PERRYSVILLE – In 1978, Shirley Lorson convinced her brothers and sisters to pack up their families and join her and her husband, Denzil, to experience an early outdoor Thanksgiving experience on the second weekend in November. Renting a couple campsites at Mohican State Park, she bought a turkey, wired it on a spit, and everyone took turns turning it over an open fire.
That was the first Jones Turkey Roast, and it has pretty much been a family tradition ever since, with 70 friends and family from across Ohio showing up last month at Pleasant Hill Campground for No. 40. pvc pallet
Over the years the menu has changed a bit, but the mainstays of turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn and noodles and gobs of desserts have continued. The crème de la crème is the turkey, which since that first foray, has been cooked over an open fire, smoked, deep fried, and for the past 10 years, cooked in a trash can of all things.
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“I would say the key to a good trash can turkey is preparation and teamwork,” said Billy Jones, who has been the lead trash can man since the switch in 2013. “There’s a lot of passion that goes into it for everyone to enjoy.
“Yeah, brother Todd and I cook the turkey, but people don’t realize how much everyone else brings to the table,” he continued. “Sure, it’s just two days of camping and eating, but everything appears when we get ready to sit down and eat. There’s a lot of food and other things that everyone has to bring.”
Preparation before turkey day is key, as everyone makes sure all the components are there come the morning of the big feast. No. 1 on the list is the bird, usually in the 25-pound range, big enough for everyone to get a taste, and 1B is the metal trash can.
“The trash can usually last 4-5 years,” Jones said. “The first time we use it, we take a torch to the inside to burn off all the galvanized coating. We put down a big aluminum pan to catch as much of the drippings as we can, and any legs or wings that might fall off during the cooking process, then pound a stake through the pan that we set the turkey on.”
As simple as that sounds, that’s the tricky part of cooking the turkey, because if the bird sits too close to the top of the trash can, it can burn.
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“I’d say this year’s bird was an A-minus,” Jones said. “It got a little dark on the top, we needed to pound the stake down a little more.”
Preparing the bird is the next-most important factor.
“We just use a dry rub, no oil or butter,” said Jones. “It gets so hot in there, that if you put oil or butter on your bird, it’ll turn black.”
Cook time is always somewhat of a guesstimate, but over the years, experience has shown that two hours to two hours and 15 minutes is just about perfect. Unlike in the kitchen oven when Thanksgiving turkeys are cooked slow and low, the trash can oven is extremely hot and cooks the turkey much faster.
“After a little over two hours, we take off the trash can and take the bird off the stake, cover it and let it rest for 15-20 minutes,” said Jones. “Then we cut it up to serve.”
Billy and Todd Jones manage the temperature throughout the process, covering the top of the can with a single layer of charcoal briquettes, and then surround the can at the bottom with several pounds of charcoal.
“Basically, it’s like a big Dutch oven,” Todd Jones said.
“We put tin foil around the bottom of the can to seal it, then put the charcoal on that,” said Billy Jones, noting he uses about 20 pounds of charcoal each time he cooks a bird. “When we do it in a fire ring that helps keep the heat in.”
While the trash can method is now the Jones Family go-to turkey roast technique, there was a learning curve early on. In fact, Billy and Todd did a trial run back in 2013, and piled the charcoal around the trash can before lighting it. They saturated the briquettes with lighter fluid, and when they went to eat the bird hours later, it tasted like lighter fluid.
“Now, we start the charcoal elsewhere and then use a shovel to put it around and on top of the trash can,” said Billy Jones.
He also said there’s one more key to ensuring the perfect bird.
“You can’t peek,” he said. “Once you take that trash can off, you’re done. “
He said you’ll be able to hear the turkey sizzle a little after about an hour-and-a-half, and that’s when you know things are going good. And there’s another sizzle that helps you know your trash can is up to heat.
“If it sizzles when you spit on the can, that’s good,” said Todd Jones.
One thing to note about cooking times is if the air temperature is below 40 degrees and it’s windy, you may have to leave the trash can on longer.
With all that said, the real secret to success is summed up best by Billy Jones’ wife, Steph.
“To make a good bird, you need a turkey, a trash can and a loving family.”
Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving turkey turns out just as well.
Plastic Folding Storage Crates Outdoor correspondent Art Holden can be reached at email@example.com.