Title:
Vehicle tailgate cooking apparatus and method
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Disclosed is a cooking apparatus capable of insertion into a vehicle tailgate cutout used for cooking food. In embodiments, the invention relates to vehicle tailgates having a cutout specially adapted for receiving the cooking apparatus inserts disclosed herein and vehicles with vehicle tailgates disclosed herein. The invention also relates to methods of cooking food using vehicles of the present invention and methods of making vehicle tailgate cooking assemblies.



Inventors:
Karney, Donald (Ft. McCoy, FL, US)
Landy, Joshua (Superior, CO, US)
Application Number:
11/302955
Publication Date:
01/11/2007
Filing Date:
12/14/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F24C15/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
NDUBIZU, CHUKA CLEMENT
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Leydig, Voit & Mayer, Ltd. (GS BOULDER) (4940 Pearl East Circle Suite 200, Boulder, CO, 80301, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A cooking insert assembly for cooking food capable of insertion into a vehicle tailgate cutout, said cooking insert assembly comprising: (a) a bottom having an outer edge; (b) a wall attached to said outer edge such that said bottom and said wall define an insert interior volume for placement of cooking means; and (c) a plurality of connectors for attaching a cooking surface to said insert.

2. The cooking insert assembly of claim 1 further comprising a latch box connected to said wall for locking the tailgate into a vertical position and unlocking the tailgate from a vertical position.

3. The cooking assembly of claim 2 wherein the cooking means is a solid fuel or a gas fuel.

4. The cooking insert assembly of claim 2 further comprising: (a) one or more gas tube inlets for introducing a gas fuel to said insert interior volume; and (b) a burner connected to said one or more gas tube inlets.

5. The cooking assembly of claim 4 wherein said one or more gas tube inlets is located in said latch box.

6. The cooking assembly of claim 4 further comprising a side burner operably connected to said cooking assembly.

7. The cooking assembly of claim 2 further comprising a smoker cover assembly connected to said cooking insert assembly.

8. The cooking assembly of claim 2 wherein said bottom or said wall or said bottom and said wall is sloped to collect grease generated from cooking.

9. The cooking assembly of claim 8 further comprising one or more grease collectors located in said bottom for collecting grease generated by cooking.

10. A vehicle tailgate comprising a cutout for receiving a cooking assembly insert.

11. The tailgate of claim 10 further comprising the insert assembly of claim 2 in said cutout and connected to said tailgate.

12. The tailgate of claim 11 further comprising: (a) a gas line for delivering gas to said insert, said gas line having a first end and a second end; (b) a coupler attached at said first end for receiving gas from a fuel source; (c) a gas valve control connected to said gas line second end for controlling the amount of gas delivered to said cooking assembly insert; and (d) a burner connected to said gas valve control such that when the gas is ignited heat is generated by said burner.

13. A vehicle comprising the tailgate of claim 10.

14. A vehicle comprising the tailgate of claim 12.

15. A method of cooking food comprising: (a) providing a vehicle of claim 13; (b) attaching a cooking surface to said insert assembly; (c) supplying a source of fuel to said insert interior volume; (d) igniting said fuel to generate heat for cooking; and (e) placing food on said cooking surface, thereby cooking the food.

16. The method of claim 15 wherein the source of fuel is selected from the group consisting of charcoal, wood, woodchips, briquettes, lava rocks, propane, butane, and electricity.

17. A method of making a vehicle tailgate cooking assembly comprising: (a) supplying a vehicle tailgate; and (b) cutting a portion of said vehicle tailgate to obtain a vehicle cutout tailgate for receiving a cooking insert assembly.

18. The method of claim 17 further comprising: (a) placing a cooking insert assembly in said vehicle cutout tailgate; and (b) mounting said cooking assembly to said vehicle tailgate.

19. The method of claim 18 wherein said cooking insert assembly is the insert assembly of claim 2.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/635,745 filed Dec. 14, 2005 and is incorporated by reference herein to the extent not inconsistent herewith.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to the field of transportable gas and/or charcoal grilling surface which is internally located within a modified vehicle tailgate for use in recreational events such as sporting tailgate parties, racing/infield events, camping, or the like.

