The lights were low, the wine flowed freely and the food was fabulous. There were eight of us for a formal dinner at a wonderful winery in Niagara, when I overheard Michael Olson explaining the principles of trash can cooking. This is a man who knows his grilling, I couldn’t resist the explanation, “You just bash a stake into the ground, tie on the venison and then cover it with a trashcan, add some coals. It’s easy.” A quick sketch in my note book to remind me was all I had time for before our next remarkable dish was served and the snippet forgotten.
Having already made a Tandoor Oven from a metal bin (trash can), this was going to be easy, but I’d no idea how long our 3k (6 1/2 pounds) haunch of venison would take to cook, it was going to be trial and error. Mr Glam bashed the metal fencing pin into the ground through a disposable roasting dish, to catch the drips. Then using large sheets of foil, we made two ‘mats,’ one bigger than the other. The smaller one just larger than the diameter of the trash can and the larger one, underneath that, but big enough for the trash can and a generous amount of charcoal to be spread on it all around the can. We used about 15kg (33 lbs) of charcoal altogether, but it does depend on how windy it is.
I pierced the thickest part of the haunch of venison with a knife in about ten places and inserted small fragrant cloves of garlic, massaged it liberally with extra virgin olive oil and rigorously seasoned it with salt and pepper, nothing more. No larding with fat or wrapping it in bacon. With a string tied to the bone of the haunch it hung easily on the hook of the fencing stake. This was the last time I’d see the meat for three hours, there’s no lifting the lid and checking on the cook, the trashcan then went over the stake and the venison down to the ground. Scrunching the top layer of foil over the lip of the trashcan we made a seal of sorts, it’s not air tight, it just helps to keep the ash out of the meat.
Using our charcoal starter (or you could just heat the charcoal on your barbecue) we heated about 2kg (4lbs 4oz) of lump wood charcoal. Once it was properly alight, but not yet white, transferred it, sparks flying, to the top (base) of the trashcan. Hefting the remainder of a large bag of charcoal we scattered a thick mound all around the trashcan on the foil and lit it using barbecue lighter fuel, this was not the time to be blowing the charcoal to coax it alight. The venison was now being heated from the ground and the top. It was all a bit of a novelty as we stood around the warming, fragrant charcoal nervously sipping glasses of wine, wondering if we’d got this right.
After 3 hours and with fingers crossed, we cleared the remainder of the coals from the top, now a pile of ash and lifted off the trashcan. The venison had fallen off the hook but the disposable dish did it’s job catching the both the venison and the juices. The roasting smell was amazing, and the meat looked so succulent.
I left it to rest for 20 minutes covered in foil and then the moment of truth. It carved beautifully, a perfect medium rare and despite having very little fat on it, was tender and juicy.
We now have a scorched ring in the middle of the lawn, but it certainly won’t stop us trashcan cooking again.
You can use this method to cook a turkey banging an 45cm (18inch) stake into the ground and upending the turkey onto it a bit like cooking beer can chicken. The turkey comes out moist and delicous, it’s a bit of fun for Christmas and a solution to the “it’s too big for the oven.” dilema.