Giving Thanks for Outdoor Cooking
November is here and that means one of the greatest days for both cooks and eaters – Thanksgiving! Although the typical Thanksgiving feast is done indoors in a crowded kitchen, full of family members frantically running around with cranberry sauce while juggling stuffing, green bean casserole and mashed potatoes it doesn’t need to be that way! Thanksgiving is a perfect time to try some new outdoor cooking recipes that wow the guests and also give you the time to be outdoors and away from the frenzied environment that is taking place inside. There’s a lot that can be done for Thanksgiving while cooking outdoor so let’s look at a few ways that you can make this year better for you and your guests.
The first thing that everyone usually thinks of when thinking about “outdoor cooking for Thanksgiving” is a deep fried turkey. Personally, I think a whole fried turkey is overrated and shouldn’t be done (plus, there is an estimated $27 million worth of damage done each year because of deep fried turkeys!). With that said, I do enjoy the taste and the “flair” that deep frying can bring to the Thanksgiving table. If you absolutely MUST deep fry a turkey, do yourself and your guests a favor and deep fry turkey legs ONLY. The frying is quicker and it should be safer because you’ll be adding smaller amounts of meat to the fryer instead of a large turkey all at once. Deep fried turkey legs are amusing and should be a nice addition to the spread (also, this isn’t the “main dish” which is also attractive and beneficial). Keep in mind that the turkey fryer has a lot of other uses and there are plenty of other things that you can fry instead of the turkey (I have made fried green bean casserole and deep fried stuffing balls from my turkey fryer in the past). Lastly, be safe when using your fryer – keep the kids away and make yourself plenty of room around your frying area.
I really enjoy sweet potatoes and think they add a lot to the Thanksgiving meal. I love them so much that I am the person that always brings the sweet potato casserole. A few years ago, I experimented with a smoked sweet potato casserole that had such an amazing response that I now plan on smoking sweet potatoes almost every November in preparation for this dish. If sweet potatoes are a staple at your Thanksgiving, substitute smoked sweet potatoes and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. My normal routine includes slicing the sweet potatoes lengthwise and rubbing the exposed part with butter. Place the halves on aluminum foil (exposed part “up”) and place in the smoker at 225 degrees for about 3 hours. I usually get great smoke flavor and the potatoes turn out perfect!
My last suggestion would be a side dish that includes grilled sausage. Cornbread stuffing has become a favorite at our Thanksgiving table and I have amped it up a bit to include some additional flavors. When we make our cornbread stuffing, instead of browning pork sausage on the stovetop to add to the dish, I grill about one pound of spicy Italian sausage. The grilling adds a completely different flavor profile and what is normally just the “average” Thanksgiving stuffing quickly becomes a dish that has people talking. Again, grilling the sausage outdoors also provides a break from the action and time to socialize outside with friends and family (and possibly a beer while listening to, or watching, football).
Don’t let this time of the year intimidate you to abandon cooking outdoors. In fact, Thanksgiving starts an amazing time of the year where you can try out some new recipes and techniques that will leave some lasting impressions with your guests (and their stomachs)!