9 Tips for Cooking Thanksgiving While Camping

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If you’re thinking about spending Thanksgiving around a campfire this year, we have some tips to make your outdoor turkey day a success!

Friends sitting around a campfire

While most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving by cramming as many extended relatives as they can into a single room, many campers prefer to enjoy Thanksgiving in the expansive space of the great outdoors. We’ll let you judge which scenario sounds crazier.

We have cooked for large groups while camping before, and it has always been a blast. We even celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving one year while camping with friends in Banff National Park in Alberta.

But, Thanksgiving is no ordinary meal, and there are definitely some logistical challenges that come along with preparing a large group meal… at a campground…in late November.

While we’d love to say we developed this list of tips through careful foresight and deliberation, the reality is: most of it comes from mistakes we made first hand.

So, if you’re thinking about bucking tradition (or starting a new tradition) and going camping for Thanksgiving this year, we hope that these tips help your meal go off without a hitch.

We’ve also included a bunch of great camp-friendly Thanksgiving recipes at the end of this post to help you start planning your menu!


Tips for cooking Thanksgiving while camping

1. Check the weather

First and foremost, check the forecast. If there’s even the slightest chance it might rain, you’re going to want to bring a pop canopy or rain tarp. You may even want to bring along a Weber grill to cook on, as rain and campfires don’t make for a good mix. If it’s going to be cold, make sure you have enough firewood to keep the campfire going all day long. Physical discomfort can ruin even the most well-prepared meal. But all that being said, don’t let the weather push you around! Just prepared and you’ll have a great time.

2. Keep your ambitions in check

Everyone wants to swing for the fences on Thanksgiving, as shown by the still-popular trend of stuffing birds of ascending size inside of other birds. But even simple tasks can be more difficult when camping, so it’s best to temper your expectations.

We believe a simple, well-prepared meal is far more impressive than any high-stakes, high-production meal (like trying to deep fry an 18 lb turkey in a jury-rigged cauldron of scalding hot oil—an actual scene we witnessed at a neighboring campsite one year).

3. Prep what you can at home

While this might feel like cheating, the more you can do in the comfort of a modern kitchen, the better your overall experience will be at the campsite. Pre-measure and chop ingredients and put them in individual containers. These space-saving collapsible tupperware containers are perfect for packing pre-chopped vegetables or even pre-cooked side dishes.

If you’re marinating anything, get it started the night before. Baking a pumpkin pie? Do it in the oven at home and reheat at the campsite. Essentially, anything that can be done in advance, should be done in advance.

Read up on how to pack a cooler so you can safely transport all your prepped and pre-made dishes to your campsite.

Friends at a campsite one person is putting a log onto the campfire
Delegate tasks: While a few people prep the food, someone else can be in charge of keeping up the fire.

4. Don’t try to “host” Thanksgiving

This was our biggest mistake during our first Thanksgiving camping trip. While you might want to play the role of host, it’s much better to get people involved!

Organizing a potluck-style Thanksgiving is a great way to distribute the responsibilities and is well worth a few group texts to sort out who is bringing what.

When you’re at the campsite, be sure to delegate tasks like cutting vegetables, splitting wood, and making cocktails (see tip #6).

Wherever you can, encourage crowd participation. People naturally want to help out while camping, so let them be a part of the process!

5. Start cooking early

When you’re outside, everything takes longer than expected. It’s an unfamiliar setting, the equipment is less than ideal, and everything is liable to be misplaced. Plus, now that the clocks have been rolled back, it starts getting darker (and colder) a whole lot faster than you’d expect.

So get the fire started early and give yourself plenty of daylight to start cooking. Use your weather app to determine the time of sunset in your location, and then plan out your meal accordingly.


Michael holding a mug and warming his hands over a campfire

6. Warm cocktails are the best appetizers

This works for both indoor and outdoor Thanksgivings. Whether it’s mulled wine, hot apple cider, a hot toddy, or spiked pumpkin chai, sipping on a warm drink is a great way to get into the holiday spirit. We’d suggest preparing a big pot like a party punch bowl and just let it simmer over the fire.

