Turkey on the Grill: Weber as Oven
After too many years of "oven chess" I am planning on making the Thanksgiving bird on the Weber. We did a test run a month ago. Indirect heat (charcoal on both sides), bird in a big spatterware roaster to collect juices for gravy. No tenting, nothing in the cavity, no basting - just a pure test run.
We liked (no, more than liked) the results, but since I will have a lot of other people eating our results, I would love some tips from those who are more knowledgeable than me with Weber turkey.
Do you put butter under the skin and use herbs or citrus in the cavity? Do you tent with foil or let the charcoal smoke do its work? Turning the bird?
I am the next thing to a neophyte with this turkey-grilling-thing, and would appreciate any advice. It would gain me some much needed oven space. Thanks.
I smoke our turkey in the weber, and it is by far the best turkey I have ever eaten. A little maple but mostly chips from our old dead apple tree. Moist, flavorful, perfectly cooked all through. And the best next-day sandwiches(and, last year, turkey molé enchiladas) that you can have. And it looks beautiful too - the skin turns deep mohagany like thanksgiving birds look in norman rockwell paintings.
Put a drip pan in-between the coals and you will end up with a small amount of incredibly intense drippings that make a great gravy with a little cream, some of the collected juice from carving(or broth made from the neck), black pepper and applejack.
For the drip pan, I just use a foil throw away roasting pan. If you use one of these to spread the coals, it may get holes burned in it. The answer is to put another pan on top of the "spreader pan" to catch the drippings. They come 2 to the pack anyway. I don't put the bird in a pan, just on the upper rack. We usually do a 20+ pound bird w/stuffing. The legs tend to be over the coals, so after they look done, I put a little foil shield under them. Last year (windy? cold?) the bird didn't cook up according to schedule so we finished it in the oven and ended up with more drippings than usual and had an excellent gravy.
As ghbrooklyn stated, it's a great bird. And you get a red, smoked layer right under the skin. Great! Did I mention the excellent gravy?
I cannot sing the praises of smoked t-day turkey enough. Another drip pan method (which we use because the space in the middle of our grill is to narrow for and manufactured pans) is to make one out of aluminum flashing. It also doesn't get too hot so the drippings don't burn as badly.
We smoke our turkey every Thanksgiving in an electric smoker. Start by brining the bird, it keeps the meat really juicy and tasty. We smoke for a couple of hours, then finish roasting in the oven. The first time we smoked a turkey, we did it entirely in the smoker. We got very nicely smoked turkey meat with leathery, inedible skin which had to be thrown out. Roasting at higher heat takes care of that, so the skin is crispy.
We flavor the brine with spices - usually peppercorns, juniper, bay, some thyme. And we use about half as much brown sugar as salt. Other than this, we don't season the turkey at all.
My folks have been grilling turkey for years.
Mom rubs the bird with salt, pepper and maybe some thyme and olive oil. Stuff some quartered onion, lemon and a stalk or two of celery in the cavity. Then she puts the bird in a disposable aluminum roasting pan, tents with foil and dad is in charge of the grilling.
He doesn't turn it in the pan, but will rotate the pan on the grill occasionally.
That's about it and it comes out perfectly every year.
I hate to be a PIA, but I think it does matter. When I cook the bird in the Weber, I don't put it in a pan, don't shift it around, and don't tent it, except to protect the bottom of the legs. Because of the shape of the kettle, things cooked slowly with indirect heat get nicely smoked. Yeesh, I sound like an advertisement.
Turkey on the Weber
a covered Weber with a 22" grill
10 lbs. of good quality charcoal
a set of charcoal rails to keep the charcoal banked along the sides an
aluminum drip pan to fit between the rails a cooking rack to hold the
turkey long tongs and cooking mitts 15 -16 lb. fresh turkey, unstuffed
The Turkey cannot be gigantic because the lid will not fit on the barbecue.
A good size is under 16 lbs. and fresh rather than frozen.
Rinse the bird in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub the skin with vegetable oil.
Open all the air vents on the bottom of the grill and leave them open
during the cooking. Ignite all 10lbs of the charcoal- or start half and
add the rest. Start the coals in the middle of the grill, allowing 45
minutes for all of them to light and to be coated with grey ash. Add the remaining briquets.
Transfer the coals to the sides behind the charcoal rails, using the long
tongs and the charcoal mitts. Center the drip pan between the rails. Add about 8 to 10 twigs of applewood, add the grill, add the Turkey on the cooking rack and the Weber Grill Cover/Lid. Open the air vent in the Cover. Optional: soak the applewood twigs for 30 minutes before adding or use hickory, almond pear wood or even, walnut shells. or, just use mesquite charcoal.
Now, sit back and relax.
There's no need to baste. Leave the barbecue covered and don't
peek-lifting the lid releases the heat and will slow the cooking process.
So, put it on the Grill and forget it for two hours for a 15 lb. unstuffed
Remove the bird when the meat thermometer reads 170°F in the center of the breast and 185°F in the thigh. The meat and the juices may be slightly pink, this is characteristic of the smoking process.
