Turkey on a Tripod




Cook a Turkey Outdoors with Charcoal while it dangles from a tripod like a trapeze artist on a BARREL KNOT.

An aluminum foil reflector oven, coals and a tripod are all that are needed to cook a delicious, moist, Thanksgiving feast outdoors. (no dangerous oil flare-ups here!).  Also, included here are instructions for tying a Barrel Knot  to keep the turkey suspended off the ground.

This Instructable documents an outdoor cooking method used by our Boy Scout Troop at our annual Thanksgiving campout.  This ingenious method of cooking a turkey with coals was taught to us by a venerable  "Master" of Scoutmasters, Mr. Martin.  I am publishing the technique on his behalf so that others may give it a twirl.

This Instructable is entered into the Homemade Holidays Food Contest.  Please Vote.

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Step 1: Build the Outdoor Theater (oven)

- 44"x18" Wire mesh
- (4) metal tent stakes
- 18" wide roll of Aluminum Foil 
- (4) metal binder clips (office supplies)
- Metal tripod (the one shown is a camp cooking tripod that comes with a round metal grill that adjusts up and down.  The grill and 3 side chains have been removed.
- 3 feet of Sisal rope (be sure to use natural fiber rope.  Some plastic ropes may melt or not be safe to use with food.)
- (2) Plastic oven bags (these bags are designed for use in household ovens and will handle regular cooking temperatures)

and one more thing....I'm forgetting...uhmm...oh yes the star of the show!   

- (1) Turkey (thawed) 

Make the 4 Coal Towers ahead of time (they are reusable)

Cut a piece of wire mesh about 11" by 18" for the Coal Towers

2. Roll the mesh into a 3 1/2" diameter x 18" tall cylinder

3. Secure the seam on the cylinder by "sewing" it together with a length of thin gauge wire or by cutting a few of the squares along the edge of the mesh and fold them back on themselves "hooking" the other edge of the seam. 

Step 2: Position the Coal Towers

1.  Lay two to three sheet of aluminum foil on the ground shiny side up.  Over lap the the edges.  (He may perform without a net but this turkey needs something on the ground. Not to catch his fall but to reflect heat.)

2.  Place the Coal Towers at the four corners of the foil.  The distance between the towers should be 18" apart. (use the 18" roll of aluminum foil as a measuring gage)

3. For the high wire act, place the tripod scafolding over the foil as shown.

Step 3: Secure the Towers

 1. Stake all four Coal Towers at the outside corner of the aluminum on the ground.  

Use a single metal tent stake to hold each tower upright.  The position of the stake at the  outside corner prevents the towers from toppeling inward when the aluminum sidewall is wrapped around them.

Step 4: Build a Turkey Pen

Add the sides to the reflector oven.

1.  Wrap aluminum foil around the towers (shiny side inward)

2. Secure the foil at the top of the towers with the metal binder clips

The oven is done.

"DONE?  Where's the top of the oven?"

No we didn't run out of foil.  That's it...no top required...never had one...not needed.   

Step 5: Prep the Star - Barrel Knot

 The turkey dangles from the tripod on a rope sling.  The sling is made by tying a Barrel Knot around the turkey. (Houdinni would be proud of this act)

Use natural fiber Sisal Rope to tie around the turkey.  Stay away from synthetic plastic ropes.  They may melt or may not be safe to use on food.

The following steps show how to tie the Barrel Knot.  Wire is used in the photo series as it is easier to "pose" than rope.  Obviously do not tie up a frozen turkey still in the wrapper.  A frozen stunt double turkey was used for these action shots due to the dangerous nature of this shoot.  (salmanilla danger to me that is).  

1. Place the turkey on-end (neck end down / legs pointing up)
In the photo below the rope is along the center of the bird (legs on the left and right side)

Step 6: Barrel Knot - Step 2

2.  Bring the ends of the rope up and tie a simple overhand knot at the top of the bird (left end over right end and then under)

Just to orient things: This photo is looking down on the top of the bird. The neck end is down on the table.  The breast is to the right and the legs are at the top and bottom of the photo.

