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 Shubert’s rolls.
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 with the dark, not high up in the cooking chamber near the hot cover drying out. 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) or use your electric knife at home, which works really well in this application. Read our post on 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 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. Btw, here’s Min’s 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.
Shelf turkey carved for Thanksgiving. Great skin, tender dark meat, moist white meat. Nice way to cook a big bird.
- 1 8 to 12-pound turkey, cut into halves
- Kosher salt and pepper
If your grill does not have an upper shelf large enough for 2 turkey halves, make a raised cooking grate with a spare grate and a couple of bricks. You may have to remove the upper shelf so that it does not bump into the turkeys when the lid is closed.
Preheat the grill to medium heat.
Generously season all sides of the turkey halves with salt and pepper.
Rub oil onto the skin.
Place the halves on the raised grate and lower the cover, but leave it open a crack to allow any smoke to escape. Resist any urge to open the cover.
After 50 minutes or so test the internal temperature in both the breast (160F) and in the thickest part of the thigh near the joint (180F).
If the temperatures are in this range but the let/thigh joint feels stiff and resistant, continue cooking a few more minutes to allow the joint to loosen.
Remove turkey halves to a platter and allow to rest 10 minutes. Carve and serve.