BACKGROUND

Over the last decade, there have been an increased number of hybrid vehicles of the variety of sport utility vehicles, trucks, pickups, and hatchbacks. These vehicles are not only used for ordinary transportation needs such as commuting, vacationing, and family travel, but have found increased use for what has become known as the “weekend warrior.” Such vehicles are now traditionally used during events such as sport tailgate parties, outdoor events, infield racing parties, camping, and other similar recreational activities.

Potential purchasers and users of these hybrid and sport utility vehicles are allured by these vehicles' abilities to allow larger room for additional passengers to a recreational event, with the added means to transport, haul, and/or store additional equipment for such an event. Moreover, hybrid and sport utility vehicle purchasers transport large amounts of food, beverage, tents, folding chairs, tables, and other similar equipment for assembly during these events. However, one of the more bulky and awkward pieces of equipment often added to this list is a sufficient cooking surface. Hybrid and sport utility vehicle purchasers are often forced with the choice of either having to disassemble their bulky gas and/or charcoal grills, or to part with other desired supplies for use when tailgating or camping. In addition, as the price of such vehicles can range from $20,000 to over $80,000, purchasers are hesitant to store a much used and often soiled grill in their new and shiny investments. While many owners of these more expensive vehicles have resorted to the use of electric grilling and cooking surfaces to ensure less risk of ruining their new vehicle interiors, this often causes a compromise regarding the amount of time needed to cook, as well as much sought after flavor provided with charcoal and/or gas grills.

The need for a transportable grilling apparatus internally located within a modified vehicle tailgate has been largely ignored in the art. U.S. Pat. No. 3,692,351 to Christopher et al., entitled “Cooking Apparatus,” teaches the use of a grilling apparatus for use in large recreational vehicles, as opposed to a sport utility vehicle, truck, or hatchback-type vehicles, in which the grill is located in a “stationary mounting unit” which vertically/laterally slides out of the vehicle. Column 1, Lines 60-62. In addition, U.S. Pat. No. 5,472,164 to Contee, entitled “Multi-Purpose Grill Hanger Bracket,” teaches the use of a rigid bracket to be placed upon a vehicle tailgate in the upright locked arrangement, in which a commercially available grill could be placed. Both patents teach away from the placement of grilling apparatus within a vehicle tailgate.

While the stock forms of sport utility vehicles and truck tailgates have been modified for various entertainment and work uses, the art has not disclosed or taught the use of tailgates as a location or structure for a grilling apparatus. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 5,215,346, entitled “Pickup Truck Tailgate Seating and Entertainment System,” teaches the use of piano hinges and other means for placement and arrangement of cushions throughout a pickup truck tailgate for added comfort during a recreational use of such a vehicle. However, this teaching fails to enable or provide any disclosure of how a vehicle tailgate could be modified for use to allow a cooking surface. Similarly, while U.S. Pat. No. 5,518,158 issued to Matlack, entitled “Pickup Truck Tailgate Toolbox Assembly,” teaches a tool box located proximate to the tailgate opening of a pickup truck, the disclosure teaches away from the use of the actual fold-down tailgate as the site for such an assembly.

Accordingly, there exists a need in the art for a cooking apparatus located within or as part of a modified and/or commercially available tailgate to provide a grilling and/or cooking surface during a recreational event such as a sporting event tailgate party or when camping.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The instant invention solves many of the dilemmas currently faced by hybrid and sport utility vehicle owners, as well as provides for expansion and potential use in other similar vehicles such as hatchback cars, larger recreational vehicles, campers, snowmobiles, and other similar off-road vehicles (often called four wheelers). By locating a cooking assembly insert having a cooking surface including either (i) a gas grill, (ii) a carbon-based fuel grill (including, but not limited to, charcoal, woodchips, brickets, and lava rocks), or (iii) an electric grilling surface, within a commercial or modified tailgate, a hybrid or sport utility vehicle results in the ability to transport a desired cooking means to a recreational event, and reduce the amount of space needed, which is traditionally occupied by larger more bulky systems. In addition, this invention results in additional room in the vehicle for placement of extra supplies, or even for additional attendees of such an event, that is normally taken up by larger more bulky cooking systems.

