Who says Thanksgiving has to be limited to one day? This year, I had the chance of spending several days with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday and each meal and moment shared—turkey present or not—was a reminder of all the blessings I have in my life. And, even though I didn’t get a chance to host Thanksgiving, I wanted to have tons of leftovers. Jeff and I decided to wrap up our holiday week with mastering a new recipe…Barbecued Turkey. This isn’t Mexican dish, but Jeff and I learned how to cook it the Mexican way…with side-by-side cooking advice from our neighbor, George. Like the cooking advice I get from my own mom, everything was a bit of this and that, with the knowledge being shared not from written recipe, but by learned technique. With beers in hand and the t.v. set to the 49er and Seahawks game, we began cooking.
Before Jeff started the coals, I started the bird, preparing it like you would any roasted poultry dish. I removed the neck, giblets, and leg clamps. I rinsed the bird, then dried and patted it down with paper towels. I stuffed it with lemons, onions, garlic, and herbs. And then, I rubbed it with olive oil, salt and pepper. To the roasting pan, I added the aromatics…celery, carrots, onions, more garlic, herbs and chicken broth. Then I set it aside while the coals were heating.
This is where my part stopped (except for taking pictures), and the menfolk took over. To barbecue a turkey, you need a lot of coals, double what you would normally use. They filled up a chimney and started the first set of coals. When the coals caught on, Jeff added another full chimney and got those started too. When they are all ashy, Jeff separated them down the middle. This ensured that the turkey would cook in a convection-like manner. All the heat was captured around the turkey so that it cooked evenly.
It was a lot of coals. And. It. Was. Hot. Jeff couldn’t move the coals around without an oven glove.
When the coals were ready, Jeff placed the roasting pan over the middle area of the grill. Then he covered it tightly with the lid, ensuring the vents on the top and bottom of the grill were open.
Then we left it.
The weather forecast included rain, so earlier that morning we put up a pop up tent to keep the rain directly off of the grill. Even so, everything was wet and cold. I wasn’t sure the grill would remain hot enough to keep the bird cooking. This is where having George around was greatly reassuring. A veteran 49er season ticket holder, George has decades of gourmet barbecue tailgating experience—in all sorts of weather—under his belt. He was fully confident that we would get a perfectly cooked turkey.
The only thing we needed to do for the next 3 1/2 hours was baste the turkey with butter every half an hour.
You can see here that around the first hour, the bird started roasting unevenly.
Jeff simply turned the bird around on the grill.
What surprised me about this method is that it’s the same thing as roasting in an oven, except you don’t have to bother with tenting the turkey with foil. I thought it would be more like summertime grilling directly on the rack, but the meat doesn’t touch the grill. It’s just roasting in a pan. The pan isn’t ruined because there is no flame. And definitely, for this magnificent dish, no barbecue sauce.
How do you tell when it is ready to come out? George told us to look at the legs.
When the turkey is ready, the skin starts to pull away from the bone. For our 20 lb turkey, cooked with the amount of coals we had, in the weather conditions we were working in, this meant 3 1/2 hours.
The result? Oh. Mah. Gawd. The turkey came out perfectly!
Being a little bit skeptical about the “leg test” method, I used a meat thermometer inserted into the breast to test the doneness. It registered at a perfect 180 degrees. We let the turkey sit for about 15 minutes—just enough time for Jeff to look up how to carve a turkey.
When all was done, we had an 18 inch turkey platter filled with gourmet goodness.
I like to think my photography skills are improving, but I have to admit, the photos do not do it justice.
Every bit of that turkey was perfectly moist, with a delicious crispy, crackly skin. It was quite frankly the best turkey I’ve ever eaten.
Now I understood why George was so happy to show us how to cook a turkey this way and I’m so glad he did. Cooking that turkey in the barbecue was an epiphany. It was so ridiculously easy, even in the bad weather. The result was so incredible. And, it frees up the oven to cook other things. Why didn’t we do this sooner?
- 20 lb turkey
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper for the rub
- 4 lemons, quartered
- 2 onions, quartered
- 5-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 3 cups baby carrots
- 3 stalks of celery, quartered
- 5 rosemary sprigs
- 1 bunch of thyme sprigs
- 1 quart box of chicken broth (using about 3 cups)
- 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, using about 1½ sticks
- PREPARE TURKEY
- Before you being, make sure turkey is thoroughly defrosted, which would take about five days for a 20 lb turkey in the refrigerator if purchased frozen.
- Remove neck and gibblets bag from the turkey. If the turkey has plastic or metal leg fasteners ("hock locks"), remove those too.
- Rinse and pat dry with paper towels and place in the roasting pan.
- When completely dry, stuff with three of the quartered lemons, one of the quartered onions, the garlic, and the herbs.
- Using your hands, rub the olive oil all over the bird, then rub in salt and pepper.
- Place the turkey back-side down in the roasting pan.
- Place all the other aromatics around the turkey.
- Add about three cups of chicken broth to the pan and set aside while you prepare the coals.
- PREPARE GRILL
- Using a chimney, fill it up to the top, light and let catch fire.
- When first set of briquettes are smoldering, add another equal batch.
- When fully hot and no longer smoking, divide the briquettes so that there is a cool area in the middle (no briquettes).
- COOK THE TURKEY
- Place the roasting pan in the middle of the grill (the cool area), and close the lid tightly. Make sure the vents on the top and bottom of the grill are open.
- In a half hour, baste the turkey with melted butter. Keep on basting with melted butter every half hour until the turkey is cooked, about 3½ hours. During this process, if the turkey shows signs of browning on one side, turn it around so it cooks evenly. Make sure the lid is shut tight each time you finish basting with butter.
- Take the turkey out when the skin starts to pull away from the leg. You can also check with a meat thermometer, making sure that the turkey reaches at least 170.
- (For my turkey, it was 180 and still fantastically moist.)