Our family has an annual tradition of cooking our Thanksgiving dinner outdoors, off-grid in dutch ovens. In the years my husband and I were together before Little A was born, we loved to celebrate Thanksgiving up in the mountains in our wall tent at hunting camp. Since our Thanksgiving crew at hunting camp was usually me, my husband and a couple of his bachelor buddies I typically ended up doing all the cooking. I loved it! I loved the challenge of figuring out how to cook Thanksgiving Dinner off grid in dutch ovens. We’re talking every single dish made from scratch, not just some store bought stuff reheated over the campfire. This experience took my outdoor cooking skills to a whole new level!
The hunting season after Little A was born, she was just two months old and I was recovering from an emergency c-section and traumatic birth experience. We managed to go to hunting camp a couple times that season but I didn’t have the time or energy to make our off grid Thanksgiving dinner (it’s amazing I somehow managed to harvest a deer that year just a short walk from camp!)
I didn’t have the time or energy to do any outdoor cooking. It saddened me since it had become a family tradition for Thanksgiving. Instead, last year we decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner outdoors at home. The scenery at home on our homestead isn’t quite as beautiful as it is high up in the mountains at hunting camp, but the food tastes just as good since we’re continuing our outdoor cooking family tradition for Thanksgiving!
There was always snow up at hunting camp and the temps were much colder than at home which made outdoor cooking in dutch ovens that much more challenging!
Every part of our Thanksgiving dinner is still made from scratch and even though we could use the stove in the house, we don’t. There is something so fun about outdoor cooking and creating such a huge meal off grid without power!
Outdoor cooking for Thanksgiving: The Turkey
So you might be wondering by now just how we managed to cook our turkey off grid. When we had a smaller gathering at hunting camp, we baked our turkey in dutch ovens. We don’t have a dutch oven that will fit a full size turkey (do they even make dutch ovens that big?!). Instead I bought turkey breasts at the grocery store and baked them in our largest 14″ dutch oven (you can find them here).
Last year we had a larger gathering of friends at our house and needed a full size turkey. We used a turkey fryer to cook the turkey. I had never used one before and was amazed at how quickly it cooked a large bird. The turkey had a lightly crispy skin and the inside was so juicy. Surprisingly it wasn’t greasy either!
Outdoor cooking for Thanksgiving: The Side Dishes and Pie
To cook all the other Thanksgiving dinner side dishes, we used our dutch ovens. (If you’re new to baking with dutch ovens, here’s a tutorial on how to cook outdoors with a dutch oven) We have quite the collection of dutch ovens so we can stack them in double and triple stacks with hot coals in between each. We baked our stuffing, pumpkin pie, rolls, mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli casserole in stacked dutch ovens. This triple stack of dutch ovens has two pies and homemade rolls. This triple stack of dutch ovens has two lighter weight aluminum dutch ovens that we use primarily when we’re packing our dutch ovens in our boat on extended day river float trips (you can find them here). For our outdoors cooking on Thanksgiving we needed all the dutch ovens we could round up since we were cooking so many different foods. This triple stack of dutch ovens has a large cast iron dutch oven full of homemade stuffing, a dutch oven full of mashed sweet potatoes and a dutch oven full of broccoli casserole.
When taking our Thanksgiving dinner up to the mountains to cook off grid, I did some prep work at home. For instance, I had the stuffing all mixed up and put it in a container so all I had to do was put it in a dutch oven to bake.
The pumpkin pie filling I mixed at home by hand and poured into a jar with a tight fitting lid. Once at hunting camp up in the mountains, all I had to do was unroll the pie crust I made at home, place it inside a dutch oven, pour the filling in and bake it (here’s our tutorial on how to bake a pie in a dutch oven if you missed it!) Here’s the first pie I ever made in a cast iron dutch oven at our off grid Thanksgiving dinner at hunting camp six years ago.
Outdoor Cooking Recipes for Thanksgiving Dinner
If you want to give off grid and outdoor cooking for Thanksgiving dinner a try, here are some tips and recipes to get you started:
- How to Bake a Pie in a Dutch Oven
- How to cook over an open fire
- How to cook and bake on a woodstove
- Pumpkin Pie Pioneer Style- No Oven Needed
- Three Ways to Make Bread in Different Ovens
- 500 Camping and Dutch Oven Recipes (a plethora of recipes for main dishes, side dishes, breads and deserts!)
I love to cook from scratch and don’t use a lot of fancy kitchen gadgets. When preparing our Thanksgiving dinner at home, I don’t really need to use electricity. All my prep work can easily be done without power. Even though I now prepare our Thanksgiving dinner in our home with power, it is all baked off grid.
I swear Thanksgiving Dinner just tastes so much better when cooked outdoors and off-grid. Maybe it’s the added joy of the experience of outdoor cooking, maybe it’s a little extra smoky flavor from being baked in a dutch oven. Whatever it is, I don’t know if I can ever go back to a regular old Thanksgiving dinner now that we’re spoiled by our off-grid Thanksgiving dinner!
Food Safety for Thanksgiving Dinner
You may be wondering about food safety in our outdoor cooking and off grid cooking. When we prepared Thanksgiving dinner at hunting camp, the temperatures were in the teens and if we were lucky into the 20’s. Our issue was more about having to keep our food from freezing than it was to keep it cool to prevent spoiling! We used large coolers to store our food to prevent freezing but also ensure it was kept at a safe, cool temperature. At home we have the luxury of the refrigerator to store our foods.
When roasting our turkey, whether up in the mountains at hunting camp or at home in the deep fryer, we always use our meat thermometer (we love this one since it is extra long for a large bird) to test the temperature. The standard for safely cooking a turkey is a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature.
Food safety is an important issue anytime of the year, but food related illnesses occur at higher rates in the United States around major holidays like Thanksgiving. There are some great safety tips on the national Food Safety website. Here are a few tips we found there on safely preparing and cooking a turkey:
- Do not thaw the turkey by sitting it out at room temperature. The best way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator or in cold water. Thawing in the refrigerator it will take 24 hours for every 4-5lbs of meat. To thaw in cold water, keep the turkey in the wrapper and submerge it in cold water. Change the water every half hour until the turkey is thawed.
- Contrary to popular belief (and how I was taught!) you do not need to wash the turkey before cooking. The only way to kill any bacteria on the turkey is to cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If you’re going to cook stuffing inside the turkey, place the stuffing inside the turkey right before cooking and not before.
Here’s a fun video to highlight why food safety is so important when cooking poultry:
These food safety tips were shared with you as part of a sponsored post through the Homestead Bloggers Network.