How To BBQ a Turkey

Turkey BBQ dish

If you're tired of eating dried-out oven-roasted turkey every year, or you simply need to free up more space in your oven, you might want to try using your grill to barbecue a bird this Thanksgiving. It's easier than you may think - and if the weather is warm, you may just convince the guys in your family to take care of the entree while you prepare the meal inside! 

  1. Prepare the turkey. First, remove and discard the giblets and neck from the body cavity. These are the icky parts inside, usually in a mesh sack. Thaw the turkey completely, preferably in the refrigerator for several days. Dry it thoroughly, inside and out. Next, grasp a wing and twist it back so that it is folded over the neck. Repeat with the opposite wing. This will hold the neck skin in place. Tuck the legs underneath, if they aren't already. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the entire turkey with vegetable oil, to keep the skin from drying out and to hold in the juices. Now, it's ready for the grill!
  2. Prepare the grill. If you have a charcoal grill, this means stacking charcoal briquettes along the left and right sides of your grill, dousing them with lighter fluid, lighting them and letting them heat until they look white and ashy. Do not put them in the center of your grill. Since the turkey will be cooking for several hours, you want to use indirect heat. You will probably need to replenish your supply of briquettes periodically during cooking. Open the vents on your grill and leave them open through the duration of the cooking.

    If you have a gas grill, turn the burners on one side to high, and let them burn for about ten minutes. Next, reduce the heat until the grill thermometer registers 350 degrees or so. Again, you want to use just one set of burners to avoid burning the bottom of the turkey while the top remains uncooked. Halfway through the cooking time, you'll want to turn it around so that the other side receives an equal amount of heat.

    To add a subtle flavor, try scattering apple or hickory chips around the briquettes or burners on your grill. This adds a smoky accent. Keep an eye on your turkey while it cooks. You need to check for flare-ups. A flare-up occurs when fat drips onto the grate and causes a flame to shoot up. This can cause burned spots on your turkey. Flare-ups can be doused by a quick squirt from a spray bottle of water. The chance of one occurring can be reduced by placing a drip pan underneath your turkey. This will also collect any juices that drip so that you can use them to make gravy later, if you like.

  3. Cook that turkey! Carefully place your turkey on the grill, with the breast side (the smooth, rounded side) up. Tuck the legs back under, if necessary. Check to make sure that there is space on each side and aboveit so that the heat can circulate freely. Also, make sure that the grill cover has room to close completely.
  4. But don't overcook it! Most turkeys will cook on a grill in three hours or less. In order for the meat to be safely eaten, the internal temperature must reach 165 degrees before it's removed from the grill. Use a meat thermometer to determine this. Insert it into the breast at least one inch and make sure it's not touching a bone, which heats faster than the meat. Once your turkey has reached the proper temperature, remove it from the grill and allow it to stand for about fifteen minutes. This allows the juices to seep back into the meat and makes it much easier to carve.

When your turkey is carried to the table, be ready for the oohs&aahs that such a delicious entree will elicit. And the most important part of all is - make sure to look suitably worn out when everyone asks for the recipe. With any luck, it'll get you out of clean-up!


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Turkey weight is the most important thing when it comes to cooking time. A 14 pound fresh hen takes far less time than a defrosted 28 pound tom. Using the BBQ is an excellent way as long as you realize that you are trying to simulate an oven. Flareups can ruin the result.

By Murry Shohat