If prepared and cooked properly turkey can be one of the most enjoyable lean meats around. Sure you could just bake your turkey in an oven, but a BBQ grill will roast it with more flavor and character. The grill will create crisp golden brown skin, while still keeping the meat moist and filled with wonderful subtle smoky flavors. Once you stop using the oven and start using the BBQ grill, you’ll never go back.
Don’t be scared, my good friend Steebo will walk you through the entire process for making a terrific turkey on your Weber kettle. This recipe and easy-to-duplicate process will change the way you think about cooking turkey
As we have described in other Kruksi’s BBQ topics, meat selection is half the battle. Steebo recommends a moderate sized bird; target one in the 13-15 pound range. You are going to want to stay away from anything over 18 pounds, a bird this big most likely will over crisp the skin and dry out some parts before the bird is properly cooked. Your best bet will be to select a fresh or natural turkey. DO NOT get a self-basting or Kosher turkey as these have added salt stock. This years turkey was 15.25 pounds which Steebo bought from a local farm in Michigan. It was super fresh as it was killed just two days before Thanksgiving.
- Charcoal grill: Weber
- Chimney Starter
- V-shaped roasting rack: to keep the bird firmly planted on the grill.
- Oven thermometer: to monitor the actual temp at the grates when you open the grill.
- Meat injector
- Brining bag
- Wood chunks / chips: one small piece of apple or cherry wood, along with one small piece of mesquite. This combination gives a slightly sweet smoky taste to the overall flavor of the turkey. Go easy on the wood a little goes a long way, if your two pieces do not fit inside your fist you are probably using too much
- Standard Kingsford briquettes
- Trusted meat thermometer: fast reading or better yet an instant read one like the thermapen.
Brine that bird!
The best way to get flavorful poultry, regardless of how it is cooked, starts with a brine. Brining is a process that increase the moisture holding potential of your meat. This will help to prevent your bird from drying out. A turkey can be a serious time investment, so you want to make sure you give it the best possibility for being terrific, especially if it is for your Thanksgiving dinner. Plan to brine your turkey for approximately 24 hours. If you want to dive deep into the science of a brine google search this string “Alton Brown + Brine + Good Eats”.
- Make sure your bird is fully thawed before beginning the brine process
- Remove the innards from the turkey, which includes the giblets from the rear and the neck from the top
- Remove any plastic pieces, including pop-up timers
- Place your turkey in your brine bag
- Fill your brine bag with cold water until it is about 6″ below covering the entire turkey (~3-4L)
- Dump this water from the bag into a large pot and begin to heat the water
- Add 60 grams of kosher salt per liter of water
- Add 2 quarts of vegetable stock
- Add 1 tablespoon each of dried rosemary, sage and thyme
- Simmer the entire mixture for about 15 minutes over medium heat
- Remove brine mixture from the heat and allow to cool to approximately 40 degrees
Combine bird and brine in the bag and brine for about 24 hours. The bag can be tied off and placed in a 5 gallon bucket or large stainless steel pot for ease of movement. This brining turkey must be kept below 40 degrees during the entire brine. Your choice of in your refrigerator, a cooler with ice or in your garage (if it is cold enough based on your location). Remember to scout out a cold place to store beforehand.
Remove the turkey from the brine and thoroughly rinse ALL brine off it. Yes really, wash it all off. If any remaining brining salts/herbs remain on your turkey, you will have an extra salty turkey! Dry off your clean bird thoroughly with paper towels.
Inject that bird! (and other flavor enhancements)
Grab your favorite meat injector and inject some flavorful juice into the turkey.
Steebo’s Tasty injection for poultry: Combine all ingredients and simmer for 10min and cool.
Now focus all of your Injection juice at the breasts. Try to only create one hole in the middle of each breast, and inject it at multiple angles. Using one hole makes it so the bird isn’t poked with a lot of holes and thus leaking out everywhere while on the BBQ.
Now stick some stuff up the turkey’s butt – get creative! Steebo’s 2013 bird got a suppository comprised of halved apples, cherries, a quarter of an onion, and a few cinnamon sticks. This will simmer inside the bird and add some phenomenal flavor. Once the bird is stuffed, tie the legs together to keep it tight.
