Introduction: How (not) to Cook a Turkey-under-a-can

This Instructable describes how to barbecue a turkey under a (clean) paint can in just under two hours. This isn't the only Instructable on turkey-can-barbecue methods, but I have had very positive results with it. As noted in the title, I will also present a few does and don'ts along the way, as well.

Why cook a turkey under a can? Well, because...

+ you can avoid heating up your kitchen for hours of turkey cookin'
+ you can avoid burning your house down with a deep fried turkey fire
+ it is a pretty quick way to cook a 12 lb turkey.
+ it is a good, cheap way to feed a large group of people.
+ it is a good way to cook a turkey without access to a kitchen.
+ all the guests you invite over to share your turkey will either say, or think to themselves "this will never work, I hope he has Dominoes Pizza on speed dial."
+ when the turkey comes out golden, tender and delicious, they will all eat their words. Literally!

You will need...

+ a 12 lb turkey, thawed (this can take a few days in the fridge, so get your frozen turkey ahead of time)
+ one stick of butter
+ an injection marinade for turkey and injector (optional). There are several recipes online... google is your friend.
+ a new 5 gallon metal paint can (not plastic)
+ two charcoal chimneys
+ at least 10 lbs of charcoal, more if it is a cold day
+ lighter fluid, if you like big fires, want to scare your wife or children, or just enjoy the madness of a Y-chromosome.
+ newspaper kindling to light the chimneys
+ long handled barbecue grill lighter
+ large size, heavy duty aluminum foil
+ welders gloves
+ barbecue tongs to move the coals around
+ a "stake"

The stake is the only potentially specialized piece of equipment. Mine happens to be a stainless steel "T". The shaft is about 2 feet long, slightly pointed at the end, as it must be pushed or driven into the ground. Welded to the top of the shaft is a two inch cross piece, to help hang the turkey on as it cooks. My uncle made the stake for me in the machine shops where he works, as he gave this kit to me as a gift (packaged in the nice green tub you see to the right in the picture). Anything that provides the same function as described, and will stand up to the cooking heat should work.

Step 1: Prepare the Turkey

The turkey needs a small amount of preparation. The giblets and neck should be removed. Bend the turkey wings behind the bird (i.e. put the bird in a full-nelson). If you are injecting with marinade, inject the night before up to an hour or so before cooking. Salt and pepper the outside and inside of bird. Just before cooking, divide the stick of butter in half. Shove a half between the skin and meat over each breast.

Step 2: Prepare the Cooksite

Prepare the cooksite about 30 minutes to one hour before starting to cook.

Crumple some news paper and stuff into the bottom of the charcoal chimneys. Set down upright on a non-flammable, out of the way surface. Fill each chimney with charcoal. Douse with lighter fluid to your level of risk tolerance. Light the paper. In my experience, if I can get the kindling to light well, the charcoal takes about 30 minutes to get going.

While the charcoal gets going, lay out about a 2 ft x 2 ft square of heavy duty aluminum foil on the ground. I usually have to fold together two pieces of foil. Weight the corners with rocks or bricks. Drive the stake into the center, so that 12 to 18 inches is above the foil. There should be just enough above the ground so that the turkey's legs just touch the foil when hanged on, and the paint can will invert over the bird and sit firmly on the ground.

Step 3: Put the Turkey Under the Can

Hang the turkey on the stake. The legs of the turkey should just touch the aluminum foil, but the turkey must be low enough that, when the can is inverted over the bird, it sits firmly on the ground. Adjust the stake for optimal bird placement.

Invert the paint can over the bird. Be certain the opening of the can sits flat on the ground. Dump the now whitish charcoals in the chimneys around the can. Be sure to wear the welding gloves when you do this! Use the charcoal tongs to evenly spread the coals around the can.

When you are initially sighting the turkey cooking spot, chose a place away from any structures, and in an inconspicuous place. The heat of the charcoal will scorch any grass under the foil, so chose an out of the way place (in front of the front door is probably not a great idea).

Step 4: Wait...

Now we wait...

1 hour and 50 minutes, to be exact. Do not peek. Do not raise the can. If it is cool or windy (less than 50 F, steady wind), you might want to add another chimney of charcoal after 1 hour. This is a judgment call.

So, just relax. My uncle says the bird takes a 6 pack of beers to cook. If my aunt is within earshot, he says it takes three beers.

Step 5: The Moment of Truth...

After 1 hour and 50 minutes have passed, you can remove the can. You should hear the bird sizzling. Put on the welders gloves. Use the charcoal tongs to pull back the charcoal from the can.

Fetch all of your skeptical guests...

Remove the can and bask in the oohs and ahhs.

Step 6: Remove the Bird.

Cover the coals with another piece of foil, or fold over the foil on the ground to cover the coals. Place a large pan near the bird hanging on the stake.

Wearing the welders gloves, carefully remove the bird from the stake. At this point, if this is your first time, you will notice that the bird is very VERY tender. It will have a tendency to fall apart, and into the coals if you let it. Put the pan close, cover the coals as best as you can, remove the bird as swiftly and cleanly as possible, and pray.

Nothing stifles those oohs and ahhs more quickly than a bird dropped in the charcoal. If you do drop the bird, raise your arms high and shout, "Fear not, I am uninjured." This may distract your guests just long enough to brush the ash off the turkey...

Take the bird to the kitchen or picnic table, carve, and serve. This is the most tender, juicy turkey. You will rule the day. Everyone will want to be your friend. Enjoy your moment in the sun!

Clean up is pretty easy. I usually wash the stake in the dishwasher. I scrub some of the cooked on ash and fat off of the paint can with a steel wool pad. When the can is fairly clean, I rub the can inside with some vegetable oil, to keep the rust down.