Charcoal Grilled Turkey: A Delicious Thanksgiving Tradition

As I have been doing for a few years, I will use a charcoal barbecue grill to cook our Thanksgiving turkey this year. This is, in my humble opinion, the best way to cook a turkey, hands down. And it frees up the oven for more important Thanksgiving fare, like pie, stuffing (and more pie).

Heres what youll need to cook up your turkey on the grill. Your mileage may differ with other types of charcoal grills as my method is tailored for your typical 22-inch Weber charcoal grill. Please don’t blame me if you try this and it doesn’t work on gas grills because I have no idea if it will.

We started off with 12-pound a free range turkey from Diestel Turkey Ranch. Diestels birds have a great old fashioned turkey flavor, and are really worth the extra money. You can weigh up to roughly 22 pounds, but if you weigh more than that, the grill lid might not fit on it. This happened to me one year when I tried to cook a big 24-pound bird. Since we are primarily roasting or smoking the turkey on the grill rather than actually grilling it, it is crucial to close the lid.

This recipe works fine with either brined or plain birds. Although we typically dry brine the turkey in advance (for complete instructions, refer to the Serious Eats Food Lab guide on brining), it also works just fine without it. You can also buy one of those pre-brined ones which means one less thing you have to do.

Dry it thoroughly inside and out, if necessary. Make sure you remove the giblets in their bag (I forgot to do this once… yuck). Spread olive oil all over it and season it heavily with salt and pepper (or just pepper if you brined the turkey). Fill the cavity with the onion, lemon, and herbs (I used a few that were in our herb garden, but oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme are also good choices).

Soak a cup of wood chips in water for 30 minutes. When the coals are ready, build a medium-sized charcoal fire and divide them evenly into two piles on opposite sides of the grill. Scatter the wet wood chips on top of the coals. This will create smoke which will in turn give our turkey a subtle smokiness.

Place your foil pan between the piles of coals, and pour in your bottle of wine. (You can pour yourself a glass if you want, too. ) The wine will add moisture and a little flavor to the turkey. If you dont want to use wine, you can substitute chicken broth or even water.

Install the grill grate, being careful to place the handles over the coal piles as the picture indicates. After placing the turkey on the grill, cover it and turn the vents on the lid and the grill’s bottom halfway open. This will allow the turkey to cook through evenly because you want a fairly slow fire.

Now go back in the house and watch football or something for a while. Approximately every 30 minutes, you should check on your bird and add two or three charcoal briquets to each side as needed.

Cook your turkey until the temperature in the thickest part of the breast reads 161ºF. Our test bird took about 3 hours. Remove from the barbeque and let rest, tented with aluminum foil, for half an hour.

You’ve successfully grilled your Thanksgiving turkey! After tasting it, you’ll probably decide to follow this recipe again next year.

Looking for an alternative to the traditional oven-roasted turkey? Look no further than the charcoal grill! This method not only produces a juicy, flavorful bird, but also frees up your oven for other dishes. Plus, it’s a fun and unique way to cook your Thanksgiving turkey.

Why Grill Your Turkey?

There are many reasons why grilling your turkey is a great option:

  • Flavor: The smoky flavor imparted by the charcoal adds a depth and complexity to the turkey that you just can’t get from the oven.
  • Juiciness: The indirect heat from the grill helps to keep the turkey moist and tender, even if you’re cooking a large bird.
  • Convenience: Grilling your turkey frees up your oven for other dishes, like stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pies.
  • Fun: Grilling is a fun and festive way to cook your Thanksgiving turkey, and it’s sure to impress your guests.

Tools and Ingredients You’ll Need:

To grill your turkey like a pro, you’ll need a few essential tools and ingredients:

  • Charcoal grill: Any charcoal grill will do, but a larger one is better for accommodating a big bird.
  • Plate setter: This accessory helps to create indirect heat, which is essential for grilling a turkey.
  • Leave-in thermometer: This will help you monitor the internal temperature of the turkey and ensure it’s cooked through.
  • V-rack or roasting rack with roasting pan: This will elevate the turkey and allow the drippings to collect in the pan.
  • Charcoal: You’ll need enough charcoal to maintain a consistent temperature for several hours.
  • Wood smoking chips: These will add a subtle smoky flavor to the turkey.
  • Fresh turkey: Choose a fresh turkey that is no larger than 22 pounds.
  • Olive oil: This will help to keep the turkey moist and prevent it from sticking to the grill.
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: Season the turkey generously with salt and pepper.
  • Fresh herbs and aromatics: Add some fresh herbs and aromatics, like rosemary, thyme, onions, and lemons, to the cavity of the turkey for extra flavor.
  • Dry white wine: This will add moisture and flavor to the turkey.

