This Kentucky Family's Thanksgiving Traditions Include a Trash Can Turkey
The Latham family Celebrates with the usual trimmings and the main course cooked in a trash can.
The Lathams’ Midway, Kentucky, farm is idyllic on all counts. Theirs is textbook horse country: rolling green hills dotted with mature trees and crisscrossed by a spindly web of black wooden fences. The 1850s farmhouse, with wide porches and steep gables piped with gingerbread trim, feels right at home in the bucolic landscape. It’s a friendly-looking house, one that seems like it’s seen a fair share of celebrations, and it has. Since they moved in six years ago, Shannon Latham and her husband, Davant, have hosted some 20 family members for Thanksgiving nearly every year.
“It’s almost like being at camp,” says Shannon of the five-day celebration that brings together relatives of all ages. “We’re singing songs that you sing when you’re 5 because we have a 5-year-old here. And then the children get to hear the grandparents’ favorites from their day, so it’s all just very endearing and heartwarming.”
More treasured than the old campfire tunes, though, are the other rituals that have been passed down over the years. “We’re trying to preserve the Southern tradition of using our cherished heirlooms and teaching the next generation to do the same,” says Shannon, who owns and runs the children’s clothier Little English with her daughter, Dunn. “Creating those memories is so important, and for me, it starts with the Thanksgiving table. I usually set it two days ahead but always leave several things to be done so that all the girls in the family can help finish it. My mother-in-law gave me her mother’s linens, and we use them every year. To see her lay her hands on those pieces that were given to her—and that she gave to me—is just really special.”
Yes, they polish the silver and set the table with china, but the Lathams’ holiday festivities are far from stuffy, thanks in part to an unconventional turkey-cooking method inspired by family travels.
“One year, my parents were bringing their boat up the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and stopped in Columbus, Mississippi,” says Shannon. “When they got off, they saw a bunch of trash cans sitting out in a big, open field. They thought, ‘What in the world?’ And someone told them, ‘Oh, you’ve docked just in time! We’re having a trash can-turkey cook-off.’ My father loved it, so he came back and told everybody all about it.”
The next November, Davant smoked a turkey in an overturned metal trash can warmed by a heaping pile of hot coals. It was a hit: His humbly cooked bird earned a prized place on the buffet, right next to Shannon’s more conventional oven-roasted turkey.
“It’s become kind of a competition between his trash can turkey and my oven-roasted version to see whose is the best,” she adds with a laugh. “The cook-off is spectacular fun and sets the scene. It’s sort of like tailgating. We’re waiting on it all day, watching it, stoking the coals, and then the big reveal is really exciting too.”
Of course, the trash can method has its drawbacks, says Shannon. The makeshift 20-gallon metal smoker is more open to the elements and uses a wooden stake to hold the bird. “One year, Davant’s turkey was so perfectly cooked and tender that when he lifted the trash can to do the reveal, we realized the turkey had fallen completely off the stake. It was good to eat but not anything to look at. It was in bits and pieces for sure!” she recalls.
But that’s just part of the fun, she says. For Shannon and her family, Thanksgiving is about keeping cherished traditions alive, trash can turkey and all.