The Tribe at Thanksgiving: Deep Frying a Turkey for 40 people

Me setting out the dishes and that Cherie in the back boning the turkey.

Me setting out the dishes and that’s Cherie in the back boning the turkey.

(If you’re getting this by email without the pictures, just click through to the site to see them all.)

As you know if you’ve been following me for long, one of my main goals for this website is to create a vandwelling tribe. I don’t think it’s enough to just inspire people and teach them about living mobile, I believe they need to have a community so they aren’t alone. For the last two years my friend Steve and I’ve been putting on a Thanksgiving Dinner  that was open for  all vandwellers to join us in our camp for Thanksgiving. For this, the third year, I put out an open invitation for all of you to join us. From the replies I got I was pretty sure it was going to be the biggest one yet. The first one was about 15 people, the second was around 20 people and this one was gigantic with over 40 people!

Steve and his two great masterpieces; 32 pounds of delicious turkey.

Steve and his two great masterpieces; 32 pounds of delicious turkey.

Think about that for a second. We were going to feed 40 people a full, traditional Turkey dinner totally off-grid in the middle of the Arizona desert. That means no running water of any kind, no stove and no electric grid! Sounds crazy doesn’t it! But my friend Steve is crazy like a fox and he knows how to get around every one of those problems. Every year he has managed to pull-off the impossible and deliver a delicious meal with seeming ease. With double the number of people, we knew it was going to be harder.

Part of the group.

Part of the group.

The last two years we de-boned frozen turkey breasts, wrapped them in aluminum foil then cooked them in our Weber portable barbecue grills. But we knew that would not be enough for 40 people. We needed two big turkeys to feed all of us, not just the breasts. But how to cook them? Our friend Bryce had just bought a large back-yard barbecue and had been using it as an oven so we knew for sure it could easily cook a big turkey. He generously offered to allow us to borrow it for one of the birds, but that left us with figuring out how to cook the second.  We finally decided that we needed to get  turkey fryer to do the second one. There’s a K-Mart in Blythe so I checked it out and they had a turkey fryer on sale for $45. That was a good deal so we decided it would work perfectly for us.

The turkey fryer. Steve had this frame from an old chair so we sat the fryer in t and pounded rebar stakes into the ground. We used rathchet straps to firmly secire the char to the stakes so the fryer could not move. We had a breeze that day so the plywood was to break the wind.  Of course the fire extinguisher is right where we can grab it if we need it.

The turkey fryer. Steve had this frame from an old chair so we sat the fryer in it and pounded rebar stakes into the ground. We used ratchet straps to firmly secure the chair to the stakes so the fryer could not move. We had a breeze that day so the plywood was to break the wind. Of course the fire extinguisher is right where we can grab it if needed. Everything worked perfectly!

Like us, you’ve probably heard the horror stories of people burning down their houses by miss-using the fryers so that made us wonder if we could do it safely, but Steve is such a good cook and practical guy we were confident he could. Se we did a Google search and learned the common ways that people mess up and cause fires so we were confident we could learn from their many mistakes and do it right. Here are the keys to safely use a turkey fryer:

  • Place the fryer somewhere so that nothing else can catch fire and  the worst that will happen is you’ll lose your turkey.
  • Don’t put in too much oil. Many accidents happen because their is too much oil and it overflows when you put the turkey in.
  • Water and hot oil don’t mix, the turkey must be 100% dry when you put it in the oil.
  • The oil is highly flammable so turn off the flame when you put the bird in, then once it’s safely inside, turn the flame back on.
  • The turkey fryer is very tall and top-heavy so it must be constantly protected from the wind, dogs, and kids or it can’t be knocked over..
  • If the oil goes much over 400 degree it’s possible to  spontaneously ignite all by itself. So someone needs to be there constantly to monitor the oils temperature and adjust the flame.
  • A fire extinguisher far away in the kitchen does you no good, have it nearby and ready to go at the first sign of a problem.

We followed all these safety rules to the letter and it went off without the slightest problem. We had the fryer very secure so nothing could move it, we placed a large piece of plywood so the wind couldn’t affect it, and I stood and watched every minute it was cooking. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it. If you are interested, at the bottom of the post I have pictures of the entire process of frying the bird.

The food out on the tables.

The food out on the tables with people loading up! Thanks Sameer for the photo!

