Why grill a turkey on Thanksgiving? Well, first of all, it sounds delicious. (Altho also maybe a little intimidating.) But there’s also the practicality of it. On Thanksgiving day, real estate in the oven is a super hot commodity. So, why not free up some room by taking the turkey outside?
Here’s how we grilled our Thanksgiving turkey, with lots of guidance from Cook’s Illustrated. And we include some tips at the end that we’ll be following on the real Thanksgiving Day, to make this even better.
A tip from the Cook’s Illustrated folks: Table salt is too fine, so don’t use it for this recipe. Also, if you’re using a self-basting or kosher turkey, skip the salt in this first step.
Prep the Turkey First, put the turkey breast side down on the counter Make two 2″ cuts below each thigh and breast along the back of the turkey (4 inches total). (This speeds up the rendering of extra fat, which helps give you a nice crisp skin. Well, not you, but the turkey.) Carefully separate the skin from the thighs and breast, using your fingers or a wooden spoon. Rub 4 tsp kosher salt evenly inside the turkey cavity, 1 T salt under the skin of each breast, and 1 tsp salt under the skin of each leg.
Next, combine 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper and 1 tsp baking powder in a small bowl. (The baking powder helps break down the proteins. Don’t you love the research Cook’s Illustrated does?) Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and evenly sprinkle this mixture all over it. Rub in the mixture with your hands so the surface is coated evenly. Wrap the turkey tightly wit plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
Take the turkey out of the fridge, toss the plastic, and tuck the wings underneath the turkey. Rub 1 T vegetable oil all over the turkey surface.
Prep the Grill Put 2 disposable pie plates – with 2 cups water each – directly on 1 burner over which the turkey will be cooked. (These will help keep the overall temperature of the grill lower by absorbing heat, helping prevent flare-ups.) Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat the grill until it’s hot – about 15 minutes. If your grill has 2 burners, turn the primary burner (opposite the pie plates) to medium and turn off the other burner. Ours has 3 burners so we turned off the burner in the middle (that has the pie plates of water) and left the left and right burners on. Adjust the “on” burner(s) to keep the grill temperature at 325 degrees.
Clean and oil the grate. Put the turkey, breast side up, on the burner that isn’t on. Make sure the bird is over the disposable pans and not the flame. You do not want a turkey fireball!
Cover with foil and cook until the breasts register 160 degrees and the thighs/drumsticks show 175 degrees. Rotate the turkey after 1 1/4 hours.
Total roasting time is about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Things we learned:
- Invest in one of those hanging thermometers and hang it inside the grill, so you know exactly what the temperature is. We trusted the thermometer that comes with the grill, and we suspect the grill temperature was less consistent than it could have been.
- Cover the bird with foil from the very start. We didn’t have foil until later in the process (hence the improvised wing guards). Foil from the start would have resulted in a moister dish.
- Protect the wings with foil so they don’t cook ahead of the rest of the bird. Keep a close eye on them and if they look like they’re cooking faster, take steps to protect them.
Browse all of our Thanksgiving recipes (from years past and present) here.
- 1 turkey (12 to 14 pounds), turkey, neck and giblets removed and reserved for gravy
- 1 tsp baking powder
- kosher salt and pepper
- 1 T vegetable oil
- 2 aluminum disposable pie plates
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