In an embodiment, the cooking assembly insert is built into the tailgate of a truck, for example a pickup truck tailgate, and is especially useful for “tailgating” parties. In an embodiment a cutout is made in the center of the inward-facing side of the tailgate and an insert fits into the tailgate cutout. In an embodiment the insert is constructed from ⅛″ thick aluminum. The insert can be made to essentially the same size as the tailgate cutout. Alternatively, the insert can be smaller than the cutout, wherein heat resistant material and/or insulation can fill the space between the insert and the cutout. Such an insert can be set into the tailgate cutout and reversibly connected to the tailgate for facilitating easy removal of the insert from the tailgate. Optionally, the insert can be affixed to the tailgate by more permanent means including by, for example, rivets, bolts, spot welds and/or temperature resistant bonding agent. The invention can utilize any cooking means, including gas fuels like propane and butane, and any carbon-based solid fuel such as charcoal, briquettes, wood, woodchips, as well as electrically-generated heat sources. Solid fuel can be placed into the insert, lit, and a cooking grate secured to the insert. Gas fuels can be stored remotely from the cooking apparatus by a fuel tank, and transported to the cooking apparatus insert by gas lines.

In another embodiment, where the cooking fuel is a gas (e.g. propane, butane, etc.) the insert comprises additional components, as known in the field of gas grills. For example, valves and/or valve controls (“control valve”) can be located on the insert or, more preferably, on the vehicle tailgate. A standard gas grill burner is secured to the insert, and more specifically, to gas tubes that are connected to gas lines supplying fuel to the burner. Optional control valve(s) supply the user with the ability to select and adjust the temperature at which the food is cooked. A gas line runs from the control valve to a gas coupler that is readily accessible to the user. In an embodiment, this gas line runs inside the tailgate and exits in the region near a bottom corner of the tailgate. At the exit region, the gas line is connected to a coupler for connecting to gas feed line. One end of the gas feed line connects to the coupler, and the other end of the gas feed line connects to the gas source. In one embodiment the gas source is a propane tank commonly used in outdoor gas grills. Any gas source can be utilized including, for example, those used for camping and those used in outdoor gas grills. In a preferred embodiment, the gas source is a propane tank secured immediately behind the cab in the center of the truck bed. A gas feed line connects the gas source to the gas coupler located at the tailgate. Accordingly, when the two gas lines are coupled, gas can flow from the gas source to the burner. The gas burner is ignited to provide heat for cooking food that is placed on a cooking surface. The cooking surface can be a grate, a solid grill, a smoker, a rotisserie or any surface or means whereby food is placed in proximity to the heat. In an embodiment a grill is placed on top of the insert over the burners as the cooking surface and food is then cooked. Optional embodiments include one or more of a side burner, a smoker and rotisserie. Multiple burners and/or side burners are incorporated into the insert assembly by connecting a corresponding number of control valves and/or splitting the gas line to each of the multiple burners and/or side burners.

In an embodiment, the invention is a cooking insert assembly for cooking food capable of insertion into a vehicle tailgate cutout, having a bottom with an outer edge and a wall attached to the outer edge such that the bottom and wall define an insert interior volume for placement of cooking means and a plurality of connectors for attaching a cooking surface to said insert. In an embodiment where none of the bottom or walls is sloped, the volume of the insert interior volume is calculated as the surface area of the bottom multiplied by the wall height. In an embodiment the bottom outer edge is one smooth curve so that there is one wall. In an embodiment the bottom is oval-shaped. In an embodiment the bottom is circular. In an embodiment the bottom outer edge is not one smooth curve. In an embodiment the bottom outer edge defines a rectangle so that there are four walls attached to the outer edge. In an embodiment the bottom outer edge defines a square. In an embodiment the bottom outer edge is a combination of one or more walls and smooth curves such that there are no sharp corners.

In an optional embodiment the cooking insert further comprises a latch box connected to a wall, for locking the tailgate into a vertical position and unlocking the tailgate from a vertical position. The latch box is positioned in the insert such that the latch box is in operable communication with the tailgate locking mechanism used for locking/unlocking the tailgate in/from a vertical position.

