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Q&AZ: Is it safe to bake cookies inside your car in Phoenix?

TikTokers hungry for content are celebrating record high temperatures by holding dashboard cookouts. Through KJZZ's Q&AZ project, one listener wanted to know: Is it really OK to bake cookies inside your car in Phoenix? Or is it a recipe for disappointment?

Given time, you can cook just about anything on “low,” but you’ll likely lose the physical and chemical changes required for good taste, let alone food safety.

“Technically, it should be possible to produce something edible; whether those cookies will pass the taste test or not, I'm not quite sure,” said aerospace engineer Ankur Jain of the University of Texas at Arlington.

Jain, who researches heat transfer thermodynamics, said the story should remind people of the dangers of leaving pets and children in cars.

“The temperatures inside a car on a hot summer day can reach dangerous levels,” he said. “Please be very careful and do not leave a pet or a small child in your car even for a small amount of time. It can get very dangerous very quickly.”

KJZZ covered research on that very topic in 2018, when Jennifer Vanos and Ariane Middel looked at air temperature increases over time in six cars, parked both in sun and in shade. The study found that on a 100-degree day, the dashboard of a car parked in the sun spiked to 157 degrees in 60 minutes, while the cabin of the car heated to 116 degrees.

The authors of the paper also modeled the resulting heat stress on a simulated 2-year-old.

“In the end, cars all act like greenhouses and eventually heat up to very similar indoor temperatures after being outside for long enough,” said Vanos. “Some will just heat up faster than others.”

The greenhouse effect lets solar radiation through the car’s glass but traps heat inside, just like in a solar oven — which would be a better choice all around.

Coincidentally, Middel also took a crack at baking chocolate-chip car cookies. She said it took around four hours.

“I think it's important to note that, while you can cook in the car, the temperature in the car will not get up to 350 F, so I would avoid poultry or anything that requires thorough cooking, just to be safe,” she said. “Also, my car smelled like cookies for several weeks, which turned out to be a bit annoying.”

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Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk from 2016 to 2024.