Thanksgiving is a time for gathering with loved ones and enjoying some delicious comfort food. But what do you do when you plan to spend the holiday camping? No need to sweat it; you can still whip up a fantastic RV Thanksgiving dinner right from the comfort of your camper!
This guide will be your go-to source for easy-peasy strategies and tips to make your RV Thanksgiving dinner a breeze. Plus, we’re also including a few of our favorite RV-friendly recipes!
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Table of Contents
Decide How You'll Celebrate Thanksgiving
First, you’ll want to pinpoint your preferred approach to celebrating Thanksgiving in your RV. Throughout our RVing adventures, we’ve experienced a range of Thanksgiving dinner styles at different campgrounds.
As you plan, here are some key questions to consider:
- Will it be an intimate family affair?
- Are you extending an invitation to friends or family?
- Is the campground coordinating any special events?
- If cooking isn’t your forte or not your preference, how can you still make the most of the holiday?
Campground Hosted Thanksgiving
During our first year spending Thanksgiving in our RV, we discovered that the RV resort was organizing a Thanksgiving potluck. The resort generously supplied the turkey, and all the campers chipped in by bringing a variety of side dishes and desserts.
We had a blast meeting fellow campers, playing games, and enjoying the delectable spread. The best part was that I only had to prepare a single dish (Instant Pot mac and cheese), taking the stress out of the holiday cooking equation!
RV Thanksgiving Dinner Potluck
When camping with friends or family, hosting a potluck is an excellent method to share the cooking responsibilities among several RV kitchens. It’s crucial to coordinate who will prepare which dishes to avoid duplicates.
If the weather allows, consider arranging tables and chairs outdoors to create a communal atmosphere for everyone to feast on their RV Thanksgiving dinner together!
Many campgrounds provide pavilions or group areas, which you might explore as an option based on your group’s size.
Thanksgiving Dinner in Your RV
Perhaps you’re planning a cozy Thanksgiving getaway with your spouse or immediate family this year. But is it feasible to prepare a full Thanksgiving dinner in the confines of your RV kitchen? Well, I can tell you it absolutely is!
We’ve had numerous occasions when it was just the two of us for the holidays. One year, I even cooked an entire 11-pound turkey (in our Ninja Foodi) with the rest of the Thanksgiving dinner spread from the comfort of our fifth wheel. There are several tricks and strategies to make the most of your small kitchen, but more on that in a bit.
Thanksgiving Dinner at a Restaurant
Perhaps cooking isn’t your forte or the thought of preparing a Thanksgiving feast in your RV feels overwhelming. Alternatives are available if you’d rather not spend your holiday in a cooking frenzy.
In some cases, you may have the option to order a fully prepared Thanksgiving meal from a local restaurant or catering service, which can be a stress-free choice, especially if you’re constantly on the move in your RV. Another possibility is dining out at a restaurant; some places offer special Thanksgiving dinners (usually with reservations required) or feature unique Thanksgiving menus.
How to Cook a Turkey in an RV
Most RVs come equipped with a small oven. You can roast a turkey in the RV oven following the same principles as you would in a regular kitchen. Just make sure to choose a smaller turkey that fits comfortably inside your oven. Here are some excellent instructions on how to cook a small turkey!
If you have a smoker or a portable grill with a smoking function, you can smoke a turkey for a unique and flavorful result. Use hickory, apple, or cherry wood chips for a delicious smoky flavor that won’t overwhelm the turkey.
If your RV has an outdoor grill or you travel with one, you can grill a turkey. You’ll need to spatchcock the turkey (removing the backbone and flattening it) for even cooking. Season it well and grill it over indirect heat.
A slow cooker can be a lifesaver in an RV kitchen. You can prepare a turkey breast or turkey parts in the slow cooker with your favorite seasonings, vegetables, and broth. Slow cooking allows the turkey to become tender and flavorful without taking up precious oven space.
Pressure Cooking - Air Frying Combo
If you’re short on oven space but have an Instant Pot or Ninja Foodi, you can cook turkey parts like turkey legs or thighs with your favorite seasonings and a bit of broth. The Instant Pot will speed up the cooking process and the air fryer function will enable you to get a nice crispy skin on the outside.
