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Griller Nick Diller, at his Weber grill in Great Barrington.

COOK’S CORNER: Grilling the Thanksgiving turkey

By Monday, Oct 24, 2016 Farm and Table 1

Great Barrington — Grill your turkey! That’s right, light your grill and cook your Thanksgiving turkey outdoors just as the Pilgrims did. Cook the bird on the grill. Once you do, you will never cook it in the oven again. The flavor will be awesome! Trust me! You’ll love it.

I have cooked hundreds of turkeys on the grill over the past 40 plus years. It’s easier than you think.

Before we grill, we should talk about the turkey itself. Turkeys do not have a lot of flavor by themselves. The juiciest part of the bird is in the thigh and drumstick while the breast meat has very little.

But turkeys can be a great canvas for flavor. You can add any flavor in the form of ingredients such as herbs, spices, fruit, vegetables, and even bacon. Use your imagination.

One thing you will not do when you grill a turkey is add stuffing to the cavity. It may work in the oven, but I do not recommend doing so on the grill because the turkey may be cooked but the stuffing may not be and you risk cross-contamination.

So only insert flavor in the cavity of your turkey.

Should you brine your turkey? That would depend. Are you buying a frozen bird or a fresh one? Has your bird been enhanced, that is, injected with a salt solution when processed? The salt injection produces pretty much the same result as a brine, so brining isn’t necessary and it would probably make your turkey to salty.

But a fresh turkey is a different story. Yes, brine a fresh turkey if you like, but you don’t have to as I will demonstrate further down in this article.

How to thaw a frozen turkey

old-man-griller-diller-002The so-called experts say thaw in the fridge for 72 hours. Or you can thaw more quickly in cold water. Thaw at a rate of one hour per pound. Unless the water is running, change it every 90 minutes.

For a guide to brining the bird, see instructions below this article.

Now, let’s talk about what flavors to add to your turkey: Fresh herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley or some chives. You might want to add a cutup onion and smashed garlic along with celery. And there’s always bacon. How about pouring maple syrup in the cavity, or wine or beer?

You can add citrus, like oranges and lemons. Spices like cloves. The list can go on and on. Again, use your imagination.

Once your turkey has been prepped, and the “innard pack” and neck have been removed (make sure you reserve the pack to boil to make gravy), it’s time to the grill ready for roasting the bird.

Are you using a gas or charcoal grill?

Gas is easier and more foolproof but charcoal provides much more flavor and you can better smoke with charcoal than gas.

I’ll start with charcoal. I’ve used Weber kettles for over 40 years and trust them. I know them and trust them. But a gas grill is completely OK.

I use a Weber chimney starter. They’re about $17 at the hardware store and come with instructions on how to use them.

What will you need to grill a turkey on a charcoal grill?

Chimney starter


A full 18-pound bag of charcoal

A lighter or matches

9 x 13 drip pans.

What will you need to grill a turkey on a gas grill?

At least a three-quarter full propane gas tank;

Some 9 x 13 drip pans or a large roasting pan.

For charcoal, if you want to add smoke flavor, try some maple or apple wood chips soaked in water (or beer, wine, or juice) for one-hour before using.

For gas, do not soak. Use dry wood chips.

Wrap a handful in a foil pack, poke some holes in the top to let out the smoke and lay right on the heat source.

Try it out!

For a guide on grilling the turkey, please see the Griller/Diller directions below this article. In the meantime, Thanksgiving is still several weeks away so this will give you time to practice. Practice with a 6- to 8-pound roasting chicken. The procedure is the same as using a 12- to 14-pound turkey.

And have a happy Thanksgiving. If you have additional questions, feel free to call me at 413-429-7762 or email me at nick.griller.diller@gmail.com.

Brining Basics

How much salt should you use?

Use 1 pound salt for every gallon of water. Or roughly 1 cup of table salt and 1.5 to 2 cups kosher salt, depending on how coarse your kosher salt is. (Diamond Crystal or Morton’s)

Adding Extra Flavor 

You can impart further flavor into meats by adding more than just salt and water to brines: Experiment with sugar (honey, maple syrup and fruit juices or ciders work, too), herbs, and other aromatic ingredients (garlic, onion, peppercorns) to your taste. It’s common, but not necessary, to boil the brine first to bring out the full flavor of these ingredients. If you go that route, just be sure to fully cool the water back to fridge temperatures before submerging your meat.

When brining an “enhanced” bird (injected with a solution), cut the amount of salt in the brine by half. A good time guideline for brining is 45 minutes per pound.

  • Always rinse brined meats well before cooking.
  • You don’t need to cook to 180 degrees. The FDA guideline is now 165 degrees.
 Brining and Salting Guidelines

This chart can be used for general guidelines; however, in some cases recipes will specify different formulas and times:

How to salt turkey

Whole turkey: Apply kosher salt (1 teaspoon per pound) evenly inside cavity and under skin of breasts and under skin legs, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and let rest in refrigerator 24 to 48 hours.

Boneless or bone-in turkey breast: Apply kosher salt (¾ teaspoon per pound) evenly between skin and meat, leaving skin attached, and let rest in refrigerator on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours. (Wrap with plastic wrap if salting for longer than 12 hours.)

 How to brine turkey

Whole turkey (12 to 17 pounds): 

Mix 2 gallons cold water with 1 cup table salt; brine 6 to 12 hours

Whole turkey (18 to 24 pounds):

Mix 3 gallons cold water with 1½ cups table salt; brine 6 to 12 hours

Bone-in turkey breast (6 to 8 pounds):

Mix 1 gallon cold water with ½ cup table salt; brine 3 to 6 hours.



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