by Anna Fletcher
Green bean casserole, creamy yams, cranberry sauce, stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes, roasted turkey… Thanksgiving food truly is the best food in existence. As a strong advocate for all holidays, I uphold the importance of foods based on occasion (grilled hot dogs and mac & cheese on July 4th, honey-glazed ham at Christmas, a cookie cake for any birthday – it’s mandatory stuff, people.) And Thanksgiving is definitely one of the most important holidays, food-wise. So what do you do when you’re on a backpacking trip in the middle of the Shining Rock Wilderness Area on Turkey Day? You cook a huge, fantastic meal of course! Scrimping on some things is never an option, and Thanksgiving dinner is no exception.
I present to you a guide for the perfect campfire-modified Thanksgiving dinner:
Let’s start with the star of the meal – the prima donna of the dinner stage, if you will:
If cooking the turkey with a Dutch oven…
(Cook time: 2 1/2 – 3 hours)
- Get a medium-sized fire going
- Dry rub the turkey with seasonings – e.g. salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder (for wet rub, add white wine, balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce)
- Insert a meat thermometer into the turkey
- Spray a 14″-deep Dutch oven with oil and put a meat rack on the bottom
- Place the turkey on the rack (the sides should not be touching the Dutch oven)
- Cover and cook on the low hook
- When the turkey starts to steam and sizzle, raise the oven to the next highest hook let it continue to cook
- When the meat thermometer reaches 180°F, remove the turkey from the fire
If spit roasting the turkey…
(Cook time: 5 hours)
- Get a low fire going
- Tie the wings and legs to the body to keep them from dangling
- Insert spit from the neck to the tail (angle the spit slightly toward the backbone – it will balance better since the breast cavity is hollow)
- Rub the turkey with seasonings
- Insert a meat thermometer into the turkey
- Place spit over the fire, just out of reach of the flames
- Let the turkey do its thing, checking on it every half hour or so
- When the meat thermometer reaches 180°F, remove the spit from the fire
Stuffing is super easy if you use a box. Bring along chicken broth, black pepper, celery and onion, and you’re good to go! Stuff the turkey before roasting it or just cook the stuffing in a pot by itself.
The Mashed Potatoes
Instant mashed potatoes are simple (just add water!) and give you a lot of room to add in delicious extras. Use powdered milk to give your potatoes a little more “umph”, remembering that 1/3 cup of powdered milk mixed with 1 cup of water makes 1 cup of rehydrated milk. Cook in a pot over the camp stove or fire rack. You can even use plastic freezer bags to keep mess to a minimum and make cleanup super easy. Just throw the instant potatoes and powdered milk into the bag, boil the necessary amount of water over the fire and then pour the water into the bag. Mix, seal and wait until they’re done! Then mix in some butter, garlic and other add-ins.
The Green Bean Casserole
Did you think we would get through this whole Thanksgiving campfire feast without using foil packets? Think again.
- Spray a heavy-duty foil sheet with cooking spray
- Place about a cup and a half of green beans and handful of crispy shoestring onions on the foil (save some of those delicious onions to sprinkle on top when it’s finished cooking)
- Scoop half a cup of cream of mushroom soup on top of the beans and season with salt, pepper and paprika
- Fold and seal the foil packet
- Cook on the coals for 15 minutes
Whoever thought up gravy is a bonified genius, because this stuff tastes amazing on literally all food. Pour it liberally over everything listed above and witness your food be swept away to another dimension of tastiness. Spoon out the drippings from the turkey in the Dutch oven or collect the drippings in some sort of container as it roasts on the spit and mix it with 1/4 cup of flour and some seasonings (you can use the same seasonings that you used to rub the turkey). Reduce in a saucepan before adding a cup of water or chicken broth (leftover from the stuffing). Allow it to thicken before serving it in all its delicious glory.
The Cranberry Sauce
Bring a can of cranberry sauce. Open the can and spoon out the jelly. Try not to be overwhelmed by the extreme difficulty of this part of the meal.
Wrap raw, whole sweet potatoes in foil and place them in the coals. Turn every 5 minutes until they’re soft and tender. Once they’re done, remove them from the fire and unwrap. Slice open longways and add butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and marshmallows – yummmm!
Holiday tip: Have your hammock nearby for post-dinner food coma. You will need it!