Surprisingly, we managed to cook an entire 11-pound bird in our 8-quart Foodi (it was a tight fit), and the results were absolutely amazing! We followed these instructions, omitting the liquid smoke and adding our favorite seasonings.
RV Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes
Check out some of our favorite RV-friendly recipes to make for Thanksgiving. Whether you’re celebrating in the great outdoors or simply looking to simplify your holiday meal preparation, these recipes are designed with convenience in mind. Feel free to adjust quantities by halving or doubling them to suit your needs!
Green Bean Casserole
This classic side dish can be prepared in an RV using canned green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and crispy fried onions. Assemble and bake in an RV oven or convection microwave until bubbly and golden brown.
Take advantage of your RV’s outdoor grill to prepare a medley of grilled vegetables. Drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning, and grill until they’re tender and slightly charred. Veggies such as Brussels sprouts, carrots, onion, corn, or broccoli are excellent options for grilling. Alternatively you could roast veggies in your RV’s oven if you don’t have a grill.
Homemade cranberry sauce is a breeze to make in a saucepan on your RV stovetop. Combine fresh (or frozen) cranberries, sugar, and orange zest, simmer until the berries burst and then cool at room temperature before refrigerating.
This is a great dish to make ahead since it will need time to chill anyway. Make it up to a week prior to serving.
Slow Cooker Stuffing
Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Whip up a batch of creamy mashed potatoes using peeled and boiled potatoes, butter, half-and-half, cream cheese and your choice of seasonings (we love to add a little garlic). This classic side dish is a Thanksgiving favorite especially when topped with gravy – YUM!
Grilled Sweet Potatoes
While we’re on the topic of potatoes… let’s talk grilled sweet potatoes. While you could certainly make a sweet potato casserole in an RV, grilling them instead will give you a nice crispy skin with a hint of smoky flavor. Once they’re ready you can fill them with your favorite toppings like brown sugar or mini marshmallows.
No-Bake Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes
We’re not huge fans of pumpkin pie over here – gasp! But cheesecake, I can get onboard with. These individual pumpkin cheesecakes are perfect for an RV Thanksgiving dinner or potluck! Create a graham cracker crust in muffin tins (use a cupcake liner for easy serving/cleanup), whip up a creamy pumpkin cheesecake filling, and refrigerate until set.
Peanut Butter S'mores Bars
Create these mouthwatering bars by layering crushed golden grahams cereal, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and marshmallows. The bars will set at room temperature, then cut into squares for a delicious twist on the classic s’mores (no baking required!).
Bake a batch of your favorite cookie dough, whether it’s chocolate chip, sugar, or peanut butter. Use themed cookie cutters to create Thanksgiving-inspired shapes like turkeys, leaves, or pumpkins. Decorate with colorful icing for a festive touch. If you really want to get creative you can even assemble your cookie to look like a turkey – feathers and all!
Campfire Dutch Oven Apple Crisp
End your Thanksgiving fireside with a delicious dessert – Dutch oven apple crisp. Layer sliced apples with a mixture of oats, brown sugar, and butter, then bake over the campfire until the topping is golden and the apples are tender.
Spiced Apple Cider
Heat up apple cider with cinnamon sticks, cloves, and a touch of orange zest for a warm and comforting drink. Serve it steaming hot for a cozy autumn feel.
Mix cranberry juice with sparkling water and a splash of fresh lime or orange juice. Garnish with a few cranberries and a twist of citrus peel.
Hot Chocolate Bar
Set up a DIY hot chocolate bar with hot cocoa, marshmallows, whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and various flavored syrups for guests to customize their drinks.
Thanksgiving RV Cooking Schedule
Creating a well-organized Thanksgiving schedule is key to a successful holiday meal preparation, especially when you’re celebrating in your RV with limited kitchen space. Here’s an idea for a cooking schedule to help plan your week!
Defrost a frozen turkey in the fridge, allowing approximately 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. Plan to start at least three days before Thanksgiving. Avoid defrosting at room temperature, and keep the turkey securely wrapped to prevent cross-contamination.
Clear out your refrigerator and freezer as much as possible to make room for Thanksgiving ingredients. Make a grocery list of all the items you’ll need to grab at the store.
