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Tips for Grilling or Roasting Turkeys

At some friends’ cabin one autumn, our host served my husband and me a turkey breast she had cooked on the grill. It’s smoky, crispy deliciousness wowed us and we’ve never gone back to making turkey in the oven for ourselves. Because we love dark meat as well as white, we tried her technique with a whole turkey and it worked great. We’ve grilled small and large turkeys, though 13 pounds is about the largest our kettle charcoal grill will hold.

Here is all you need for flavorful turkey on the grill:

  • One 1 to 13 pound turkey or a whole turkey breast (thawed if frozen, giblets removed)
  • A Baker’s Half Sheet for transporting your turkey to and from the grill
  • A V-rack or adjustable roasting rack like this one
  • Turkey lifters – these are optional and they are really just giant forks but they come in handy when it’s time to flip the bird on the grill
  • Silicone bands or something heat safe for trussing the turkey a little bit, also optional
  • 3 to 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 of a large onion, cut into a couple of large pieces
  • 1 lemon, quartered, optional
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons garlic salt
  • Cooking spray
  • Meat thermometer


Preheat the grill. On our charcoal kettle grill, we set it up for indirect grilling – coals on two sides with a space in the middle for the turkey and a drip pan underneath it. Get the internal temperature to around 350°F before putting the turkey on. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge and add coals as necessary during the 2 1/2 to 3 hours the turkey will cook. If you like a little more smoke, you can add it using this nifty wood chip smoker box. You’ll be killing your neighbors with the smells each time you open the grill to add coals or check on the turkey.

Rinse and pat the turkey dry. Check both the main and the neck cavity for giblets—discard them or freeze them for soup making. We usually grill the neck alongside the turkey.  In the empty main cavity of the turkey, scatter the garlic cloves, the onion and the quartered lemon, squeezing the lemon a little.  Truss the legs closed to keep stuff from falling out when you flip the turkey. I usually truss the wings too. Spray the rack with cooking spray and place the turkey on the rack, breast side up, on the half sheet. In a small bowl, combine the dried rosemary and garlic salt. Rub half of the mixture over the breast, legs, thighs and wings of the turkey, coating it evenly and pressing it to help it stick. Flip the turkey on its breast so the back is on top. Starting the turkey breast side down helps the juices stay in the breast meat, making for a moister turkey. Rub the remaining half of the mixture over the other side of the turkey.


Place the turkey and rack on the grill (not on the half sheet), cover and grill for about 1 1/2 hours.  (For a 4 to 6 pound turkey breast the total time on the grill will be 1 1/2 to 2 hours.)


At the halfway mark, flip the turkey so the breast side is now up and take its temperature.  Check the temperature in the thigh and breast, not touching bone with your meat thermometer. When done, you want the internal temperature of the turkey to read 160°F in the breast and about 175°F in the thigh. (I usually don’t trust the little pop-up thermometers that come with most turkeys.) When you flip it, you may find that the breast is already quite browned and the temperatures might be reaching their target. Don’t worry, just give it a little more time on the grill breast side up.


When it’s done, transfer the rack and turkey to the half sheet and then from the rack to a cutting board. Tent the turkey for 15 minutes or so and let it rest before carving.


Now, for those of you who prefer to cook your turkey in a more traditional way, Nordic Ware has some great turkey roasters and racks for use in your oven. You can use the same seasoning rub and flavorings in the cavity (or add more traditional flavorings like celery and parsley) but before applying the rub, spread softened butter all over the turkey, then apply the rub. Start the turkey breast side down just like on the grill. Roast the turkey at 325°F, planning for a roasting time of about 15 minutes per pound. As drippings accumulate in the bottom of the roaster, baste the turkey occasionally. If you don’t have enough drippings, melt 4 to 8 tablespoons of butter and use it to baste the turkey. After about an hour, flip the turkey so it is breast side up. Finish roasting until the internal temperatures reach 160°F and 175°F as above. Let it rest 15 minutes, tented with foil, before carving.

To go along with the grilled or roasted turkey, I like to make stuffing on the side while some like to cook in the turkey. Here’s a link to a great stuffing recipe I’ve made many times. It’s from Land O’Lakes and includes cornbread, sausage and sage and goes nicely with turkey. You can make it start to finish after you get the turkey on the grill or in the oven.

Enjoy these turkey grilling and roasting tips and Happy Thanksgiving!