Garbage-can dinner: A one-pot meal for a crowd
Lots of organizations invite the public to their fish fries, barbecues, chili cook-offs and burgoos. But only Elks Lodge 158 in Springfield, Ill., offers a garbage-can dinner.
“It’s one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten,” said Elks member Jeff Vose. “All the juice from the meat drips down over the vegetables and seasons them. It really doesn’t need any other seasoning.”
The “garbage” in a garbage-can dinner refers to the can it’s cooked in, not the ingredients.
On Labor Day weekend, the lodge offered its first garbage-can dinner to the public, and it’s likely to become an annual event. It works something like an outdoor Crock-Pot.
Stacking the ingredients
Here’s how to make a garbage-can dinner:
Place a grate over three bricks inside a clean metal garbage can. Put a little water in the bottom of the can.
“It doesn’t take much water for it to cook,” Vose said.
On the grate, place, in order, corn-on-the-cob, red potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, sausages (any kind will do, but the Elks used apple brats, jalapeno brats, mild brats and Polish sausage) and boneless ham. If desired, add Old Bay or some other kind of seasoning.
Place the lid securely on the can. Cook over an open fire for about three hours. The Elks prepared three cans; each was placed over bricks positioned at 4, 8 and 12 o’clock. A charcoal fire was started underneath, and it was fed periodically with small pieces of wood.
“This reminds me of something Mom would cook in a black cast-iron kettle,” said Mike Beall of Springfield, who holds the title of exalted ruler. “For some reason, things that cook outside taste better.”
When the food was done, each item was scooped into a separate pan (corn in one pan, sausage in one pan, etc.) and sliced, if necessary. Guests helped themselves to the items they wanted.
The cooking method is something like a “low country boil,” except the food steams; it’s not immersed in water.
‘One plate just doesn’t do it’
The garbage-can dinner migrated to the Elks by way of the Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents. P.E. Cross, a school superintendent from Mount Vernon, fired up garbage cans for many years at the organization’s annual meeting in Springfield. Traditionally, the dinner was held at Bridgeview Beach the night before the conference started.
But Cross and his assistant, Cheryl Settle, had retired prior to this year’s July meeting. And the group wanted a lake view to go along with the food. So Vose, Sangamon County Regional School Superintendent, volunteered the Elks Lodge, and several members of the lodge watched the preparations.
“When the superintendents came out, we were very curious,” recalled Beall.
“I asked, ‘Can we do that?” said Glenda Cassens of Rochester, Ill., the lodge esquire and unofficial social director. “We talked about it and thought we’d give it a try.”
The meal included bread, pasta salad and dessert. An all-you-can-eat adult portion sold for $10.
“A lot of the time,” said Beall, “one plate just doesn’t do it.”
6 dozen ears of corn
70 red potatoes, whole
70 carrots, whole or halved, peeled
12 heads of cabbage, quartered
Old Bay seasoning (optional)
6 yellow onions, whole
22 to 25 pounds of quality boneless ham, quartered
76 sausages (such as brats, smoked, Polish)
Place a grate over three bricks in a clean, large metal garbage can. Put a little water (to about 3/4 the height of the bricks) in the bottom of the can.
Remove silk from corn and put husk back on. Place corn vertically, with tips up, on grate. Place other ingredients, in order, over corn. Cover can securely with lid. Cook over an open fire for about 3 hours without lifting the lid. When done, slice items, if necessary, and serve each food in its own pan.
Makes 70-80 servings in 2 cans.