Recipe Review

We Published This Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe More than 8 Years Ago, and It’s Still Our Favorite

published Nov 12, 2022
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One of the very first recipes I was tasked with developing when I joined Kitchn’s team was a grilled whole turkey. Living in California means that I have pleasant grilling weather almost year-round. But I’m not going to lie — I was a little intimidated by the idea of cooking a bird of that size on a grill, especially for such a food-centric holiday as Thanksgiving.

But after wrestling a few turkeys onto the grill and going through some trial and error, I was quickly convinced that this is one of the quickest and tastiest ways to cook a whole bird. Coming over to my house for Thanksgiving? You can count on being served juicy turkey cooked entirely on a grill, complete with crispy skin!

Credit: Leela Cyd

Why Grilled Turkey?

Besides being incredibly delicious, here are the reasons why I love grilling turkey for Thanksgiving.

  • Almost all the prep work happens days before. For those who like to work ahead, this recipe is for you. Spatchcock the turkey and dry brine it a few days ahead. After that, it just sits in the refrigerator until it’s time to stuff some butter under the skin and throw it on the grill.
  • It’s faster than roasting. A 12- to 15-pound turkey grills in about 1 hour and 40 minutes, so you don’t have to start the cooking until much closer to dinnertime. Enjoy a walk in the morning or spend time with the family instead of being stuck in the kitchen!
  • You can delegate the grilling. Once the turkey gets on the grill, hand the timer, a brush, some melted butter, and a meat thermometer to someone else. Let them baste and check on the turkey — it’s not too hard of a task. Incentives also help: Hand that person a cocktail or special drink to sip on while they’re on duty, and see if someone can keep them company.
  • Each part is perfectly cooked. Grilling the dark and white meat parts of the turkey separately means you can pull each part off the grill as it’s ready so no part is under or over-cooked. Two smaller pieces are also easier to handle than one big one!
  • Your oven is free for other dishes. This is hands-down my favorite reason to make grilled turkey: It means I can use my oven for Thanksgiving sides or a special holiday dessert. Or, it can be used to reheat food.
  • Cleanup is easy. Grilled turkey means no roasting pan to scrub later. Just give the grill grates a quick scrub with a grill brush after the turkey is ready (while the grates are still hot) and you’re good to go!

The only downside of a grilled turkey is that you won’t have drippings to make a gravy. But in my opinion, this isn’t a deal-breaker. Our make-ahead gravy is a tasty option that doesn’t require roasting a whole bird.

Credit: Leela Cyd

How to Make a Grilled Spatchcock Turkey

A really good grilled turkey isn’t just plopping a whole turkey onto the grill. Cutting the turkey in half first means that the turkey can be divided into dark meat and white meat right off the bat. This is called spatchcocking, but not in the normal sense. Argentine-style spatchcocking, my preferred method for a turkey, doesn’t cut along the spine of the bird (turkeys are too big to cut through here with regular kitchen shears). Instead, you cut through the thin ribs along the side of the bird before you pull the pieces apart (it looks a bit like a frog!). Rub the turkey with a dry brine and then forget about it until you’re ready to grill.

When it’s turkey go time, heat the grill up and stuff some butter under the skin. Start cooking the dark meat first, as it takes longer, about 20 minutes. Then add the breast section and grill, basting with melted butter every 20 minutes, until both parts are done, about 1 hour and 40 minutes total for a 12- to 15-pound bird.

Let the turkey rest, then carve (it’ll be so much easier because it’s already in two parts) and arrange onto a platter. Finally eat and enjoy yourself, celebrating the fact that there’s no big roasting pan or rack to clean in the sink!

Credit: Leela Cyd

If You’re Making Grilled Spatchcock Turkey, a Few Tips

  • Get the turkey early. If you’re getting a frozen turkey, pick it up about a week before Thanksgiving. It will need a few days to thaw before you can spatchcock and dry brine it a few days more.
  • Have fun with the seasoning. Although I prefer a dry brine, you can go with a wet brine or a different spice or dry rub instead.
  • Baste for a better bird. Stuffing butter under the skin adds flavor and keeps the meat moist, but baste with more melted butter occasionally, as grilling is dry heat.