Rotisserie, Sunday dinner
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Rotisserie Turkey, Dry Brined with Orange and Spices

This Thanksgiving, I’m using all the finesse techniques I’ve learned to cook my Turkey. Here’s what I’m going to do.

My first trick is to dry brine the turkey. For years, my gold standard for turkey brines was the apple cider brine from Weber’s Art of the Grill by Jamie Purviance. I am a complete convert to dry brines now, and I wanted to come up with a dry brine that uses the same flavor profile. I have most of the major ingredients from the Weber brine in my dry rub – salt, a little brown sugar, orange zest, ginger, garlic, and cloves. When combined with a chunk of smoking wood in the grill, you get layers of flavor in the bird – sweet, smoky and salty, with an interesting mix of fruit and spices. This is a turkey that doesn’t need gravy to be edible.
*You’ll see some bay leaves in the pictures of the dry brine. Ignore them. They’re not really there. These are not the bay leaves you’re looking for. (Waves hand in dismissive manner.)
**OK, OK, you caught me. I tried to crumble them by hand, and I couldn’t break them up small enough to use in my dry brine. I should have used my spice grinder, but I didn’t want to get it dirty just for the bay leaves, so I left them out. It tasted great without them.

The next step is cooking the turkey to the appropriate level of doneness. This is tricky. The white meat in the breast should just cook to 160*F so it doesn’t dry out. The dark meat in the legs should be cooked above 170*F; it needs extra heat to break down the connective tissue. The problem is – they’re both on the same bird, and cooking for the same length of time. I used two techniques to help solve this.

Following the suggestion in Weber’s Barbecued Turkey pamphlet I set up the charcoal in a U shape on one half of the grill. This focuses the heat on the turkey’s legs, and lessens the heat on the breast.

I also used a trick from Harold McGee. Mr. McGee recommended strapping a couple of ice packs over the breast of the bird after removing it from the refrigerator, so the breasts start out colder than the thighs. His family told him this was “too unappetizing”, so he switched to zip-top bags full of ice.  Since McGee’s On Food and Cooking is the bible of food science, I thought it would be foolish not to take his advice.

The turkey is cooked on my rotisserie, of course. Nothing comes close to the crisp, crackling skin from the constant convection caused by the circling bird.*
*Sorry, got stuck in a “C” rut there.

The result of all these steps is the best turkey I’ve ever made. Can you skip all this detail? Sure. Dry brine the turkey with salt, cook it on the rotisserie, and you’ll get a great bird. But if you want to take the bird from great to sublime, have I got the recipe for you…

Recipe: Rotisserie Turkey, Dry Brined with Orange and Spices

Inspired by: Lots of different sources.
Cook time: 180 minutes

Equipment:

  • Grill with Rotisserie attachment (I used a Weber kettle with the Rotisserie attachment. Kettle is here, and rotisserie is here)
  • Aluminum foil drip pan (11″x13″, “turkey size”, or whatever fits your grill)
  • Cotton twine
  • Gallon zip-top bag full of ice (optional)
  • Instant Read Thermometer

Ingredients:

  • 12 to 14 lb Turkey
  • fist sized chunk of smoking wood (hickory, oak, pecan or a fruit wood; I love oak wine barrel staves)

Dry Brine

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt (I used Diamond Crystal; reduce to 3 tbsp if using Mortons, because it is denser).
  • Zest of 1 orange (save the orange, cut in half and wrapped in plastic wrap to stuff the turkey)
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (about a 1/2 inch piece)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh garlic (2 cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions:
Note: for an overview of the technique, see my rotisserie poultry post.

1. 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.)

2. Prep the Turkey: One hour before cooking, remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Stuff the turkey with the halves of the orange, then truss and skewer with the rotisserie spit. 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.

3. Prep the rotisserie: Prepare the rotisserie for cooking on indirect medium heat (see details here). 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 picture below). I put the drip pan in the middle of the U of charcoal. Finally, put the wood chunk on top of the charcoal, and give it five minutes to start smoking.
*If you are using a gas grill, check out my basic Rotisserie Turkey recipe for setup instructions. If you’re using a Weber Summit with a infrared rotisserie burner, set the grill up as shown in this recipe. If you don’t have a rotisserie, Weber Kettle instructions are in this recipe.