Let the bird rest for 30 to 40 minutes before carving. The juices in the
Drip Pan will make an excellent gravy.
The first year that I followed Max's instructions for this grilled Turkey,
we went to a movie while the bird cooked and came home 2 hours and 30 minutes later to a perfectly roasted 16-lb. bird!
Do not be alarmed if the meat looks pink, it is not uncooked. The smoking method turns the turkey flesh pink, just like the pink of a smoked ham.
Weber has times and methods.
The times they list are for UNstuffed.
Cooking Times for Unstuffed Turkeys
10-11 lbs. = 1-3/4 to 2-1/2 hrs.
12-14 lbs. = 2-1/4 to 3 hrs.
15-17 lbs. = 2-3/4 to 3-3/4 hrs.
18-22 lbs. = 3-1/2 to 4 hrs.
P.S. Even though I don't drink, none of my friends have ever complained about someone bringing too many six packs.
re: Joe Mama
re: Sam D.
My Mom has been cooking the turkey on the Weber for quite a few years now, and that's our experience too. Ours is even stuffed. I think the shape of the Weber and the vents makes it a bit like a convection oven.
But what's with 170 in the breast and 185 in the thigh? Isn't the current rec. 165? Especially since with such a large mass the temp is going to rise quite a bit during the rest period.
Weber used to make a 2-piece grill attachment called "Weber Charcoal Rails" which snaps onto each side of the grill and forms a barrier to keep the coals in place on the sides of the grill. The price was about $10 and well worth it for the added ease and convenience. They were selling these as late as last year so they may still be available in some stores or ebay or other online sites even though they are no longer shown on the Weber website.
Weber's website now shows a new and different type of attachment for accomplishing the same purpose. It is a pair of metal perforated containers for holding the coals.
Everyone has a different approach, which is great. I've been refining mine for 10 years or so and am really happy with it. My short take is 1) brine, 2) baste, 3)smoke, 4) cook low and slow.
My approach might be seen as labor intensive and overkill, but I like tending the grill, grilling is fun. IMHO, slow cooking is the key to a superior bird. It mimics the cooking in hot rocks method (also a great bird) except that you get to enjoy the added grill & smoke flavors. The short take was above, here is the long version...
What you need:
Turkey, meat thermometer, butter, olive oil, 2 tbsp allspice, 2 cups Kosher salt, 1/4 cup Succanat or brown sugar, rosemary (dry and fresh (if you have it) as specified below (otherwise use dry in all cases), thyme, 1 tbsp peppercorns, sage, charcoal grill with a rack that has liftable flaps on opposite sides, medium bag of charcoal, drip pan – use a tall, disposable roasting pan from the grocery, chips for smoking (hickory or mesquite), food-grade container for brining such as a 5-gallon HDPE bucket with a lid.
2 Days Prior:
Prepare brine – bring 2 gallons water, 2 cups kosher salt, 1/4-cup light brown sugar just to the boiling point. Add 2 tbsp allspice, lot’s o’ fresh rosemary 1 tbsp sage & 1 tbsp thyme and some cracked peppercorns. Cover, remove from heat and let cool overnight.
Don’t even think about stuffing the bird – it works but requires the turkey to be overcooked, regardless of what method you are using to cook it.
1 Day Prior:
In the morning, place brine in refrigerator.
Check to be sure inside of turkey is thawed. It’s helpful to pull out neck and organs.
In evening before bed, rinse bird thoroughly, place in clean brining bucket and cover with chilled brine and cover. If cold outside, leave bucket somewhere safe from animals overnight. Otherwise, store in refrigerator.
After 8-10 hours of brining, pull the bird from the brine and rinse very thoroughly. Then pat dry and allow to air dry until cooking.
Clean the grilling rack.
Soak in water a half of a small bag of hickory chips. Put a sieve on the top to hold them in the water (a pot with a steamer works well).
For planning, cooking time is about 15-20 minutes per pound, but prepare for some flex time.
Prepare a good amount of baste with fresh rosemary & thyme butter by heating on low: unsalted butter, herbs and a little olive oil (two to three sticks of butter and 1/2 to 3/4 cups of olive will make enough). After 20 minutes or so, turn off heat and let this cool until just warm.
Baste between legs and body and tie the legs together. Baste the sides of the breast and inside of wings and tie the wings together.
Insert a thermometer between a thigh and the body (not touching bone).
Here’s a picture of the grill set up (but wait to set it up):
The drip pan will be in the center of the bottom (charcoal) rack. The grilling rack will be placed so that the solid part of the rack sits directly over and aligned with the drip pan. With the proper set up, the flaps can be opened during grilling, allowing you to place coals along the long sides of the drip pan with barbeque tongs. The turkey will be placed so that it is aligned with the drip pan and the flaps can be lifted.
