Campfire Turkey

Have you ever agreed to do something without ever agreeing to do it?  Or, at least… remembering to agree to do it?  That’s what happened to me last week after being informed that I was in charge of cooking one of the Thanksgiving Turkeys.

“Well you told me that you wanted to try it”, Missy insisted, “…and we bought an extra one to roast just in case it doesn’t turn out.  I guess we can always throw yours in the oven as well…”

She had unknowingly just thrown down the gauntlet; challenge:  accepted.

However, racking my brain, I tried to remember exactly when it was that I agreed to do this.  It’s no secret that I love a good campfire meal…but a campfire turkey?!  I’ve never even cooked an oven turkey.  Heck…I’ve never even cooked a Thanksgiving side dish, and now I was in charge of the main course?

Yes, I said campfire turkey.  The idea came from my days as a boy scout; each November my troop would hold an annual Thanksgiving Turkey Bash, in which we’d invite all the scouts and their families out to camp  and cook turkeys and all the fixin’s over hot coals to serve for dinner.

“That’d be something I’d like to try someday”, I mentioned in passing to Missy last summer.  Apparently, our definitions of “someday” are very different.  And so, in the predawn hours of Thanksgiving morning, instead of trying to soak up an extra few minutes of sleep snuggled up in my down comforter before the girls awoke, I was outside starting my fire.   Temperatures dipping into the teens and a brisk wind already had me second-guessing my decision.

In all reality, camp fire turkey is pretty simple:

  1. Make a fire
  2. Thaw turkey & remove organs, neck, etc.
  3. Make stuffing and fill cavity of the bird
  4. Butter skin liberally and wrap tightly with a complete roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil
  5. Place directly on coals & cook for 4 – 5 hours, while flipping it end-over-end every 20-30 minutes.
  6. Eat

Sure, it sounds easy enough, and even though I had seen it done at least half a dozen times at the Turkey Bash, I was still nervous.  This was the big leagues.  I was in charge of the Thanksgiving turkey.  Ruin the bird, and I might as well serve popcorn, buttered toast, and pretzels.

While I prepared the fire (you need to have hot coals, not flame), Missy helped prepare the bird, so that by 8:00AM the coals were nice and ready for cooking.  The big Florer Family Thanksgiving Meal is an early-afternoon affair, so the turkey needed to be ready by 12:30 at the latest.  All morning I watched, and flipped, and I paced, and I poked.  Adding more coals when needed.  The outer layers of foil started to flake off a bit, so I added more foil (if you “spring a leak”, the bird dries out).

The hardest part about making camp fire turkey is not being able to track your progress.  There is no little button that pops out to let you know when you’re ready to eat; the bird just cooks away in its own juices while you flip and wait.  Too little time, and I end up with raw meat; too much time and I end up looking like Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation.  So as 12:00PM rolled around, Missy and I anxiously made the decision to pull the turkey from the fire.

After letting it sit tightly wrapped for 30 more minutes, we nervously began to remove the foil…

…and revealed the most succulent, smokey, fall-off-the-bone, lick your lips, good looking turkey we’ve ever laid eyes on.

The meat was (literally) falling off the bone as I removed the last layers of foil, the skin had just the proper amount of crispiness to it, and its smokey aroma began quickly filling the kitchen.  So the bird was soon carved up…

…plated, and served to the masses.

And let me tell you, the camp fire turkey was a smashing success!  The entire family loved it (or at least were trying to be nice and told me that they did).  The juicy meat and the smokey flavor was something that we all had obviously been missing in our lives; second and third helpings were had, and the leftover turkey sandwiches were the.bomb.  Sadly, no pictures were taken during the meal (we were all too busy eating), but it’s safe to say that a new Hardinge family tradition has been established.

Weather permitting, of course…I don’t ever intend to make campfire turkey with 18″ of snow on the ground!

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About Tom Hardinge

Loving husband to my wife Missy, loving father to my four daughters Sienna, Rowan, Jovie, and Lola. I'm a chronic over-packer who loves good coffee, good music, running, waffle tee's, fleece pants, and Jesus Christ!

9 thoughts on “Campfire Turkey

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  3. My son is begging me to go take our horses and go camping and have our Thanksgiving over a campfire this year. I am very tempted as I know this will be a memory he will hold forever. In trying to find ways to cook the bird, I ran across your post. Love your idea as I don’t know if I can bring myself to cover it up with dirt (the other main option). This is more what I had in mind. Could you tell me how you were able to manage the coals and how often you added more. Did you have a separate fire that you used to gather the coals so not to put the bird right on the flame? Thanks!

    • Thanks for the comment, Shellie…sorry it has taken so long to reply! I’ve never tried covering the whole thing with dirt, but not that I have done this a few times I may be able to help. I would go with separate fire for coals route, or one fire over a large area to keep the flame and coals apart. Last year shoveling hot coals from a separate fire seemed to work the best to date, so that’s what I’d recommend.

      Good luck!

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