Why you may want to celebrate Thanksgiving outside this year

Grilling turkey outside is a common cooking method for Thanksgiving revelers.

In less than two weeks, millions of Americans will gather around tables in their homes to give thanks for all that they have. While no one knows for sure what the first Thanksgiving looked like, legend has it that colonial settlers and the Wampanoags came together in the early 1600s in a similar fashion, only theirs was more than likely celebrated in the great outdoors.

While the modern-day Thanksgiving has evolved over time – both in terms of where Americans prepare their holiday dinner and what foods are traditionally served – the National Turkey Federation and the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association are encouraging those who are hosting this year's festivities to celebrate the old-fashioned way – Over a fire and under the sky. 

According to the HPBA statistics, an estimated 11 million households will do just that this year, enjoy Thanksgiving by grilling or roasting their birds outside. Jack Goldman, HPBA president and CEO, indicated that cooking outside provides a certain authenticity that cooking indoors doesn't.

"Cooking the feast outside offers a return to tradition, as well as an invigorating event for the whole family," said Goldman. "Whether it's the turkey, sides, appetizers or desserts, they all taste great cooked outdoors. And moving even part of the cooking outside saves space in the kitchen and makes cleanup a snap."

"11 million U.S. households this year will cook their Thanksgiving turkey outside."

An estimated 46 million turkeys will be cooked up for Thanksgiving this season, according to NTF data. That averages out to about 3 pounds of turkey for everyone that participates in the holiday. Based on polling data, turkey is the favorite part of the meal for most Americans, beating out other favorites like stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Though there are a variety of ways to cook turkey outside – traditional methods include using a rotisserie spit over an open fire or by grilling – an increasingly popular way of cooking is by frying. As a general rule, it can take as many as 12 minutes for every pound of turkey to fully cook when in the oven. But by frying, the cooking time is slashed, as depending on the bird's weight, the main course can be ready in less than an hour.

That being said, turkey fryers can be extremely dangerous when used improperly. According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is the leading day for home cooking fires, some of which lead to homeowners insurance claims due to the damage flames caused.

The following tips from the NFPA can help ensure that you fry your turkey safely this Thanksgiving:

  • Only fry outside. It goes without saying, but the main reason why turkeys cook so quickly is because the temperature used is extremely high, usually well in excess of 350 degrees. The hotter the conditions, the greater the risk for a potential incident that may lead to a fire. For this reason, it's best to use turkey fryers outside, especially if the heating source is propane. NFPA notes that turkey fryers by law have to be used outside.
  • Use oil-less fryers. The most common form of turkey frying is by using peanut oil. The problem, however, is that when turkeys are placed in the fryer, the oil that's inside can splash or spill if the turkey isn't placed in carefully. Making contact with the hot oil can lead to a serious burn injury. If possible, NFPA recommends using a fryer that cooks without needing oil. Many specialty food retailers should have these in stock.
  • Ensure turkey isn't frozen. Defrosting a turkey can take several days, which may explain why turkey frying is popular because thawing isn't always necessary. However, a turkey that's not completely thawed is a safety hazard. Ideally, turkeys should be thawed in the refrigerator, which reduces the risk of foodborne illness.

The NFPA has more safety recommendations when cooking outdoors, so you can be sure to have a safe, happy Thanksgiving holiday.