Complete all your shopping, ensuring that you have all the necessary ingredients and supplies on hand. Purchase your turkey well in advance, as procrastination may leave you with limited options (ask how we know haha!).
Use Tuesday and Wednesday as prep days! Start by preparing dough for your dinner rolls allowing them to rise slowly in the fridge. Next, put together your favorite pies and desserts – they can chill in the fridge until baking time.
Then, get chopping and dicing those veggies you’ll need for your dishes. As evening rolls in, whip up some casseroles, like the classic green bean or sweet potato ones, and pop them in the fridge until you’re ready to heat and enjoy.
Thursday - Thanksgiving Day
Early Morning: Begin with the turkey, as it takes the longest to cook. Season and roast the turkey along with some roasted carrots and onions.
Mid-Morning: Prepare the mashed potatoes, keeping them warm in a covered dish or using a slow cooker.
Afternoon: Prepare the stuffing and gravy. Heat up any pre-assembled casseroles in the oven.
Evening: Serve your delicious Thanksgiving meal. Don’t forget to heat up the pre-assembled pies for dessert.
Tips for a Successful Thanksgiving in an RV
Get ready for a memorable Thanksgiving in your RV! Here we’ll cover essential tips and tricks to ensure your RV Thanksgiving is a resounding success. From creating a cozy ambiance with decorations to optimizing outdoor cooking space and simplifying your menu, we’ll guide you through a hassle-free holiday celebration on the road.
Let’s dive into these practical tips that’ll have you feasting and making cherished memories, RV-style!
Thanksgiving Decorating Ideas for Your RV
Decorating your RV for Thanksgiving can help create a warm and festive atmosphere, even in a small space. Here are some tips and ideas for decorating your RV for Thanksgiving:
Festive Table Settings & Centerpiece
Set the tone for your Thanksgiving meal by using themed table settings. Consider seasonal tablecloths and placemats in warm autumn colors like orange, gold, and deep red. If you’ll be using disposable utensils and plates you may want to opt for some fall or Thanksgiving themed dinnerware.
Create a charming centerpiece for your RV table. You can use a small pumpkin or gourd arrangement, a vase of fall flowers, or even a decorative cornucopia filled with seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Wreaths and Garlands
Pumpkins and Gourds
Scatter small pumpkins and gourds around your RV for a charming rustic touch. You can place them on shelves, tables, or even in baskets.
If your RV travels take you near a pumpkin patch or farm, make it part of your Thanksgiving adventure! Select pumpkins of various sizes and colors to use as both decor and future ingredients for pumpkin-themed dishes.
Decorations don’t have to be expensive! If you’re camping in a natural setting, take a leisurely walk to forage for pine cones, fallen leaves, or interesting branches. These can be used to create rustic centerpieces or to add a touch of the outdoors to your RV decor.
Clean Out Your RV Fridge and Freezer
Before you dive into Thanksgiving meal planning in your RV, take a moment to clean out your fridge and freezer. This simple task, done a week or two in advance, can make a big difference in your holiday meal preparation.
- Maximize Space: Cleaning out your RV fridge and freezer allows you to maximize space for storing fresh ingredients and leftovers. This is especially important when planning and storing Thanksgiving dishes.
- Check for Expired Items: While cleaning, check for and discard any expired or spoiled items. This not only frees up space but also ensures the freshness of the ingredients you’ll use for Thanksgiving.
- Sanitize Surfaces: Wipe down the interior surfaces of both the fridge and freezer with a mixture of warm, soapy water. This helps remove any lingering odors, spills, or stains.
Take Inventory: Use this cleaning opportunity to take inventory of the items you have on hand. Knowing what you already have can help streamline your Thanksgiving meal planning and shopping, preventing unnecessary purchases. P.S. it’s a great idea to inventory your pantry items too!
Evaluate Your RV Kitchen
Think about the dishes you’d like to cook for your RV Thanksgiving and take a moment to assess whether your RV’s kitchen is equipped with the necessary appliances and utensils. Consider the size of your oven and stovetop, and make note of any additional appliances (crockpot, instant pot, plug-in cooktops, electric skillet, etc.) at your disposal that can lend a helping hand in your Thanksgiving meal preparations.
