Grilled Turkey Dry Brined. My basic recipe for grilled turkey, with a simple dry brine to season the bird all the way through.
- 12 to 14 lb Turkey
- Fist sized chunk of smoking wood (hickory, oak, pecan, apple, or cherry - or use wood chips with a gas grill)
Basic Dry Brine
- 1/4 cup kosher salt (1 1/2 ounces of salt. I use Diamond Crystal kosher; reduce to 3 tablespoons if using Mortons kosher, which is denser).
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Dry brine the turkey: 1 to 3 days before it is time to cook, dry brine the turkey. Mix the dry brine ingredients in a small bowl, then sprinkle and rub evenly over the turkey. Make sure to rub some inside the cavity of the turkey as well. Put the turkey on a rack over a roasting pan or baking sheet, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate, removing the plastic wrap the night before cooking to allow the skin to dry. (If you are only dry brining for 24 hours, skip the plastic wrap.)
- Prep the Turkey: One hour before cooking, remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Put the zip lock bag full of ice on the breast, not touching the legs or drumsticks, to chill the breast meat until cooking. Put the wood chunk in a bowl of water to soak.
- Set up the grill for indirect medium heat (350°F):
- Charcoal Grill: For my Weber kettle, I light a chimney 3/4 full of charcoal and wait for it to be covered with ash. Then, instead of pouring it in my usual two piles on the side of the grill, I pour it in a U shape at one end of the grill - see the picture below. Finally, I put the wood chunk on top of the charcoal, and put the grill grate back in the kettle.
- Gas grill: Set the grill up for indirect medium heat, 325°F to 350°F. If you can, put all the heat on one side of the grill - instead of two outside burners on medium, set one outside burner on high, and leave the other one off. This concentrates the heat on the legs, which we want to cook more than the breast. For my Weber Summit, I preheat the grill on high for 15 minutes, then turn off all the burners except burner #1. I leave burner #1 on high and turn the smoker burner on high, and point the turkey legs at the lit burners. Then I wrap the wood chips in aluminum foil, poke a few holes in the foil, and set the packet of wood chips directly on one of the lit burners.
- Cook the turkey: Throw away the bag of ice. Put the turkey on the roasting rack in the roasting pan, breast side down. Set the pan in the grill, with the legs of the turkey inside the “U” of coals, and the breast facing away from the coals. Close the lid, and cook with the lid closed as much as possible. After 1 hour of cooking, flip the turkey breast side up, using wads of paper towels to protect your hands. Add 24 fresh charcoal briquettes to the grill, adding them to the burning charcoal, and close the lid. After 2 hours of cooking, add 24 fresh briquettes to the coals, and start checking the temperature in the breast with an instant read thermometer. (If the knobs of the drumsticks are looking too brown, cover them with foil to keep them from burning.) The turkey is done when the breast meat registers 155°F in its thickest part, roughly 3 hours of total cooking time - but go by the temperature. (The legs should register 175°F at that point.) Remove the turkey from the grill, and let the turkey rest for 15 to 30 minutes before carving.
- Carve the turkey: If you have a favorite way of carving a turkey, go ahead and use it. My preferred method: Cut the legs free from the body of the bird, and cut the drumsticks away from the thighs. I leave the drumsticks whole (my favorite part!) and slice the meat from the thighs in 1/2“ slices for dark meat lovers. Next, I cut the entire breast half from one side of the bird by working my knife down the keel bone from the top down to the wing, following the inside of the ribcage. Once the breast half is free of the bird, it is easy to slice into 1/2” thick slices on my carving board. I repeat with the other breast half. Finally, I cut each wing away from the carcass, and separate the drumette from the wing, and the wing from the wingtip. I arrange all these pieces on a platter and serve.
I’m using a basic dry brine here, but any dry brine will work with these cooking instructions. My favorite dry brine is this one with orange and spices. Or, if I feel like kicking it up a notch (Bam!), I use a Cajun dry brine.
Watch out for enhanced turkeys – look for the words “enhanced with a x% solution”. That means the turkey was brined at the factory. If the turkey is “Enhanced with a natural solution” of more than 6 percent, it already has enough salt inside of it. Cut the salt in the dry brine down to 1 tablespoon. If at all possible, get a natural turkey. Sure, that turkey going for fifty-nine cents a pound at the grocery store is a deal. (And one that I will take advantage of myself, from time to time.) But, most of the time, I’d rather pay extra for the natural turkey and do my own brining.
- Grill (I love my Weber kettle)
- Aluminum foil roasting pan (11“x15”, or an oval turkey roaster)
- Roasting rack (or use stalks of celery to hold the bird off the bottom of the pan)
- Gallon zip-top bag full of ice
- Instant-read thermometer. My ChefAlarm probe thermometer lets me set an alarm for the proper temperature, so I don't have to lift the lid to check the temp. (The pictures show the high-tech version - the Smoke probe thermometer. It's a two probe thermometer with a remote, and an optional wifi add-on and iPhone app. Yes, I'm a geek, and I love it.)
- Prep Time: 24 hours
- Cook Time: 3 hours
- Category: Sunday Dinner
- Method: Grilling
- Cuisine: American