Milk Can Dinner

Recently, a friend introduced me to the Milk Can Dinner, a tradition in her family. The Milk Can Dinner is food for a crowd cooked outside in an old milk can.  Her family has catered family reunions, engagement parties and more with this unique and fun way to make an enormous amount of food for a crowd.

First is the tricky part. You have to find an old milk can, probably at an antique shop.  Of course you want one that has no rust on in the inside, but it doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside. One that looks like this:

Milk Can Dinner


Once you have your milk can, you need to decide how you are going to do the cooking. You can set the milk can right into a campfire (but be ready to burn a hot fire for at least 90 minutes), or you can hook it up to a burner connected to a propane tank.  We did this Milk Can Dinner with a propane tank.

Ingredients and Supplies:

Potatoes in Foil
Carrots – baby – single
Onions – single
Corn on the cob – double, 6 halves per bundle
Broccoli or other vegetable- single
Cauliflower or other veg- single
Skinless Chicken Tenders/Pieces – double
Sausage – whatever kind you like – double
1 Gallon of water

You will also need several packages of cheese cloth. To prepare your food, you will wrap each type of food into a little bundle with cheese cloth. So wrap your baby carrots together, your chicken together, sausages together, etc. Where it says single – wrap once. Where it says double – wrap twice. Then secure with some kitchen twine, or in our case we used black yarn.

Milk Can Dinner

Ready? Now it’s time for the layering process! Place the ingredients into the can in the order of the listed ingredients above. So, rocks go in the bottom – any type of rocks. It’s a good idea to send the kids out to find the rocks prior to starting the cooking process. Next, potatoes. Then carrots. Etc. Layer the ingredients in the milk can, with the sausages on top. As the sausages cook, the yummy sausage juices will drip down, flavoring the rest of the ingredients.  The last thing to do before you close the milk can is to pour a gallon of water on top. Now seal it up tight, and put it on the burner or in the fire. Wait for steam to come shooting out, like this:

Milk Can Dinner

Once you see a steady stream of steam like the above, start your timer. Forty minutes when using a propane tank, and 90 minutes in a campfire. When your timer goes off, you are done! Carefully pull out the bundles and place all the food in trays.

Milk Can Dinner

Season the vegetables with butter, salt & pepper, and whatever else you want. Dinner for a crowd is served.

Milk Can Dinner


What a fun, creative way to cook dinner for a bunch of people! If anyone knows where I can find a milk can, email me!


San Juan Parent


SJPmama is the schemer, founder, and the editor at San Juan Parent.  She created San Juan Parent because she wanted to find fun activities for families that would tire her kids out and make them go to bed at a decent hour. She has been banging away on computers for longer than she can remember and freelances at various tech jobs. She considers herself extremely lucky to have such awesome friends and family who are willing to let SJP feature their stories on the interwebs.






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San Juan Parent
Founder, Co-Editor San Juan Parent was founded by Erika Story in 2010. Erika is the mom to two fabulous young ladies who are growing up too fast for her comfort. In addition to managing the backend of SJP, Erika freelances for various IT jobs and loves every minute of her life with her family in Western Colorado.
San Juan Parent

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1 Comment

  1. We just did a milk can dinner at our family reunion. We lined a wheelbarrow with black plastic garbage sacks and just dumped the entire meal into it rather than separating it out. We also used spiral cut ham and cabbage instead of chicken and broccoli and cauliflower. Fun to have your varieties too.


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