7. Have a plan for dishwashing

Cooking for a group can be stressful enough, never mind worrying about the pile of dishes you need to wash in the dark after it’s all said and done.

Make a plan for how you will handle dishwashing. Our favorite approach is to clean as we go, and then make sure everyone has joined the Clean Plate Club to make the final dish wash simpler. You can read more about how to wash dishes while camping here.

Alternatively, especially if you’re going to have a lot of people, you can pick up compostable plates and skip the cleanup. These plates are a great tree-free and compostable option.

Michael holding a stuffed squash on a plate

8. Forget the turkey and go for the sides

This suggestion isn’t for everyone—for some people, the turkey is an absolute requisite. However, for those with an open mind, we would like to put forth this argument: the turkey takes 80% of the time and energy of cooking, but at best takes up just 20% of your plate.

So, may we suggest ditching the bird entirely and double downing on the sides? You’ll get more variety, with less effort.

Or you can check out our all in one Thanksgiving Bowl, that features turkey sausage instead of a whole bird. Get that full Thanksgiving flavor with only a fraction of the work.

Megan carrying a Dutch oven full of apple cobbler

9. Easy to assemble dessert

After cooking an entire meal outside, attempting to prepare an elaborate dessert requires an absolutely herculean effort. The best option is to make your dessert ahead of time and just reheat it at the campsite.

But if your set of making something on location, we have a few easy to assemble desserts you can try. A no-bake crisp is great if you’re using a camp stove, or if you have a Dutch oven and already have a campfire going, you can try this pretty easy, mostly hands-off Dutch Oven Apple Cobbler.

If hosting Thanksgiving at a campground is totally out of the question for your family (which, honestly, is totally understandable) you could also consider hosting an outdoors Friendsgiving. While you can’t choose your family, you can choose your friends – and hopefully, those friends like to camp as much as you do.

Thanksgiving camping menu ideas

Two hands of an acorn squash that is stuffed with stuffing

Roasted Stuffed Squash

An entire Thanksgiving meal in one edible “bowl”! This meal combines sausage, stuffing, and vegetables served in a campfire-roasted acorn squash. The recipe is easily scalable to serve any sized group that you’re camping with.
Tempeh grilling over a campfire

Sweet and Savory Grilled Tempeh

This grilled tempeh is perfect for vegetarian & vegan campers. The tempeh is marinated in maple syrup and soy sauce, giving it a wonderful sweet and savory flavor that perfectly complements any Thanksgiving feast.
Mac and cheese in a Dutch oven on a picnic table

Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese

This Dutch Oven Mac and Cheese could be served as a side or as a vegetarian main. Cooking in a Dutch oven means this dish is pretty hands-off, so you can focus on making the rest of your Campsgiving meal.
Cast iron skillet full of cubed butternut squash over a campfire

Cast Iron Butternut Squash

This is one of our favorite ways to make butternut squash: cubed, coated in coconut oil, and cooked in cast iron over the campfire. It’s easy to make and has an almost buttery flavor while being completely dairy-free!
A Dutch oven filled with stuffing on a camp table

Apple Fennel Stuffing

It’s so easy to make your own stuffing! This recipe uses apple and fennel, giving it a sweet and savory twist.
Megan carrying a Dutch oven full of apple cobbler

Dutch Oven Apple Cobbler

No Thanksgiving is complete without dessert, and until we work out how to make from-scratch pumpkin pie at the campsite, this Dutch Oven Apple Cobbler is one of our go-to autumn camping desserts.
Apple crisp in a blue bowl next to a cast iron skillet

Quick and Easy Apple Crisp

If you're cooking for a larger group or just have a ton of dishes you want to cook for Thanksgiving, it can be nice to have a super easy dessert up your sleeve. This apple crisp takes so little effort to make us wonder if it even counts as a recipe! Nonetheless, it's a super delicious way to end a Campsgiving meal.
A pot of mold wine with oranges and cinnamon sticks sitting on a campfire

Campfire Mulled Wine

Put a big pot of this Mulled Wine over the campfire and let it simmer away. People can serve themselves throughout the evening, so you don’t get stuck playing bartender while you’re busy cooking!
Spiked apple cider with mulling spices in a small white enamel pot on a camping stove.

