Still Roasting? Quit Cold Turkey!

From The Lecture Series: The Everyday — How to Master Outdoor Cooking

By Chef Instructor Bill Briwa, The Culinary Institute of America

Put a twist on a traditional Thanksgiving theme. The Culinary Institute’s Chef Bill Briwa shows you his techniques for grilling turkey on the barbecue.

Grilled Turkey

Grilling over Wood

There are many different kinds of wood that you can use to make fire for your grill. Oak is very dense, and it burns for a long time and consistently. There are other woods that are less dense, and while they catch fire quickly, they don’t burn for very long. There are woods that give such a tremendous amount of smoke that is aggressive, such as mesquite and hickory, which are great for barbecuing. Nut woods give a softer smoke, and not much of it. Fruitwoods, such as applewood, give off a sweet smoke.

This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: How to Master Outdoor Cooking. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Charcoal Safety

When grilling with charcoal, be careful not to leave the grill unattended for any length of time. The charcoal might throw a spark or two, which can lead to a dangerous and unwanted fire. Keep your charcoal stored away from the grill—because it can ignite by a spark from the grill—and keep the area around your grill clear.

Barbecued Whole Turkey

This dish takes a nontraditional look at a holiday classic—turkey. Traditionally, turkeys are roasted in the oven. And as they roast in the oven, they are surrounded by skin that has a lot of fat in it. That fat renders down, turning into liquid fat. It bastes the bird. The fat liquefies and goes into the meat. And a lot of that fat ends up in the bottom of the roasting pan, which is then turned back into gravy to remedy the fact that the turkey is overcooked and dry. To minimize the process of extracting the juices and then putting them back over the top of the turkey, you can cook the turkey in a barbecue grill.

Learn more about how to make different types of bread recipes on the grill

Make Barbecued Whole Turkey


  • 1 10-lb turkey
  • 4 oz butter at room temperature
  • salt to taste
  • freshly cracked black pepper to taste


  • 1 lemon
  • 4 cloves garlic crushed
  • parsley stems, green onion tops, or other herbs as desired
  • salt as needed


  • 1/4 cup olive oli
  • 2 tbs minced garlic
  • 2 tbs thyme dried
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cumin ground
  • salt to taste
  • freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions

Before you stuff the turkey, sprinkle salt all around the inside of the cavity so that it coats the whole inside. Salt is going to enhance the flavor of the turkey. Then, stuff the cavity with some herbs, such as parsley stems, thyme, and sage.

Also, add some cloves of garlic and lemon halves. All of these ingredients will steam and mix with the juices inside, flavoring the bird from the inside out.

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The goal for the outside of the turkey is a crispy skin and a golden-brown exterior. In addition to the fat content in the turkey skin, add some pats of cold butter underneath the skin. That additional fat in the form of butter is going to increase the moisture content of the turkey. Stay up high on the bird with the butter because gravity will draw the fat down into the remaining parts of the bird.

A dry rub will season the outside, and the salt in it will help dry out the skin and help form the crust that will result in a crispy skin. It also acts as an antibacterial step; the spices and salt kill any bacteria that may exist on the surface area of the bird while it’s cooking for an extended period of time.

Next, sprinkle a dry rub on the outside of the turkey, massaging it into the bird.

The dry rub will season the outside, and the salt in it will help dry out the skin and help form the crust that will result in a crispy skin. It also acts as an antibacterial step; the spices and salt kill any bacteria that may exist on the surface area of the bird while it’s cooking for an extended period of time.

Learn more about the art of grilling poultry

Cook the turkey in a barbecue grill. Start with a hot bed of coals, and place a drip pan in the center of the grill underneath the grate. Put the turkey in the center the grill. Then, sprinkle a few wet wood chips on each side on top of the hot coals.

As those become dry wood chips, they’re going to generate smoke, which is going to create a great flavor in this turkey. Put the lid on the grill, and check the temperature after a few minutes to make sure it’s appropriate.

After an hour and a half, check on the turkey.
 The skin should be starting to get some color
 on it from the heat and smoke. You can baste 
the bird with some of the juices from the bird, which contain herbs, to soften the skin back up a little.

It’ll eventually get crispy again, but the liquid will keep it from burning. In addition to the juices from the bird, you can use apple juice if you’d like more flavor. Also, add a few more wet wood chips to get more smoke flavor.

Once the skin is crispy on the outside, the turkey should be fully cooked and ready to carve.

Common Questions About Grilling Turkey

Q: How long does a turkey take on the grill?

Grilling a turkey takes around the same amount of time as baking it, which is 2-3 hours.

Q: Where do you put the thermometer to check if a turkey is done cooking?

Insert a meat thermometer between the thigh and the breast of the turkey and push it deep into the thigh meat, where it should read at least 165°F.

Q: Can you thaw a turkey out in the sink overnight?

It is not advisable to thaw the turkey in the sink overnight as the changes in temperature can encourage bacteria growth. Instead, thaw it in the refrigerator or during the day when you can change the water when it warms up.

Q: How do you smoke a turkey on a gas grill?

Smoking a turkey on a gas grill requires a smoker box to add the wood chips to generate smoke.

This article was updated on 1/22/2020

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