Step-by-Step Grilling Instructions:

  1. Prepare the turkey: Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper.
  2. Set up the grill: Light the charcoal and bring the grill to a temperature of 325°F. Create indirect heat by using a plate setter or some other method.
  3. Stuff the turkey: Insert fresh rosemary and thyme into the cavity of the turkey. Place apples, lemon, and white wine in the roasting pan under the turkey.
  4. Insert the thermometer: Place a slow-cook meat thermometer in the innermost part of the breast.
  5. Grill the turkey: Put the turkey on the grill and cook until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. You may need to rotate the turkey halfway through for even browning.
  6. Rest the turkey: Allow the turkey to rest for 30 minutes before carving. Keep the pan drippings to make gravy.

Tips and Tricks:

  • For extra flavor, you can brine the turkey before grilling it.
  • If you don’t have a plate setter, you can create indirect heat by placing the coals on one side of the grill and the turkey on the other side.
  • Baste the turkey with the pan juices every 30 minutes to keep it moist.
  • If you’re using a gas grill, you can still grill your turkey using the indirect heat method. Just adjust the heat as needed to maintain a temperature of 325°F.
  • Leftover turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

Grilling your Thanksgiving turkey is a delicious and fun way to change up your holiday tradition. With a little preparation and the right tools, you can easily cook a juicy, flavorful turkey that will impress your guests. So give it a try this year and see for yourself why grilling is the best way to cook a turkey!

Making Gravy with Your Grilled Turkey

Thanksgiving dinner would not be the same without gravy, and cooking the turkey in this manner does add a little complexity to the gravy process. The good news is that gravy is easy to make, but you’ll need to adjust your method a little bit from what you’re used to.

Typically, I begin by preparing a stock by simmering the turkey giblets and neck in four cups (or a 32-ounce container) of low-sodium chicken broth along with a carrot, an onion, and a celery stalk. Let this simmer for a few hours while you prepare and cook the turkey.

After the turkey has finished cooking and is resting, take the foil drip pan off the grill along with the wine and turkey drippings inside. In a large saucepan, make a roux with 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 4 tablespoons unsalted butter. Whisk in a small amount of the drip pan’s contents and the turkey stock you made earlier. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened and gravy-like. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The proportions of turkey broth and drippings are up to you. Use more drippings for a stronger flavor and less for a more subdued one because the drippings will give the gravy a smokey taste. If you are cooking a brined turkey, you should also use less of the drippings because they will be quite salty.

Needless to say, you shouldnt stuff a turkey that youre cooking on the grill. Just make it in a pan in the oven and youll be set.

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How to Grill a Turkey on a Charcoal Grill


How long does it take to grill a turkey on a charcoal grill?

Place the roasting pan on the grill and turn the center burner to medium-low. Close the grill. Ideally, you want the temperature to be about 425 to 450 degrees F during cook time, so adjust accordinging with your grill. Grill the turkey for 2.5 to 3 hours, checking the bird every 30 minutes or so.

Do you cover a turkey with foil on the grill?

We’ve found that covering a turkey in foil yields much moister results than roasting it without foil, and we favor simply covering up the breast to even out cooking time. Some people swear that roasting a turkey breast-side down and flipping it halfway through achieves the same results as a foil covered breast.

What kind of charcoal is best for grilling turkey?

The most popular types of wood used are oak, hickory, walnut, alder and mesquite. There are other types of lump charcoal such as quebracho, bintochotan, coconut, kiawe and eucalyptus wood. Each type of wood will burn at different rates and temperatures and will give off distinctive smoke flavors.

Do you flip a turkey when grilling?

Place the turkey in a roasting pan with the breast facing upwards. Cook your turkey with indirect heat by putting the roasting pan on the unlit side of the grill. Half way through the cooking process you may flip the turkey over.

How do you cook a Turkey on a charcoal grill?

As a guide, a 22-inch diameter grill needs about 50 charcoal briquettes. Allow the coals to develop a white ash. Carefully push the ashed coals away from the middle, forming a ring on the outside of the grill. Place a disposable drip pan on the bottom tray in the center of the grill, between the coals, and under the turkey. Do not use drippings.

How do you cook a Turkey on a grill?

Place a disposable drip pan on the bottom tray in the center of the grill, between the coals, and under the turkey. Do not use drippings. Place the top grill rack on the grill. Place the turkey on the rack. Cover grill. You will need to add four to five charcoal briquettes each hour during cooking. Whole turkey, unstuffed – 8 to 12 pounds.

Can you cook a Turkey on a Weber charcoal grill?

One of the most flavorful and traditional ways to cook a turkey is on a Weber charcoal grill. The combination of smoky flavors and a crispy exterior makes for a truly memorable Thanksgiving feast. In this guide, we will walk you through the steps to cook a succulent turkey on your Weber charcoal grill.

How long do you cook a turkey breast on a grill?

Place turkey, breast-side up, on a metal grate inside a large roasting pan. Place the roasting pan over indirect heat on the preheated grill. Grill until the internal thigh temperature is 180 degrees F (85 degrees C), 2 to 3 hours. Remove from the grill and let turkey stand 15 minutes before carving.

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