Special Thanksgiving Edition

Dear Steve,

My wife and I were just married a month ago. We are hosting our first Thanksgiving in our first house. I wanted to help my wife by making a side dish on the grill that goes along with traditional Thanksgiving food…I appreciate your help with any ideas you have for newlyweds and their first Thanksgiving together.

Nick I.
Schaumburg, Illinois

Dear Nick,

First of all, congratulations on your recent marriage and home purchase. Secondly, thank you for giving us a ready-made introduction to this Special Edition of Up in Smoke. Earlier this month, we promised subscribers recipes for Thanksgiving side dishes that could be made on the grill. Your letter came in over the cyber-transom at the perfect time.

Thanksgiving dinner is the most ambitious meal many Americans will make during the year. Oven space, counter space, and sometimes even standing room, are often in short supply. You wisely recognized, Nick, that you could relieve the pressure on the kitchen and your wife by preparing part of the meal on the grill. As a bonus, you’ll bring terrific smoke-roasted flavors to the table.

There are three strategies:

  • Smoke-roast the turkey and utilize the indoor oven for side dishes. The November 2005 issue of Up in Smoke is devoted to brining and grilling the perfect turkey;
  • Cook side dishes on the grill, freeing up indoor oven space for the turkey;
  • The Raichlen option: Cook the entire Thanksgiving meal, from appetizers to dessert, on the grill—easier if you have more than one grill. Forty-two per cent of us do. Extra points if you have side burners.

Most people overlook the cooking potential of their fireplaces, too, closer in spirit to the first Thanksgiving celebrated in this country. My book Indoor Grilling (Workman Publishing, 2004) covers the basics. It has more than 250 recipes, including a sandwich called “Elena Ruz” that puts Thanksgiving leftovers—turkey, cranberries, and cream cheese—to excellent use. (See page 313.)

Below are recipes for three dishes that will be on our table this Thanksgiving. In addition, I’ll likely be making the Grilled Corn Pudding from BBQ USA (see page 606).

Who knows? Dessert at my house could be a smoke-roasted pie with rum-spiked whipped cream. I’ll experiment, and share the results with you in a future issue of Up in Smoke.

Again, thanks for writing, Nick. I’m sure the rest of our barbecuing community joins me in wishing you and your wife the very best on this, your first Thanksgiving together.

Smoked Liver Paté
Even the eggs get the smoke-roasted treatment in this flavorful appetizer.

Method: Indirect grilling
Serves: 6 to 8 as an appetizer

5 large eggs
1/2 pound chicken or turkey livers
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Cognac or Madeira (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Grilled or toasted bread rounds, or crackers for serving

You’ll also need:
Skewers, like my Best of Barbecue two-prong bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 1 hour, then drained
1 1/2 cups Best of Barbecue Poultry Smoking Chips or other hardwood chips, soaked in water for 1 hour, then drained

1) Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. Pierce a tiny hole in the end of each egg with an egg pricker or needle. Thread the livers on the skewers. Skewer the onion quarters.

2) Toss 3/4 cups soaked hardwood chips on each mound of coals or place in the smoker box of your gas grill. Place the eggs, livers, and onions on the grill. Smoke-roast the eggs until the shells are browned and the eggs are cooked through. (To test for doneness, spin one on your counter—if it spins easily, the egg is cooked.) This will take about 20 minutes.

3) Smoke-roast the onion until tender, about 20 minutes. Smoke-roast the livers until cooked to taste, 10 to 15 minutes for medium rare (still pink in the center).

4) Shell the eggs and cut in quarters. Rough chop the onions. Place the eggs, onion, livers, and parsley in a food processor. Grind the mixture to a coarse puree. Work in the oil and cognac, if using, and plenty of salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the paté to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, or serve at once with grilled bread rounds or crackers.

Note: the ingredients can be smoke-roasted up to 2 days ahead of time.

Mushroom and Cheese Stuffed Barbecued Onions
Method: Indirect grilling
Serves: 6

6 Vidalia or other sweet onions (each 10 to 12 ounces)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound fresh mushrooms (button, cremini, exotic or wild mushrooms, or a mixture), finely chopped (see Note)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or white cheddar cheese
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground pepper

You’ll also need:
6 Best of Barbecue small grill rings, or 2-1/2 inch rings made of crumpled aluminum foil.
Best of Barbecue wine barrel staves, chunks or other smoking chips, soaked in water for 1 hour and drained (optional)

1) Peel the onions. Using a sharp paring knife and working opposite the stem end, cut a cone-shaped cavity in each onion by angling your knife about 1 inch down toward the center and cutting in a circle that is about 2-1/2 inches in diameter. Remove and finely dice the cores, and reserve. Set each onion on a grill ring.

2) Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy frying pan over medium heat. Sauté the mushrooms, thyme, and reserved onion cores until nearly all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms have cooked down, 4 to 6 minutes, or as needed. Stir in the flour, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and gradually stir in the cream. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring or whisking, until it thickens, 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese and salt and pepper to taste. The filling should be highly seasoned.

3) Fill the onion cavities with the mushroom mixture. Break the remaining butter into pieces and place on top.

4) Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. Place a large drip pan in the center. Add the wine barrel staves or chunks (if using) to the coals.

5) When ready to cook, place the onions on their grill rings in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat, and cover the grill. Cook the onions until they are golden brown and tender, 40 to 60 minutes. To test for doneness, pinch the side of an onion; it should be slightly soft when squeezed. Another test—you should be able to pierce the onion easily with a bamboo skewer. If the filling starts to brown too much before the onions are fully cooked, tent the tops loosely with aluminum foil. Carefully transfer the grilled onions to a platter or plates and serve at once.

Note: The easiest way to do this is to put the mushrooms in the bowl of a food processor. Finely chop with short pulses of the motor.

Squash with Wild Rice and Cranberry-Sausage Stuffing
I’ve called for acorn squash here, but you could also use a colorful variation, such as the orange “buttercup” and the variegated “carnival.” Feel free to substitute.

Method: Indirect grilling
Serves: 6 as a side dish

6 acorn squash
1 pound bulk pork sausage
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
3 cups cooked wild rice blend, such as Lundberg’s
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter

You’ll also need:
6 Best of Barbecue small grill rings or 2-1/2 inch rings made from crumpled aluminum foil.
1-1/2 cups Best of Barbecue vegetable smoking chips, or other wood chips, soaked in water for 1 hour, then drained (optional)

1) If using small squash, cut the top third off each. If using large ones, cut in half through the stem end. Cut a small slice off the bottom so it will sit upright when served. Scrape out and discard the seeds and strings with a metal spoon.

2) Brown the sausage in a large frying pan over medium heat, breaking up with a fork or wooden spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. As the fat begins to render, add the onions and sage. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the onions are browned, too. Remove from the heat. Drain the sausage mixture in a strainer to drain off the fat. When cool, combine the pork/onion mixture with the rice and cranberries. Season with salt and pepper.

3) Mound 2/3 cup stuffing in each squash and top with a thin slice of butter.

4) Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. Set the grill rings in the center of the grate, and put the squash on them. If using wood chips, toss them on the coals or place in the smoker box of a gas grill.

5) Cover the grill and cook until the squash is tender and the stuffing is golden brown, 40 to 60 minutes. When done, the sides of the squash will feel soft when squeezed. Another test for doneness is the squash should be easy to pierce with a skewer. Remove from the grill rings, transfer to a plate or platter and serve at once.

Hi Steven,

I’ve been making beer-can chicken for some time now (thanks for writing the book) and have had great success with several variations. It’s always been a casual meal with my wife and I tearing meat right off the bird at the table. When cooking for guests, I’ve done the same thing and we all had fun. But have you done a whole “fine china” dinner with beer-can chicken? I’m thinking of serving a cut-up half leaned up against some mashed potatoes with some sort of sauce or glaze (and a glass of pinot). Serve a salad or some simple light appetizers, the chicken as an entrée and a simple dessert. Have you served a meal like this and what worked well?

I did a Fosters beer-can turkey dinner and it came out great. But at Thanksgiving the menu writes itself, there are so many classic dishes that go out. I want to do something different that will complement the flavors of the spices on the chicken. I also don’t want my guests feeling bloated afterwards.

Any thoughts here?

Craig W.
Morris Plains, New Jersey

Hi, Craig,

Glad to hear beer-can chicken is working out for you.

The perfect fine china dish is in the same book on page 77: Truffled Chicken. Truffles are hauntingly scented fungi from Italy, and they’re in season now. The sauce is a lovely, elegant truffle-and-garlic-scented cream sauce.

To make the dish look a little more elegant, you could use a stainless steel chicken rack (someone else’s or mine) instead of a beer can.

If it’s a really fancy crowd, I might quarter the bird in the kitchen.

Hope that helps.


Yours in righteous grilling,
Steven Raichlen, Grill Master and Editor-in-Chief
Nancy Loseke, Features Editor

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