While I was watching the turkey, Steve was inside doing every little bit of the cooking. Yes, he did it all and it was a lot!!! I was expecting 30-40 people, so we had bought what we thought was plenty of food:

  • Two, 16 pound turkeys (we were limited by the size of the barbecue and fryer pot)
  • One gallon of Campbell’s turkey gravy
  • Ten boxes of Stove Top Stuffing
  • Eight large fresh baked yams topped with butter, brown sugar and marshmallows
  • Two pounds of frozen green bean casserole with Cream of Mushroom soup and Frenches Onion Rings
  • One large 50 ounce box of Instant Mashed Potatoes
  • Four cans of Cranberries
  • Three bags of chips
  • Five pies
  • A large cake
  • Three tubs of Cool Whip

Obviously, that was a lot of food and a lot of work and Steve did it all by himself! He’s a really amazing guy (and ladies, he’s available)!  It all turned out hot and delicious! Everybody got plenty for firsts but with more than 40 people we did run out so there were limited amounts of seconds. But everybody got a normal amount to eat, just not enough to “stuff” yourself like we usually do at Thanksgiving! I’m counting it as a blessing in disguise!

Jo and Cherie boning the turkey. That's the barbecue behind that Steve used as an oven.

Jo and Cherie de-boning the turkey. That’s the barbecue behind them that Steve used as an oven. Thanks Bryce. for letting us it borrow it from your Man-Cave! Sameer took this Photo.

But the best thing of all is the camaraderie! Making new friends and seeing old ones is worth the trip here even if there was no food involved at all. As is pretty normal, we had numerous  “newbies” people who have just moved into the vehicle and it’s very helpful for them to be around others who accept and embrace them for their courage at living a non-traditional lifestyle. Plus the huge advantage of getting to see how other people have converted their rigs and solved our common problems gives you a big head-start in making this new life the best it can be.

People all lined up for Steve's World Famous Thanksgiving Dinner.

People all lined up for Steve’s World Famous Thanksgiving Dinner. Thanks to Sameer for the photo!

So I’m declaring this Thanksgiving Dinner a huge success: lots of delicious food, over 40 new and old friends and perfect weather made it a time to not only remember, but memories to treasure always!

The only way it could have been better is if you were here! Start planning now for next year!

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Over 40 of us on a beautiful Thanksgiving day in the beautiful Arizona desert. Life doesn't  get any better than this!

Over 40 of us on a beautiful Thanksgiving day in the beautiful Arizona desert. Life doesn’t get any better than this!

Steve and I have both cooked a tirkey breats on our small portable Weber grills, bu for a full turkey we needed a big one.  Bryce lpaned his full-size barbecue. With the inside burners off it makes a perfect oven. Here Steve is warming the yams and the green bean casserole.

Steve and I have both cooked a turkey breasts on our small portable Weber grills, but for a full turkey we needed a big one. Fortunately, Bryce loaned us his full-size barbecue. With the inside burners turned off it makes a perfect oven. Here Steve is warming the yams and the green bean casserole.

We would have liked to have gotten a bigger bird, but as you can see this was about as big as the pot would hold.

We would have liked to have gotten a bigger bird, but as you can see this was about as big as the pot would hold.

We would have liked to get bigger birds, but as you can see t16 pounds was about as big as we could fit in this pot.

Almost instantly the bird returned to a full boil after Steve gently dropped it in . We had turned the heat off so even if a little had spilled over there wouldn’t have been a fire.

The Turkey just about perfectly done.

The Turkey just about perfectly done 45 minutes later. I watched the thermometer constantly.

Both birds done perfectly!

Both birds done perfectly!


I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

72 comments on “The Tribe at Thanksgiving: Deep Frying a Turkey for 40 people
  1. Rob says:

    Looks good! Maybe next year….

  2. DougB says:

    Next to nuked turkey, which takes forever and ain’t gonna happen anywhere around here I know of, fried turkey is a very close second. Your chefs made a heroic effort. What did you wind up doing with all that oil?
    DougB recently posted…Cyclist as PreyMy Profile

  3. Oh, man, I just left you a LONG reply and I think I lost it. Anyway, I was saying that this is one of my most pet peeves. I quickly become “a mean girl” when I see dogs off leash and I yell at them AND their owners. I’m ready at the drop of a racing dog to put my walking stick in the air and get ready to impale it. Usually, a very loud, stern NO NO NO! GO HOME! will have the dog turning around and heading home.

