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Turkey in a Garbage Can


Turkey in a Garbage Can
photo courtesy Holly
A camping recipe from Holly. We fed sixteen people at camp with this recipe! If you want to use a bigger bird, increase cooking time and amount of coals accordingly. It doesn't hurt to sneak a peak near the end of cooking time to see if it's done, but do it quickly and add 15 minutes to the cooking time each time you open it up. If the bird stays away from the sides of the can and you wash it well afterwards, you can reuse your can several times.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours, 15 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes


  • metal garbage can
  • wooden pole - 1 inch thick, 3 feet long
  • 20 pound bag of charcoal
  • aluminum foil
  • small (15 pound) whole turkey
  • potatoes, carrots, and celery


  • At home, clean the turkey and tie the wings firmly to the bird. Do not season or stuff the turkey.
  • At camp, light half the charcoal on the upside down lid of the garbage can.
  • Pound the pole about 1 1/2 feet into the ground.
  • If you can find the smaller-sized, 10-gallon metal garbage cans, you're set. Otherwise, if you're working with a 20-gallon can, you'll need to dig a trench or lower the can into the sand by 8-10 inches. This reduces the volume of the can so that there will be less air to heat, and cooking time will be faster.
  • Make a tinfoil ball around the top of the wooden pole. It should be the size of a baseball. An empty pop or beer can forced onto the top also works.
  • Place the bird cavity down onto the pole and foil ball. The foil ball or can will support the bird while it cooks and stop the pole from going all the way through. Be sure not to let the turkey touch the ground.
  • Lower the garbage can over the turkey. No part of the turkey should touch the sides or top of the can. Remember, if you are using a 20-gallon can, you will need to dig a trench to provide a raised platform inside the can. If you do not do this, the turkey will not cook sufficiently.
  • Transfer the hot charcoal from the lid of the can to around the sides and on top of the can. The coals along the sides should be piled as high as possible to be close to where the turkey is inside. If using a large sized can, you may want to build up a ledge around the sides of the can with dirt or sand and put the coals on top of the ledge. Add coals as necessary.
  • Wrap single potatoes in tin foil and place on top of the can to bake. Leave them there for the full cooking time of the turkey. Don't forget to poke the potatoes with a fork!
  • Wrap the cut carrots and celery (and any other vegetables you might like) in foil with a little water and roast over coals for the last 30 minutes of cooking time. You can add powdered soup mix (French onion or chicken bouillon works well) and you may want to double wrap in heavy foil so the vegetables don't burn.
  • After 2 hours, put on oven mitts. Carefully and slowly lift the can off the turkey. Test it by poking it with a knife or roasting stick. If the juices run clear, it's done; if not, replace the can and add more coals and cook for an additional hour and 15 minutes. Turkey should be a crispy golden brown.
  • Share and enjoy! Serve with instant stuffing and gravy. You are now the talk of the campsite!

Servings: 6 - 10

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