Bourbon Apple Cider

A fall camping classic, this Bourbon Apple Cider is an easy cocktail to serve with your Thanksgiving meal. Just add a few spices to your favorite apple cider, and then add a splash of bourbon. Or, leave it out and you have a great warm drink for the kids to enjoy!

This post was first published on 11/12/2015 and was updated in 2019 to include additional recipes.

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  1. Haven’t been Thanksgiving camping yet but are getting prepared. Last year, we bought a Rocket Roaster and tried it out by cooking about a 12 pound turkey using charcoal and it only took about 2 1/2 hours and it came out great. For our large family, if I can get them to go Thanksgiving camping, we could buy a second roaster and get 2-12 pound birds and be set.

    1. That’s awesome! Never heard of the Rocket Roaster, but it sure would be impressive to road a whole turkey over the campfire.

      Hope you have a great holiday this year!

  2. I love this post, I could have used these tips 3 years ago! My boyfriend and I celebrated Thanksgiving that year while we were on a road trip in Australia. With no turkey, no pumpkin stuff, or other “typical” Thanksgiving items… we made do with what we had access to. Rotisserie chicken, instant mashed potatoes and gravy, a can of mixed veggies, some pre-made rolls, and for desert banana bread and orange juice (big splurges!). We settled on a spot to eat and it turned out to be so buggy!! So instead of packing everything up and moving spots we set-up our “table” under a mosquito net and started dinner. It was by far the most unique Thanksgiving I have had but also one of my most special ones. We took the time to go back and forth and say what we were thankful for. It was really unforgettable. I think what helped me most that day was to not get worried about things you are “supposed” to have on Thanksgiving, just be happy and grateful for what you have access to! Even if it is something you might not typically eat, any meal can be a Thanksgiving meal! Also, be sure to pick a spot with less bugs than we did… haha

    1. What a special experience for you and your boyfriend! It’s so important to stop and take time to remember what’s important… not the food or the party, but sharing a moment with a loved one, even if it’s a buggy moment! (or cold and rainy in our case) Thanks for sharing!

  3. Perfect! My girlfriend and I are going to be yurt camping at Ridgway State Park in CO for Thanksgiving! I plan on doing a bunch of sides, some thick sliced already cooked turkey breast, and bootleg-smoking a couple turkey legs. Perfect post! Thanks!

    1. Yurt camping sounds like the perfect way to spend Thanksgiving! I bet that smoked turkey will be awesome. Have a great trip!

  4. For years we have celebrated Thanksgiving outdoors. I cook turkey in a modified canning pot. After punching holes about an inch from the bottom of the pot, simply layer charcoal on the bottom and place tinfoil wrapped turkey, neck down on top of charcoal. Even a large turkey that protrudes way over the top of the ‘cooker’ will cook. Test with thermometer. Usually take as long as in a traditional oven.

  5. Sean Spence says:

    This video shows a great, easy way to cook a turkey while camping


    We have used it several times for group camping trips. Give it a go. Every thing you need stores flat in a leaf bag. You can put it below all your normally packed camping equipment .

  6. We have celebrated “Vansgiving” the last couple of years. We invite our local van community and a spot out in the woods, everyone brings one or two dishes and one couple even brought their deep fryer and mini smoker for the turkey! It turns out great every year! I do agree to prepare as much as possible before you arrive and simplify recipes especially with no access to an oven. It is my favorite tradition. I wrote about last year’s gathering on our blog: https://vanwives.wordpress.com

    1. That sounds like a great event, Liz! It’s so nice to be able to spread the food prep among a bunch of different people. I think everyone is a little more relaxed since it all comes together a little easier and it feels sooo much less like a “high stakes” event.

      Smoked turkey is the best! We had a smoked vs deep-fried turkey cook-off last year, and while the crispy skin of the deep-fried turkey was no contest, the flavor of the smoked turkey couldn’t be beat.

      Hope you have a wonderful Vansgiving this year!


  7. I love these recipes! My boyfriend and I sold our house and moved into our rv 2 years ago and these are great for the rv life! Thank you 🙂