    My heart actually starting beating faster when I started reading this post – I’m glad you’re okay, so far. My dog and I, when walking, have had two incidents with unleashed dogs in RV parks. Actually one was tied up and slipped it’s collar and came running at us. I have a LOUD stadium horn on hand that I can use to scare away man or beast. I third the notion that it would be a good thing to carry on a bike. It might scare the dog, and also would bring attention to what’s going on if people are in the area.

    • Well Barb I guess you have to experience this life style, in my world, my camp, dogs run free and if you hit my dog with a stick, well let’s say we would have very serious words… My son Zeke will never rock a leash ever…

    • Myddy says:

      I’m sure this was directed at bad dog, but it did ruffle my feathers reading it. I have a service dog that is a collie, and she is highly trained and is often off the leash (on it when out in public establishments) but is trained to respond to my needs so sometimes being off a leash happens, especially if she needs to grab something for me, such as my medicine, walking stick, or a safety item for my medical condition.

      I think I would lose my ish if someone tried to beat her with a stick. In fact, I know I would. It might even trigger my heart condition to see my service dog beat.

      I’m just going to calm myself and assume you mean vicious wild dogs with ignorant owners, and not a trained one that happens to be walking without a leash.
      Myddy recently posted…November in a nutshellMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Barbara, I’ve had some negative run ins with wild dogs so I can understand your fear. But you are still thinking with your civilized mind and about “civilized” dogs. Almost no one out here leashes their dogs unless they are known to be trouble.

      I’m really sorry to say this, but this may not be the place for you because very few dogs are leashed here, nor will they be in the future.

    • Ming says:

      Barbara, were you answering this blog post by Doug?

      He was referring to dogs that chase and attack cyclists, not well socialized dogs that are just visiting.

    • lucy says:

      Barbara, I believe when we are panicky due to an attack upon ourselves or upon our loved ones we have the right to defend ourselves, now, the concept of ‘ impaling ‘ a being it’s @ extremely CRUEL one. I would defend myself alright but, IMPALING a dog ?? THAT IS ABSOLUTELY UN-ACEPTABLE !!!

      With all my respect, Lucy.

  4. Wow another TGiving, 40+ people is insane but doable, see just put your mind to it and all is possible… Huge thanks to the helpers, the dish washers and well wishers, it was a helluva ride, but we did it together…

    Huge thanks to Bob who financed this, plus helped start to finish…

    I have an issue with large crowds, so thanks to all that showed up and I didn’t meet, I hope you enjoyed yourself, next year I am to seriously gonna blow you all away… Bestmake plans now for next year it is gonna be good…

    Last thanks to my bubby Bryce for the BBQ, yeah bro it can be done…

    Last Happy Birthday to my son Zeke, my best gift of all time, 3 y/o this day…

  5. judy says:

    Zeke is just the Sweetest fellow!!!

  6. tommy helms says:

    40 people??? I can barely manage 15. You must have some good organization skills.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Tommy, not in the least!! I just have a best friend who is a magician and somehow effortlessly makes it happen! Everyone should have one!

  7. jim says:

    Great looking birds you all cook up so glad everyone enjoyed there thanksgiving dinner and I wish everyone a good Christmas and a better new year that the last

  8. Peggy says:

    Wow, looks good! Sounds like you all pulled it off with style. Happy Thanksgiving!

    BTW, years ago my dog was attacked by two dogs that were on a leash. Leashes don’t mean much if the owner can’t control her dogs.
    Peggy recently posted…Photographing Jewelry for my Etsy ShopMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Peggy, Steve has had enough practice he has gotten really good at cooking for large groups.

      I’m still all in favor of leashes when in the cities or towns, but we aren’t, we are in the middle of nowhere with a very limited number of people around us. In this situation leashes just aren’t neccessary.

  9. To clarify, when you said “with the inside burners turned off” you meant the middle two of the four burners. Don’t want people thinking there are burners outside the barbecue.

    Also, the way you make sure you have the right amount of cooking oil is to place the turkey in the kettle, add water until it covers the bird, remove the bird and mark the level of the water. Then empty the water, dry the kettle, and add oil (peanut oil, because it can take high heat) only to the mark.

