Barbecue turkey: Cooking alternative for the traditional bird

Keep food safety in mind when grilling turkey.

Are you still up in the air about what you are going to serve at your next gatheringy? Why not have the turkey take an alternative route to the table? Why not try grilling that bird? With the particularly warm weather this December, grilling that big bird might be a delightful change of pace!

The outdoor cooking of a big turkey for a holiday meal is becoming increasingly popular method of cooking. During the grilling process a turkey cooks by indirect heat in an outdoor covered gas or charcoal grill. A pan of water is placed below the grilling surface to catch the fat and juices that drip from the turkey as it cooks. For the best results when grilling the turkey, the bird should be completely thawed.

Gas rilling

If your gas grill has one large burner, place the pan of water under the grate to create the indirect heating process. Place the turkey in a roasting pan and place on top of the grill. The turkey should not be stuffed because the grilling process may not get the internal temperature of the stuffing high enough to kill food borne illness bacteria.

If the grill has two or three burners, the turkey should be placed away from the flame. You do not want to char the outside while the inside of the bird slowly cooks. Turn off one of the burners and place the bird in this area to have the indirect cooking technique do its job.

Michigan State University Extension recommends using the estimate of 15 to 18 minutes of cooking time per pound turkey when using a covered gas grill.

Charcoal grilling

When using a covered charcoal grill to cook a whole turkey, the recommendation is the same whether the gas or charcoal covered grill is used. Do not stuff the bird. The grilling technique of cooking will take too long for the stuffing inside the bird to reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition smoked stuffing is not very tasty.

To begin wash, rinse, and sanitize the grill racks. Use a good quality charcoal. On one side of the grill build a pyramid of charcoal and ignite it. Allow the coals to get red hot, and then place an appliance thermometer on the food rack to monitor the air temperature inside the grill. When the charcoal has developed a white powdery ash, which will take about 20 to 30 minutes, and the air temperature has reached 225 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, place a drip pan with water in the grill to create the moist, hot steam for cooking. The drip pan should be placed in the center of the grill beneath where the turkey will set. Next carefully push the coals around the edge making sure they are evenly distributed. Position the grill rack and place the prepared turkey with breast side up on it. For the best results the turkey should be completely thawed before cooking. Now put the cover on the grill.

About fifteen charcoal briquettes will need to be replenished every hour to maintain the 225 to 300 degreeds Fahrenheit air temperature for cooking. If a fruity or smoky flavor is desired, add water-soaked hardwood or fruitwood in the form of chunks or chips to the fire as the turkey is cooking. Do not use a softwood such as pine, fir, cedar, or spruce because the food will have a turpentine flavor and be coated with a black pitch or resin.

The cooking time will depend upon many factors such as: the size and shape of the turkey; the distance from the heat; temperature of the coals; and the temperature of the outside air. Michigan State University Extension recommends using a food thermometer to determine doneness of the turkey. The turkey will be done when the food thermometer reaches the safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature should be taken in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and again at the thickest part of the breast. If you are using a covered grill, an estimate of 15 to 18 minutes per pound is a good rule to follow. 

Whether a gas or a covered charcoal grill is used, the end results will surely be a delicious alternative to oven roasted turkey.

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