How to Grill a Whole Turkey

What could be more appealing than the crisp skin and juicy interior of perfectly grilled turkey? Why does it seem so hard to achieve?

Too many people are intimidated by placing a full turkey on the grill. You don't have to be.
Once you experience a grilled turkey, Thanksgiving will never be the same.

Here's some advice on avoiding the pitfalls and getting the best out of a grilled bird:

Whole Fresh or Thawed Frozen Turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
  1. Prepare barbecue grill with rectangular metal or foil drip pan. Bank the charcoal on either side of drip pan for indirect cooking.

    When grilling turkey, bank the charcoal to the side of the drip pan.
    Bank the charcoal to the side of the drip pan.

  2. Remove giblets from turkey cavity; reserve for another use. Rinse turkey with cold running water; pat dry with paper towels.

  3. Add onion, lemon wedges, and sprigs of fresh herbs to cavity, if desired. Pull skin over neck; secure with metal skewer. Tuck wing tips under back; tie legs together with wet kitchen string.

    When grilling turkey, truss turkey to keep it moist during grilling.
    Truss turkey to keep it moist during grilling.

  4. Using fingers or a paper towel, spread softened butter over turkey skin; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

    When grilling turkey, a paper towel makes it easy to spread softened butter over turkey.
    Spreading softened butter over turkey is easy to do by hand.

  5. Insert meat thermometer into center of thickest part of thigh, not touching bone.

    When grilling turkey, insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.
    Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh.

  6. Place turkey, breast-side up, on preheated grill directly over drip pan.

  7. Grill turkey, on covered grill, over medium coals 11 to 14 minutes per pound, adding 4 to 9 briquets to both sides of the fire each hour to maintain medium coals.

  8. Brush turkey with melted butter or basting sauce during last 30 minutes of grilling. Continue to grill, covered, 20 minutes. Brush again with butter and continue to grill, covered, about 10 minutes or until thermometer registers 185 degrees Fahrenheit.

    When grilling turkey,  place the sprigs of soaked fresh tarragon directly on the coals for the last half hour.
    For extra flavor, soak sprigs of fresh tarragon in water. Place the sprigs directly on the coals for the last half hour of grilling.

  9. Transfer turkey to carving board; tent with foil. Let stand 15 minutes before carving. Discard ingredients from cavity.

    After grilling turkey,  let grilled turkey rest on carving board before slicing.
    Let turkey rest on carving board before slicing.

If you're still too intimidated to grill the whole bird, check out the next section for tips on grilling a turkey breast.

Want more information? Try these:

  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.
  • Grilling: Grilling isn't just for summertime barbecues anymore. Find out how to cook all your favorites on the grill, all year round.
  • Grilling Recipes: Check out the collection of top-notch grilling recipes at HowStuffWorks.
  • Thanksgiving Recipes: From turkey to stuffing to cranberry sauce, your eyes (and belt loop) will pop when you see all the great ideas on our Thanksgiving Recipes page.
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