    Steve and his various helpers did a great job!
    Al Christensen recently posted…The return of ChetMy Profile

    • Al it was a 5 burner Brinkman, with one external burner… The BBQ with the outside burners runs the Q,s temp at a perfect 325 full on…

      As for the oil added per pound of turkey displacement, the issue arrives of displacement versus the wetting of the turkey… The cavity needed to be filled with water to get accurate displacement of oil, this worked against safety… LOL So in the end we just frigging winged it….

    • Bob Bob says:

      Al, right, the burners were all inside the barbecue, none outside. We knew about that way of measuring but Steve tried it and din’t think it worked as well because you have to take it out of the wrap to give an accurate measurement. This worked perfectly, the turkey was completely covered and never got close to overflowing.

  10. Sameer says:

    It was the best family gathering and Thanksgiving I have ever attended. All the food was glorious and I ate until I couldn’t move…Hahahaha! I have to say the ‘green bean casserole’ was the best I have ever tasted. It was a perfect day! Thank you all!
    Sameer recently posted…The Tribe at Thanksgiving: Deep Frying a Turkey for 40 peopleMy Profile

  11. Douglas says:

    Looks like a great meal and a lot of fun. My dog is about 25 lbs, and friendly as ever. I still keep her on a leash just for introductions at camp to see how she reacts with people and other dogs. She stays pretty close to either my wife or myself.
    Douglas recently posted…Ammunition and electronicsMy Profile

  12. I had a great time meeting all the new people, and taking a peek at a few rigs, and having a few peeks at mine. The dogs running free was both good and bad… Dogs aside, it was a wonderful thanksgiving. I hope to see and speak with everyone at the RTR!

  13. Scott Cotner says:

    Like Sameer, I ate until I couldn’t move! Everything was perfect. The meal AND the company could not be beat!! Thanks to Bob and Steve for everything!

  14. Ming says:

    sounds like a yummy feast, I’ve heard good things about deep fried turkey, but have never had a chance to try some.

  15. Lois says:

    Bob and Steve, Thanksgiving dinner was just spectacular! I can’t think of a better way to spend a holiday than with friends and food.

    The food was amazing and super-yummy – Steve, you rock! Thank you for cooking; thank you, Bob, for coordinating and all the other stuff you did. Thank you thank you thank you! Now it’s only about 360 days, give or take a day, until the next one 😀
    Lois recently posted…A Desert Thanksgiving for FortyMy Profile

  16. anni says:

    Both Steve and Bob (and the other helper bees) did a fantastic job of pulling this off. It’s so wonderful hanging out with fellow travelers and sharing tips and tales. I thoroughly enjoy spending time with those of you i’ve been able to meet, and am forever grateful that Bob has done such a great service in creating a time and space for our tribe of wanderers to gather. thank you!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Anni! But we also owe you thanks as well for running into town at the last minute and getting the things we forgot. And for bringing the beautiful flowers!

  17. Gloria Brooks says:

    Yum, yum, yummos! A wonderfully delicious meal with such great and peaceful company. Thank you Steve and helpers for a fantastic meal. I’m so glad I got to join you all this year.

  18. Ming says:

    darn, ran out of reply buttons on the waste oil disposal topic. I tend to agree with concern about it, only for the unknowns of dumping something that is not normally found in that amount in that desert environment. For example, too much phosphate compound dumped in the water caused overgrowth of the wrong type of organism, hence phosphate free soaps were developed for camping.

    I had some ideas for what to do with future waste oil:
    1 – donate to someone at the gathering who is using veggie oil conversion on their diesel vehicle 🙂
    2 – have people bring empty jars which can be used to make special thanksgiving oil lamps with the addition of cloth/ paper towel wicks
    3 – bigger version of #2 is to make a modern day Inuit kudlik using a baking tray and cloth wick for use as a small campfire for evening gatherings. Here is an example:

    Actually, I’d love to give this project a try sometime.

    • Ming says:

      it’s amazing what those people managed to do with stone, moss, and dead animal fat.

      And there are no bears to attract in the desert!! 🙂

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ming, we offered it to anybody who wanted it but what are they all going to do with all that oil.

      I saw no harm done and no good alternatives.

  19. Scott_1776 says:

    I checked around on the EPA website, and dumping waste oil in landfills is completely acceptable. The only issue they had was dumping it down public sewers (causes blockage) or having alot spill into a river or lake as the oil floats on top of the water and starves the water of oxygen thus killing off life below. I think it’s fine, in the ground, it will bio-grade and breakdown safely, unlike motor oil.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks for looking it up Scott. It’s good to confirm it was okay.

