Throw a Camping Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving feast complete with twinkle lights and decorations on the table.

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always spent at my grandmother's surrounded by a large extended family.  These are some of my happiest memories of my childhood.  Our parents sat in the dining room, and the cousins sat cheerfully at the kid's table.  Early in my marriage, Thanksgiving became a holiday spent with a large group of rowdy friends.  Now, Thanksgiving is smaller and much more subdued, but that doesn't make me enjoy it any less.  And yes, Thanksgiving can be celebrated at the campsite.

If you are planning a Thanksgiving camping trip, you don't have to give up your favorite holiday meal.  You might want to merely change the way that you look at this meal or how to prepare it overall.  We camp without an actual oven.  We rely on a Dutch Oven, a grill, and a two burner propane stove.  These pieces will cook a fine holiday feast.

You can still enjoy a nice meal on paper plates and with festive napkins.

On the menu for a Campsite Thanksgiving are:

  1. Grilled Tuscan Turkey
  2. Green Bean Bundles
  3. Roasted Sweet Potatoes with honey cinnamon butter
  4. Crock Pot Dressing
  5. Cranberry Sauce
  6. Dutch Oven Pumpkin Pie
This meal could easily be adapted and changed.  You could eliminate the dressing and cranberry sauce entirely if this is not your jam.  These suggestions provide what I consider to be a typical southern Thanksgiving - just prepared outdoors.  

Before leaving home:
  • Thaw your turkey fully and remove the backbone of the turkey.  Store in a large ziplock bag for transporting.  A 2-gallon Ziploc bag works well for this.
  • Make your cranberry sauce according to the package directions on the bag of cranberries purchased from the produce section of the grocery store.
  • Make the cornbread from a package mix of cornbread and take in a ziplock or plastic container.
  • Prepare the cinnamon butter and store in a small container with a lid.  I use mason jars for everything.  Small half-pint jars work perfectly for this.
  • Check your list of ingredients and make sure that you have everything to prepare your meal.
  • Be sure that you have containers for leftovers.  You will have them.  Plan ahead!
I measure ingredients and take them in small containers and Ziploc bags to the campsite to keep from taking full-size containers of everything.  This also helps with actual meal prep at the campground.  You can find the full menu with links to all of the recipes as well as the ingredients and amounts in this Thanksgiving Camping Meals Google Spreadsheet.

For the crockpot dressing, make your cornbread at home and bring it along in a ziplock bag or plastic container.  The rest of your ingredients could be brought premeasured and ready to go with the exception of the canned items and eggs.  This recipe can also be made without the chicken.  Start the dressing first.  It will take several hours to prepare.  If you are making this for a lunch meal, begin after breakfast.  If this is going to be an evening meal, begin it in the afternoon after lunch.

Many of the ingredients for this slow cooker dressing will be in your pantry.  

This dish will work in either a shallow oval cooker or in a deeper one like I have.  

The dressing cooked nicely.  It was moist and well seasoned without too much sage.  My mother really enjoyed this and complimented the seasoning more than once.  I will be honest, I was scared of preparing the dressing in a crockpot.  But, rest easy knowing that it really turns out just like the kind baked in the oven and was actually better.  I almost hate to admit that!  And leftovers warm up nicely in the microwave.  

The Grilled Tuscan Turkey should start at home by removing the backbone of the turkey.  Buy a 12 to 14-pound turkey.  You should allow enough time for it to thaw out.  This can take several days in the fridge.  Removing the backbone allows you to place the turkey flat onto the grill to cook.

I took one extra step in preparing our turkey and brined our bird.  I made a simple brine:
  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 6 cloves of garlic smashed
  • 1 lemon sliced
This mixture complemented the seasoning for the turkey rub and made a really juicy bird in the end.  I would add this step!  I was short on time and only brined the turkey for about 5 hours, and it still worked.  You can brine in a 2-gallon zip top bag.  I have also brined a turkey in a clean pickle bucket from a restaurant that has a lid.  If you do the Ziploc bag method, place the bird in the brining mixture in the fridge or cooler.  If you choose to do this in a pickle barrel or bucket, be sure to use plenty of ice to keep everything cold.  

With the backbone removed, you can season and grill the entire bird in a reasonable amount of time.  Fresh herbs provide a lovely taste that will give that earthy undertone that I love about fall cooking.  This is one reason I suggest that you could leave off the dressing and not really miss it because of the herbs in this recipe.

Once on the grill, check for the internal temperative of 150.  But, there is little work to grilling this turkey.

The turkey will be nice and brown outside while juicy and flavorful inside.

You won't need to turn over or flip the turkey.  Once it is on the grill, you might need to shift it a bit due to the heat.  I checked for the recommended internal temperature of 150 and had a turkey done in a little over an hour.  I was amazed!  Also because of the butter that is rubbed under the skin, DO NOT tilt and move the bird so that the butter runs out onto the hot coals.  It will start a huge fire.  Not that I know anything about this.  A friend just recommended that I be careful about this.  

