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By Matt Ellis on

Going loco for Christmas dinner

Rail Operations Co-ordinator Matt Ellis shares his tips for a perfect Christmas dinner...cooked on the move.

Cooking food on fires is definitely a man thing. In the summer you can see the majority of BBQs across the land manned by blokes, beer in hand, discussing the best ways to cremate a burger.

Driving trains also used to be very much a man thing, and there is a long history of man-style cookery that goes with it. Back in steam’s heyday, the loco crew would ignore their lovingly made pack-up in favour of the tasty but high cholesterol footplate bacon sandwich, fried in the loco’s firebox which can reach a toasty 1300 º C when the loco is working hard but can fry rashers and an egg to perfection when resting in a siding.

A bacon roll was as complicated as it got, but I’m a man that likes a challenge. Last year one of my fellow railway men managed to cook a pizza, and not to be out done I engineered a way to cook a full turkey meal and all the trimmings in a loco’s smoke box – the char and steam filled space just behind that little door you see at the front of a steam engine.

This year I wanted to spread festive cheer so got my colleagues to help me cook a Christmas dinner.

Rail passengers eating Christmas dinner, 18 December 1936. © National Railway Museum / SSPL
Rail passengers eating Christmas dinner, 18 December 1936.
© National Railway Museum / SSPL

They forced me to include vegetables – I allowed whole roast vegetables, none of that julienne nonsense – which would survive the slow roasting over four hours. Definitely NO sprouts were allowed. The female contingent also squeezed a Christmas pudding in there to finish things off ‘properly.’

The following recipe serves four to six people in railway museum style. Only attempt this if you a) have access to a steam locomotive, b) are connected to an expert on steam locos who can assist you and c) if you are not on a calorie-controlled diet – as I said before this is man–food!

As people around the country will appreciate, the best thing of all about loco cookery is that it is a truly disposable feast. Use paper plates and plastic cutlery and everything can be bagged and binned/recycled. Paper can even be burned in the fire box.


  • Three turkey thigh joints or  three large turkey breasts (you will never fit a whole turkey in the firebox)
  • 2.5 kg potatoes
  • 0.5 kg carrots
  • 0.5 kg parsnips
  • stuffing balls –pre-prepared or make your own! Allow 2-4 per person
  • pigs in blankets –pre-prepared or make your own!  Allow 2-4 per person
  • gravy – a ready made pot is best as it is on the heat for some time
  • one pre-cooked Christmas Pudding
  • cranberry sauce, cream  for serving


  • Six foil roasting tins
  • one deep (around 10cm) foil vegetable tin (make sure it is deeper than your pudding)
  • tin foil (turkey foil is easier)
  • empty baked bean can (for the gravy)
  • one operational steam loco



1. Peel and chop potatoes into pieces roughly about an inch square
2. Top and tail parsnips and carrots
3. Put one piece of turkey in roasting tin, surround with all other ingredients (apart from the pudding!)
4. Slug some oil on (we used sunflower oil, but any oil that can take a high heat will work)
5. Place another roasting tin on top to form a lid. (If you want to keep costs down or haven’t got enough roasting tins just wrap round with extra foil)
6. Fold edges round to seal and wrap round twice with tin foil to create an air- tight package. (keeps out the ash)
7. Wrap pudding well in foil (you could also use muslin if you want to make things complicated)
8. Place in 10cm tin and pour in about an inch of water. Wrap round twice with tin foil like the turkey so the water can’t escape leaving you with a blackened lump!
9. Place in smoke box. Fry extra pigs in blankets on a shovel as a reward breakfast.


10. Pour gravy in baked bean can, top with yet more foil and place on the warming plate.
11. Drive loco for three to four hours. Take out foil packages at lunchtime. Take gravy off the warming plate.
12. Unwrap foil, open roasting tins, carve turkey and serve on festive paper plates

13. Eat and make merry with colleagues or fellow railway-mad folk! Don’t forget your crackers – any waste paper can be burned in the firebox.


We wish you a very merry Christmas from everyone here at the National Railway Museum.


4 comments on “Going loco for Christmas dinner

  1. nothing worse than hanging around waiting for the Turkey to cook in a boring house….why not drive a loco for three hours. Inspired!!

    All the best for 2014

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