How to Cook a Turkey on the Grill

Once upon a time, Thanksgiving turkeys were pretty much always roasted or baked in home ovens. Mom or Dad or Uncle Steve got up at the crack of dawn, turned on the oven, dressed the hopefully fully-thawed turkey, plopped it into a baking dish, and began the hours-long waiting ritual until the bird was cooked. One day, you saw two articles about grilling turkeys, then seven, and before you knew it, you felt like the odd man out if you weren’t firing up your bird on a grill. Turkey grilling aficionados posted drool-worthy pics of freshly grilled turkeys boasting crispy golden skins and tender, juicy meat. Suddenly, you had a major case of FOMO. What exactly were you missing by continuing to fire up the old oven? Were you missing out on flavor? How in the world do you even grill a whole turkey?

Why grill a turkey?

People who’ve never tasted grilled turkey will wonder why someone would even grill one to begin with. The answer is simple: taste. Grilled turkey boasts that perfect balance of crispiness and juiciness. The flame from the fire gives the turkey a nice, crunchy, flavorful skin while simultaneously tenderizing the meat inside. The results are a bird that even people who generally aren’t fans of turkey have been known to quietly grab and devour a piece of piece or two as the platter is passed around. Grilled turkey is also enhanced by the flavor of the wood chips or charcoal used as a heating source. Practically speaking, grilling a Thanksgiving turkey frees up the oven for those other, equally important Thanksgiving dishes like your sister’s pumpkin cheesecake or your best friend’s roasted butternut squash.

Tips for a Great Grilled Turkey

Everyone has their very own grilled turkey recipe, but there are similarities that many recipes share. Brine your turkey prior to grilling. How important is brining? It’s the difference between a turkey that’s kind of dry and lacking in flavor vs one that practically spits juices and offers up moist and tender meat. Brining is the process of soaking your bird in a salt water solution for a minimum of 12 hours prior to cooking. Turkey are very lean birds, meaning that they don’t have a lot of fat. Fat is what makes meat juicy. By soaking your turkey in a salt water solution, you’re infusing the bird with more juiciness. The turkey soaks in the water while the salt gives your bird tasty flavor. Some people find that brining makes their turkey too juicy and almost watery, so they prefer to dry brine instead. Dry brining means that you’ll eliminate the water and coat your thawed bird inside and out with a salt/spice mix before allowing it to sit in the refrigerator for 12 hours or so.

How to Cook a Turkey on a Charcoal Grill

If you’re grilling using charcoal, take the grate off of the grill and place a drip pan inside. Surround the sides of the pan with just over two dozen briquettes before heating them up until they’re covered with gray ash.

Season your turkey as desired before basting it with olive oil. Take the turkey and place it breast up on the grill, positioning it so that it’s just above the drip pan. Put the lid on the grill, but make sure that you leave the grill vents open. Toss in about half a dozen briquettes about every hour or so. Cook 11-13 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees F for the thigh and 160 degrees F for the breast and the juices run clear.

Check out product review of charcoal grills on Amazon to learn more.

How to Cook a Turkey on a Gas Grill

If you’re working with a gas grill, try and use beer or water-soaked wood chips that have been left to sit for about two hours. Put them in your grill’s smoker box. If it doesn’t have one, you can buy one. Set the grill burners to high and let it heat up until it reaches a temperature of somewhere in the range of 550 degrees F. Reduce the heat until it’s at medium. Take your (brined, spiced up, and trussed!) turkey and place it breast side up on the cooking grate over a drip pan. Cook per your recipe’s instructions.

Check out product reviews of gas grills on Amazon to learn more.

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