15 Tips for a Perfect BBQ Turkey
In keeping with this centuries-old tradition, preparing a holiday feast tends to include a turkey. By following these tips for a perfect turkey, you will be on track to be the best host or hostess your family has ever had. How much turkey do you need per person? Is there a no-fail recipe for turkey? Can I smoke my turkey? All of these are great questions, continue reading and all of them shall be answered.
Why do we eat turkey on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Turkey is the most traditional holiday meal, served at tables across the world for Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas in both Canadian and American households, as well as Europe. The reason for this is fairly practical. Back around the 17th century, when the Americas were being settled, the turkey was the easiest food to access without huge economic impact. Cattle and chickens, those still laying, were more valuable when it came to surviving the harsh winter. Turkeys were large, cheaper to raise than geese – the go-to holiday meal in Europe at the time - and less expensive by the pound than chicken.
Tips for a Perfect Turkey
1. Get Enough Turkey for Everyone
As a general rule, 1 lb. of turkey per guest for no leftovers, and 1½ lbs. if you want leftovers. If you are feeding the masses, consider two small turkeys instead of a gigantic one, which has the bonus of cutting down on cooking time.
2. Preorder your Turkey
It is a great idea to call ahead to your local farms ensure that you can get the bird that you need or want, and to ensure that you have enough meat for your guests.
3. Remember to defrost
If you pre-ordered a fresh turkey, this won’t be an issue for you, however, if you bought a frozen turkey, it can take up to 4 days to defrost. You will need fridge-space to allow this. You will also need to add at least 24 hours extra to your defrost time if you plan on brining the turkey.
HELP! I forgot to defrost the turkey!
That’s okay. Fill a sink, or container with cold water. Make sure that whatever you use is big enough to hold the turkey and water. Change the water every 30 minutes. It will take about 30 minutes per pound of bird to defrost a turkey.
4. The Roasting Pan
Double check that your roasting pan is big enough for the turkey. Remember that you want the bird elevated off the bottom of the pan to ensure even cooking. Will that pan (and the bird) fit on your grill? If your BBQ isn’t big enough for the pan, don’t worry. As long as you have a drip pan that will catch the precious gravy-making juices that will fit under the cooking grids of the grill, you will be alright. Alternatively, consider using the rotisserie and the drip tray underneath.
5. Dry it off
As you prepare to cook your turkey, whether it’s over charcoal, in the smoker, or on the rotisserie, start by drying it off inside and out. This helps create that crispy skin that we all love.
6. Season that Bird
Tasty turkeys are well seasoned. You can choose several techniques including brining, injection, or just plain rubbing with your favorite seasonings. Remember when choosing your method and flavorings to keep in mind the bird you have chosen. You don’t want to brine or over-salt a bird that has already been injected with a solution. Also, remember when seasoning that you want to season everything, inside and out.
7. Don't Stuff your Turkey
There are two camps when it comes to a holiday turkey. The ones who insist on stuffing the bird, and the ones who don’t. I’m from the don’t-do-it camp. The reasoning being that it will increase cooking time, the juices from the uncooked turkey just run right into the stuffing as you cook the turkey, and finally, who wants to fight over the crunchy parts of stuffing when everyone could have some if you baked it separately.
Unstuffed turkey takes about 15 minutes per pound of meat when unstuffed, and up to 25 minutes per pound stuffed.
8. Trussing your Turkey
Truss-t us on this one. If you tie the legs too tightly to the bird, it takes the dark meat longer to cook. That means that you run a real risk of overcooking that white meat, and no amount of brine or injections or even gravy will save you then. Tie the ankles together loosely so that the hips are still splayed a little and the heat can get at that area of the meat.
9. How to Cook a Turkey on a Gas Grill
Cooking your turkey isn’t as big or scary as you thought. It’s really quite simple once you have the bird seasoned and ready to go. It doesn’t matter if you are using a gas grill or your stove, start by preheating to 450°F. Brown the turkey for 30 minutes to an hour before turning things down to between 350°F to 325°F. The rotisserie is a great way to ensure that you get an even brown on all sides. Turkey takes approximately 15 minutes per pound of meat.