    • JD says:

      It’s really not okay. Since a “wash” in the desert southwest means it periodically fills with flood water, whatever is deposited there will be dispersed when the flood comes.

      If one needs an authority to proscribe what is okay, just ask a BLM ranger on BLM land. What do you suppose their answer would be?

      I’m quite surprised with all the talk here of “sacred mother earth” and all, that this issue would devolve into trying to rationalize a bad decision or shrug it off with suspect humor. I could see if the parties involved said “hey, it was not a good decision, but I didn’t know what else to do” I could understand that somewhat, with the idea there would be better choices.

      Think if you owned a piece of land and you came upon someone dumping several gallons of used cooking oil on your property. What might your reaction be?

      I had hoped the ethic being promoted here would be public land is OUR land and should be treated so.

      If you think it’s okay to dump “harmless” cooking oil, why might the next guy not think it was okay to dump motor oil, or any kind of contaminate he was okay with. After all, motor oil comes from the earth doesn’t it?

      • Bob Bob says:

        Thanks for presenting an alternative view JD. Lots to think about in your comment.

        • Ming says:

          what I was saying is that if I had been there I would have taken some of that oil off your hands to experiment with as a source of cooking/ lamp fuel.

          • Bob Bob says:

            Ming, that is a good idea, we did offer it to anybody who wanted it but none of us even considered that as a possibility The Eskimos used whale and seal oil as a main source of light over the Arctic winter so it might very well have worked since it so flammable.

  20. Klee Rogers says:

    Great post, I get the friendship and getting together, but I read all the things you guys ate, “stove top stuffing”, do you have any idea how unhealthy this stuff is? Miracle whip, pure chemicals. You all need to eat a lot healthier, like organic ingredients, I would have bought an organic turkey, from Whole foods or another “healthy” grocery store, but that is just me, I do not want diabetes or cancer, nor to be overweight. I love the fact you all get together, that is also very good for your health, and I approve whole heartily!!! But please, eat healthy!!

  21. jonthebru says:

    Sounds like most people had fun. Vegetable oil will break down in the earth. If you don’t like the pie with Kool Whip, don’t eat it. An organic turkey would cost twice as much as a regular turkey. Stop judging, your life will be easier.

    • Douglas says:

      Has anyone actually tried to grow or raise there own food while being mobile? I plan on pretty much staying within the central arizona desert, with the occasional jog up north, so a little easier for me.
      Douglas recently posted…Ammunition and electronicsMy Profile

      • Bob Bob says:

        Douglas, there is always talk about how to garden on the road but no one has come up with a good solution. Some people talk about taking chickens on the road but as far as I know no one has overcome the many problems with it.

        Maybe you will be the one to figure it out!

        • Ming says:

          I recently came across a youtube vid from that Laurie Theodoroux about sprouting as a source of greens. Do you know if she still does it?

          • Bob Bob says:

            Min, I’m pretty sure she still does, but I think it’s just a supplement to her diet. But I can’t say for sure.

  22. Susan T says:

    Late to the online after party, but I have to give huge props to Bob, Steve (an awesome chef) and Bryce for a Thanksgiving to remember. I wouldn’t trade the meal that we shared for anything, because it was so much the traditional Thanksgiving, yet served in that last place you would expect it, with so many different people. It was a bit like a huge family gathering with lots of distant relatives that you haven’t met, but with whom you share a connection nonetheless.

    As a new dweller who scored her van just in time to make it, I have to say that the dinner highlighted a great long weekend in the desert. For me, it was 4 days of meeting new people, seeing cool rigs, showing off my my own and still getting the ‘alone time’ that dwellers need.

    It would have been danged near perfect if not for the ‘somewhat noisy’ neighbors 🙂

    • Bob Bob says:

      Susan, you have quite a way with words! Thanks for a lovely comment. Yes, our RVing, ATVing neighbors were not very concerned about anybody but themselves. But it was still a great time! Glad you were there!

  23. Jackie Bolen says:

    That’s some serious turkey frying! It kind of reminds me of my huge family gatherings every holiday.

  24. Jackie says:

    Wow! Deep-frying turkey for 40 people is quite a huge work! It’s fulfilling though, right, especially when you see satisfied people.

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