How to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner on a Campfire (Yes, Seriously)

And we’re not talking freeze-dried

Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving dinner? It’s all about food, friends, and giving thanks for the wonderful things in our lives. The only way we could think to improve it, is to do it around a campfire. It’s also a great way to jumpstart your #OptOutside adventures.

Thanksgiving outside might sound daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Stick with the basics, focus on friends, and success is inevitable. Here’s a menu that we’ve found to be a sure winner, and best of all, most of the ingredients can be picked up at the grocery store on your way to your campsite.

On the Menu

  • Applewood Smoked Turkey Breast
  • Dutch Oven Stuffing with Sausage and Sage
  • Smashed Sweet Potatoes
  • Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Orange
  • Green Bean and Pea Casserole
  • Tarte Tatin (Upside-Down Apple Pie)

Thanksgiving dinner | Photo courtesy of Good To-Go


  • 4 cups applewood chips
  • 1 boneless turkey breast
  • 36 tablespoons butter (about 5 sticks)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 4 tablespoons thyme
  • 1/2 pound of sweet sausage
  • 2 onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup (diced) celery
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh sage
  • 14-ounces dried bread stuffing
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 5-6 small sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
  • 3/4 cup of half & half
  • 1 can cranberry sauce
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 8 ounces mushrooms
  • 1 pound frozen cut green beans
  • 1 pound frozen sweet peas
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 6 honeycrisp apples
  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Photo courtesy of Good To-Go

Cooking a whole turkey, over a fire, can be a lot work and also time consuming. (We’re sure you’d rather spend your time on the trails.) But smoking a turkey breast is just delicious, quick, and surprisingly easy. There’s no need for a fancy smoker—with a little imagination, a smoker can be made out of a myriad of kitchen pots and pans. A traditional New England steamer, used for steaming open soft shell clams can easily be transformed into a smoker. Once the spigot is removed, you have a smoker that can sit over an open fire and slowly cook a turkey breast.

The Fire

The goal is to gain enough heat in the ring while burning down the logs to smoldering coals. Photo courtesy of Good To-Go

The trick to “open-fire” cooking is heat, used judiciously. A fire pit, covered with a strong grate (an oven rack works well) is your best option for cooking. First, make a generous fire using good-sized logs. The goal is to gain enough heat in the ring while burning down the logs to smoldering coals. Place the “smoker” on the grate with the hot coals six inches below. The chips will begin to smoke after 15 minutes or so. If they don’t, stoke the fire and add more wood to get it hotter. It’s ok if there are some flames, but don’t let the fire engulf the smoker. The internal temperature of the smoker should be between 375F and 425F. This can be monitored with the help of an oven thermometer inside the main chamber.

Applewood Smoked Turkey Breast

Cook time: 120 minutes

Smoking a turkey breast is delicious, quick, and surprisingly easy. | Photo courtesy of Good To-Go

Place four cups of applewood chips, soaked in water overnight, in the bottom of the steamer while the breast cooks in the main chamber. (Remember to cover the pot to keep the smoke inside!) The boneless breast is best prepared by rubbing with butter, lemon zest, chopped thyme, salt, and pepper. Make a make-shift pan out of foil, turning up the edges so to hold the juices from the breast. It should be slightly larger than the breast itself. Set this into the main chamber. Depending on the size of the breast, it will take around two hours to cook.

Dutch Oven Stuffing with Sausage and Sage

Cook time: 50-70 minutes

While the turkey is smoking, you can prepare and cook the rest of your dinner. The stuffing is best prepared in a four-quart cast iron Dutch oven. Place the Dutch oven on the grate to pre-heat.  Once hot, add one-half pound of sweet sausage meat, mixing it to cook evenly. Add one diced onion, cooking until soft. Toss in two minced garlic cloves, one cup of diced celery, one-third cup of fresh chopped sage, two tablespoons of fresh chopped thyme, and eight tablespoons of butter. Cook for a few minutes, then add one 14-ounce bag of dried bread stuffing, one-and-a-half cups of chicken stock, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Top with four tablespoons of butter. Cover the Dutch oven and keep it close to the hot coals, approximately six inches. Turn the Dutch oven every 15 minutes to heat it evenly. It will heat throughout and get crispy and crunchy on the top and sides in about 45 minutes to an hour.

Smashed Sweet Potatoes

Cook time: 20-30 minutes

The only thing better than sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving? Smashed sweet potatoes. Photo courtesy of Good To-Go

In a two-quart pot, place five or six small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into one-inch cubes. Cover the potatoes with water and season with salt. Place it on the grate and bring the water to a boil. Simmer until the potatoes are soft. Hold a spoon or whisk on the edge of the pot and pour off all of the water. Using a potato masher or a firm whisk, smash the potatoes. Add one-half a cup of heavy cream or half & half and one stick (eight tablespoons) of butter. Season with salt and pepper and whip together. Cover the potatoes and set them to the side to keep them warm.

Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Orange

Cook time: 0 minutes

With some slight doctoring, it’s easy to create an improved version of canned cranberry sauce. Take the sauce, mix in one tablespoon of grated fresh ginger, two teaspoons of orange zest, and one-fourth a cup of fresh orange juice. That’s it! Fast and delicious.

Green Bean and Pea Casserole

Cook time: 25-35 minutes

The last savory dish is a stove top rendition of a classic green bean casserole. In a four-quart pot, melt one stick of butter (eight tablespoons). Add one medium onion, cut into one-fourth-inch matchsticks. Sweat the onions until soft. Add eight ounces of sliced mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook through. Add one pound of frozen cut green beans and one pound of frozen sweet peas. Add three-quarters of a cup of half & half and cook down by half. Season with salt and pepper. Once thickened and hot, it’s ready to go.

Tarte Tatin (Upside-Down Apple Pie)

Cook time: 50-55 minutes

Sweet, flavorful, and seasonal | Photo courtesy of Good To-Go

The dessert can also be made right on the open fire using a 12-inch cast iron pan. Add three-quarters of a cup of brown sugar, one-fourth a cup of apple cider, juice from one squeezed lemon, a pinch of salt, and a teaspoon of cinnamon to the pan. Place on the grate over the fire and cook for five to ten minutes. This will bubble but do not let it burn or over brown. Add six tablespoons of butter, one tablespoon at a time, incorporating it into the glaze with each addition. Decoratively arrange six apples (I recommend honeycrisp) into the glaze, rounded side down. The apples should be peeled, quartered, and cored. Cook for 20 more minutes. Lastly, place a sheet of puff pastry—cut into a round shape the same size diameter of the pan—over the apples, tucking the sides down into the pan. Cover the cast iron pan with another 12-inch cast iron pan. Place the pan six inches above the hot coals and spoon hot coals onto the top of the cast iron pan. Bake it like this for 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden, puffed, and done. Pull the pan from the heat and let it cool for 20 minutes. Cover the pan again with the other 12-inch cast iron pan and flip the it over, inverting the tarte.

Kick back around a campfire and give thanks for food, friends, and all of the wonderful things in your life. Photo courtesy of Good To-Go

This is first in a series of food stories from Elevated Kitchen and Good To-Go, a column aimed at making meals in the backcountry fun, not drudgery.

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