In an embodiment the cooking means is a solid fuel or a gas fuel. In an embodiment the cooking means is a gas fuel, wherein the cooking insert assembly further comprises one or more gas tube inlets for introducing a gas fuel to the insert interior volume and a burner connected to the one or more gas tube inlets. When the burner is supplied with gas and lit, heat for cooking is generated. The gas tube inlets can be located anywhere so long as gas is provided from a gas source to the interior volume. In an embodiment the gas tube inlets are located in a wall. In an embodiment the gas tube inlets are located in the bottom. In an embodiment the gas tube inlets are located in the latch box. In an embodiment, the gas tube inlets are passages having two ends, with the first end connected to a gas burner and the second end connected to a fuel source. In an embodiment the fuel source is introduced to the gas tube inlet by a gas line, wherein gas is provided to the other end of the gas line by a gas source. In an embodiment a gas valve control located between the fuel source and gas burner provides a means for regulating the amount of gas to the gas burner and consequently the temperature at the cooking surface. As known in the art, a side burner is optionally added to the insert by splitting and running a gas line to the side burner, so that the cooking surfaces includes the central cooking surface and a side cooking surface. In an embodiment where the side burner is integral with the cooking insert assembly, the vehicle tailgate cutout is shaped to accommodate the side burner. In an embodiment the side burner is not integral with the cooking insert and attaches to the vehicle tailgate by fastening means outside of the vehicle tailgate. As used with respect to the side burner, operably connected means that fuel is supplied to the side burner in addition to being independently supplied to the central burner.

In an embodiment, the cooking insert assembly disclosed herein comprises a smoker cover assembly connected to the cooking insert assembly. Any of the disclosed cooking insert assemblies can have a sloped bottom or one or more sloped walls for collecting grease generated from cooking. In an embodiment, both the bottom and one or more of the walls are sloped. In an embodiment the bottom further comprises grease collecting holes for collecting and/or disposal of grease generated from cooking.

In an embodiment the invention is a vehicle tailgate comprising a cutout for receiving a cooking assembly insert. In an embodiment the tailgate further comprises a tailgate with any of the cooking insert assemblies disclosed herein located within the vehicle tailgate cutout. In an embodiment the vehicle tailgate further comprises a gas line for delivering gas to the cooking insert, wherein the gas line has a first end and a second end with a coupler attached at the first end for receiving gas from a fuel source. In an embodiment, a gas valve control is connected to the gas line second end for controlling the amount of gas delivered to the cooking assembly insert and a burner is connected to the gas valve control such that when the gas is ignited heat is generated by the burner. In an embodiment, the invention is a vehicle comprising a tailgate of the present invention.

In an embodiment, the invention is a method of cooking food comprising providing a vehicle having a vehicle tailgate cutout and a cooking insert assembly located in the cutout, attaching a cooking surface to the insert assembly, supplying fuel to the insert interior volume, igniting the fuel and placing food on the cooking surface thereby cooking the food.

In an embodiment, the source of fuel for cooking is selected from the group consisting of charcoal, wood, woodchips, briquettes, lava rocks, propane, butane, and electricity.

In an embodiment, the invention is a method of making a vehicle tailgate cooking assembly comprising supplying a vehicle tailgate and cutting a portion of the vehicle tailgate to obtain a vehicle cutout tailgate capable of receiving a cooking insert assembly. In an embodiment, the method of making a vehicle cooking assembly further comprises placing a cooking insert assembly in the vehicle cutout tailgate and mounting the cooking assembly to said vehicle tailgate. In an embodiment the cooking insert assembly is an insert assembly of the present invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is an elevated perspective view of the tailgate cut-out for receiving an insert, showing a relationship and placement of the cut-out for receiving a cooking insert within a vehicle tailgate. In this embodiment the cut-out is rectangular

FIG. 2 is one embodiment of an insert suitable for insertion into a rectangular tailgate cut-out.

FIG. 3 shows a tailgate with an insert locate in the vehicle tailgate cut-out. For clarity, only the tailgate portion of the vehicle is shown.

FIG. 4 is the insert located within the tailgate cutout showing associated cooking elements, fuel source and fuel lines.

FIG. 5 shows the bottom and/or walls of the insert can be sloped for collecting grease generated during cooking. FIG. 5A is an elevated view of a sloped insert embodiment wherein the walls are sloped and FIG. 5B is a side view of a sloped insert wherein the bottom is sloped. The arrows indicate the direction of the slope.

