I think we can all agree that the backbone of a great Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey! I know for me, if I screw up the turkey I feel like I have failed as a Thanksgiving host.
I forget exactly how we discovered it, but about 20 years ago my husband and I discovered the joy of the barbecued turkey. This moist, smokey flavored bird is definitely the star of the meal. An unexpected perk to barbecuing the bird, is that you don’t have a huge turkey hogging up your oven. I have never been blessed with two ovens, so on a big cooking day oven space is at a premium. Since I usually put my husband in charge of the barbecuing, it keeps him occupied and out of the kitchen. Prior to putting him to work on the barbecue, he was always sticking his finger in to taste things and stealing yummy bits of food. He likes to set up a little man zone outside on the patio with a cooler of beer and a TV to watch football
So how do we do it?
1. You need a barbecue deep enough to accommodate whatever size turkey you’re cooking. We started with a simple Weber kettle and now we use a CharGriller barrel grill. Those square Meco grills tend to not be deep enough unless you’re cooking a really small turkey.
2. The secret to a moist bird? Stuff it with moist ingredients that will evaporate into the bird as it cooks. We stuff our bird with a variety of fruit, garlic and onions. Remember the flavors of what you stuff it will impart flavor to the bird. I usually use a variety of citrus fruits, apples, and or pears. The stuffing just gets thrown out after the bird has cooked, but all that fruit juice that evaporates into the bird makes for a moist and flavorful turkey.
3. Want that smoke flavor? Add some wood chips to your briquettes. We like to use wood from fruit trees. Our favorite is apple. Some of the other woods, like mesquite, can be overwhelming. The fruit wood provides a mellow, sweet flavor to the bird. Be sure to soak your wood chips overnight, so they don’t just catch fire and burn up right away. You want them to burn slowly and give off lots of smoke. My husband has also been known to pour some brandy or tequila in with the chips as they soak for additional flavor.
4. As I always like to say, play with your food! Over the years, we have tried a variety of things and they’ve all been good. We’ve brined our bird and we have injected our bird. These strategies both add moisture and flavor. Don’t be afraid to try different things! If brining, I will tell you to be cautious with the zip-lock brining bags and how you store your brining turkey. Let’s just say I had one pop open on me and then was dealing with about 2 gallons of liquid on my kitchen floor. It wasn’t a good day, but we recovered. Maybe I’ll include a brine recipe in a future post.
So let’s get to the actual recipe for barbecuing your turkey!
• Turkey – size should be based on the number of people you’re feeding and the amount of left overs you want
• Fruit for stuffing – Any combination of Apples, oranges, limes, lemons, pears,etc, cubed
• Savory ingredients for stuffing – Garlic and/or onion, cubed
• Salt and pepper or barbecue rub (See my very first blog post for a great rub recipe)
To prep turkey, clean out the chest cavity removing neck bone and any organs. I discard these things, but some people cook with them. Ensure the turkey is completely thawed, inside and out. Season the outside of the bird and inside the cavity with salt and pepper or a barbecue rub. Stuff the bird generously with the fruit and savory ingredients. Prior to seasoning, some people like to rub their bird with oil or butter. In an effort to keep fat and calories down, I opt not to do this and my turkey still turns out moist and delicious. This is also the time you would inject your turkey, if you decide to do so. Place turkey in a turkey baking rack, so it can be moved more easily.
- You’ll want to use the indirect method to cook your turkey by creating two beds of charcoal on either side of your grill. Add soaked wood chips to charcoal if you choose. In between the charcoal beds place an aluminum drip pan to catch your turkey’s drippings. Replace your grill’s grate.
- Place turkey in rack on grill grate and close barbecue.
- Every hour add 5-8 briquettes to each charcoal bed. Add carefully, so you don’t get ash on your turkey. Also, add additional soaked wood chips, if you’re smoking your bird. Your remaining charcoal should be hot enough to light these newly added briquettes. You can also baste your turkey with the drippings at this time. If the dripping are too hard to get to, which is the case with some grills, just baste with chicken broth that you keep warm on the stove.
- Cooking time should be about 11-13 minutes per pound. For example a 20 pound bird should take about 3 1/2 hours.
- A meat thermometer should register 180 degrees in the thigh or 170 degrees in the breast.
- Let the bird rest 10-15 minutes before carving. Remember that smoking the bird will sometimes make the meat a pink color, this doesn’t mean it’s not cooked through.
- Discard the fruit stuffing. It’s job is done!
- Carve and enjoy!