Garbage Can Turkey

26 Oct

Our family has a very unique way of cooking turkeys. We cook ours outdoors, in a garbage can. Yes, you read that right. A garbage can! My brother heard about this a number of years ago and we tried it (successfully), and have done it a number of times since then. We had a belated Thanksgiving celebration this past weekend and since what we do is such a fun and unique way of cooking a turkey, I thought I’d share the steps with you here.

What you’ll need:

  • A soft patch of ground that you can drive a stake of wood into – grass or sand works great
  • A wooden stake
  • Sledgehammer, or another method of hammering the stake into the ground
  • One roll of tin foil
  • A turkey of your choosing
  • Butter
  • Your choice of spices and seasonings
  • String
  • One METAL garbage can, cleaned
  • Shovel and metal tongs
  • Two bags of charcoal
  • Lighter
  • X-acto knife or scissors
  • Silicone oven mitts or holders
  • A large tray

First, drive a stake into the ground. Make sure you’ve cut it so that the length is just right. You need to make sure that when the turkey is put onto the stake that there will be room above the turkey, so it won’t touch the top of the garbage can.


Because it takes coals a long time to get hot, now would be a good time to get those started. If your garbage can came with a metal lid, this is a great place to light those up.



Wrap tons of tin foil around the stake, especially on the top, so that there’s a little ball up there. Cover the ground around the stake with tin foil as well so that the drippings don’t end up on the grass/sand/whatever.


Now get your turkey ready. Make sure it’s completely thawed, if you bought a frozen one. Rub it with butter and season to your liking. Grab an extra chunk of butter and put it on top of the ball. Gently place the turkey on the stake. Attach the turkey to the stake with string so that it stays on and doesn’t move easily.


By now your coals should hopefully be white hot. Carefully place the garbage can over the turkey, making sure the turkey doesn’t touch the top or walls of the can. Using the tongs, carefully place coals all around the bottom of the garbage can, making sure that the entire area is covered. Use the shovel to place at least one or two layers of hot coals on top of the garbage can. Place more (unlit) coals on the top and around the bottom of the can.


Now it’s time to wait. General rule of thumb is to let it cook for about 2 hours. We like to grab a few beers or ciders and sit in front of a chiminea fire right nearby and enjoy being outside in the fresh air. Don’t forget to add more coals every now and then. After about an hour, you’ll start to hear it sizzling away inside. Don’t let temptation get the best of you – don’t open everything up until at least 2 hours have passed.

Once you’ve decided that enough is enough, shovel away all the hot coals and ash – a good place for them is back into the lid. Make sure you don’t catch anything nearby on fire!


Now carefully lift off the garbage can, making sure to wear protective gloves or mitts so you don’t burn your hands. Marvel at the gorgeous looking turkey you’ve just cooked!


Carefully use the X-acto knife or scissors to cut the string away a bit, so you can remove the turkey from the stake. Silicone oven mitts or holders are great for this so you don’t get your mitts or gloves dirty. Have a friend or family member stand close by with a tray, ready to hold the turkey when it’s off the stake.

Take the turkey back inside and use a thermometer to check the temperature. If it still needs to cook a bit more, put it in the oven at your normal cooking temperature until the bird is well and truly ready.


We’ve found that cooking turkeys this way is so much more fun, and leaves more time for everyone to socialize, rather than having a few people stuck in the kitchen for hours and hours, slaving over the turkey. The meat is moist and juicy and oh so tasty, and very memorable to cook!

Serve with all your favourite turkey fixings and enjoy!

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