Step 7: Barrel Knot - Step 3

3.  Separate the center of the overhand knot to create an opening as shown

4. Slip the opening in the overhand knot down over the sides of the bird
(as shown in photo 2 thru 4)

Step 8: Barrel Knot - Step 4

This first photo is how the rope should look after the previous step.

5.  Pull the two loose ends of the rope to the top of the bird and tie it tight.

The rope on the sides should be down far enough to just capture the top of the wings.  You want the rope to hold the wings against the body, but not be positioned too low on the bird  If the rope is too far down on the wing the bird could be top heavy and could roll out of the knot.

6. Tie a loop in the loose ends.  The loop is used to hang from the hook on the tripod chain.

7. After the rope work is done place the turkey in the oven bag and twist-tie at the top.  
Double bagging is recommended insurance. (you don't want to lose the juices on the ground.)

Step 9: Light the Burning Ring of Fire

Ok so technically its not a "Ring" of fire ("Square" of fire just doesn't have the right "ring" to it)  

1. Start the Charcoal Briquettes.

A Chimney Starter is the method of choice.  No need for flammable petrochemical liquids, and the coals are easy to dole out from the starter with tongs.

After the coals are glowing in the starter, divide them equally amongst the four towers using tongs.

2. Top-off the towers with additional un-lit briquettes.  They will gradually self-start from the hot coals below.

Step 10: On With the SHOW!

"Step right up and see the daring young turkey dangling from a tripod as it cooks high above a flaming bed of coals

The turkey should be about 3-4" off the ground and centered between the 4 coal towers.

Cook just like you would in a 350 F degree oven.

Our 26lb turkey took 4 1/2 hours to cook.  (160 degree F internal temperature)

Occasionally throughout the cooking process, add additional briquettes to the top of the towers as
the lower coals burn down.

Step 11: Be Thankful It Works

A Thanksgiving campout is an annual tradition for our troop.   This past week-end just happened to be an unusually warm 50 degree F but this technique has proven itself over the years, and works just as well with our more typical 20-30 degree F November weather.  
(Photo 3 shows the two turkey set-up we had this year)

No mater the temperature outside, a piping hot turkey is a warming welcome and is truly something to give thanks for against the backdrop of the occasional falling snow shower.

Nothing beats a thanksgiving outdoors...is that a snow ball, or a scoop of frozen mashed potatoes on your plate?

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    31 Discussions

    I tried this method, and the fishing club was impressed, I had to print out a copy of the PDF for the 'Ladies Aux.' who even made their own towers and tripod. To date, we've cooked not only a turkey, but have done 'Bass in a Bag', a pork roast with veggies, and a Ham with a pineapple glaze! Simple set up, easy clean up, and you can monitor the food at all times. The radiant heat technique works a treat, so in a way this does belong in the Technology area.


    5 replies

    Just finished another Thanksgiving turkey cooked in the backyard. A bit of panic this year. The last hour of cooking was under a piece of plywood propped on the tripod to protect the coals from an unexpected rain shower.

    I like your experimentation with other recipes. Two weekend ago the scouts did the usual two turkeys and only ventured out to add a football ham (without a bag) A little crisp on the outside otherwise not bad.

    Please post detail of your recipes. Did you tie up the bass and pork roast or just hang them in the bags?


    Bass On A Rope

    One 5 pound bass cleaned and head removed
    Put sisal rope in cavity running from tail to front of fish
    Sprinkle lemon juice on fish’s interior
    Put in some pats of butter (near the tail)
    Spiral rope up fish’s body to close the fish around the rope.
    (Fish should now be hanging head down)
    Add 3 tablespoons of water and 3 of lemon juice to bag to add the steam
    Slip bag over fish and tie bag around the rope just above tail with string.
    Hang from tripod and bake about twenty minutes Any longer and the rope may slide through the fish! (Tender)

    Pork Roast (About 3-4 pounds)