FIG. 6 s a composite of the latching means for the grate and cooking apparatus insert, which includes side views (A and B), as well as a top view (C) of the grate connected to the insert (C). FIG. 6A shows the grate placed in the vicinity of the latch and 6B shows the grate placed into the latch, as indicated by the arrow.

FIG. 7 is a cross-sectional view of the vehicle tailgate and cooking assembly insert in a horizontal position and containing a spit plate.

FIG. 8A shows an optional smoker cover connected to the insert to facilitate smoking of the food. FIG. 8B is an expanded view showing the connection between the smoker and the insert.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The invention may be further understood by the following non-limiting examples. All references cited herein are hereby incorporated by reference to the extent not inconsistent with the disclosure herewith, including Disclosure Document Request Number 543828, date stamped Dec. 22, 2003. Although the description herein contains many specificities, these should not be construed as limiting the scope of the invention but as merely providing illustrations of some of the presently preferred embodiments of the invention. For example, thus the scope of the invention should be determined by the appended claims and their equivalents, rather than by the examples given. In general, the terms and phrases used herein have their art-recognized meaning, which can be found by reference to standard texts, journal references and contexts known to those skilled in the art. The following definitions are provided to clarify their specific use in the context of the invention.

Regardless of the use of a gas, charcoal, briquettes, woodchips, lava rocks, or even an electric energy source, the present invention provides a proper cooking means by creating an appropriate receptacle housing through a sufficient opening. In an embodiment the opening is in a vehicle tailgate. Further, the present invention accomplishes an effective cooking surface through creating a self-contained system within this platform in a mechanism which resides to provide a sufficient energy source. While the shape of this opening within the tailgate is preferably rectangular to conform to the general dimensions of a vehicle tailgate, other geometries, including, but not limited to, square, elliptical, oval, and circular openings can be employed.

The dimensions of the opening may vary with the size and orientation of vehicle tailgates commercially available to consumers. While a preferred embodiment of the present invention is that the depth of the opening should not be greater than the overall thickness of a standard vehicle tailgate, in an embodiment the insert bottom extends below and outside the bottom portion of a vehicle tailgate. Such extension is based on embodiments that utilize carbon-based solid fuel, such as woodchips, lava rocks, briquettes, and charcoal, wherein it may be desirable to have larger amounts of such fuel, in order to provide improved flavor. A further advantage of such various depths is to allow a combination of different carbon-based fuel systems, such as the addition of woodchips on top of a charcoal energy source.

The opening shall allow placement of an insert within the top portion of the tailgate, wherein the insert has an interior volume for locating the cooking means within the insert and below the cooking surface. As used herein, cooking means is used broadly to refer to any means that generates heat, including by traditional gas sources such as propane, butane and other gas fuels, by solid carbon-based fuel (woodchips, lava rocks, briquettes, charcoal, etc.), and by electrical generation of heat as known in the art. As discussed above, while this insert bottom can be rectangular, it can have any shape. The insert is made of any suitable material, preferably commercially available materials, or composites thereof. In an embodiment the insert is made of a light-weight material such as aluminum or standard sheet metal, or can be manufactured from an insulating material such as ceramic. Other potential materials are a metal sprayed with an insulate. The insert is configured to allow sufficient means for placement of one or a plurality of burners, tubing for supply of gas or electricity, controls for the amount of heat, and a cooking surface, including a grate, to properly position the food to be cooked relative to the heat source, as well as allowing easy collection and removal of food particulates and grease.

FIG. 1 shows a portion of a vehicle 10 having a tailgate 20 containing a cutout 30 for receiving a cooking insert (not shown). In an embodiment the cutout is rectangular or generally rectangular for receiving a rectangular or generally rectangular cooking insert. The invention encompasses any shape cutout 30 for receiving any shape insert. In one embodiment the vehicle 10 is a pickup truck having a fuel source 40 located and centered behind the cab with a fuel-line 50 for supplying cooking fuel to the cooking insert. The dashed lines indicate the gas line 50 can be run within the vehicle body from the tank 40 to the tailgate 20 vicinity, thereby minimizing the likelihood of accidental damage of the gas line 50.