Brush the rack with olive oil and set aside. Start 30 - 50 coals, depending on kettle size. See your Weber cooking instructions supplied with the grill for the number to use. Once they’re turning gray, simply move the charcoal racks to either side. If you are using a chimney to start the coals, empty them from the charcoal chimney onto the bottom (charcoal) grill rack using barbeque tongs. Place 15 coals each in two narrow bands on either side of the rack, directly opposite each other. Work the ash remover to clear out as much potentially airborne ash as possible. Set the aluminum drip pan in the middle of the rack, between the coals. Place the cooking rack on the grill so that the side flaps are positioned directly over the coals. Leave the bottom vents open. Put lid on grill and close the top vents 1/2 to 3/4 (i.e. leave them open about 1/4 to 1/2).
Baste bird and if desired and dust with powdered (dried) rosemary, thyme and sage (do not salt – the meat will be salty from the brine).
Open grill, place the bird on the rack so the rack flaps can be opened and replace lid.
Check the fire every 1/2-hour or so, adding coals through the flaps with barbeque tongs to keep the original amount of fire going. Add coals judiciously; low and slow is the key. You will add up to 8 coals per side each time, depending on how the fire is burning. Baste the turkey after you add the coals. Just before you put the lid back on, you can add presoaked (hickory or mesquite) chips on each side. For a while it will appear that not much is happening, but as long as some coals are alive on each side, it is cooking. The wet chips can be particularly helpful if you think you’ve added too many coals and the fire is getting too hot. This is a preferable method as using a sprayer tends to send ash onto the turkey and into the drip pan. But, cooking too fast makes for a different bird. It’s OK to spend time grilling, this is part of the enjoyment...it is the enjoy the road as well as the destination approach.
If the turkey starts to get too dark, place a piece of foil over it. Be aware that the smoking will make the turkey much darker than usual, but this is different than the darkness caused by heat.
Pull the bird when it reaches 175 degrees (earlier than some say, but 182 is overdone) or just when the legs just start to get loose in the joints (however this is overdone) and let it rest for at least a 1/2-hour.
If the drip pan survives in a clean state, you can use this as a base for gravy.
Two tips from my experience:
1) it's waaaayy easy to oversmoke. Much easier than you'd think, and too much smoke tastes bitter, tarry and nasty. A small but steady wisp of smoke is plenty; you don't need/want billowing clouds. Using a mild tasting smoke wood, such as fuitwoods (apple, peach, etc) or alder will assist in avoiding this. Nut woods (hickory, pecan, etc) and mesquite are much stronger tasting. Many folks feel the milder woods go better with poultry anyway.
2) if it's a big bird, instead of two piles of charcoal on opposite sides, one larger pile might work better. Keep the lid vent as far from the charcoal as possible. This promotes even heating, and circulates the smoke for better, more even smoking.
2b) use the bottom vents to control the heat, not the top one. Leave the top one fully open if you possibly can. This will prevent stale smoke from building up and marring the flavor of your bird.
Enjoy your smoked turkey.
For a big bird, using one pile of coals allows you to keep the bird further from the fire. With a large bird (or other food) and two piles of coals, some of the food will probably overhang the fire, and tend to dry out or overcook in those spots. If it fits easily between the two piles, it's not such an issue.
Keeping the top vent as far as possible from the fire promotes circulation and keeps the heat very even across the grill.
Probably a difference in taste buds. Fortunately, smoking is easy to adjust to suit one's personal taste. Personally, I love a deeply smoked turkey, especially with mesquite. I like to use heavy smoking. I find that the continued smoking drives the flavor deep into the meat. There is something wild and sultry about it that makes it an amazing treat.
My husband has been making our turkey, (and a rib roast) on the Weber for Thanksgiving every year for 18 years. He dry rubs, (basically salt, pepper and a few other spices), cooks indirectly, puts a drip pan down between the coals. We usually make a 20 pound bird. It takes about 2 1/2 hours, to a temp of 165 in the thigh.
He doesn't open it or touch it until it's done. It's fabulous every year, so much so we usually have to make another turkey on Friday so we can have leftovers.
I do some chickens, have never done the turkey- which I usually do on a larger smoker.
I have grown some turkeys that should have been butchered at Thanksgiving, and are now at about 40lbs dressed (yes, huge birds). My wife and I breasted one out two months ago, and still have meat left int he freezer- a breast weighs in at ~10lbs of solid meat.
I do not have access to a large enough smoker/grill at the moment, nor do I want to fire up for the time it would take to do one of these birds whole, so I think I will part one out again for a party next weekend, and do the pieces individually on my webers=
With a solid 10lb piece of meat- would you half it?
Does anyone dry their bird after the brine? I generally find that dry is best for getting a moist roast?
I have found that a larger starter chimney is necessary for doing a bird right- you can make one out of a length of black stove pipe with some holes, and a pipe stuck through it perpendicularly, it works well to do many pounds of charcoals from the get-go.
also, rather than gambling with a tray, I use a piece of heavy aluminum foil, fill the grill with coals, and push the middle of the sheet of foil into the middle of the coals with a stick- this creates a funnel of that ensures the heat is indirect- for something more permanent you could roll and pop-rivet a cone out of flashing to be set down in the middle of the coals- this shape, theoretically, encourages convection, better than coals in the middle with a drip try would- and it works well. With the foil you can move the edges accordingly to regulate temperature in the top.
Anyone done big meat? maybe I should tackle this more like a chunk of beef-