As you might have seen in our round-up of this year's hottest Thanksgiving trends, the turkey has hit the grill. At least five food magazines this year featured recipes for cooking your bird outdoors, either in a grill or a smoker.
We were more than a little intrigued.
You see, we have a small kitchen, with a regular old oven/stove ("old" being the operative word) and limited counter space. So throwing a big Thanksgiving/Fakesgiving for 20 people -- and at the same time serving 20 dishes -- is an excercise in maximizing space. The fridge, freezer, counters and oven are carefully budgeted, or else food doesn't end up on the table in time. Grillng a turkey outdoors removes a huge obstacle: A large piece of poultry that needs significant time in the oven, thereby knocking other dishes out of the oven.
Was this idea too good to be true? Could we really end up with a Thanksgiving bird that didn't hog any oven space?
To find out, we fired up the grill.
As you guys know, we're game when it comes to turkey. We love trying new takes and new techniques, be they spatchcocked, make-ahead or even Indian. But we were nervous about grilling: What if it didn't cook in time? What if we ran out of gas?
But we also emphatically trust America's Test Kitchen. We believe them when we they say something works. And we actually chose this grilled turkey recipe over others specifically because they have excellent instructions for using a gas grill (which is what we have. Sorry to disappoint, charcoal fans).
As it turned out, we had no reason to worry, because the process is so darn simple.
You begin by seasoning the turkey, wrapping it up and letting it sit in thre refrigerator for 24-48 hours. On grilling day, you simply unwrap the turkey, get your grill up to temperature (with a simple but genius trick of placing a couple tins of water on the burners, so the heat doesn't get too dry), and then roast your bird in the grill, just as you would an oven. It's incredibly easy.
But incredibly easy does not mean infallible. For one thing, we missed the warning about salting an already-salted bird: We used a kosher turkey and mistakenly salted it again ourselves. The turkey didn't taste too salty, but we think it may have contributed to the bird being a little too dry.
Our bigger goof was that we didn't check the temperature of our bird early enough in the process. The directions say you should rotate the bird (if using a gas grill) after 1 1/4 hours, and that it should be getting up to temperature by about 2 1/2 hours. Our bird was fully cooked after only 2 hours. Most likely, our grill was too hot (even though we used an oven thermometer and tried to regulate the temperature). We should have checked the temperature of the meat sooner. As a result, our turkey was a bit on the done side (though not terribly so).
Other than our own little missteps, there are two very, very small drawbacks about this recipe:
- Cooking your turkey outdoors means your kitchen won't fill up with the amazing aromas of a slow-roasted bird. That's a small price to pay for the convenience of this method, though. No question -- Advantage: Grilling.
- This method doesn't yield any drippings for gravy. If you want gravy, you'll need to make it separately. Here's one gravy recipe we just love.
If you have a grill, take your turkey outdoors this year. You won't be disappointed!
- The top Thanksgiving trends for 2012
- Thanksgiving Recipe Index: Every dish recommended by food magazines this year
Serves 10 to 12
Note From America's Test Kitchen: Don’t use table salt for this recipe; it is too fine. If using a self-basting turkey (such as a frozen Butterball) or a kosher turkey, don’t salt in step 1, but do season with salt in step 2. Check the wings halfway through roasting; if they are getting too dark, slide a small piece of foil between the wing and the cooking grate to shield the wings from the flame. As an accompaniment, try our Gravy for Simple Grill-Roasted Turkey, available free at CooksIllustrated.com/dec12.
Note from Zach and Clay:
- Watch your temperature of the both the grill and your turkey very closely to avoid overcooking. Start checking for doneness after the turkey has been roasting for 1 1/4 hours. If your bird finishes early, wrap it up tightly -- it will stay warm for well more than an hour if it hasn't yet been carved.
- We highly recommend that you use an oven thermometer here, to ensure the temperature of your grill is correct.
1 (12- to 14-pound) turkey, neck and giblets removed and reserved for gravy
Kosher salt and pepper
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Large disposable aluminum roasting pan (if using charcoal) or 2 disposable aluminum pie plates (if using gas)
1. Place turkey, breast side down, on work surface. Make two 2-inch incisions below each thigh and breast along back of turkey (4 incisions total). Using fingers or handle of wooden spoon, carefully separate skin from thighs and breast. Rub 4 teaspoons salt evenly inside cavity of turkey, 1 tablespoon salt under skin of each breast, and 1 teaspoon salt under skin of each leg.
2. Combine 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and baking powder in small bowl. Pat turkey dry with paper towels and evenly sprinkle baking powder mixture all over. Rub in mixture with hands, coating entire surface evenly. Wrap turkey tightly with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
3. Remove turkey from refrigerator and discard plastic. Tuck wings underneath turkey. Using hands, rub oil evenly over entire surface.
4a. For a Charcoal Grill: Open -bottom vent halfway and place disposable pan filled with 3 cups water in center of grill. Arrange 1½ quarts unlit charcoal briquettes on either side of pan (3 quarts total) in even layer. Light large chimney starter two-thirds filled with charcoal briquettes (4 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour 2 quarts of lit coals on top of each pile of unlit coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
4b. For a Gas Grill: Place 2 disposable pie plates with 2 cups water in each directly on 1 burner over which turkey will be cooked. Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn primary burner (burner opposite pie plates) to medium and turn off other burner(s). Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature of 325 degrees.
5. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place turkey, breast side up, in center of charcoal grill or on cooler side of gas grill, making sure bird is over disposable pans and not over flame. Cover (placing vents over turkey on charcoal grill) and cook until breasts register 160 degrees and thighs/drumsticks register 175 degrees, 2½ to 3 hours, rotating turkey after 1¼ hours if using gas grill.
6. Transfer turkey to carving board and let rest, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Carve turkey and serve.