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How to Grill a Turkey

Learn how to grill a turkey for your next big holiday feast.

In the Midwest, grilling season continues all year round, regardless of the temperature outside. With Blain’s Farm & Fleet, you can learn how to grill a turkey for your holiday meal. Many mouths water just at the thought of stoking up the grill and smelling that sweet aroma of the holiday bird grilling to perfection. Guaranteed to impress your family and friends, a grilled turkey is easier to prepare than you may think. Plus, it frees up your oven for other side dishes and holiday treats.

How to Grill a Turkey

How to Grill a Turkey
Cooking a turkey in the oven is for the birds. This holiday season, learn how to grill a turkey with help from Blain’s Farm & Fleet.

1. Selecting the bird – Weight is really not an issue when grilling a turkey as long as the turkey fits in your grill with the lid down. Note that turkeys over 24 pounds may not fit under your grill lid. Additionally, at least one inch clearance between the turkey and the lid is ideal, so think structure. A broad, flat bird will fit better than one with a high breast bone. Refer to the numbers below to determine which type of turkey will feed how many people:

Ready to stuff  –   1/2 pound
Boneless – 1/4 pound
Parts, bone-in – 1/2 pound

2. Thawing –  A turkey should be completely defrosted in the refrigerator before grilling. Place the frozen turkey in its original wrapping on a tray in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every four pounds of turkey. Never thaw poultry at room temperature. If you’re using a fresh turkey, grill it just as you would a completely defrosted one. Since fresh turkey is highly perishable, check the “sell by” date before you buy. Buy the turkey only one to two days before you plan to cook it and be sure to keep it refrigerated.

3. Before you start grilling –  Whether you’re cooking on a charcoal or gas grill, make sure you have plenty of fuel. For gas grills, a full tank should last about 17 or 18 hours, so check your gas gauge before you start. For charcoal grills, please refer to our chart to see how many briquettes you need over the course of the grill time with a Weber grill.

Grill Type: 18-1/2″ Jumbo Joe; Bar-B-Kettle; One-Touch; One-Touch Silver, Gold, and Platinum
# briquets for first hour – 20 per side
# briquets each additional hour – 7 per side

Grill Type: Performer; One-Touch Silver, Gold, and Platinum
# briquets for first hour – 25 per side
# briquets each additional hour – 8 per side

Grill Type: 26-3/4″ One-Touch
# briquets for first hour – 30 per side
# briquets each additional hour – 9 per side

Grill Type” 18-1/2″ Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker
# briquets for first hour – 2 layers
# briquets each additional hour – 2

Grill Type: 37-1/2″ Ranch Kettle
# briquets for first hour – 75 per side
# briquets each additional hour – 22 per side

4. Food safety – To avoid spreading dangerous bacteria to other foods, always wash hands, utensils and work surfaces with hot soapy water after handling raw poultry. Cook stuffing in a covered foil pan next to the turkey during the last 45-60 minutes of grilling time to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

5. Turning and basting – The best part about grilling your bird is that you don’t have to turn or baste. Simply set up the grill for indirect grilling, place the turkey in the center of the cooking grate and close the lid.

The Indirect Method is similar to roasting, but with the added benefits of that grilled texture, flavor, and appearance you can’t get from an oven. Heat rises, reflects off the lid and inside surfaces of the grill, and slowly cooks the food evenly on all sides. The circulating heat works much like a convection oven, so there’s no need to turn the food. Use the Indirect Method for foods that require 25 minutes or more of grilling time or for foods that are so delicate that direct exposure to the heat source would dry them out or scorch them. Examples include roasts, ribs, whole chickens, turkeys, and other large cuts of meat, as well as delicate fish fillets.

To grill by the Indirect Method on a charcoal grill, arrange hot coals evenly on either side of the charcoal grate. A drip pan placed in the center of the charcoal grate between the coals is useful to collect drippings that can be used for gravies and sauces. It also helps prevent flare-ups when cooking fattier foods such as goose, duck, or fatty roasts. For longer cooking times, add water to the drip pan to keep drippings from burning. Place the cooking grate over the coals and place the food on the cooking grate, centered over the drip pan or empty space. Place the lid on the grill and lift it only to baste or check for doneness at the end of the suggested cooking time.

To grill by the Indirect Method on a gas grill, preheat the grill with all burners on High. Then adjust the burners on each side of the food to the temperature noted in the recipe and turn off the burner(s) directly below the food. For best results, place roasts, poultry, or large cuts of meat on a roasting rack set inside a disposable heavy-gauge foil pan. For longer cooking times, add water to the foil pan to keep drippings from burning.

6. Telling when the bird is done – Turkey is fully cooked when a meat thermometer registers 180 degrees F in the thigh or 170 degrees F in the breast (about 11 to 13 minutes per pound). Once your bird is done, remove the turkey from the grill and allow it to rest 20 minutes before carving.

See the chart below for cooking times for un-stuffed turkeys:

10-11 lbs. = 1-3/4 to 2-1/2 hrs.
12-14 lbs. = 2-1/4 to 3 hrs.
15-17 lbs. = 2-3/4 to 3-3/4 hrs.
18-22 lbs. = 3-1/2 to 4 hrs.
23-24 lbs. = 4 to 4-1/2 hrs.

Once you’ve learned how to grill a turkey, you’ll never make one in the oven again. For more grill recipes, visit our grilling & patio blog.

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