FIG. 2 shows one embodiment of a cooking insert 60, wherein the cooking insert is rectangular, and suitable for insertion into the tailgate cutout 30 shown in FIG. 1. The insert has an insert bottom 100 having an outer edge 105 where insert walls 110 connect. The insert interior volume 65 of the insert 60 is that volume defined by the bottom 100 and walls 110. The bottom 100 can be of any shape including circular, square, oval and any shape that can fit into the tailgate cutout. The outer edge 105 is the perimeter of the bottom 100 and is where the wall 110 attaches. Optional grease release holes 80 to facilitate clean-up can be located in or through bottom 100. In an embodiment, one or more gas tube inlets 90 are located within latch box 70 for transporting gas fuel from the gas fuel source. The insert can be connected to the tailgate via any means, including via a plurality of screws, bolts or rivets 75. If only a solid fuel source is utilized to generate heat, the gas tube inlet 90 need not be present in the insert. In an embodiment, the vehicle tailgate 30 is positioned such that the original (e.g. factory manufactured) means by which the vehicle tailgate is opened (from a vertical position) and closed (to a locked vertical position) is disrupted. For example, a common tailgate lock and release mechanism involves physical manipulation of a lever which moves two bars such that the tailgate can be locked/released in/from its vertical position. In an embodiment, this lever mechanism is removed to maximize cooking surface area, and to ensure a convenient cooking location relative to the person cooking, and replaced by a latch box 70. The latch box 70 provides means of operating the original (e.g. factory manufactured) latch to ensure the tailgate reliably locks into, and releases from, the vertical position during travel. In an embodiment the latch box creates sufficient resistance so that a user can operate the latch by imparting a physical force on a surface of latch box 70.

FIG. 3 shows a vehicle tailgate cooking assembly comprising the insert 60 connected to the vehicle tailgate 20 within the vehicle tailgate cutout. FIG. 4 shows a burner 130 located within interior volume 65 and connected to gas feed tubes 150 for providing heat to the cooking surface. In an embodiment, gas feed tubes 150 are connected to gas inlets located in latch box 70. The burner 130 can be connected to the insert bottom 100 by burner holders 135. In an embodiment the cooking surface is a grate 160. For clarity, only a portion of the grate 160 is shown. In a preferred embodiment, gas control valve 140 regulates the amount of gas, and hence the temperature at the cooking surface 160. FIG. 4 depicts two gas control valves 140 so that grill 160 comprises two independently temperature-controlled cooking regions. A fuel tank 40 connects to gas line 50 for supplying gas to tailgate gas line 120. In an embodiment gas feed line 50 runs to a male coupler 170 that can insert into female coupler 171, thereby facilitating flow from the fuel tank 140 to the gas burner 130. When the tailgate 20 is in the horizontal position for cooking, coupler unit 170 and 171 are connected. When the tailgate 20 is vertical (e.g. during travel) coupler unit 170 and 171 can be disconnected and fuel source 40 shut-off. In a preferred embodiment, vehicle tailgate gas line 120 and gas feed line 50 are at least partially located within the vehicle tailgate/body and thereby “hidden” from view and protected from accidental damage.

FIG. 5A shows an embodiment wherein one or more of insert walls 110 are sloped to facilitate insert clean-up by collecting grease into one location on the insert bottom 100. In an embodiment the insert bottom 100 is sloped (FIG. 5B). In an optional embodiment grease holes 80 facilitate grease drainage. The walls 110 can have a lip 66 to facilitate placement of the insert into the tailgate cutout. In an embodiment the lip 66 can be secured to the tailgate by means known in the art, including by one or more of adhesives, adhesive welds, fasteners, bolts and screws. FIG. 5B is a side view cross-section of the insert showing a lid 115 secured to the insert walls 110 with lid latches 117 to secure the apparatus when the tailgate is in a vertical position during travel and when the grill is not in use. In an embodiment, the lid 115 resembles the top surface of tailgate 20, thereby “hiding” the cooking insert when not tailgating. FIG. 5B shows an optional embodiment wherein the grease 81 drains out of insert volume 65, and into the tailgate via grease collecting hole 80 that spans insert bottom 100.

The grate 160 can be secured to the insert 60 by any means known in the art, including by a plurality of connecters 180 to secure the grate 160 when the tailgate is in a vertical or a horizontal position (FIG. 6). Alternatively, the plurality of connecters 180 can be attached to the tailgate. As used herein, connecters is used broadly to refer to any means for securing the grate including, fasteners and clasps wherein the grate can be removable to facilitate clean-up.

