How to Grill a Perfect Turkey

Meat Master Bruce Aidells shows us his fool-proof technique for grilling a Thanksgiving turkey on a gas grill

How to Grill a Turkey

Illustrated by Monica Hellstrom

Take the turkey outside

So, you want to grill the turkey this year? Well, we've read your horror stories: incinerated birds! Half-raw turkeys! House fires! Relax. We're going to show you how to grill an awe-inspiring turkey without harming people or objects in the process.

How to Grill a Turkey

Illustrated by Monica Hellstrom

Step 1: Thaw the bird and soak wood chips

Buy a 12-to-16-pound bird and start thawing it in the fridge 4 days ahead. On grilling day, about 4 hours before dinner, get your turkey out and let it sit an hour.

If you want smoky flavor, use wood chunks or chips. My favorites for turkey are fruit woods like apple, cherry, or peach. Soak about 12 chunks in water for at least an hour, or 2 cups of chips for 20 minutes.

How to Grill a Turkey

Illustrated by Monica Hellstrom

Step 2: Prep your turkey

  • Pull off the leg truss. You want hot air circulating through the bird, and that can't happen when the legs are tied together.
  • Reach into the main cavity and pull out the bag of giblets. Fish around for the neck too. Sometimes it's in the neck cavity.
  • Then drain it and pat it dry inside and out--it'll crisp up better.

How to Grill a Turkey

Illustrated by Monica Hellstrom

Step 3: Make the butter

Now mash up your herb butter. This is going to give a lot of flavor to the turkey and also get the skin really crisp and brown.

Herb Mustard Butter

  • 1 1/2 sticks softened unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped rosemary
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped sage
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

How to Grill a Turkey

Illustrated by Monica Hellstrom

Step 4: Heat the grill

Set an aluminum drip pan at least as big as your turkey on one of the burners UNDER the cooking grate to catch drips before they cause an inferno! Turn all burners to high, close the lid, and heat to 300° to 325º. Now turn off the burner under the pan. Maintain the heat from here by adjusting the other burner(s).

How to Grill a Turkey

Illustrated by Monica Hellstrom

Step 5: Butter the bird

  • Spread about 2 tbsp. herb butter all over the inside of the main cavity. Then, starting at the breast end, loosen the skin as far as you can go, partway down the legs.
  • You have to get up close and personal with it ... This works better if you have small hands and short nails. Now spread the rest of the butter under the skin, all over the turkey.
  • Pat your turkey to even out the lumps of butter. Wrap the wing tips and drumstick ends with foil so they don't char.

How to Grill a Turkey

Illustrated by Monica Hellstrom

Step 6: Start cooking

Put half the wood chunks on the cooking grate over a lit burner. If you're using chips, put half in a smoker box or disposable aluminum pan. Oil a shallow grilling rack--Weber's small roast holder is perfect--and put the turkey on it, breast side up. Set the rack over the drip pan. Cover grill.

Track the Temperature
The most important thing is to know when your turkey is done, so a good thermometer is critical.

The best for beginners: a cord-style one specifically for grilling. Before cooking, insert the wand into the thickest part of the breast to the bone, and leave it in; a digital readout shows temperature and beeps when it's done.

Or, use an instant-read thermometer. The fastest and most accurate is the Super-Fast Thermapen. It gives you a reading within 3 seconds. Start checking after 1 1/2 hours.

How to Grill a Turkey

Illustrated by Monica Hellstrom

Step 7: Keep an eye on it

  • Tent the turkey with foil if it gets too dark.
  • Throw on some more wood if it's burnt up.

How to Grill a Turkey

Illustrated by Monica Hellstrom

It's done!

Your turkey has hit 165º! Measure into the thigh joint, too, where it meets the body; it should be 170º there.

How to Grill a Turkey

Illustrated by Monica Hellstrom

You did it!

Lift the turkey onto a platter and let it rest 20 to 30 minutes before you carve. That's your window to get everything else--the gravy, the reheating of sides--done before you sit down to your feast.

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