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By Noel Hartley on

Cooking a Christmas dinner in Teddy’s smokebox

There's more than one use for a locomotive's smokebox—Rail Operations Manager Noel Hartley explains how to whip up a festive feast on the move.

To say a huge thank you to the volunteers who helped out the communications team this year, the department decided to cook a full Christmas dinner in the smokebox of Teddy, the locomotive that hauls Santa’s Steam Adventure.


Having cooked on steam locomotives on various preserved railways, anything from sausage butties to chicken wraps to full blown roast dinners, it seemed clear that my offering was to be cooking the full Christmas dinner on board the diminutive steam loco.

Cooking on a steam loco is not as straight forward as one might think. There is an oven (the smokebox), a grill/hotplate (the shovel in the firebox) and a ‘cool hob’ (the warming plate). Each of these locations can be used for cooking or warming your meal.  However, each have different temperatures and environments, and there isn’t a switch that you can twiddle to turn the heat down… Tricky you may say, well that’s one way of putting it!

Having done it many times and also seen others in action, I have had my sausages burnt on numerous occasions. There are also stories of footplate men attempting to cook a whole chicken in the smokebox of a large locomotive only to find that when they came to remove it that it had disappeared! Rumour has it that the blast from the exhaust steam sucked the bird up through the chimney and deposited it in a farmer’s field. The sheep must have done a double take seeing this flying through the air!!

No such worries at the museum though as the locomotive was plodding sedately up and down our yard for the course of the cooking.


The menu for this occasion was bigger and better than last year and involved recipes from the culinary genius, Jamie Oliver. On the menu were turkey joints done Jamie-style – butter under the skin and then the turkey on a bed of Clementine’s and rosemary, wrapped securely in foil. Also, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sausages and of course, brussell sprouts which were all wrapped in layers of foil too. And of course, no festive meal is complete without Christmas pudding and brandy butter.

We started the proceedings with sausages cooked on a shovel, just to make sure that the shovel was the right size, the heat the perfect temperature and that we had something in our belly’s to keep us going. The results of this were delicious and we had various spectators’ asking for more.

We put the turkey in at around 9.30am and the vegetables went in a few hours after that. Lunch was served at around 1.15pm and was cooked to perfection – potatoes’ and parsnips were crispy on the outside and soft inside, carrots were just tender and the turkey was delicious – no soggy sprouts or dry turkey for our volunteers. Unfortunately Jamie’s recipe didn’t include how many lumps of coal to put on the fire, so we had to improvise. We seemed to get it right though and we had 8 happy volunteers sitting down to a sumptuous lunch in Station Hall.


This menu fed 10 people in total which is a feat given how small Teddy is and also that cooking space is at a premium. Bigger locomotives are generally better however they are also hotter and can result in a flying chicken…

As mentioned in previous years this is not to be tried at home unless you happen to have a steam loco in your garden of course!

Happy Christmas!

One comment on “Cooking a Christmas dinner in Teddy’s smokebox

  1. This sounds fab!! I have a steam engine and was just wondering if there is a cook book for steamers 🙂

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