|Thousands of people travel for Thanksgiving. And some have to cook the big bird when they show up at their destination. Let's say you're traveling to your Aunt Betty's or to a football stadium to attend your favorite team's game on Thanksgiving Day. Either way, you can make Thanksgiving a movable feast. The trick is planning ahead and bringing along one or two coolers.
Photo by Alison Miksch
Our menu features a turkey cooked under a metal trashcan (a makeshift oven), which allows you to indulge in a full Thanksgiving dinner even if you're cooking in a football stadium parking lot. We also call for grilling most of the food at home, so when you get there, you just cook the bird, heat up the gravy and stuffing, and simmer the cranberry compote.
Set the table with a few decorative pumpkins and apples, and let the celebration begin!
Tailgate Thanksgiving Menu
(Serves 12 to 14)
Menu Time line
One Day Before You Go
At Home (refrigerate everything overnight):
- -Brine turkey
- -Make gravy
- -Grill vegetables for stuffing
- -Grill pears for pear and cranberry compote
The Morning Before You Go
- -Remove turkey from brine; discard brine
- -Rub turkey with oil and herb rub
When You Get There
4 Hours Ahead:
- -Prepare area for Trash Can Turkey
- -Light charcoal
3 Hours Ahead:
1 Hour Ahead:
- -Check turkey temperature and adjust heat so that turkey will be done in 30 minutes
30 Minutes Ahead:
- -Finish cooking stuffing
- -Remove turkey to a carving board and keep warm
10 Minutes Ahead:
- -Finish cooking cranberry compote
- -Reheat gravy
Trash Can Turkey
Makes 12 to 14 servings
1 turkey (12 to 14 pounds), thawed if frozen and giblets removed and reserved for gravy
Apple Chai Brine:
- 1 1/2 gallons cold apple cider
- 2 quarts cold chai tea concentrate
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
Sage and Savory Rub:
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1 teaspoon dried savory
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1. Before You Go: Thaw the turkey if frozen (2 days in the refrigerator or 12 hours in continually replenished cold water in the sink).
2. For the brine: Combine all of the brine ingredients in a clean 5-gallon bucket (line the bucket with a clean plastic bag if you like). Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve, about 30 seconds.
3. Wash the turkey inside and out with cold water and remove any visible pockets of fat. Add to the brine, weighting down the turkey if necessary to keep it completely submerged. Cover and refrigerate (an iced cooler is a good spot) for 8 to 12 hours.
4. For the rub: Combine all of the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry; discard the brine. Rub 1 tablespoon of the rub onto the walls of the bird's interior cavities. Rub the oil all over the skin of the turkey then sprinkle with the remaining rub. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 6 hours. You can also cook the bird right away if you're in a hurry.
5. When You Get There: Choose an area of level ground and clear a spot that's about 4 feet in diameter. Cover the area with aluminum foil. Set a large roasting rack on a large baking sheet or roasting pan and set the turkey breast-side up on the rack. Prop up the racked turkey on a heatproof Dutch oven, cinderblock, or other heatproof base that will position the turkey about 1 1/2 feet off the ground.
6. Light 10 pounds of charcoal (half a large bag) in a pyramid or in several chimney starters. If lighting batches of coals, they should be ready within 15 minutes of each other.
7. Cover the turkey breast loosely with aluminum foil and invert the trashcan over the turkey, positioning it so that the turkey is in the center of the can. Put a shovelful or two of hot coals on top of the inverted can. Shovel the rest of the coals around the bottom of the can, raking them 4 to 6 inches up the sides of the can.
8. Cook for 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, light another 10 pounds of charcoal (half a large bag) so that the coals will be ready after 1 1/2 hours of cooking. Rake or shovel away the old coals and, wearing insulated grill gloves (preferably heat-proof silicone), carefully lift the hot can off the turkey. Remove and discard the foil from the breast. Insert an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey breast; if it registers 170°F, the bird is done. But it should register below that number. To continue cooking, replace the can, and shovel the old coals and the new hot coals on the top and around the bottom of the can. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes more, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey breast registers about 170°F (total cooking time should be about 2 hours, depending on weight).
9. When the turkey reaches temperature, remove it to a platter, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for about 15 minutes before carving.
- *A 20-pound bag of charcoal should be plenty to cook the turkey. But if the weather is cold, the coals may burn out before the turkey is done. In that case, just add more hot coals until the turkey is finished cooking.
- *We did some research about the safety of trashcan turkey because the FDA recommends against cooking any food on galvanized steel. The question is: can you safely cook near galvanized steel, as could happen with trash can turkey? The answer, from Richard Tavoletti, Executive Director of the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI), is yes. Some trash cans are made with galvanized steel and others aren't, so the easiest way to sidestep the issue is to use a can that's not galvanized. But even if you use a galvanized steel trash can, the zinc coating on the steel (the galvanizing material) will not get hot enough to become airborne and migrate from the can to the food. In the trash-can turkey method, the can never touches the food, so it is safe. Even if the trash can grazes the turkey slightly (which is unlikely), the food will not have been in contact with the hot steel long enough to impart any significant zinc residue to the food. We figured trash-can turkey was safe because Boy Scout masters have been roasting birds this way for decades. But researching the issue gave us the reassurance we needed to pass the recipe along to you.
