Some people like to go the traditional route and cook it in the oven; some take a walk on the wild side and deep fry it. But to me nothing says Thanksgiving like a grilled turkey. It isn’t all that hard if you plan ahead and the results can be like nothing you’ve ever had before, so here is my method.
As I have said before the magic is in the prep work so gather these materials:
1 clean 5 – 6 gallon bucket. These can be bought at home stores for about $6.00. Do us a favor and don’t reuse an old paint bucket.
12 – 14oz cans of Chicken Broth. Store brand is fine, but don’t get low sodium or “lite” brands; you want the salt for this.
1 cup salt. Table salt works OK, the non-iodized variety is best.
8 – 12 Oranges
3 medium onions
1 – 2 large bulbs of garlic
3 stalks of celery
2 Cups White Wine (Get a good one. If you’re not willing to drink it, you shouldn’t cook with it.)
3 Sprigs fresh thyme
3 Sprigs fresh rosemary
6 Bay leaves
Wood Chips (I prefer apple or hickory for turkey.) Soak them for two to three hours before using.
And I almost forgot, a 12 – 14 pound turkey. (Not the self-basting kind.)
Let’s talk turkey!
There are three varieties turkeys sold in American supermarkets; Fresh, Refrigerated and Frozen. In spite of what the names imply, they are all frozen. The names simply indicate the degree frozenness ranging from popsicle frozen to capable of stopping a rifle bullet at close range frozen, to Walt Disney cryogenically preserved for all eternity frozen. If you are interested in what the designations actually mean, you can look them up on the USDA website. At any rate if you are planning on eating on Thursday, that bird needs to be out of the freezer and in the refrigerator on Monday night.
What we are going to do is brine this turkey. This is something you should do no matter how you are going to cook it. Brining works through a complex chemical process that I won’t go into; except to say that if you want a moist turkey, this is the way to do it. Start at least twelve hours before you plan to cook. Save out two of the oranges, one of the onions and four cloves of the garlic. Chop the remaining onions and oranges into wedges. Peel the remaining garlic and smash the cloves. Put the wrapped turkey in the bucket and fill it with water until the turkey is covered. Remove the turkey and with a grease pencil, mark the water level on the bucket. Pour in the chicken broth; add the onions, oranges, garlic and salt. Give it a good stir to make sure the salt is dissolved. Add water as needed to fill the bucket up to the mark you made earlier and stir some more.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but you never know, so I will. Unwrap the turkey and remove anything that is in the cavity. Insert the turkey, neck side down, cavity up. Add ice to the bucket and cover with a towel. Ideally you want to put this in a refrigerator but if you live in an area that is cool in November you can put it in your garage. If you must keep it indoors you can also wrap a blanket around it, the idea is to keep it from getting above about forty degrees while the brine does its work.
Take the onions and oranges that you saved earlier and cut them into wedges and place them in a large mixing bowl. Peel the leftover garlic and smash the cloves as before. Cut the celery and carrots into three inch long pieces and add all of this into the mixing bowl. Toss in the bay leaves and pour the white wine over the whole thing. Cover in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator overnight.
Prepare the grill!
Most charcoal grills simply are not tall enough to put a whole turkey on. To overcome this I have made an extender for mine out of sheet metal. I simply bought a piece of roofing tin that was about ten inches wide and four feet long and made a circle out of it that fit inside the lip of the grill and the lip on the lid. I then riveted it together with pop rivets and I was good to go.
Cooking a big piece of meat on charcoal grill requires indirect heat. If you put your turkey directly over the coals it will be burnt on the bottom and raw on the top. To achieve the proper heat we will be “banking” the coals. This means that they will be on one side of the grill while our turkey will be on the other. My grill has trays just for this, but you can use disposable bread pans that will work just as well. Place the pan for the coals on one side of the grill on the charcoal grate.
Before we continue, let’s have a word about charcoal. There are a lot of brands out there, some better than others. In this process we will be adding coals to the fire as the turkey cooks. For this reason you want to use a premium brand of charcoal that has a long burning time. You also want to avoid self lighting charcoal, which has an accelerant in it that can leave an unwanted flavor behind from adding unlit briquettes to a lit fire. If you light your coals with lighter fluid, make sure that they are completely covered with gray ash before putting the turkey on. This will ensure that all of the fluid and its flavors are burned off. Personally I prefer using a chimney to light the coals; you don’t need to add any chemicals to the mix. These can be purchased wherever grills are sold and they are easy to use.
Prepare the bird!
OK, our grill is ready, we have our coals lighting, so fish the turkey out of the bucket. Set him in a clean sink to drain and pat dry with a paper towel. Get the mixing bowl with the wine and vegetables from yesterday out of the refrigerator and drain off the liquids. Stuff the solids into the cavity of the bird, followed by the rosemary and thyme. Once you’ve done that, tuck the ends of the legs into the flap of skin that is at the bottom of the cavity, this will keep them from burning and will help hold everything in. Place the turkey on a V-shaped cooking rack and insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast and take it out to the grill.
If you are going to use a disposable pan to hold coals, poke a bunch of holes in the bottom to allow airflow. Place this on one side of the grill. Pour in the lit coals from the chimney. How many to add depends on the outside temperature and your individual grill, but a regular sized loaf pan filled to just below the top is a good place to start. Place the grill on with the hole for the handles over the coal pan. Add a handful of the wood chips on top of the coals. Place the turkey off center from the coals, as far as you can get it and still get the lid on but not so it will touch the sides of the extender. Place the extender we made earlier on the grill and fit the lid then open the top and bottom vents on the grill half way and let cook for an hour.
After an hour remove the lid and rotate the turkey. You should see some movement on the meat thermometer. If you notice that parts of the turkey are getting singed, cover them with aluminum foil. Add coals and wood chips as needed and continue to cook, checking and rotating every hour but stop adding wood chips after the third hour, unless you really like intense smokey flavor. If you feel that the grill is not hot enough open the vents more to increase airflow. If you feel it is too hot, close them down some. Continue to cook until the thermometer indicates an internal temperature of 170 degrees. Take the turkey off of the grill, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand for fifteen to twenty minutes. A fourteen pound turkey should take five to six hours to cook with this method.
That’s really all there is to it. It can be a little labor intensive, but if you plan everything out ahead of time it should go smoothly, and I promise it will be the best turkey you’ve ever had.