Credit for this delightful pumpkin cheesecake recipe belongs to Reagan Cawley. Reagan and her parents have taught workshops at our annual turkey fest, and their dedication to cooking and attention to detail is always outstanding.
Since a very young age, Reagan has been making great impressions on her family and guests with her baking skills, such as baking a perfect soufflé at age 10 for her mom’s birthday party! Reagan surprised our 2020 turkey fest attendees with this pumpkin cheesecake, and we loved it so much we decided to share it here on the blog.
Instead of cooking this cheesecake in the oven as it’s usually done, I cooked it in my Big Green Egg to give it a wood-fired flavor. The crust picked up a subtle smoke flavor that elevates this amazing cheesecake to a remarkable level. If you haven’t tried smoking a dessert yet, you are missing out on a delicious treat!
Because of all the pumpkin in this cheesecake recipe, it is less dense than a typical cheesecake, but rich enough to make an elegant dessert for your Thanksgiving holiday meal or any fall season meal.
The maple glaze perfectly complements the buttery crunch of the crust and the smooth pumpkin-flavored filling for a tantalizing combination that makes tastebuds sing!
Regan’s original recipe was intended for cooking the cheesecake in an oven. I’ve rewritten it for baking the crust and cheesecake in a Big Green Egg, but you can also bake it in your kitchen oven using my notes below.
Her recipe also calls for cooling the cheesecake in the fridge overnight. Matt, our resident cheesecake enthusiast, recommends freezing the cheesecake for nicer slices. I’ve also included some professional slicing tips which Matt learned from his friend John, who has scored multiple perfect scores in dessert contests.
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Step 1: Fire the Big Green Egg to 325 Degrees F
To fire the Egg, I topped of my Kick Ash Basket with Rockwood Lump Charcoal and nestled two wax fire starter cubes into the charcoal. With the lid open and the top and bottom vents fully open, I lit the fire starters.
Let the fire burn for 10–15 minutes, then close the grill lid with the vents fully open. Once the temperature rises to within 25 degrees of your target temperature (in this case, 300 degrees), adjust the top and bottom vents to about 3/4” open.
Give it some time to settle in and adjust the top vent as needed to raise or lower the temperature. To lower the temperature, close the vent further; to raise the temperature, open the vent a bit wider.
Step 2: Wrap a Springform Pan in Aluminum Foil
Wrap a 10-inch springform pan in two layers of 18” aluminum foil to protect your pan from getting colored from the smoke. The foil is also necessary for the water bath later in the process. Fold the sides of the foil to form a sheet just wide enough to reach the top edge of the pan. Be extremely careful not to tear the foil because even a pinhole will let water seep into the cheesecake.
No springform pan? If you prefer to use an aluminum cake pan instead of the springform pan, that’s fine too. You won’t need to wrap it in foil, but make sure you grease it well with unsalted butter (next step).
Step 3: Prepare the Crust
Brush the inside of the pan with some of the butter. Stir the remaining butter with the crumbs, 1/4 cup of the sugar and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, packing it tightly and evenly.
Are you gluten-free? To make this recipe gluten-free, I used Schar Honeygrams in the 5.6-ounce boxes. It took 5 packs of 6 crackers each to make 2-1/2 cups of crumbs.
Put the crackers in a bag and crush them with a rolling pin or use a food processor.
Step 3: Bake the Crust
Set the pan directly onto the cooking grate in the Big Green Egg and close the lid (or in your oven). Cook it until it turns golden brown or for 15–20 minutes. Cool the crust on a rack.
Step 4: Mix the Filling
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. I used a 7-cup electric teakettle.
Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese with a mixer until smooth. Add the remaining 2-1/2 cups of sugar, then beat it just until it’s light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beaters as needed.
Beat in the sour cream, then add the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, salt, and spices. Beat until just combined.
Pour the mixture into the cooled crust.
Step 5: Bake the Cheesecake
Set a full-size aluminum pan (or roasting pan bigger than the cake pan) onto the Egg’s cooking grate, then position the springform pan into the center of it. Pour the boiling water into the foil pan. The water should cover at least one-third of the cake pan’s height.
If you’re using the oven, set the cake pan into a roasting pan and gently place the roasting pan in the oven without sliding the oven rack out, then pour the boiling water into the roasting pan.
Bake the cheesecake until the outside of the cheesecake sets, but the center is still a bit jiggly. This should take about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Step 6: Cool It
Remove the cheesecake from the Egg and set it on a rack to cool at room temperature for 1–2 hours.
A cheesecake can collapse in the center if you cool it too quickly, so if you’re baking it in an oven, turn off the oven and open the door briefly to let out some heat (or prop the door open with a spoon). Leave the cheesecake in the oven for 1 more hour, before cooling it on a rack at room temperature.
Step 7: Glaze It
Simmer the glaze ingredients in a small pot over medium heat for 10–15 minutes, stirring it constantly, until it thickens.
Run a blunt knife around the edge to loosen the cheesecake from the ring.
Pour the glaze over the top of the cheesecake. Some of the glaze will run into the crack around the outside edge if you loosened it properly.
Step 8: Freeze It
Cover the cheesecake with aluminum foil and freeze it for at least 8 hours or overnight. Keep it frozen until you’re ready to slice it.
To keep the foil from dipping into the glaze, place a round dinner plate upside-down on top of the springform pan before wrapping it in foil.
Step 9: Serve It
Remove the cheesecake from the freezer just before slicing it. By the time you get the slices plated and served, it should be thawed perfectly.
Unlock and remove the springform ring, then slice and serve the cheesecake. If desired, place a dollop of whipped cream on each slice.
Professional Slicing Tricks
Making a cheesecake sounds complicated, but it’s worth every ounce of effort required. Whether you’re a cheesecake master or this is your first time making cheesecake, I hope you’ll give this recipe a chance. I think you’ll be surprised with how easy it is to completely wow your family and guests with a smoked pumpkin cheesecake.
Thanksgiving Recipe Library
About the author
Lavern Gingerich is the digital marketing manager at Meadow Creek Barbecue Supply. He enjoys helping barbecue enthusiasts avoid making mistakes on the smoker or grill and master amazing barbecue quickly.