RVs with an outdoor kitchen can be a valuable asset for preparing extra dishes. If you travel with a smoker or grill, consider using these outdoor cooking options to give traditional dishes a unique twist. One valuable lesson we’ve picked up from RVing is that it encourages creativity in the kitchen!
Utilize Outdoor Cooking Space
Embrace the versatility of outdoor cooking areas when preparing your Thanksgiving feast. RVs equipped with outdoor kitchens, smokers, grills/griddles, and Dutch ovens offer a world of culinary adventures.
- Outdoor Kitchens – These spaces often come with extra burners and a supplementary fridge, ideal for storing those extra Thanksgiving goodies.
- Grill/Griddle – Fire up the grill for some tasty roasted veggies or grilled sweet potatoes, adding a fun outdoor twist to your meal.
- Smoker – Consider a smoked turkey – it’s a space-savvy way to infuse bold flavors into your feast without crowding the RV kitchen.
- Dutch Oven – Don’t forget the Dutch oven, perfect for whipping up mouthwatering desserts like a warm Dutch Oven apple crisp, a sweet ending to your Thanksgiving gathering.
Simplify the Menu
Since RV kitchens are typically small and may have limited cooking options compared to a traditional kitchen, it’s wise to simplify your menu. Stick to essential dishes that everyone loves, such as turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a vegetable or two. You can also consider making some dishes ahead of time or buying pre-made items to save on cooking space and time.
Time Saving Tips
Here are some time-saving tips and ideas for cutting back on cooking:
- Store-Bought Sides: Many grocery stores offer pre-made Thanksgiving sides such as mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. These items can save you a lot of time and effort.
- Pre-Made Pie Crusts: Buying pre-made pie crusts or graham cracker crusts for pies and cheesecakes can save you the hassle of making crusts from scratch.
- Pre-Packaged Desserts: If you’re not in the mood for baking, consider purchasing pre-packaged desserts like pies, cheesecakes, or cookies.
- Frozen or Pre-Cut Vegetables: Opt for frozen vegetables or pre-cut vegetables to save time on chopping and preparation. You can quickly steam or sauté them with minimal effort.
- Pre-Cooked Turkey: Some grocery stores offer pre-cooked turkeys that only require reheating. This can be a convenient option if you’re short on cooking space.
Cook Smaller Portions
Cooking smaller portions in an RV kitchen allows for easier management of limited cooking space and resources. Instead of a whole turkey, you might roast a turkey breast or a few turkey thighs. Scale down side dishes accordingly, perhaps making a half-batch of stuffing or a modest serving of mashed potatoes.
Embracing smaller portions ensures you can still enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving flavors without overwhelming your RV kitchen, and it leaves room for creativity in tailoring your meal to your group’s size and preferences
Prep and Cook in Advance
For a stress-free Thanksgiving day in an RV, tackle as much prep work as possible in advance. This will allow you to focus on the main event – roasting that mouthwatering turkey – on Thanksgiving day itself.
Here’s a checklist to kickstart your RV Thanksgiving dinner preparations:
- Lay out recipe cards for easy access.
- Measure out ingredients.
- Dice and chop vegetables.
- Get a head start on baking desserts.
- Consider pre-cooking certain dishes, such as pies, casseroles, dinner rolls, or cranberry sauce (things that can be easily reheated).
Check out our Thanksgiving cooking schedule in the previous section to find a timeline for when to prepare each dish!
Use a Pizza Stone in Your RV Oven
A pizza stone in your RV oven can be helpful when preparing Thanksgiving dinner. In small RV ovens where temperature variations can be a challenge, a pizza stone acts as a buffer, ensuring that your turkey, casseroles, or baked goods cook more uniformly.
By preheating the stone in the oven before placing your dishes on it, you create a stable and consistent cooking environment, resulting in a more reliably cooked and delicious Thanksgiving meal.
Disposable Cookware and Utensils
Whether it’s paper plates or easy-to-toss utensils, they’re perfect for keeping the festivities hassle-free and leaving more time for good food and good company. These Fancy Panz dress up foil pans while making them stackable and sturdy – perfect if you’re on the go!
Plus, should you decide to leave before the party’s over, you can bid your farewell without the worry of needing to track down your cookware later. It’s a win-win for everyone involved!
