-fork fast foods like salads (or pancakes for breakfast), consider a office driving. Do not consider driving while the desk is attached, please.

Order wisely

Some fast food products seem tailor-made for the restaurant driver, others are pure nightmares due to the clutter and clumsiness or the absolute need for a fork. Here are the best and the worst:

Ideal for driving

Illustration by Brett AffruntiCar and driver

McDonald’s cheeseburger: The perfect burger for driving. Compact, delicious and drip-free.

Starbucks Bacon and Gouda Sandwich: Simple and tasty. Like eating a delicious wallet.

Bell potato taco: One of the only things at Taco Bell that won’t ruin your shirt.

Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich: A classic for drivers and passengers. Tidy and delicious.

kfc popcorn nuggets

Illustration by Brett AffruntiCar and driver

Wendy’s Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe: The only lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise burger I guarantee won’t run out on you. (It’s not a guarantee! I don’t know you.)

KFC Popcorn Nuggets: Hard to soak while driving, but naked they are still decent.

Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich: Comes in a neat foil pouch that can be peeled like a banana to contain a possible spill. It can also be cast like the banana peels in Mario Kart. (It doesn’t really work, and don’t throw trash.)

Single-entry-exit cheeseburger: More likely to cause damage but is well packaged, so why not live a little? You barely went anywhere last year.

Worse for driving

big mcdonald's breakfast with pancakes

Illustration by Brett AffruntiCar and driver

McDonald’s Big Breakfast with pancakes: The only imaginable way to eat this is to roll the pancakes into tubes and bite into them.

Starbucks Spinach and Egg White Wrap: Super dripping. The wettest, most elusive breakfast I have ever encountered.

Subway: Everything from Subway except envelopes and who gets envelopes at Subway?

Taco Bell Crunchy Taco Supreme: Delicious, but your car will be filled with shredded lettuce, cheese, and chunks of tomatoes, as will your clothes and facial hair (if facial hair is your thing).

subway

Illustration by Brett AffruntiCar and driver

Burger King Grand Roi: BK Big Mac scams the bleeding sauce like he’s been fatally injured.

Kfc Coleslaw: Even if you forgo the fork and just pour it into your mouth, you’ll be drenched in coleslaw juice.

Panda Express: Everything from Panda Express except the cream cheese rangoon and spring rolls

Wendy’s Baked Potatoes: The only possible way to eat this while driving is to pick it up and chew it like an apple, but it’s also 400 degrees, so you will need oven mitts and those will definitely affect the feel of the steering.

Watch out for gout

Delicious sauces and spreads are one of the nicest parts of fast food, but they kill shirts and, to a lesser extent, pants and upholstery. If you need to be presentable for your job or court date, you may want to take precautions such as: 1) repackaging your item to contain leaks or 2) putting a towel in your collar like an old fashioned cartoon glutton or 3) take your shirt off entirely and let the drips go where they can. Or, because you might care about your car rather than your clothes, sit on your shirt and use it to protect the seat.

Finally: lingering smells can be succulent

I used to religiously throw out all the fast food junk as soon as I got home, but one night of oblivion I didn’t. The next day the car was infused with a delicious scent of chicken sandwich which started my morning with joy. Live and learn. (Do not recommend with fish items.) You’ll find little bits of shredded lettuce in your car until one day the decrepit, impossible to drive car finally crashed into a car chopper. Absolute certainty. Think of it as an occupational risk.

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