Five Reasons to Grill Your Turkey

This year we decided to try something a little different and grill our turkey.

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It’s an idea I got from a cookbook called The Thanksgiving Table and it solved many of our kitchen problems leading up to turkey day. If we had done Thanksgiving in our kitchen, there is no way the bird would have fit in the oven. When we decided to move the party to the B&B, the oven broke down and the only one available was a toaster oven. I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical and nervous about how it would turn out, but I didn’t have many other choices, so I plunged forward.

The results were better than I could have ever hoped for. If we had the space for a grill at our apartment, I would seriously grill my turkey every year. If you share my initial skepticism, here are my five reasons you should grill your turkey next holiday season:

5. The “Wow” Factor

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When I told people about my plans to grill the turkey, I was met with raised eyebrows. By the time we pulled this guy from the grill, the naysayers were quietly picking away at the remains of the carved bird. I’ve never attained such a beautifully dark and crispy skin in the oven, and everyone was wowed by the presentation. If you’re looking for a show-stopper at your next holiday meal, this is absolutely the way to go.

4. Fix it and Forget it

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At first glance, it seems like more work to grill your turkey. You have to buy charcoal or propane, you soak the hickory chips and make little pouches for it, you turn the bird at least three times. How is this easier than an oven? Believe it or not, something happens psychologically when the bird isn’t present in then kitchen: You don’t fuss with it until you absolutely have to. Alton Brown talked about this on NPR’s All Things Considered for a holiday show last year. The more you mess with the turkey, the longer it takes to cook and the drier it gets. You don’t need to baste it every 20 minutes. Unless you already posses incredible restraint and patience, removing the turkey from the kitchen removes the temptation to open up the oven every half hour.

3. The Flavor

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In addition to brining the turkey the night before, we smoked the bird with hickory chips. The result was an out of this world flavor with a hint of smokiness. The smokiness was most noticeable as we picked the remains of meat from the bones of the carved turkey, but when eaten together with all of the trimmings, it added a dimension of flavor that brought the meal to another level entirely.

2. Freeing Up Your Oven

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Crushed it.

The inspiration for the switch. Between the Challah bread, the stuffing, and sweet potatoes, we needed a lot more oven space than we had. Luckily, we were able to work in stages, but I don’t know where we would be without this grill. I probably would have had to pull the turkey apart and roast it in pieces, but then pieces would be cold and it’s not the most beautiful thing to feature on your table.

1. The Juiciest Bird You’ll Ever Eat

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Thanks to reason number 4., our 13-pound bird took exactly 3.5 hours to prepare. We rested the turkey for about 20 minutes and when we sliced into it, it was like butter. This was hands-down, the juiciest turkey I’ve ever eaten. I’m not sure whether to contribute this to the grilling, brining, the fix-it-and-forget-it, the amount of rest, or a magical combination of all of them, but this is the number one reason I would grill my turkey again next year.

For those of you I’ve convinced, I would be remiss to leave you without the tools and instructions to grill your own turkey this season. Both the brine recipe and grilling instructions are based on The Thanksgiving Table. These instructions are for a 12-14 lb turkey.

Apple Cider Brine:8 cups unsweetened apple cider2 bay leaves

2/3 cup kosher salt

2/3 cup granulated sugar

6, quarter-sized slices of ginger

6 whole cloves

1 tsp black peppercorns

In a medium stock pot, add all the ingredients and heat over med-high until all of the salt and sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Brine can be made up to 3 days in advance and kept in a gallon jug. When you are ready to brine the turkey, place it in a brining bag (gibblets removed), then add the brine and 3/4 gallons of cold water. Squeeze out as much air as possible and seal the bag. Store in the fridge in a roasting pan to prevent possible leaks from dripping over your food.

The general rule for brining is 1 hour per pound. For our 13 pound bird, we brined for 13 hours. About 30 minutes before roasting, remove the turkey from the brine and allow to warm to just below room temperature (roughly 55-60 degrees).

To grill your turkey you will need these tools:

Heavy duty aluminum foil

Disposable roasting pan

V-shaped roasting rack that fits in the pan ***

8 cups hickory chips

A bucket or a sink to soak the chips.

***Note: if you don’t have a roasting pan that fits, crumple four pieces of aluminum foil into balls and place them on the bottom of the roasting pan. The goal is to keep the turkey off the bottom of the pan and away from direct heat.

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Begin by soaking the hickory chips. You want them to smoke, not catch fire, so this step is very important. Once you get those soaking, turn the grill on high (for propane) or light the coals (for charcoal), and let pre-heat for about a half an hour.

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After the half-hour, switch off one side of the grill and reduce the other to med-high. For charcoal, push them to one side of the grill in a mound. Rub the turkey down with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Truss the turkey with kitchen twine, or slice the flap of skin near the back of the turkey and tuck the legs in.  Place the turkey breast side down in the roasting rack.

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To prepare the hickory packets, drain the wood chips and divide in half. You’ll fold these into aluminum foil packets. If you have a disposable aluminum pie plate, you can fill one of those instead and just cover the top with foil.

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Slice a few holes in the top of the packet to allow the smoke to vent. Place the turkey on the “cold” side of the grill, with one wing facing the heat,  and the the hickory packet on the grill over the flame. Close the lid and let it go for an hour.

After one hour, flip the bird breast-side up (you can use a pair of barbeque tongs inserted in the cavity for leverage) and face the other wing towards the heat. Let roast for another 45 minutes.

After the next 45 minutes, check the hickory packet. If the chips are blackened, replace the pack. Turn the bird once more so that the other wing is facing the heat. (Breast-side is still up). Roast for an additional 45 minutes.

At this point, the turkey should be nicely golden and you can check the temp. Be sure to temp both breasts to 165 before removing from the heat. If more time is required, turn the bird so that the other wing is facing the heat.

Heat/Time

130-145/check after 20 minutes

145-155/check after 12 minutes

155-160/check after 6 minutes

Once each breast is at least 165 degrees, remove from the heat and let rest, breast-side down, for at least 15-20 minutes before carving.

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That’s all there is to it! I hope you all have had a wonderful  holiday weekend. A huge Thank You to my brother, Chris, for being the official photographer of Thanksgiving 2013! I couldn’t have done it without him.

I’m back to 6am classes tomorrow, but up next is Cooking Theory and Food Science. I hope to share a few tidbits from class when I see you all next week!

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