Bacon Giblet Gravy
Makes 6 cups (12 to 14 servings)
- 3 slices thick-sliced bacon
- Giblets from 1 turkey (heart, gizzard, liver, and neck)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 celery rib, minced
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup apple cider (or apple juice, dark beer, or white wine)
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 6 sage leaves
- Coarse salt and ground black pepper to taste
1. Before You Go: Cook the bacon in a medium heavy pot over medium heat until its fat has been rendered and the bacon is crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain; set aside.
2. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the turkey giblets and cook until browned, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and sauté about 3 minutes more until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the garlic and flour and cook until the flour is lightly browned, about 1 minute, stirring constantly.
3. Add the apple cider (or alternative) and deglaze, whisking to incorporate the flour and liquid while you scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add half the broth and whisk until lightly thickened and smooth.
4. Tie the thyme and sage leaves together in a little bundle. Add to the pan along with the remaining broth, stirring to incorporate everything. Simmer until the giblets are fork-tender and the gravy has thickened somewhat, about 15 minutes. Remove the herb bundle and discard. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Remove the turkey giblets and discard the neck. Chop the remaining giblets (liver, heart, and gizzard) into small pieces along with the bacon. Return the pieces to the gravy then remove from the heat and let cool until warm. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
6. When You Get There: Warm the gravy in a pan on the side of the grill while the turkey rests after roasting.
7. Serve the gravy along with the sliced turkey.
Grilled Vegetable Stuffing
Makes 12 to 14 servings
- 2 large onions (about 12 ounces each), cut in 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 1 pound mushrooms, cleaned
- 4 ribs celery
- 4 large apples, peeled, cored, and halved
- 1 large loaf (about 24 ounces) good-quality white sandwich bread, about 18 slices
- No-stick spray oil
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup apple cider
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 3/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
1. Before You Go: Heat a grill for direct, medium-high heat. Oil a grill screen (vegetable tray) and put it on the grill.
2. Coat the onions, mushrooms, celery, apples and bread slices on all sides with spray oil. Put the vegetables on the grill screen and grill until browned and tender, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a large bowl or baking sheet. Grill the bread slices for 1 minute per side. Add to the bowl or baking sheet. Let cool slightly then cut the vegetables and bread into bite-size pieces. Transfer to a large zipper-lock bag, press out the air, seal, and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
3. When You Get There: Heat a grill for indirect medium heat (for a gas grill, turn on the burner(s) on only one side; for a charcoal grill, pile the coals on only one side). Spoon the grilled vegetables and bread into a large disposable aluminum roasting pan. Add the chicken broth, apple cider, parsley, sage, salt, pepper, and melted butter and toss until well combined. Cover with foil and place on the unheated side of the grill. Cover the grill and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until heated through. For a crunchy top crust, remove the foil for the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Grilled Pear and Cranberry Compote
Makes 12 to 14 servings
- 4 Bartlett pears or 12 seckel pears
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1 pound cranberries, fresh or frozen
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla vinegar (or 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1. Before You Go: Heat a grill for direct medium-high heat. Oil a grill screen (vegetable tray) and put it on the grill.
2. Peel the pears, cut in half lengthwise, and remove the core (a small melon baller works well). If using Bartlett pears, cut each pear-half in half lengthwise to make quarters. Toss the pears in a bowl with the oil until well coated.
3. Put the pears on the oiled grill screen, cover the grill, and cook until the pears are browned and barely tender, about 3 minutes per side (6 minutes total for seckel pears, 9 minutes total for Bartlett pears).
4. Let cool slightly, then cut the pears into bite-size chunks and transfer to a zipper-lock bag. Press out the air, seal, and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
5. When You Get There: Heat a grill for direct medium heat. Combine the cranberries and sugar in a saucepan or disposable aluminum pan and put the pan directly on the grill (or on a side burner). Cook over medium heat until the cranberries burst, about 4 minutes, stirring now and then. Taste for sweetness, and add a little more sugar, if needed. Add the pears and simmer 1 minute more. Stir in the vanilla vinegar. Serve warm or at room temperature.
About David Joachim and Andrew Schloss
David Joachim and Andrew Schloss are the authors and editors of more than 40 cookbooks, both alone and in collaboration, and have run successful food writing businesses for the last 25 years. Their first collaboration, Mastering the Grill (Chronicle, 2007) was a New York Times bestseller featured on "Emeril Live!" and other national television cooking shows. Their latest collaboration is The Science of Good Food (Robert Rose, 2008), winner of the 2009 International Association of Culinary Professionals Award and finalist for a 2009 James Beard Award in the culinary reference category. They blog about grilling at Fire It Up .
Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.