Boy Scouts are a resourceful bunch. David learned how to build a wood fire on Boy Scout camping trips when he was a kid, but he didn’t hear about this Scout trick for cooking a whole turkey until he was in his late twenties. Trash-can turkey has since become a novel way to cook a whole bird at tailgates and other outdoor grill parties. The method’s genius is its simplicity. Drive a stake into the ground, impale a turkey on the stake, then invert a metal trash can over the staked turkey to create an oven. All that’s left to add is the heat. You burn a bag of charcoal, or use campfire coals, and shovel the hot coals on top of and around the metal trash can. The method is perfect for campfire cooking because it uses minimal equipment. Plus the turkey cooks quickly and stays moist due to the intense heat surrounding the can and the enclosed environment inside of this makeshift oven. Try this grill project at your next party. It’s sure to impress your guests (and feed them well).
Prep: 5 minutes (plus 5 minutes for rub)
Rest before grilling: 2 hours or overnight
Grill: 1½ to 2 hours.
BBQ TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
– Clean 20-gallon steel trash can, 2½ to 3 feet tall
– 1 metal stake, 1 to 2 inches in diameter and 18 to 24 inches long (see Tips)
– Insulated grill mitts, preferably heat-resistant silicone.
– Leave plenty of time to thaw the turkey if it’s frozen. A 10- to 12-pound turkey takes 1 to 2 days to thaw in the refrigerator or about 6 hours to thaw in continually replenished cold water in the sink.
• If you don’t have a sturdy stake or you’re on pavement or impervious ground, prop the bird up on a vertical roasting rack set on an inverted cast-iron or other heatproof Dutch oven.
– 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 into the safety of trash-can 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 Scoutmasters 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.
Charcoal: Indirect heat, medium ash
20 pounds charcoal No grill grate
Indirect heat, medium ash
8 to 10 quarts burning embers (from 6 to 10 split logs)
No grill grate.
INGREDIENTS (MAKES 12 TO 14 SERVINGS)
1 turkey, 10 to 12 pounds, thawed if frozen, giblets removed
½ cup Sage and Savory Rub
1 tablespoon vegetable oil.
1. Wash the turkey inside and out with cold water and remove any visible pockets of fat. Pat dry.
2. Rub a few tablespoons 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, patting it in with your fingers. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight for the best flavor. Or cook the bird right away if you’re in a hurry.
3. Choose an area of level ground and clear a spot that’s about 4 feet in diameter. Cover the area with aluminum foil. Drive the stake a few inches into the ground in the center of the foil so that about 15 to 20 inches are still visible above the ground.
4. Burn a wood fire as directed above or light all of the charcoal in a pyramid or in several chimney starters. If lighting batches of coals, they should be ready within 15 minutes of each other.
5. Lower the body cavity of the turkey over the top of the stake as you would lower it over a vertical roasting rack. Position the turkey so that it rests securely on the stake (the top of the stake should be resting on bone rather than meat and skin alone).
6. Invert the trash can over the turkey, positioning it so that the turkey is in the center of the can. Put a few shovelfuls of hot coals on top of the inverted can. Shovel the rest of the coals around the bottom of the can, raking them as high up the sides of the can as possible (4 to 6 inches is fine).
7. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey breast registers about 170°F, 1½ to 2 hours, depending on the turkey’s weight. To check the bird, rake or shovel away the coals from the top and sides of the can. Wearing insulated grill gloves (preferably silicone), carefully lift the hot can off the turkey, keeping the open end away from you to avoid steam burns. If the bird isn’t done, replace the can and coals and continue cooking until it is nicely browned and cooked through to temperature.
8. When the turkey is done, use the grill gloves to lift it off the stake and remove it to a carving board. Cover loosely with foil and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving and serving.