On Thanksgiving Day, millions of homes across the U.S. are filled with the rich scent of roasting turkey.
But not mine.
To experience the euphoric scent of a juicy turkey crisping in the oven, I have to go outside to the side of my house.
There I’ll find an inverted 20-gallon steel trashcan covered in coals. The cold November ground around the trashcan is steaming and sizzling with the heat. The steel in contact with the coals glows red.
And inside that trashcan—yes, my Thanksgiving turkey. But don’t worry: the can has never held any trash.
People think I’m joking when I tell them that every year my family roasts a turkey in a trashcan, but yes, we do.
We start by driving a wooden cross into the ground, lining the ground with foil.
Then the turkey gets impaled on the cross. The trashcan covers the turkey, and coals are placed around the base of the can and on top of the can.
Why do we do that?
Because despite the attention the turkey gets every Thanksgiving, the traditional oven-baked turkey is really not that great. Because we’re fed up with dry turkey. Because we don’t want to wait three hours for a mediocre bird to roast.
My parents found the remedy to all of these problems five years ago at a dinner party.
Turkey was the main dish at the party. And everyone was going crazy for it, they said. It was actually moist and succulent—the gold standard for good turkey.
So my parents asked the hosts how they prepared the impossibly juicy—and slightly smoky—turkey.
The answer: the turkey had been cooked in a trashcan. They got the idea from a friend, who got it from a friend, who got it from a friend…. All of the instructions can be found on www.thetrashcanturkey.com.
And ever since that party, my family has been a staunch devotee to the trashcan turkey movement. And I have to say, we have converted at least a handful of families.
I understand the skepticism.
I, too, was doubtful when my parents came home and told me that we would be cooking our turkey in a trashcan for Thanksgiving.
But here’s why you should try it at least once.
You’re going to get a great turkey. It’ll be moist and smoky. We’ve found that this method takes well to brining. The smokiness combined with the succulence and flavor of a good turkey brine is to die for.
And it cooks quickly. I don’t understand why, but the turkey takes significantly less time in the trashcan than in an oven. For example, a 22-pound bird takes two hours and 25 minutes to cook. In an oven, a turkey of that size would take almost six hours.
I mean, it makes sense that the turkey would cook through quickly because the trashcan gets hot. But the turkey doesn’t dry out.
Why on Earth would anyone spend six hours cooking a turkey only for it to turn out dry?
Personally I love the excitement of cooking the turkey outside. It’s much more fun using charcoal—almost like a campfire.
And each time it gets better because of our fine tuning and experimentation. This year, my family is going to add some manzanita leaves to the apparatus to give the turkey some good flavor (in addition to brining).
The set up gets a little more complicated if you want to catch the drippings for gravy. My family lines the wooden cross with foil so that the drippings run down into disposable baking pans. It’s a bit makeshift, but it works well. The gravy will also pick up the great smoky flavor.
Now I understand if you’re hesitant. I’m just a 17-year-old high-school food columnist. I realize that the advice I’m giving sounds bizarre.
But please: I urge you to try the trashcan method at least once. It doesn’t even have to be for Thanksgiving.
The trashcan method is in fact catching on. Men’s Health is an advocate for the method. Just be sure to use an ungalvanized trashcan.
You can use a galvanized trashcan, but it must go through a turkeyless test run first so that the zinc (which gives off potentially dangerous fumes) burns away.
Again, you can find the recipe at www.thetrashcanturkey.com, but I must warn you that the instructions are written in a very unprofessional—verging on redneck—manner. I think it adds to the character. Before you judge them, remind yourself: you’re about to cook a turkey in a trashcan.