In an optional embodiment the invention can comprise a spit plate 200, as shown in FIG. 7. The spit plate 200 can have a plurality of holes 201. FIG. 7 shows the placement of the spit plate 200 within the insert 60. Spit plate 200 can attach to spit plate holder 190 between the burner 130 and the grate (not shown). The grate can be secured to the insert by latches 180. The lid 115 can be secured by lid latches 117. The burner 130 can be secured to the insert bottom surface 100 by burner holders 135. In an embodiment, the invention further comprises a grease tray 82 located in the vehicle tailgate 20 and below the insert bottom 100 for collecting grease generated by cooking that drains from the bottom 100 to facilitate clean-up.

FIG. 8 shows an embodiment wherein a smoker cover assembly 300 is connected to the insert 60. The smoker cover assembly 300 comprises a base 320 and a cover 310 connected by a hinge 315. The cover 310 can have a handle 360 to facilitate cover opening and closing as well as an exhaust valve 350. To facilitate connection of the smoker base 320 to insert 60, the smoker base 320 can have a smoker cover lip 340 that slides into smoker sheath 330 to facilitate connection and removable of the smoker 300 to and from the insert 60 (FIG. 8B).

Charcoal Grilling Apparatus

With regard to an assembly used for charcoal grilling, an insert located within the opening in a vehicle tailgate does not require the use of valves or controls within the device. Rather, the insert must allow a sufficient grate to be positioned and secured to allow retention in both the horizontal cooking arrangement, as well as the vertical position for traveling. As shown in FIGS. 6 and 7, the present invention contemplates a latching means 180 to ensure the grate 160 will not dislodge when the vehicle tailgate and insert 60 is in an upright or locked arrangement during non-use or when traveling. As shown by the provided schematics, this means includes the use of a series of “C” latches 180 that have sufficiently smaller internal radius than the outside stems of the grate 160. The present invention employs positions of a plurality of these “C” latches along the side of the opening to ensure proper securement of the grate. Other means for securing the grate include fasteners, clasps, and appropriate cut-outs for fitting the grate to the insert wall.

In an optional embodiment, the charcoal embodiment of the present invention also relates to a cover, to allow the device to also be used as a smoker unit. As shown in FIG. 8, this cover or smoker unit attaches to the vehicle tailgate through the use of two elongated “U” sheaths 330, which are sufficiently attached in a parallel relationship along the top portion of the vehicle tailgate and/or insert 60 and proximate to the sides of the grate. Through the use of a lip 340 at the base of the cover or smoker unit, the unit can slip along the elongated “U” sheath, and be sufficiently secured for the operation with the grilling apparatus.

Other features of this cover plate or smoker unit include an exhaust valve 350, allowing controlled ventilation of smoke emanating from the cooking unit. In addition, the unit contemplates two portions in which the bottom portion 320 secures to the base of the tailgate through the lip 340, with a top portion 310 secured to the said bottom portion 320 through the use of a hinge 315. This allows a user of the system to frequently open and close the cover and/or smoker, including by handle 360, without need to slide the unit off the tailgate.

In addition to the securing of both a grate and a smoker cover plate, the insert for the charcoal embodiment is designed to allow not only proper retainment of briquettes, wood chips, or similar energy sources, but also be designed to allow collection and removal of grease and grilling residue. As shown in FIG. 5, the bottom 100 and/or walls 110 can be sloped to provide a grease drain 80. The grease drain 80 can be a groove, basin, or similar collection means to allow natural collection through gravity. In an embodiment the grease drain or grease collector can span the thickness of the bottom surface 100 (FIG. 5B) to facilitate drainage of grease 81 from the cooking insert

Gas (e.g. Propane) Grilling Apparatus

In addition to the carbon fuel source grilling embodiment of the present invention, the invention can use propane, butane, or other commercially available petroleum based energy as the fuel supply. This embodiment can also be used with charcoal, or for use just as a gas grill within a vehicle tailgate. As the use of gas requires a sufficient supply source, one aspect of the present invention uses a coupler mechanism placed proximate to the insert, sufficient to allow attachment of a hose or aperture for the supply source of gas. In addition to this placement of a coupler proximate to the insert, the insert for the gas grill can include gas valves to control the desired flow of gas into the insert and gas grill. Therefore, there is sufficient communication from the coupler to the gas valves that then feed into the insert.