TOO DARK! If you worry that your turkey is getting too dark before cooking through, wrap the sections that are too crispy before they burn.
10. How to Cook Turkey on a Charcoal Grill
Charcoal grills are different than gas, you can’t just turn up the temperature and turn it down on a whim. For super-easy charcoal turkey, start with a two-zone fire at about 325°F. Place a drip tray under where you will be cooking the turkey, then place the cooking grids over that. Place the turkey over the drip pan and roast for at least an hour before checking on the temperature. Take flavor up a notch and add wood chips or chunks and smoke it. When the turkey is nearly done, you need to up the heat to get some crisp skin action. Add another load of charcoal and open the vents on the bottom of the grill to get your grill hot.
11. Mindful Basting
Basting a turkey will give you perfectly crisp skin and intense flavor, right? Right?? Not necessarily. Practicing mindful basting will though. Basting should begin about ½ way through cooking, so consider the turkey’s weight when cooking. Basting should only be done with the fat and not any liquid drippings, water, or stock that may be being used at the time. Also, you should only baste every 30 to 45 minutes because you don’t want all of that heat to escape your grill – lengthening the cooking time.
12. Use a Proper Thermometer
Whatever you do, don’t use the silly popup things the turkey comes with. They don’t work very well and have a high rate of failure. Instead, use a digital thermometer like Napoleon’s Wireless Digital Barbecue Thermometer, an instant-read thermometer, or a probe thermometer. Checking the temperature should be done 1 hour for a small turkey up to 3 hours into the cook for a huge turkey.
Check the temperature by placing the probe into the thickest part of the thigh where it meets the breast. Be careful not to touch the bone or parts of the rotisserie.
13. Don't Cook Past 165°F!
Here is where people will start running into trouble. Breast meat is finished cooking at 155°F (held for 5 minutes) but it is not ready to serve. Dark meat is done at 165°F but is not ready to serve. You want to pull the bird out as the breast reaches the finished temperature to ensure that it remains moist. It needs to rest before you can carve it. (See No.14)
14. Give it a Rest
Like the perfect steak, turkey needs to rest before you carve and serve. This will give you time to heat the side dishes and make gravy. When you remove the turkey from the grill, cover it with foil and then top that with some towels to keep the heat in. You should rest the turkey for at least 15 minutes, up to an hour or more. This will allow it to come up to the ideal temperature and allow all of the juices to redistribute for a juicy bird.
15. How to Make the Perfect Gravy
It’s time to get groovy with gravy. These are the techniques that have worked for me, that were passed down through my family. I am by no means a chef, but I can make a pretty good gravy.
Pour the fat from the turkey drippings into a medium saucepan, if there isn’t much, add 2 tbsp. to 4 tbsp. of butter.
Add enough flour to the dripping mixture to create a thick paste, whisking and cooking over low heat until the flour cooks down a little and darkens.
¼ cup at a time, or less, add the remaining drippings, turkey or chicken stock, or even the water from cooking the vegetables for dinner, to the flour mixture, whisking each time. The first two or three times you add liquid, the flour mixture will get chunky and sticky, it’s okay, keep going.
Keep slowly adding stock to the flour mixture until you have the perfect gravy texture, thinner or thicker, your preference. Salt and pepper to taste. If you add too much liquid, bring your gravy to a light simmer and allow the gravy to reduce. For additional color or flavor, add a dash of Worcestershire, soy, or even mustard to the mix.
There you have it. The perfect Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey is within your grasp. Armed with the knowledge of these 15 tips for a perfect turkey you too can create the ideal holiday meal for your family. Share your experiences on grilling your holiday turkey with us on social media like our Facebook and Instagram page, or use the hashtag #napoleongrill and #NapoleonEats.