Wash as You Go
As the designated dishwasher in your RV (because, let’s face it, RVs don’t come with magical dishwashing fairies), adopting a ‘clean as you go’ mantra is key to ensuring you don’t find yourself facing a mountain of dishes after your Thanksgiving feast. Following these tips will help you minimize post-meal cleanup!
- Prep and Rinse as You Cook: While preparing each dish, take a moment to rinse or soak used utensils and cookware. This prevents food from drying and sticking, making washing easier later on.
Soak in Hot, Soapy Water: Fill a basin or the sink with hot, soapy water for soaking dirty dishes and cookware. Let them soak while you continue cooking. This helps loosen food residues, making them easier to clean. You can even repurpose a cup to soak your utensils!
- Dispose of Food Scraps Properly: Rather than letting food scraps go down the drain, scrape them into a trash bag. Avoid clogging the RV plumbing system by disposing of grease and large food scraps responsibly. A sink strainer can prevent small bits of food from going down the sink.
Use a Collapsible Dish Drying Rack: Invest in a collapsible dish drying rack to efficiently air-dry your washed dishes and utensils. These space-saving racks are ideal for RV kitchens, as they can be easily stored when not in use.
Wash in Batches: After your meal is served, wash dishes in batches. Start with the least soiled items, like glasses and utensils, and work your way up to pots and pans. Use a dishwashing brush or sponge to scrub away food particles.
RV Kitchen Gadgets and Appliances
Preparing an RV Thanksgiving dinner can be made much easier with the right kitchen gadgets and countertop appliances. These versatile tools not only free up valuable stovetop and oven space but also offer the convenience of set-it-and-forget-it cooking. Here are some helpful items to have on hand for a stress-free Thanksgiving in your RV.
A turkey baster helps you evenly distribute juices and flavors over the turkey to keep it moist and flavorful during roasting. You’ll want to have one of these handy if you don’t plan to brine your turkey.
Roasting Pan with Rack
A good carving knife will be needed to slice into that juicy turkey! A traditional carving knife offers greater control and a manual touch for those who enjoy carving by hand, allowing for customized slice thickness. An electric knife makes carving effortless with its rapid, cutting action, ideal for precise and even slices of turkey or meats.
Potato Ricer or Masher
A good quality can opener is essential for Thanksgiving. Quickly open canned goods like cranberry sauce, pumpkin puree, or condensed soups that often play a crucial role in various traditional holiday recipes.
Portable Induction Cooktop
An induction cooktop provides an additional cooking surface, which is useful for keeping side dishes warm or cooking extra dishes when your RV’s stove and oven are occupied. You’ll want to make sure your pots and pans are induction-compatible if you plan to use one!
Cast iron, enameled cast iron, and stainless steel (most types but not all) can be used on induction cooktops while aluminum, all-copper, or glass cookware will not work unless they have a layer on the bottom with magnetic properties.
A convection oven can roast your veggies to perfection, bake flaky pies and casseroles, or even warm up dinner rolls, all with efficient and even heat distribution. Many modern RVs come stock with a convection microwave oven so there’s a good chance you may already have one onboard your RV.
Reserve Your Campsite Early
Securing a campsite reservation is a vital step in your planning process. Campgrounds tend to fill up rapidly, especially during Thanksgiving week, so it’s wise to secure your campsite well in advance, ideally a few months prior.
If you plan to go all out with cooking for your RV Thanksgiving dinner, we strongly advise against boondocking. The last thing you want is to stress over conserving water for dishes or worrying about whether your batteries will last to power that essential crockpot! Opting for a full-hookup site ensures you can relax and enjoy Thanksgiving without undue stress.
Enjoy Your RV Thanksgiving Dinner
Preparing RV Thanksgiving dinners may come with unique challenges, but it also offers the opportunity for unforgettable and heartwarming celebrations on the road. With a dash of creativity and some thoughtful planning using these strategies, you’re well-equipped to create a memorable Thanksgiving feast in your home on wheels.
Whether you’re gathering with family, friends, or fellow travelers, the joy of the season and the warmth of shared moments are what truly matter.
Happy Thanksgiving – may your road be filled delicious memories!