The Grilled Turkey

November 17, 1999. Detroit Free Press.

Grilling is an excellent way to cook a whole turkey -- especially if the weather is nice on Thanksgiving Day. A grilled turkey can turn out just as moist as one that's oven-roasted, but may have the bonus of a subtle smoky flavor. The skin usually turns a dark golden-brown. Using a kettle-style grill is like using a convection oven. Indirect heat from the charcoal reflects off the inside of the grill lid and circulates around the turkey for even cooking. A turkey also can be grilled on a gas grill; use the indirect cooking method recommended by the manufacturer. As with deep-frying, grilling has its drawbacks: Stuffing the turkey is not recommended. And there won't be any pan juices, because they usually burn off in the drip pan. (If pan juices are a must, place the turkey in a pan on the grill.)

HOW TO GRILL A TURKEY: First measure your grill; you'll need at least 1 inch of clearance between the turkey and the lid so the heat can circulate. Figure the number of briquettes needed according to the grill size and weather conditions (use more if it's windy). Place the briquettes for indirect cooking. Because you need to add more briquettes during grilling, position the handles of the rack over the coals so you can drop briquettes through the openings. The briquettes are ready when you can hold the palm of your hand about 4 inches from them for a count of three. Rinse and pat dry the thawed turkey (a brined turkey will work, too). Tuck the wings under the turkey and tie the legs together to keep them from extending over the heat. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and brush the skin with vegetable oil. Put the turkey on the grill rack, close the lid and make sure the vents are open. Now, don't peek for about an hour, because each time you lift the lid, heat escapes. But watch for excess smoke, which might indicate that a wing or leg has escaped and is burning up. Add coals as necessary each hour to maintain a constant heat of 300-350 degrees. Figure the cooking time at about 11 to 13 minutes per pound, according to the Weber-Stephen Products Co., makers of kettle-style grills. Use an instant-read thermometer to check for doneness: 170 degrees in the thickest part of the breast and 180-185 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh. Then remove the bird from the grill and let it stand at least 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

WHAT WE FOUND: We loved the smoky flavor of the grilled turkey and the fact that cooking outdoors frees oven space. Since indirect grilling is a no-peek method, you don't have to constantly watch it. As long as you tend to the fire, it'll be fine.

TURKEY GRILLING NOTE: If a smokier flavor is desired, add wood chips such as mesquite, apple or hickory that have been soaked in water for at least 30 to 45 minutes.

Printed by permission from the Detroit Free Press. 1999.

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