Whether you plan on camping during Thanksgiving or you’re just looking for some easy and delicious backcountry meal ideas to add to your meal plan, this recipe has got you covered.
I’ve made Thanksgiving dinner at least three separate times now while camping, and if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s this:
Simple is always best.
Instead of bringing every delicious Thanksgiving ingredient and side you can think of, including all the separate pots, bowls, and utensils you’ll need to prepare them, I’ve learned that sticking to the basics is the way to go.
In my mind, the most essential Thanksgiving dinner foods include:
- Mashed potatoes
- Cranberry sauce
Of course, bringing all of these traditional foods isn’t exactly practical for camping—especially in the backcountry.
That’s why we’re going to use “backcountry-friendly” alternatives.
These are foods that:
- Don’t need refrigeration
- Are shelf stable
- Are relatively lightweight
- Only require water added to cook
Here’s what I prefer to use:
Dehydrated ground turkey
I’ve been dehydrating my own meat for years, and ground meat (extra lean beef, chicken, and turkey) tends to rehydrate very well as long as you mix in half a cup of breadcrumbs per pound of meat before you cook it and dehydrate it.
This is my preference, but it requires a dehydrator, and I know not everyone owns one or cares to learn how to dehydrate foods.
If this is you, then you have a couple of other alternatives:
- Turkey jerky. I’ve honestly never tried putting it in a dish before, butI’ve heard that turkey jerky can be rehydrated and used as a substitute for ground turkey in recipes. It may give the dish a slightly different texture, but it should still work.
- Canned turkey. This is a convenient option that requires no preparation. Simply drain the canned turkey and use it in your recipe. It just may be a little on the heavy side.
If you are interested in dehydrating your own ground turkey, I recommend the COSORI food dehydrator, which is the one I have.
After mixing the raw ground turkey with bread crumbs (1/2 cup per pound of meat) and cooking it through (without using any oil—use water if needed), allow it to cool for a bit and then spread the meat evenly over the dehydrator sheets.
Dehydrate at 165°F for six hours.
Every couple of hours, take each sheet out and use a fork to break down large chunks of meat as small as you possibly can to help it dehydrate evenly.
Instant stuffing mix
Homemade stuffing is always best, but the next best thing is probably Stovetop instant stuffing mix for turkey.
Sure, it’s loaded with salt, but it has a great flavour and texture—just like real stuffing!
And the best part is that all it requires is boiled water and a little bit of butter, but I’d say the butter is optional.
Instant mashed potatoes
I’ve tried a variety of different brands of instant mashed potatoes, and I have to say, if you don’t get a great one, it can ruin your whole meal.
Turkey gravy mix
You’re not going to be making a full turkey at camp and therefore won’t have access to any real gravy, so of course the next best thing is a packet of gravy mix.
Ideally, you’ll want one made for turkey, but chicken will do just fine as well.
Canned cranberry sauce or jelly
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t consider it to the Thanksgiving dinner unless there’s cranberry sauce, so I’ll happily lug a can of it out there with us.
I actually like the jelly variety, so I almost always buy Ocean Spray’s jellied cranberry sauce.
You’ll just have to mix them with a bit of hot water (a very small amount) to rehydrate to make it into cranberry sauce.
And even if you don’t use them all, they’ll make for a great snack while you’re hitting the trail!
Bonus vegetables (optional)
The five foods above are my must-haves for Thanksgiving dinner in the backcountry, but there are other things you can add to it if you like—specifically, vegetables.
If you’re feeling like this dish is lacking in the veggie area, ’d recommend bringing either canned or dehydrated:
- Green beans
Something I really like to do is buy one of those frozen bags of mixed veggies and then dehydrate the whole batch.
They’re great for adding to all kinds of backcountry meals like this one—especially when you know you could use the extra vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
How to make Thanksgiving dinner at your campsite
Let me show you exactly how I make this backcountry Thanksgiving dinner recipe with the five main foods I use.
- 1 large pot for boiling water
- 1 measuring cup
- 1 insulated mug or thermos
- 3 large bowls
- At least one long handle spoon or spork for mixing
- 2 plates or serving bowls
- 2 camp sporks
- Aluminum foil
- Can opener
- 1/4 cup dehydrated ground turkey (see notes about alternatives)
- 1/2 package Stovetop instant stuffing mix for turkey
- 1/2 package Idahoan buttery homestyle mashed potatoes
- 1 packet Swiss Chalet turkey gravy mix or any other gravy mix
- 1 can Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce or any cranberry sauce/jelly
- 3 – 3 1/2 cups clean, filtered water
Step 1: Determine how much water you’ll need. In our recipe, we’re making two large servings. Using a 1:1 ratio of water to dehydrated ground turkey, we know we’ll need 1/4 cup of water. Half a pack of the stuffing mix requires 1/2 cup of water and half of the mashed potatoes takes 1 cup. The gravy mix takes 1 cup. This all comes out to 2 and 3/4 cup of water, but we always recommend adding more if you find some of the foods are a bit dry.
Step 2: Add the gravy mix and required amount of water (i.e., 1 cup) to the pot, and bring to a boil over a campfire or camp stove, stirring constantly to avoid clumps.
Step 3: Allow the gravy to simmer for about a minute, then remove from the fire or stove and pour the gravy into an insulated mug or thermos to keep it hot.
Step 4: Add the dehydrated ground turkey and water (using a 1:1 ratio) to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes or until turkey has fully rehydrated, adding a small amount of extra water if required.
Step 5: While waiting for the turkey to rehydrate, add the stuffing mix and mashed potatoes each to their own bowls.
Step 6: Once the turkey is done rehydrating, remove the pot from the fire or stove and spoon out the turkey into a separate bowl. Place a lid or some aluminum foil over it to keep it from getting too cold.
Step 7: Add the remaining amount of water needed for the stuffing mix and mashed potatoes (i.e., 1/2 cup plus 1 cup) and then some (i.e, an extra 1/4 cup at least) to the pot and bring it to a boil.
Step 8: Once boiled, pour 1/2 cup of water into the bowl of stuffing mix and 1 cup into the bowl of mashed potatoes. Stir to combine, making sure to get the bottom and the sides. Add a little more water if needed.
Step 9: Serve 1/2 the mashed potatoes onto each plate/serving bowl followed by 1/2 the stuffing, and 1/2 the turkey. Pour gravy over it and add cranberry sauce/jelly.
Step 10: Enjoy!
*If you plan on using turkey jerky instead, you can use the same method of rehydrating/cooking as the ground turkey (a 1:1 ratio of water to meat, plus extra if needed).
*If you plan on bringing canned turkey, you don’t need to rehydrate anything, but you may want to warm it up in the pot with a small amount of water.
*If you plan on adding extra veggies, you can add canned veggies right at the end of rehydrating your meat to help warm it up, or add dehydrated veggies at the start of rehydrating your meat, using a 2:1 ratio of water to veggies.
More great camping food resources:
- The best types of cheese to take camping
- How to keep milk cold when camping
- How to keep food from freezing in cold weather
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).