Upon providing this feed into the insert located within the vehicle tailgate, the feed is connected to one or a plurality of gas burners to provide sufficient heat to the cooking surface of the gas grill. The shape and configuration of the gas burners can vary according to style and desired energy needs, but could include a single straight burner, single “H” style burner, an oval/round burner, or a plurality of single burners arranged throughout the insert. Each burner is sufficiently attached to the base of the insert. While a bronze or brass burner is preferred, the burner can be manufactured from a variety of commercially available materials.

One means of allowing removal of grease or grilling residual is to have holes or a groove located below each burner to allow collection and removal to a means outside of the insert. Another means is to have the base of the insert angled to allow gravity to naturally gather such materials for collection (FIG. 5). A third means for allowing collection is to have a secondary tray below the insert for collection, which can be easily removed from an opening located in the tailgate (see 82 shown in FIG. 7).

Similar to the charcoal grilling embodiment of the present invention, the gas grill means of the present invention includes both a grate and a means for securing the grate to the insert. In addition, the present invention contemplates a lid that can be secured on the insert and/or tailgate, to secure the apparatus when the tailgate is in a vertical position during travel and non-use of the grill.

The invention encompasses placement of an additional single burner proximate to the insert in which the burner and grilling surface is located. By adding an extra valve and expanding the number of supply sources emanating from the controls section of the grill, a separate line can allow an energy supply source to the addition of a single burner. Such a burner, apart from the gas grill, permits use for general cooking needs such as for a skillet or pot.

Electric Grilling Apparatus

As a third and separate embodiment of the invention, the insert technology and means of fabricating the insert into a commercially available tailgate includes an electric grilling surface or hot plate. Electricity can be supplied to such an apparatus through (i) the vehicle's own electric supply; (ii) the use of an internal power supply within the tailgate; (iii) the connection to an outside power generator or battery; or (iv) an alternative energy source, such as a solar panel. Regardless of an electrical source, energy is supplied from a source to a sufficient resistor or series of resistors to act as a grill or hot plate. The heating surface can be grooved to allow for collection of grease or food particles, or angled to allow run-off of such material via gravity as previously discussed.

An alternative design for the electric grilling surface uses a standard grate and cover plate, as discussed above, in combination with a zigzag arranged spit plate 200 having a plurality of holes 201 sufficient to cause vaporization of grease and other particles for added flavor while cooking (see FIG. 7). FIG. 7 shows one embodiment for this vaporizer or “spit plate” 200 located between the grill surface and burner 130. Regardless of embodiment employed, the present invention encompasses a control mechanism between the power source and resistor mechanism to ensure proper and appropriate heating of the desired food. The spit plate 200 can be utilized in the gas, as well as the electric, embodiment.

As an addition to this electric concept, the present invention encompasses the addition of various cooking adapters. This includes the use of a rotisserie means that connects onto the top portion of the tailgate, proximate to the grate, but inside the cover. Additional adapters include, but are not limited to, an electric griddle adapter.

All references throughout this application, for example patent documents including issued or granted patents or equivalents; patent application publications; and non-patent literature documents or other source material; are hereby incorporated by reference herein in their entireties, as though individually incorporated by reference, to the extent each reference is at least partially not inconsistent with the disclosure in this application (for example, a reference that is partially inconsistent is incorporated by reference except for the partially inconsistent portion of the reference). As used herein, “comprising” is synonymous with “including,” “containing,” or “characterized by,” and is inclusive or open-ended and does not exclude additional, unrecited elements or method steps. As used herein, “consisting of” excludes any element, step, or ingredient not specified in the claim element. As used herein, “consisting essentially of” does not exclude materials or steps that do not materially affect the basic and novel characteristics of the claim. Any recitation herein of the term “comprising”, particularly in a description of components of a composition or in a description of elements of a device, is understood to encompass those compositions and methods consisting essentially of and consisting of the recited components or elements. The invention illustratively described herein suitably may be practiced in the absence of any element or elements, limitation or limitations which is not specifically disclosed herein.