While the turkey is grilling, you will also want to roast your sweet potatoes.  You wash and wrap them in aluminum foil.  Place them on the grill to roast.  This could also be started while the coals are heating and before the turkey goes on the grill.  A half to a fourth of a sweet potato (depending on the size) will be plenty.  If you are having to dressing, you will plan for less potato per person.  If you are not having dressing, you might want to plan for a half of a potato per person.  If you want to cook extra potates, they would make a nice breakfast side item or could be made into a smoothie!

After you have cooked the potatoes and turkey, remove them from the grill.  Have your green beans wrapped in bacon and ready to cook.  These will only take a few minutes.

Trim your green beans and wrap in bacon.  Secure each bundle with a toothpick or two and drizzle with a mixture of steak marinade and brown sugar.  Finish at the end with the remaining marinade and blue cheese.  I may never go back to green bean casserole after this.  Who doesn't love bacon and vegetables?

The green bean bundles will cook in less than 10 minutes on the grill.  You can cook them longer if you want your beans a little more done.

Sprinkle with blue cheese and remaining marinade to finish after grilling.
Just before you sit down to eat, start your Dutch Oven Pumpkin pie.  This dish could be made at any time during the last hour of cooking the dressing and other items.  It will hold its heat for a while.  This could also be an item you pawn off for someone else to get ready and have it ready to add the coals at the right time.

The pumpkin pie has a nice crust that is pressed into the bottom of the pan.  The middle has a creamy and well spiced traditional filling.  A crumble topping finishes this off to perfection.  Again, this is a holiday game changer.  If you are preparing this in a traditional Dutch Oven, line with parchment liners.  This will make clean up a snap!  You can thank me later for this tip!

No Dutch Oven?  You can make this in an oven using a large cast iron skillet.  My father in law once commented on how much I use a cast iron skillet in my kitchen.  True.  I use a piece of cast iron to cook almost every meal at my house and at the campsite!

Dutch oven pumpkin pie is creamy inside with lots of flavor!

Top with a little whipped cream to finish.

Timing is everything with a big meal.  Here is my recommended timeline to get this done at a time that would work well.
  • 5 hours before mealtime prepare your crockpot dressing and get it started.
  • Wrap your green beans in the bacon at any time after you start your dressing and store in the fridge or cooler.
  • When you begin your coals for the turkey, have your potatoes ready to go on the grill.  This should be done 2 hours prior to mealtime.
  • Once the grill is hot, begin your turkey.  
  • While the turkey cooks, prepare the dutch oven pumpkin pie and have it ready to cook.
  • Halfway through your turkey cooking time, prepare the coals for the Dutch oven.
  • Once the coals are ready for the dessert, cook get your pumpkin pie started.
  • Take the turkey off the grill when the desired temp is reached to rest before carving.
  • Take your potatoes off the grill when they are ready.
  • Start your green beans and have everyone to set the table.
  • Sit down to enjoy your meal!
Just like a home cooked meal!
Remember, that foods will cool quicker if you are eating outdoors and the weather is cool.  While cooked meats and potatoes will hold their temperature, it won't be long before the temperature drops.  

If you skip the dressing, use your crock pot to make crockpot apple spice dump cake.  Or, if you have 2 crock pots, you could still make this dessert.  Apple Spice Dump Cake is an excellent holiday treat for those that don't like pumpkin pie.  I can't image why someone wouldn't like pumpkin pie, but I hear that these poeple do exist.  I don't think I know them.  No matter the path you take, you will have a yummy meal.

Crock Pot Apple Spice Dump Cake is really delicious and so simple!  My family loves this treat!

Eating outdoors is the best part of camping to me.  What better way to give thanks than to be surrounded by God's beauty and creation.  

I love sitting down to a decorated holiday table indoors or outdoors.

All of our decorations were found at Target and Dollar Tree.  The leaf fairy lights were found at Target for $3.  I picked up the felt leaves at Dollar Tree along with the vases and added some pine cones.  Finally, I framed a piece of printed burlap.  You can print this directly onto burlap by ironing your burlap to the shiny side of freezer paper and running it through the printer like a piece of paper.  I have a free "Happy Fall Yall" printout that you can download and print for your table too!

Happy Fall Y'all Framed Burlap Printout

We really enjoyed this meal.  It was delicious and not too difficult to prepare.  I asked everyone at our table what their favorite part of the meal was, the turkey was a winner hands down.  But my sweet loving son liked the pumpkin pie best.  I don't blame him.  It was scrumptious!

If you are camping with several people or your family, give each person a task so that you will have some help.  Lots of helpers make light work.  And you could assign each person in your camping group a dish to prepare along with the recipe if you like to organize that way.  No matter what, you can have a terrific meal at your campsite for Thanksgiving that is just like you remember from your childhood with a few creative twists!