Trash Can Turkey


My kind of cooking involves heavy tools.  Give me a chainsaw, axe, and wood splitter and I’m ready to cook.  My good friend Joel Smith suggested I try a trash can turkey.  A quick search of the internet and I found all I needed to know… this method involved a metal trash can, sledge hammer, shovel, and wooden stake.  Immediately hooked, I convinced my mother (convinced is way overstating it) to let me cook our Thanksgiving turkey in a trash can.

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Here are the steps:

Step 1: Gather tools and ingredients

  • Raw Turkey (Make sure it’s not smoked)
  • Seasoning (Salt, Pepper, Poultry Seasoning, Garlic)
  • Olive oil
  • 20 gal metal trash can (new)
  • 18# of charcoal
  • Charcoal lighter fluid
  • 2X2X24″ wooden stake (or anything that will hold the turkey roughly in the middle of the can)
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Sledge Hammer
  • Shovel
  • Long handled tongs
  • gloves

Step 2: Prep the turkey.

If frozen, thaw the turkey before seasoning and cooking.  Once thawed remove the giblets (heart, gizzard, liver, and other visceral organs) and set aside for giblet gravy.  Lightly coat the outside of the turkey with extra virgin olive oil then evenly coat with salt, pepper, garlic, and poultry seasoning (Thyme, Sage, Marjoram, Rosemary, Nutmeg).  Some recipes recommend seasoning hours before cooking but I rarely am that organized and can’t really tell the difference.  Discriminating palates won’t eat something cooked in a trashcan anyway.

Step 3:  Prepare the cooking site

Choose an outside location away from flammable structures and other material.  The cooking spot will kill any grass or plants underneath (and subject you to spouse ridicule for years to come) so a patch of dirt away from everything is best.  Use the shovel to flatten and smooth the ground underneath the cooking location.  Spread the heavy-duty foil over the cook site, extending the foil to about 18 inches outside the diameter of the trash can (about 4′ X 4′).  Lay foil for lighting the charcoal in a separate location but close enough to easily move the coals to the trash can.  Use the sledge hammer to drive the wooden stake into the ground leaving about 14 inches above the ground.  Wrap foil over the top of the stake (for the sensitive ones)

Step 4: Trash can preparation and charcoal

If you can find one and afford it, a stainless steel trash can is preferred.  The most readily available can is galvanized and there is a risk of contaminating the turkey with zinc used in the galvanization process.  To avoid contamination, burn the inside of a new Galvanized trash can prior to using.  I placed crumpled newspapers in the bottom of the can, coated the sides of the can with lighter fluid, and carefully lit the paper.  Once the can is prepared light the charcoal in a separate location according to directions.  Use a separate location to avoid lighter fluid contaminating the cooking area. Once the charcoal is mainly gray it’s time to cook the turkey.

Step 5:  Cook the turkey

Place the turkey onto the  stake and place the trash can upside down over the turkey.  Using a shovel transfer enough coals to the top (was the bottom) of the overturned can.  Wearing leather gloves and using long handled tongs spread the coals evenly.  Stack the remaining coals around the base of the can.  The higher you can stack the coals the more efficient the heat will be transferred into the cooking area.  Use the same glove/tong combination to stack the coals.  Cook the turkey about 7 minutes for every pound of bird weight ( mine was 13lbs X 7 = 91minutes).  Most turkeys come with a pop-up timer to indicate if it is done. Unless it’s extremely cold outside I doubt this will be a problem.

Step 6:  Finish and Serve

When the turkey finishes, carefully move the bottom coals away from the can in case (doubtful) the turkey needs to cook more.  What you are most likely to find is a turkey cooked so well and tender it has fallen apart onto the foil.  With leather gloves, carefully lift the can from the turkey.   When fully cooked place on a serving platter and take inside where (hopefully) someone else has prepared dressing/stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie.  If this is not the case, enjoy your turkey sandwich.

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Greg Chaney

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By Greg Chaney

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