Skip to main content

5 Juicy Pro Tips for ThanksGrilling Turkey

For barbecue enthusiasts, the fourth Thursday in November means it's ThanksGrilling. Cooking turkey outdoors on a grill or in a smoker makes perfect sense for regions that aren't shivering from the late fall chill. Hello, Hawaii, California, Arizona, and the entire South! Still, inclement weather doesn't slow down the hardy pitmaster, who's chasing those dreams of a smoky bird that family and friends will be talking about until next ThanksGrilling.

650 x 465 101618100 BBQ turkey on a grill photo by Meredith

Photo by Meredith

Tips for Grilling Turkeys

Pros know success is tied to hitting the perfect temperature, so the meat remains moist and juicy. Barbecuing a turkey at 325 degrees over indirect heat with a pan situated underneath to catch the drippings until the bird reaches 165 degrees is slightly different than the usual low-and-slow smoking scenario. So, depending on weight, the cooking time could vary between 3 and 5 hours before hitting 165. (That recommended temperature is based on an updated recommendation from the USDA for safely cooking poultry, and takes into consideration the carryover cooking time while the turkey rests for at least 20 minutes before carving.) To maintain a steady temperature, keep a small amount of charcoal handy in a separate spot and add prepared coals, as needed. Here are 5 tips for ThanksGrilling success from seasoned pitmasters:

  • Fill the cavity with some type of liquid to maintain the moisture, especially of the white meat. For the 5-star Turkey in a Smoker recipe, that's a mixture of cola, butter, chopped apples and spices. That mixture can also be used to baste or mop the bird during the grilling process.
  • Bestselling author Meathead Goldwyn advises spatchcocking the bird before smoking it, as a way to infuse more flavor and cut down on cooking time.
  • Barbecue University's Steven Raichlen goes for maximum flavor and juiciness by brining the turkey. In one preparation, the brine includes bourbon and maple syrup.
  • At Cozy Corner, a famous Memphis, Tenn., barbecue restaurant, the kitchen has been known to tuck a few barbecued ribs inside turkeys as they cook, doubling down on the smoke.
  • Keep the turkey covered loosely in a tent of foil, and baste often. This cooking method makes for a finished bird that ranges from golden to deep mahogany. A centerpiece of the feast you're going to want to document for your social media feed.

For more inspiration, watch this short video on how to smoke a turkey:

Looking for more Thanksgiving inspiration?

About Leslie Kelly

Always hungry to learn, never had my fill of oysters, Memphis dry rub ribs, wild salmon, chocolate chip cookies or a well-rolled lumpia. Washington state wine lover, bourbon fan. Totally obsessed with brunch!