4. Cook the turkey: Put the spit on the grill, with the leg side of the bird inside the “U” of coals.  Cook the turkey with the lid closed; it will take 2 to 3 hours (usually about 2 1/2 hours for a 12 pound turkey). Every hour, add 24 fresh charcoal briquettes to the grill, nestling them into the burning charcoal. Start checking the temperature in the breast with an instant read thermometer at 2 hours. The turkey is done when the breast meat registers 155*F to 160*F in its thickest part. Remove the turkey from the grill, remove the spit from the turkey, and cut the trussing twine loose. Let the turkey rest for 15 to 30 minutes before carving.

5. 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.

Notes:
*Fresh vs Frozen: There are two advantages to a fresh turkey. The first is they are rarely pre-brined, which is redundant because of the dry brine. (Watch out for the words “enhanced with a X% solution” or “pre-basted”) The second advantage to fresh turkey is no thawing is needed! If you have to get a frozen bird, make sure to leave an extra three days or so to thaw it in the refrigerator before staring the dry brine; start thawing it about a week before you’ll need it.

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Basic Rotisserie Turkey
Rotisserie Turkey Breast
Click here for my other rotisserie recipes.


Check out my cookbook, Rotisserie Grilling.

Everything you could ask about the rotisserie,
plus 50 (mostly) new recipes to get you cooking.

It’s a Kindle e-book, so you can download it and start reading immediately!


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Filed under: Rotisserie, Sunday dinner

by

Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.

73 Comments

  1. Pandawan says

    Hi Mike,

    I just want to drop by and letting you know that the Turkey worked really well! Thanks again for all your help 🙂

  2. This sounds great! We are having Thanksgiving on Saturday and this will be our turkey! I have a large DCS gas grill with rear infrared rotisserie burner so can’t do the U shape with charcoal. I will do the ice bag, any other suggestions? Should I just preheat the infrared on medium? Can’t wait to try it.

  3. Used both burners like you outlined; worked great! Everyone loved the turkey. Thanks for the great recipe and tips.

  4. Mike,

    I have a Weber Summit 470 and plan to try this recipe – my turkey is about 15 lbs. A couple questions – should the infrared burner stay on the entire cooking time? I have often only had it on for the first 20 minutes or so. I am happy to try something new. Also, did I read correctly that I should try to keep the temp of the grill around 325 to 350? I thought I saw somewhere else that it should be high indirect heat. Thanks – I am looking forward to trying this on Thanksgiving.

  5. John,

    I start the infrared burner on medium, and keep an eye on the turkey – when it gets nice and brown, I shut off the IR burner. (With the sugar in the dry brine, I think it will only need a half an hour to an hour with the infrared burner.)

    Keep the temp at 325°F to 350°F. High heat will probably burn the turkey before it cooks through. (That said, you will probably set some of the burners to high to maintain that temperature – it depends on your grill, but I have to turn two burners to high to hold 350°F, if my IR burner is off.)

    Set the grill up like I suggest in this recipe (for a Summit-650, which is similar to your grill:)
    https://www.dadcooksdinner.com/2011/11/rotisserie-turkey-with-cajun-dry-brine.html

  6. Thank you for the quick reply. There are several ideas I’m looking forward to trying.

  7. Hi Mike,
    I’m using this recipe for our Thanksgiving turkey. I put the dry brine on last night. The turkey is 20 pounds. Any suggestions for a turkey that size ie: cooking time, temperature, when and how long to use the IR burner. I’m using a Summit 670.

    Can’t wait to taste it. All of your recipes I’ve tried have been great!

    Thanks,
    Cabot

  8. zews39 says

    I brined my 14.75 lbs bird this morning. I will also do the bag with ice about an hour before putting in on my Genesis S-310. It seems that I have plenty of clearance without having to remove the middle three flavorizer bars. Hoever, if I have to, I have a disposable aluminum cookie sheet that I can wedge into the grill. If you want me to, I can take a photo and send it to you.

    How long do you think it will take to grill this bird with my rotisserie if I keep the temperature at around 350 degrees?

    I am also thinking about adding the strips of bacon over the breast as you suggest in one of your other recipes. Do you think that this would be too much added flavor or is it worth doing? I like the idea that the bacon may slow down the cooking of the breast, but the added flavor may interfere with the many different flavors of the dry brine. What are your thoughts on this?

  9. John B says

    Going to do a test turkey this weekend. Suggestions for altering this rub on a grocery store turkey (the “enhanced” kind)?

  10. Loved Loved Loved this rub! I am very thankful that when I realized my rotisserie motor was dead this morning my next door neighbor let me borrow theirs! Everyone said this recipe is a keeper!

    • Probably not…but it depends. From my comments on this post:
      https://www.dadcooksdinner.com/grilled-turkey-dry-brined-grilling-basics/

      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.

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