All Photos: Wendy Goodfriend
Off and on for many years I’ve cooked my Thanksgiving turkey on my trusty Weber grill. For some of my family and friends, it makes perfect sense. “Of course you can grill your turkey!” For others, I’ve been met with surprise (“Wow! Wait. What? You grill your turkey?”) to confusion (“I don’t understand this concept of grilling a whole turkey.”). Generally, the folks that understand it live in a more temperate climate, aka California. The Scottish half of the family, not so much.
It all started years and years ago when I spent the first of many Thanksgivings with dear friends up in Inverness (California, not Scotland). They had a tiny oven, and one half of the couple – the one who happened to be the cook of the family - was a vegetarian. So me, and my organic, pasture-raised turkey, got the boot. Don’t worry, it was a nice boot.
I decided to brine the bird (in a cooler using a wet brine) and throw that sucker on the grill. My bird was on the heftier side, ideal for the large gathering, so we had to make do by wrapping the edges of the Weber grill with aluminum foil to completely enclose it. But what emerged was a mahogany-colored, smoky-flavored, moist and scrumptious fowl.
I learned a lot that Thanksgiving, and continued to perfect my West Coast grilled turkey.
- Grilling your turkey frees up your oven, and your kitchen, significantly.
- There is very little hand-on work involved, just occasional basting and rotating.
- Purchase a smaller turkey; I usually try to get a 12- to 14-pounder. It’s easier to manage on your grill.
- Brine your turkey 1 to 2 days ahead for better flavor, and to keep the meat moist.
- Ideally, use a charcoal grill. You’ll have much better flavor and color, and it’s really not hard to deal with. Honestly, I’ve never done this on a gas grill, but I’m sure you can do it; just turn on the left and right burners on to medium and leave the center burner off. If your grill has a way to use wood chips for smoking, I recommend going that route.
- One slight downside is that you don’t really get great drippings to use for gravy with this method, so roast a chicken up to 1 month before Thanksgiving and freeze the drippings from that. Then you have the advantage of making your gravy up to 2 days in advance.
- Get off on your bad self: you grilled a freaking turkey! (Besides tasting great, it really does look impressive to your guests.)
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:
Recipe: Brined BBQ Turkey
Serves 10 to 12 people
- One 12- to 14-lb turkey, ideally organic and pasture-raised (defrosted if frozen)
- About 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
- One to two days ahead:
Dry-brine the turkey by rubbing the kosher salt all over, under the skin and over the skin and in the cavities. Place it in a small roasting pan or other baking dish that will hold the turkey and fit in your refrigerator. Cover securely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the day you plan to cook it.
- On the day you plan to serve:
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator about 1 hour before grilling. Rinse and dry the turkey well. Rub the softened butter all over the skin.
- If you want a smokier flavor for your turkey, now is the time to soak about 2 cups of applewood chips in cold water for 30 minutes prior to grilling; wrap the drained, soaked chips in foil and punch a few holes in the package.
- Prepare a covered charcoal grill with a medium charcoal fire. On the lower rack of the grill, place an aluminum foil or metal drip pan in the center and arrange the coals on either side. (I find it’s best to prepare the coals using a chimney starter, and once they get going, to start a second batch to add to the first.) Add water, stock or wine to the drip pan, about halfway full, to create steam during grilling.