We seem to be jumping the gun on celebrating Christmas… myself included. Its hard not to, and I think its because Thanksgiving is so late this year. I actually like to wait on Christmas and give Thanksgiving its time in the sun. ALSO, we host Thanksgiving, so I really need my efforts there until next Thursday night. Then its on.
I’ve been doing Thanksgiving dinner for 5 years now and I love it. I have my little schedule set up for the week before and have streamlined everything so I get as much done ahead of time. Also, my husband has devised a way to leave me the oven for all the sides… he smokes the turkey on the grill. Along with helping me out, this gives us a really delicious turkey and it makes amazing soup and stock afterwards with a smokey flavor.
Here’s how we do it. We get a fresh farm raised turkey… local is better, but this would work with any turkey. The day before, he makes a brine with sea salt, bay leaves, peppercorns, chicken stock, fresh thyme and sage, and water. We heat it to make sure the salt dissolves, then cool it.
Then we get a bucket or cooler ready. (We use an ash bucket, actually.) Line the bucket with a contractor bag and put a couple of bags of ice in the bottom. Then put a brining bag. Mix brine with a gallon of water and some ice cubes and put the brine in the bag, add the turkey and fill with water to cover. Tie the brining bag up and put ice in to cover the top and sides, cover the container and let it sit for 24 hours.
There’s a turkey in there!
The next day, take the bird out and dump all your icy briney water. Pat the turkey down and let it come to room temp. While that’s happening, build your fire.
We have a Weber 22 1/2″ kettle grill and we love it. Start with your charcoal briquettes and some light smoking wood… pecan or apple work great. Use a chimney starter to light the charcoal.
The whole idea here is indirect heat – the charcoal is never under the bird. See those half moon containers in the picture above? When the charcoal is hot, put it in those, or you can dump it on the sides. Just don’t put it in the middle. Then take a few pieces of wood and put them on the briquettes for your smoke… again, not under the bird.
Under the bird you do want to put something for moisture and to catch your drippings for gravy. We use one of those foil 1/2 roasting trays and put a quart of chicken stock, carrots, onions, and one can or bottle of fall beer. Then put the grilling grate on top and close the grill to heat it up – you are building your oven.
Go back inside to deal with that turkey. You now have a dry, room temperature bird that you need to season. Every year we do it differently and its really up to you what you use. We do some kind of rub (herbs, garlic, onion powder…) and butter. Then it gets stuffed with fresh herbs and lemons. Tie it up and put it on the grill grate, over the drip pan.
Now the trick is keeping an eye on the temperature of the turkey and your grill. We have this Maverick wireless long range thermometer and its awesome. It lets us monitor boh temperatures. But, you can also use a meat thermometer and oven thermometer. You want to keep the grill temp as constant as possible… not below 200-225. If you want to cook the turkey low and slow, 225 is good. If you want a higher heat, 350 is good for that.
After 2-3 hours begin checking the turkey’s temperature in the biggest part of the breast – you want it to be 165. Each bird cooks differently depending on its size, how cold it is outside, etc. At around 300 degrees, a 12-16 pound turkey would cook in around 4 hours and a 16-20 pound turkey would cook in around 5 hours but these are big ballpark numbers!
Charcoal will last 1-1 1/2 hours, so you’ll want to refill that. Just drop 6 or so briquettes on the pile and it will ignite.
Its good to have the turkey done early. When its done, use a new roasting pan and take it off the grill into that. If you are 1-2 hours away, cover the turkey with foil and towels to keep it hot and juicy. It stays hot covered for a long time! You can cover it 20 minutes to a half hour before dinner.
And don’t be alarmed if your turkey looks very dark from the outside… that’s the effect of the smoking. It is delicious and has a different flavor than an oven turkey for sure!