How to Grill a Turkey
For barbecue enthusiasts, the fourth Thursday in November means it's ThanksGrilling. Not even inclement weather slows down the hardy pitmaster, who's chasing those dreams of a smoky bird that family and friends will be talking about until next ThanksGrilling. Here's how to get it done:
Grilled Turkey Tools
To grill your turkey, you'll need:
- A 12-pound turkey is the largest that will fit most grills
- Good-quality charcoal briquettes: about 20 pounds
- Disposable aluminum roasting pan
- Soaked wood chips, if desired
- An accurate meat thermometer
- Tongs and heavy-duty oven mitts
- Recommended: a thermometer on your grill or deep-fat frying thermometer placed through the vent on the grill's lid
Prepping Your Turkey for the Grill
To add even more flavor to your turkey:
- Try brining: while not an essential part of grilling a turkey, soaking in brine before cooking gives the meat maximum flavor and juiciness.
- Fill the cavity with some type of liquid to maintain the moisture, especially of the white meat. That mixture can also be used to baste or mop the bird during the grilling process.
- Rub bird with oil or butter for crispy and evenly browned skin.
- Apply a dry rub just before grilling. (If you have brined the turkey, you should not use any salt in the dry rub).
How to Grill a Turkey
Pros know success is tied to hitting the perfect temperature, so the meat remains moist and juicy. Essentially, you'll be using your grill as an outdoor oven: you want a moderate, even temperature rather than searing heat.
Barbecuing a turkey at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) over indirect heat with a pan situated underneath to catch the drippings until the bird reaches 165 degrees F (75 degrees C) is slightly different than the usual low-and-slow smoking scenario. So, depending on weight, the cooking time could vary between 3 and 5 hours before hitting 165. (That recommended temperature is based on an updated recommendation from the USDA for safely cooking poultry, and takes into consideration the carryover cooking time while the turkey rests for at least 20 minutes before carving.)
Arrange the coals on one side of the grill only — you will use the empty side for the drip-pan. When the coals are covered with white ash, add a handful of damp wood chips. To maintain a steady temperature, keep a small amount of charcoal handy in a separate spot and add prepared coals, as needed. Add more wood chips any time you add more charcoal.
- Lightly oil the grill's grate. Brush the skin of the turkey with oil or rub it with butter to prevent it from sticking.
- Set a disposable aluminum roasting pan next to the hot coals. This will catch drippings and prevent flare-ups.
- Adjust the grill's vents so they are open halfway.
- Many recipes suggest roasting the turkey in a second disposable pan, adding water, wine or aromatics to the roasting pan for basting.
- If your grill is outfitted with a thermometer (or you have inserted a deep-fat frying thermometer through the vent), check it. Aim for 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), but don't get hung up on a perfect and constant reading.
- Keep the turkey covered loosely in a tent of foil, and baste often. This cooking method makes for a finished bird that ranges from golden to deep mahogany. A centerpiece of the feast you're going to want to document for your social media feed.
- Roast the turkey until the thigh meat registers 165 degrees F (75 degrees C). This may take two to three hours or longer, depending upon the heat of the fire and size of the turkey.
- Avoid opening the lid; conserve heat. Rotate the turkey as necessary for even cooking.
Check out our collection of Grilled Turkey Recipes.