There are more ways to cook a turkey…

So you’ve tried or at least heard of baking a turkey in an oven, deep frying a turkey, or even smoking one, but have you tried grilling a turkey?  I know it’s not a new concept, but maybe you’re like me and have never tried it.

I’m not a big fan of turkey to begin with – I can take it or leave it, so Thanksgiving meals never excite me. And I particularly do not like to go through all that trouble for a meal I don’t thoroughly enjoy.  But this year, I’m about to leap out of my seat as I type this, because we will be grilling our bird for the first time!  Well, when I say “we” I really mean my husband, the grill master.  This truly gets me off the hook with preparing the featured course. 😉

Why am I so excited about this?

  • It frees up the oven to bake more pies and make all the side dishes.
  • It’s a chance to let the men participate in preparing the meal.
  • I’ve heard that grilled turkey is so flavorful, crispy yet tender and moist (supposedly you’ll never want to bake a bird again!).

So let’s fire up the grills this Thanksgiving Day!

You can use a gas or charcoal grill, but keep in mind that though charcoal grills generally give you more flavor, a gas grill is much easier to control temperatures, especially during windy weather.  Basically you will need to keep the temperature between 300 and 350 degrees with the target being 325.  We’ll be trying ours on a charcoal grill with some hickory.  Make sure you have plenty of coals or fuel before you start.  And remember that if things go awry, don’t panic.  You can always move the turkey into the oven to finish cooking.  (By that time, the side dishes and pies should be done anyway.)

Photo by Ernesto Andrade

Here are the basics on grilling a turkey…

  1. First, select a turkey that isn’t too big (10 pounds or less, though you could probably do up to a 15-pounder just fine).  **Keep in mind that it takes approximately 12 minutes per pound (that’s 2 hours for a 10-pound turkey) and that you will need to keep your coals hot that entire time (if using a charcoal grill, that is).** Hopefully, you’ve already found your very own turkey and it’s already thawed out (defrosting takes about 6 hours for every pound of frozen turkey).
  2. Prepare your turkey by removing the giblets and neck, washing it inside and out in cold water and patting it dry.  If brining your turkey is your preferred method of keeping the bird moisturized (ha!) while cooking, I hope you’ve started that day long process already. If not, no worries, you can just keep a close watch by using the old tried and true baste and inject method.  (If using a brine, be sure to wash off the salt before grilling.)
  3. Brush the turkey with oil and lightly season the inside of the cavity and the outside the way you desire. (Hint: It’s the way you would have done it if you were baking it in the oven.)
  4. Prepare your grill:  If you don’t have a rotisserie, make sure to oil your grate well.  Set a drip pan to catch the drippings, and periodically add water to this pan to keep them from burning off.  (You will be able to make gravy from the the drippings when the turkey is done.) Since you will be slow-roasting by indirect heat, set up your grill in such a way that the rather large turkey will not be too close to the fire or it will cook and dry out too fast.  If using a charcoal grill, you can place the turkey in the center of the grate and arrange the coals in ring around the turkey for even heating.  If using a dual burner grill, only use one burner and keep the turkey on the unheated side.
  5. Monitor your grill:  Keep grill lid closed and monitor the temperature closely throughout grilling. (If it gets too hot, open the lid for a few seconds).  Use a thermometer and add additional coals as needed to adjust the temperatures in the correct range.  Keep a close watch to make sure that the outside of the turkey isn’t getting cooked faster than the inside.
  6. You are going to need to rotate and flip the bird to keep it from drying out and to evenly cook it (be very careful when doing this or you can get burned). Start with the turkey on its side (thigh and wing facing down towards the grate) and finish with the breast side up.  The amount of time inbetween rotations and flips really depends on the size of the bird, your grill, and how you have set up the heat source.  Generally, it’s somewhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour.  For a 10-pound turkey in a charcoal grill, I would venture to guess it would be around 40 minutes. In these directions, I will assume you are using a 10-pound turkey.
  7. After 40 minutes, flip the turkey on its opposite side (the other thigh and wing) and rotate it so that its legs are pointing in the opposite direction than it started.
  8. Flip it again after 40 minutes so it’s on its back and rotate the legs to face the other direction.
  9. Photo by BBQ Junkie

    After only 20 minutes, rotate it so that the legs are facing the opposite direction and cook for an additional 20 minutes.  The turkey’s target temperature when done is at least 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer (dark meat should be at least 170 degrees).  So after about 10 or 11 minutes per pound, test several areas of the turkey to make sure they all read at or above this temperature.  It’s important not to touch bone when you read the temps.  Ideally, the thickest part of the thigh should read 180 degrees and the juices should run clear.

  10. When done, remove the bird from the grill and on to a platter, and let it rest for 20 minutes before carving.  This is very important, as this keeps the turkey moist.

Now, go and enjoy your bird and watch some football!


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eric Smith, A Nation of Moms. A Nation of Moms said: There are more ways to cook a turkey… via A Nation of Moms – So you've tried or at least heard of baking … […]

  2. […] year we wrote about how we attempted to grill a turkey.   How did it turn out? It was simply the best turkey I had ever tasted. I mean, I don’t […]

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