The final preparation step also happens to be Steebo’s favorite: Brush the skin of your turkey with a stick of butter. Really lay it on and don’t miss a spot. Now take some uncooked bacon and simply lay it over the entire breast (or you could make a bacon weave). Use toothpicks sparingly where needed so it doesn’t slide off. No need to cover the wings, legs or thighs with bacon, focus on the breasts. The bacon acts as a heat shield and will provide some consistent basting and flavor while it is cooking. Oh yeah, and the bacon tastes great when your carving up your bird in a few hours. Now is a good time to plan ahead and make a breastplate / heat shield for the breasts (thanks Dad + Alton Brown for the tip). Basically mold a double layer of aluminum foil to cover over the top part of the turkey. It should look kind of like a flattened pentagon. You don’t want to cover the wings, legs or thighs; just tuck it around the breast and keep this handy for use on the grill later.
Time to prepare the BBQ!
Take your clean charcoal grill and set it up for indirect cooking. The easiest way to accomplish this setup is to use two Weber charcoal baskets on each side of a medium-large aluminum pan. The pan is here to catch the drippings but can also help to provide extra moisture by adding a few splashes of whatever tasty beer is in your hands (later drippings can be used to make a mean gravy). Light up about 45-50 briquettes in your chimney starter. Let them sit for 15 minutes or until they are red hot, then fill your charcoal baskets. If you don’t own the charcoal baskets you can simply bank your coals on the sides of your kettle. Now is the time to mix in all of your smoking wood and any additional coals required to have the baskets completely filled. Assemble the main cooking grate and place your oven thermometer on the grate. Place the turkey and rack onto the grill and cover with the lid. Keep your lid vent completely open during the entire cook and adjust bottom vents accordingly to start off at about 450-500 degrees at the grate using your oven thermometer.
BBQ Bird Time!’
Since you’ll be cooking you turkey indirectly outdoors with a low fire, and opening the lid often, weather will play a big role on your kettle temperatures. This is even more apparent in Fall and Winter months. Time required to cook a turkey in a kettle can be similar to that of an oven, but may need a bit more or less depending on how much your kettle temperature was allowed to swing. Expect the cooking time to be about 2-3 hours (basically 11-14min per pound), but remember the first rule of BBQ, it is done when its done. BBQ the turkey in this high heat range of 450-500 for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to about 325 degrees using the bottom vents only. Install your aluminum foil breastplate / heat shield on the turkey and put the lid back on the grill. Try to do this quickly as you don’t want a lot of heat to escape. Remember the second rule of BBQ: if you lookin, you aint cookin! For this BBQ turkey cooking process we must violate the rule and look inside and check often, just try to get in and out as swiftly as possible.
Check the temperature of the grill every 30 minutes and rotate the bird on your v-shaped rack 180 degrees at the same time. Add a splash of your tasty beer to the pan if it is dry. When the temp starts to drop you will need to add more lit coals. Expect to add somewhere in the realm of 8-10 fully lit briquettes per hour.
Two hours into your cook, you will need to begin checking the internal meat temperature with your fast or instant-read thermometer. The goal is to BBQ your bird until it is 160 degrees at multiple points in the breasts. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that the internal temperature of the bird should rise about 10 degrees every 15 to 20 minutes, so don’t poke it full of holes.
Once you are at 160 degrees, take your dead-sexy turkey off the grill, bring it inside, and let it rest for 20-30 minutes covered loosely with aluminum foil on your counter. Eat some of that bacon in the meantime!
If you want to make a gravy from the drippings, now is the perfect time to put the drippings in a pan and place on the stove. Take a picture, pat yourself on the back, drink a beer, and carve your beautiful bird. Eat some more bacon, and enjoy your meal. Enjoy the praise you are about to receive for making the most terrific turkey your guests have ever experienced. And if you did it right, you may even get a follow up call the next day reminiscing about how great yesterdays turkey was, Good Luck and cheers!