Shelf Turkey–Easy Grilled Turkey

by R.B. Quinn
roasting turkey halves

Grilled turkey. It’s pretty easy to do and lots easier than frying. At holiday time it frees up the oven if, like us, you only have one and it’s stacked with side dishes and Sister Schubert’s dinner rolls. And, since you’re probably an outdoor cook if you’re reading this, some late November grilling time is always good for the soul (weather depending, I guess).

My two tricks for you are:

(1) cut the turkey in half before grilling, and

(2) add some distance between the regular grill grate you normally grill on and the turkey.

1. Cutting the birds in half. Halved birds cook faster than a whole and more evenly.

The white breast meat is laying down evenly with the dark, not sitting high up in the cooking chamber near the hot grill cover and therefore doesn’t “get ahead” of the dark, doneness-wise. Cooking whole halves (rather than further separating the parts) also holds moisture under the skin which protects the breast meat as well.

Your supermarket meat counter will most likely run your turkey through the band saw (frozen or fresh, doesn’t matter). If not, or you don’t mind a little project, get out the electric knife, which works really well in this application. Read How to Roast Turkey Halves for the electric knife method. Just slowly let the knife work its way through the turkey starting at the breast on top. Once separated, cut out the backbone and use it for Crock Pot Stock.

2. Grill on a raised grate or shelf. For grilled turkey, we follow our same foolproof method for grilled chicken, Shelf Chicken.

When you place chicken parts on a raised shelf in a gas grill, set the heat to medium, lower the cover but keep it open just a crack, the results are as good as Jonathan Waxman’s pollo al forno at New York City’s Barbuto. I know, I know, heretical, presumptuous stuff. No hero worship around here. Just aiming for results. All I know is it works beyond belief and I could point to a bunch of hot new Nashville restaurants featuring chicken who could benefit from this method.

As a side note, here’s our recipe for that spectacular Italian Salsa Verde Waxman serves at Barbuto and here in Nashville at Adele’s.

Higher away from the heat source the chicken/turkey does not overcook or burn on the bottom (especially from fat flare-ups) and the skin dries and crisps to perfection from the heat bouncing off the cover. You don’t flip or move the poultry, you don’t even open the cover until it’s done. It’s the closest to ‘set it and forget it’ outdoor cooking I know.

Your gas grill shelf is probably wide enough to hold chicken halves, but for turkey, you might need more room. I use one of my many Lodge Cast Iron BBQ Grates set on a couple half bricks right on the grill. And section of metal grill will work.

grilled chicken

Shelf turkey carved for Thanksgiving. Great skin, tender dark meat, moist white meat. Nice way to cook a big bird.

grilled turkey

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