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How to grill a turkey (spatchcock it!)
It’s faster, tastier and frankly just plain better to cook a bird over charcoal. So why wouldn’t you?! Here’s your guide on how to grill a turkey.
There are some malpractices in food culture that have perpetuated well past their expiration dates. For example, using the “palm pinch” method to test for steak doneness (you should use a digital thermometer).
One of the biggest culprits is the idea that a holiday turkey should be cooked whole. It shouldn’t. But we’re still at the mercy of those images of the golden football-shaped bird gracing the table. I’m here to call for a stop to the madness – after all, we should be putting eating experience above visuals and nostalgia! We know better – and so we should aim to cook better and serve our loved ones better food.
Not only should you be cooking your turkey flat (by spatchcocking it), but you should be cooking it in a charcoal grill. Not only will you enjoy a richer reward in terms of flavor, but also in the enjoyability of the final product. Simply, grilling using two zone heat is LITERALLY a better way to cook your bird than in an oven. And here’s why:
The biggest issue with cooking a turkey is the awkward shape. A close second, is the issue of the breast drying out before the legs are done. It’s the ol’ Catch 22 – if the breast is perfect, the thigh is underdone. If the thigh is perfect, the breast is dry. Undercooked poultry is not a Thanksgiving tradition anyone wants to start, but neither is dry meat.
But, if you start by flattening the bird into a more even shape, you’re already ahead of the curve. Now here’s the real magic: a charcoal grill allows you to create specific heat zones. So, if you lay your bird with the thighs closest to the coals, the breast will bask in a much more gentle heat during the cook. ERGO: your bird will cook to perfection at the same time. And your Thanksgiving will be saved.
The photo above demonstrates the perfect setup for grilling your turkey. A waterpan goes under the bird – to keep humidity in the cooking chamber and also catch any drippings. Immediately next to that, sits a line of unlit coals. These will slowly be ignited by the small amount of lit coals that you add at the very end of the grill – the farthest away from where the turkey sits. Using a small amount of charcoal will give you a gentle heat, and ideally you want the grill to hover between 275f and 325f. If needed, you can throw a handful of coals on as needed to keep your cook going.
You’d better believe this method has even more perks – the turkey will also cook quicker this way!! Up to 35% faster! For this reason, you’ll need to keep checking the turkey a little sooner than you normally would. A 15 lb bird may be ready as soon as under 3 hours! To know when your turkey is done, you’ll need an accurate thermometer to check that the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh measures 165f.
- If you buy a bird that is already ‘enhanced’ ie, has been pre-soaked in a salty solution, you should not brine it.
- The most basic brine is 2 gallons of cold water/ 1 cup salt / 1 cup sugar. Add herbs and aromatics to customize, but keep the turkey cold (and food safe) during this process.
- If you want your turkey to have the most epic all-natural red color and phenomenal flavor, you’ll need a bottle of Hardcore Carnivore Red seasoning.
- I use these Gerber kitchen shears to spatchcock my turkey – they take apart for more sanitary cleaning.
This post is brought to you by Kingsford charcoal – helping to support this website and keep your tastebuds happy.
How to grill a turkey (spatchcock it!)
- 1 x 10-15lb turkey
- 2-2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4-6 tablespoons of Hardcore Carnivore Red seasoning
- 4-6 woody stems of Rosemary (optional)
- If your turkey is 'enhanced' (as explained in Recipe Notes above) continue to step 2. If not, brine your turkey for at least 8 hours, up to overnight.
- Set up a charcoal grill for low and slow cooking (as per the image above). Put a pan filled with water underneath where the turkey will sit, then a layer of unlit charcoal next to it. Light 1/3 chimney of coals, and when ashed over, dump on the far side of the unlit coals. Close the lid and adjust the vents for a low temperature cook.
- While the coals are lighting, remove turkey from brine or bag, and pat dry with paper towels. Use kitchen shears to cut on either side of the backbone, and remove it completely. Flip the turkey over, firmly and evenly pressing on the breast until the breast bone splits, and the turkey lays flat. Arrange the thighs to also lay flat, and tuck the wings under the breast to prevent wing tips from burning.
- Smother the turkey in the olive oil, coating all over. Dust liberally over the entire surface with the Hardcore Carnivore Red seasoning. Place it in the grill over the water pan, with the thighs/leg end facing towards the coals. Close the lid, and cook for 2.5-3.5 hours, maintaining a temperature of 275f-325f.
- Periodically check on the coals. If they look to be running low, throw a handful of unlit coals directly over the lit ones - they will eventually ignite and continue the heat source.
- Use a meat thermometer to monitor the temperature of your bird. Check at the thickest part of the thigh. The turkey is ready when the thermometer reads 165f (you can actually put it a few degrees before this as it will continue to climb in temperature even after you remove it). As you near the desired temp, you can throw some rosemary springs onto the coals to add some light herbed smoke to the bird before serving.
- Once the bird is at temperature, remove it from the grill and loosely cover with foil. Rest 10 minutes before carving.
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