    Use pork rub to season port roast surface, and tie the roast up like the turkey
    Use a 50/50 mix of Worchester sauce and liquid smoke to and brush over pork
    Bag the roast, adding a bit of water (3 tablespoons full) tie it to rope
    Hang from tripod and give it about 40 minutes (check through the bag with a meat thermometer)


    Prep ham as you like, glaze, cloves, whatever you like
    Add water, 3-4 tablespoons to the bag and a tblsp of lemon juice
    Tie ham just like the turkey, and bag, tie it tight with cotton string
    Bake ham just as you would in a 375 degree oven, and watch it self bast as it cooks! (use a meat thermometer and look for 125-130 degrees internal to know its ready.)

    Cooking in a bag with a bit of water inside keeps the meat from drying out and it gives you something to make a great gravy with as well!

    Volkivichtrike road poet

    Reply 2 years ago

    why do you decapitate the fish in your recipe? Did you use a guillotine (just kidding with this 2nd question lol ?)?

    I'm just asking because a lot of different fish species have very tasty meat in the cheeks & head (ie trout). A lot of different cultures (ie French & Chinese) include the head not only for the meat it contains but also for the flavour it imparts to the dish too.

    I also thought that by retaining the head it would not only do this but also make binding the fish easier.

    Love the recipes though & am going to use them all with this cooking method as well as in the kitchen! ?

    trike road poetVolkivich

    Reply 2 years ago

    I cut off the head just to make more room in the bag, and to keep my wife from going all squemish, (more peace in the teepee most imprtant!)

    Volkivichtrike road poet

    Reply 2 years ago

    Cheers, I understand fully, like they say "happy wife - happy life!" ..lol, thanks for the reply. ?


    2 years ago

    Sorry forgot to ask ?, what length are the legs on the tripods you are using?

    I am going to be making my own tripod cooking set up, to replace the set up I left at home when I moved here.

    Once again great instructable, thanks! ?


    2 years ago

    Great instructable! I am definitely going to give this a go! ?


    6 years ago

    I am a boyscout and we are having a cooking compition this week ať a campout. Which mě luck and now i just need to find a good turkey recipie. thx


    7 years ago on Introduction

    the printing on plastic was so good, i decided to look at your others. is clear to me, your postings are well worth checking out. thanks again, terrific !!


    8 years ago on Step 7

    Thanks! All the years, i always removed the plastic from the bird.
    Now i know what i'm doing wrong!

    Since I live where I can do stuff....(no close neighbors that complain)... Have access to sheet aluminum...

    I can dig a hole, cut the sheets of aluminum to size, 4 sides and a bottom.
    Removable for cleaning...

    Ohhh, mommas gonna be mad when she gets home tonight.....

    THANKS! This will be good for 'survival' cooking.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    absolutely fascinating... can wait to try it and then share it!! good work


    8 years ago on Introduction

    How well do you suppose this would work if you had to dig a hole in the snow? Would it just be too cold, or would the snow help insulate the whole thing?

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I suspect it would still work. Our Scout troop has made turkey when the temperature was in the 15-20 degree (F) range and the snow was flying. The coal towers will certainly melt any near by snow. (sometimes the foil on the outside of the towers has been known to melt through in a few places)..

    In extreme cold we have placed an Alum. foil "tent" on the upper portion of the tripod legs to help reflect the heat to the top of the turkey. But we have never had to totally enclose it by adding a top to the oven "cube".


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Actually I noticed a lot of tripod related ibles in the Apple category. I think there was a database modification that probably messed things up.


    9 years ago on Step 4

    I have seen this done.  It's pretty cool, I am building one a bit larger for my boy scout troop (hungry boys)  A top would help keep the heat in, thus using less charcoal.  It would also let you do things like bake bread, cookies, pies, etc.  Another nice addition would be a digital thermometer with a probe.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I've never seen this before. I like it a lot. Here in town where I live its hard to find a place to keep a BBQ. So we don't. Cannot cook a hamburger let alone a TURKEY. Easier to carry on the bus to Ala Moana Beach Park too!
    Thank you for solving my problem.