Grilled Turkey for Thanksgiving

If have the good fortune of a temperate climate, or are intrepid and adventurous enough to brave the elements, grilling can be much more than just a novel way to prepare your holiday bird. Grilling aficionados will tell you “Where there’s smoke, there’s flavor!” and grilling one of our turkeys is no exception. For this technique, we would recommend using a plump, Free-Range Organic Turkey.

Split it in Half

One option is to butterfly the turkey, also known as spatchcocking, which ensures even cooking, an abundance of crispy skin, and a quicker cooking time. For instance, a 12-14 lb spatchcocked turkey can be ready in just 90 minutes on the grill. Estimate about 10 minutes per lb.

This method involves removing the backbone so the turkey can lay flat on the grill. Which means you can use those bones for turkey stock (giblet gravy, anyone?). This butterfly option also works well for oven roasting, but we’re here to talk about grilling…

spatchcock-turkey-joy-on-flickr
Spatchcocked turkey, photo by Joy, flickr.

A kettle barbecue will allow you to use a roasting pan to cook a whole, intact bird. Add the science of seasoned brines, and a myriad of marinades, spice rubs, and BBQ sauces to the mix, and you may never throw a bird in the oven again. These wonderful preparatory techniques enhance the succulence of your bird, with a spectrum of flavor bases that run from the sublime to the wow. Remember, a huge bonus of grilling is that it will free up precious oven space. That’s good news for the stuffing.

greg-putrich-grilled-turkey-flickr
Greg Putrich grilled turkey, photo from flickr.

Get to Play with Fire

There are a few considerations before grilling a big bird. For instance, it will take more than a humble pair of tongs to flip even a butterflied turkey, and comparatively speaking, summer steaks, plump chicken, and sausages all grill relatively quickly. Even a small turkey calls for a substantially longer cooking time than that fare.

This level of advanced charcoal grilling (we assume you are using charcoal?) also requires a certain degree of finesse with regard to controlling cooking temperatures. Depending on your recipe, you will need to add charcoals during the cooking process to maintain a steady 325°F to 350°F temperature. So don’t get distracted.

Having said that, even if you are an enthusiastic novice with your sights set on your first grilling adventure, don’t let us dampen that pioneering spirit; especially if it’s your Thanksgiving bird; after all that’s how the party got started in the first place. With a bit of brining, marinating and meat rubs, the big flavor pay-off will be well worth the effort.

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Quick Tips

1) Grilling is the perfect opportunity to use a dressing intended only to impart flavor. It can be as easy as tucking a quartered onion, a couple of peeled shallots, and sprigs of fresh tarragon tossed with a little olive oil, inside the cavity. After cooking, discard the dressing but reserve the juice to enrich your gravy.
2) Cover the wing tips (we’re not talking shoes here) and the tips of the drumsticks with foil to prevent charring.
3) Remember you will need to add more fuel about every 30 minutes so plan accordingly when buying supplies.
4) Just like the oven, if your bird is browning too fast, cover it loosely with a foil tent, shiny side up.
5) Don’t forget to let the bird rest before carving.
6) Use a sturdy metal or aluminum foil drip pan with a little water in it to help prevent dripping fat from smoking or flaring.

Featured photo: Ernesto Andrade, flickr

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