Grilled Turkey

Tried and true guide to grilling your turkey.


1) brine, 2) baste, 3) smoke, 4) cook.

What you need:
Unstuffed turkey, meat thermometer, butter, olive oil, 2 tbsp allspice, 2 cups Kosher salt, 1/4 cup brown sugar, rosemary both dry and fresh, thyme, 1 tbsp peppercorns, sage, charcoal grill, ideally a large Weber kettle, charcoal, drip pan – a disposable roasting pan works well, chips for smoking (hickory or mesquite), food-grade container for brining such as a 5-gallon HDPE bucket with a lid.

2 Days Prior:
Prepare brine – bring 2 gallons water, 2 cups kosher salt, 1/4-cup light brown sugar just to the boiling point. Add 2 tbsp allspice, lots of fresh rosemary 1 tbsp sage & 1 tbsp thyme and some cracked peppercorns. Cover, remove from heat and let cool overnight. Or, use Alton Brown's brine recipe.

1 Day Prior:
In the morning, place brine in the refrigerator. Check to be sure inside of turkey is thawed. It’s helpful to pull out neck and organs. In evening before bed, rinse bird thoroughly, place in clean brining bucket, completely immerse the bird in the chilled brine and cover the container. If cold outside, leave bucket somewhere safe from animals overnight. Otherwise, store in refrigerator.

Cooking Day:
After 8-10 hours of brining, pull the bird from the brine and rinse very thoroughly. Then pat dry and allow to air dry until cooking. Clean the grilling rack. Soak in water a half of a small bag of hickory chips. Put a sieve on the top to hold them in the water (a pot with a steamer works well). For planning, cooking time is about 15-20 minutes per pound, but prepare for some flex time.

Prepare a good amount of baste with fresh rosemary & thyme butter by heating on low: unsalted butter, herbs and a little olive oil (two to three sticks of butter and 1/2 to 3/4 cups of olive will make enough). After 20 minutes or so, turn off heat and let this cool until just warm. Baste between legs and body and tie the legs together. Baste the sides of the breast and inside of wings and tie the wings together. Insert a thermometer between a thigh and the body (not touching bone).

Brush the rack with olive oil and set aside. Start 30 - 50 coals, depending on kettle size. Once they’re turning gray, Work the ash remover to clear out as much potentially airborne ash as possible. Divide the hot charcoal pile in half. Place drip pan between the coals and put about 2 cups of water in it to provide moisture to the smoke during cooking. Place the cooking rack on the grill. Leave the bottom vents open. Put lid on grill and open the top vents about 1/4 to 1/2.

Baste bird and if desired and dust with powdered (dried) rosemary, thyme and sage (do not salt – the meat will be salty from the brine). Open grill, place the bird on the rack and replace lid.

Check the fire every 1/2-hour or so, adding 3 to 4 briquettes to each side every 40 to 50 minutes. Baste the turkey after you add the coals. Just before you put the lid back on, you can add presoaked (hickory or mesquite) chips on each side. The wet chips can be particularly helpful if you think you’ve added too many coals and the fire is getting too hot.

If the turkey starts to get too dark, place a piece of foil over it. Be aware that the smoking will make the turkey much darker than usual, but this is different than the darkness caused by heat.

Pull the bird when it reaches 180 degrees in the thickest portion of the thigh, and let it rest for at least a 1/2-hour. If the drip pan survives in a clean state, you can use this as a base for gravy.