Last Updated on April 3, 2020
The number of outdoor fryers skyrockets in November because so many people want an alternative way to cook their turkeys. Instead of worrying about what to do with the old oil and how to keep your dinner guests safe, you can go with an alternative method and grill your turkey instead. As long as you have a charcoal grill, you can create a perfect turkey that is just as juicy as one made in your oven.
Though you have the option of grilling individual parts of the turkey, the following guidelines apply to a whole turkey. If you want to make just a breast, you can reduce the cooking time. These steps are also suitable for use in the summer and whenever you get a craving for turkey.
1. Make the Brine.
Here's a quick and easy turkey brine
One common reason why turkey comes out dry and tasteless is that it cooks for too long. Using the wrong temperature and not adding enough moisture can also result in a dry bird. The easiest way to get the moisture and juiciness that you want is with a brine.
You’ll want to start with a fresh or thawed bird and an old cooler or bucket. Once you place the bird inside, fill the bucket with a combination of water and salt. You can use up to ½ teaspoon of salt per pound of turkey.
It’s also helpful to add some ice to the water, which will keep the bird at a safe temperature. If you use a bucket, make sure that you have an airtight lid that snaps onto the top. You can brine the bird for up to 24 hours prior to grilling it.
2. Dry Rub the Turkey
Another easy way to impart more flavor is with a dry rub. One of the simplest recipes uses equal parts rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. You can add other flavors too such as Cajun spice, hot peppers or garlic.
Though some claim that you need to get those spices under the skin of the turkey, you can apply a nice amount to the top and sides of the bird and then rub it into the skin. As those spices dry and stick to the bird, they create a great crust that pairs nicely with the juiciness of the meat on the inside.
3. Preheat and Prepare your Charcoal Grill
No matter what type of charcoal grill you use, you want to make sure that you add enough briquettes to cook the bird all the way through. It takes up to three hours to fully grill a turkey that weighs up to 12 pounds. An eight-pound bird will cook in as little as two hours.
You should evenly spread the briquettes across the bottom of the grill and then light them. Once the briquettes burn down and develop an ashy surface, you can use a tool to push them to the sides of the grill. You can either place the turkey directly on the grate or on a pan placed on the grate as long as you place the turkey between the charcoal rather than right on top of it.
Experts will often tell you that you must cook your turkey with the breast side facing up, but this isn’t always true. If you cook it upside down, the juices will all run into the breast and make it juicer than ever before. This method requires that you flip the turkey back over for the last 30 minutes to crisp up the breast.
Using a grill thermometer, check the temperature inside to make sure that it stays at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit. You can always add more briquettes as needed to bring the heat back up. Depending on the size of the grill, you may need to add a handful of briquettes every 20 to 30 minutes to keep the temperature high.
You’ll also want to use a meat thermometer to make sure that the breast reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and that the dark meat areas of the bird reach at least 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Another easy way to tell if the turkey is done is with a simple press of a knife. Insert the knife into the breast and make sure that the juices running out are clear.
4. Before Serving
The two most important things to do before serving grill turkey include letting the bird rest and using the leftover juices. While the turkey is still in the pan, life one end gently in the air to force out some of the juices. When you remove the turkey, you can use those juices to make a delicious gravy for the bird, mashed potatoes and other dishes.
Making gravy is easy because you can do it on your grill. You’ll want to keep the juices in the pan and place it in the center of the grill. Add ½ of a stick of butter and a small sprinkle of flour to the pan before you whisk the ingredients together. If the gravy is too thin, you can add more flour as well as other spices and herbs such as rosemary or garlic.
It’s important that you let the turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes before serving it. This gives the bird time to absorb all those juices and flavors. You can then use a carving knife to break down the turkey into individual servings for your family.
5. Tips for Making Turkey on a Charcoal Grill
While you can cook a turkey of any size in an oven, the best size bird for cooking on a charcoal grill is one that is no more than 16 pounds. Larger birds take up more space and may not fit on the grill. You also risk the outside cooking fast while the inside remains raw.
You also cannot use stuffing in the turkey because it won’t reach a high and safe temperature on the grill, though you can use fresh herbs and veggies inside the cavity. As you experiment with this method, you’ll develop your own tips for cooking a turkey on a charcoal grill.