How to Smoke a Turkey in a Standard Weber Grill
Every weekend I can be found in the backyard smoking ribs, pork shoulders, beer can chicken, and veggies - including beets, yams, cabage and squash - but I've always known that my smoking creds wouldn't be up to snuff without having smoked a turkey. My wife is a darned good cook and one of her signature dishes is roast turkey. So when I jokingly suggested I'd grill this years' bird for Thanksgiving I was dumfounded, but honored when she replied "sounds good!"
The recipe and cooking steps below should encourage you to take the plunge and smoke your holiday turkey on the grill using the "indirect heat" method.
Brining The Turkey
I've read about "brining" meat, but being a pork-centric smoker I've always opted for the simpler "marinade". I guess the distinguishing factor between marinade and brine is, with a marinade you coat or surround the meat with a tenderizing, favorful "sauce", but with a brine you submerge it.
Having gotten myself into the perilous position of messing up Thanksgiving dinner, I got straight down to research. In the end I chose the San Francisco Chronicle's food section recipe for an aromatic, very tasty brine that doesn't need cooking or straining. Use this recipe!
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups kosher salt
2 1/2 gallons cold water
2 bay leaves, torn into pieces
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
5 whole allspice berries, crushed
4 juniper berries, smashed
Mix the ingredients in a large pot and submerge your turkey. The turkey I bought was small (12 pounds), so it fit easily in a large pot, but bigger birds can be submerged in coolers or other large non-reactive containers. You can also purchase brining bags at selected stores. Let the turkey soak from 12 to 24 hours.
Preparing The Grill
This is where it gets fun. No backyard grill is complete without a charcoal chimney. These clever devices let you measure out a perfect amount of coal for lighting without lighter fluid. [NOTE: Don't ever grill with "matchlight coals" or lighter fluid. Use regular charcoal and simple flame. The charcoal chimney will start your fire quicker and cleaner every time.]
Stuff two full sheets of newspaper into the bottom of the chimney. For turkey I recommend a full chimney's worth of coal. (Note: For ribs I go 3/4 full and get plenty of heat.) Light the paper and let it burn. When the top coals are nearly white, they are ready to put on the grill.
Prepping The Turkey
After 12 to 24 hours take the turkey out of the brine and place it on a baking sheet. Use plain paper towels to pat the turkey dry. You'll want the bird to be completely dry, so if you don't have time to dry it in the refrigerator as many recipes call for, use a fan or other appliance to speed the process.
Once dry, apply a "rub" to the turkey. We use the following for oven roasted and grilled turkeys alike:
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
Tablespoon of salt (or to taste)
Grind it all up and rub it on the turkey.
Grilling Gear and Recipes
Get The Bird on The Grill
After 30 minutes in the chimney, the coals should be ready. Check to make sure the top coals are well dusted white and the coals underneath are burning hot. I use my trusty 22.5" Weber grill for all my smoking and grilling needs. Put some brine into one or two drip pans and place on the grate at the bottom of the grill. This should take up half the grill. On the other side, pour the coals.
Place the grill rack on the top of the kettle and put the turkey over the drip pan, away from the coals. Close the lid. The bottom damper should be open full. The top vent should be 2/3 open to ensure a moderately fast burn. Position the top vent over the brid, so the smoke trails over the bird as it exits the grill. Tighten up the vents and damper to slow down the fire if needed (I like smoking ribs with the top vents 1/4 open to keep it slow.)
Note: for ribs I smoke with hickory, apple or apricot wood. But having soaked the turkey in a very aromatic brine, I opted to just stick with simple coals whilst grilling.
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Now that the bird is on the grill kick back and relax. This ain't a weenie roast - you don't stand around with your buddies stabbing at hotdogs with a face full of smoke... You relax! Might I recommend a red wine to while away the hours?
A slow smoke gives you the chance to hang out with family and friends, do chores, or otherwise visualize the slowly cooking, slowy smoking turkey. It's a great oportunity to trade grilling stories and techniques or to just sit with a nice beverage waiting for the timer to chirp.
Slow But Not Too Low
After an hour and a half it's time to check the bird. As you can see at right, the bird is getting crispy. Nicely tanned, barely sweating. It's obviously enjoying the soft, indirect heat. After surveying the coals I opt to add another half dozen, just to perk it up. Otherwise things are looking good.
After another hour and a half, it's time to check the bird again. I use a thermometer on the leg and breast, and suprisingly find it cooked! 180 degrees in the thigh. And it looks awesome! I fully expected to need to cook it another hour at least, but the coals were working double time today - maybe it was the clear, humidity-free atmosphere and crisp tempuratures?
In any case I'm not complianing and take the bird back to the house to cool.
Isn't that a nice looking turkey? Yep, but as nice as it looks, it doesn't do justice to how amazing it tastes!
I don't know if it is brine or the smoke, but this Thanksgiving dinner is super-duper tasty. The flavours are more concentrated - almost like duck or pheasant - and the brine infusion makes for a rich aromatic experience.
Take my advice and take the plunge! Brine your turkey this holiday season and smoke it on the grill using indirect heat. Enjoy this authentic smoked barbeque sensation!
About the author
Peter Allison is the author of the novel Lockyer Self Storage, 2011, Ninth & Broad Press for sale on Lulu.