Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thanksgiving recipe rundown: grill-roasted turkey

And now... the turkey.

Let me preface by saying, I spent most of my life unsure I even liked turkey.

It either meant the overly processed slimy sliced stuff you were supposed to use for sandwiches, or the dry and tasteless stuff that came in stringy chunks.

And then, I had good turkey. And it completely changed my view.

Once I had turkey cooked on the grill, I knew there was no going back. It's an increasingly popular way of doing it, though the methods vary -- directly on the grate, cut into pieces, in a pan -- but this is the way I've done it the past few years. Maybe next year I'll try something new. But no matter what, I don't think my turkeys will ever see the inside of an oven.

Grill-roasted turkey
1 turkey -- preferably organic, pastured, free-range, non-processed, never frozen... you get the idea. This year, ours was a 13-pound Diestel Farms.
2 gallons of water
2 cups of kosher salt
1.5 cups of brown sugar
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 head of garlic
6 sprigs of rosemary
6 carrots
1 bunch of celery
4 onions
2 lemons
1 stick of butter

The night before: You're going to brine the turkey. You can Google all the science behind why, so I'll just say -- it's worth it. Keep in mind that if you're using a non-organic turkey, it might already be injected with a brine solution, which is the only reason to skip this step.

Boil a few cups of the water with the salt, sugar, and peppercorns. You can add other flavorings as well, but I usually don't; I feel like it's a bit of a waste, as any spices you might use will most likely get diluted so I'd rather use them more directly. Once the salt and sugar have dissolved, combine with the rest of the water -- which should be cold -- and then submerge the whole turkey, sans gizzards and such.

There's different ways of doing this; with a smaller bird, I use my biggest pot, line it with a huge plastic bag (you can find brining bags at the store specifically for this purpose), put the turkey in, pour the brine in, tie up the brine bag and then put the whole pot into a trash bag just in case there are any leaks at all. With a bigger bird, you may want to use a cooler. If the whole contraption doesn't fit into the fridge, use ice to keep it all chilly cold and put it outside if that's the kind of climate you live in.

The day of:
After the turkey's been in the brine for 12-18 hours, remove the turkey and discard the brine. Double up two foil roasting pans and put the carrots, celery, 2 of the onions (quartered) and some of the rosemary into the pan and set the turkey on top. Slice off the top of the head of garlic and throw the whole thing in there too -- no, really. Pour a little wine or water in so the vegetables don't char and burn.

Slather the butter under the skin, over the skin, everywhere, all over the turkey. Set it into the pan on top of the vegetables. Now set it aside for an hour at room temperature.

Make 4 foil packets of wood chips. (This is simple. Soak your wood chips, then fold them into foil packets and poke a few holes in the tops of each packet. That's it.) If you've got a three-burner grill, turn all three on until the grill hits about 450 and then turn off the middle burner. That's where the turkey will go. The foil packets go on either side; put two down when the turkey goes in and then replace them once they stop smoking.

Start the turkey off at 450 for about 30 minutes, until the skin is getting quite brown and crisp, then turn the heat down to about 350 to finish. I like to have it positioned with the legs toward the back, since dark meat takes longer to cook and the back of the grill tends to get hotter than the front. Overall, mine never take very long... I think about 90 minutes total for a 13-14 pounder. If the skin starts to get too dark, just put some foil over it.

When the temperature hits 155 in the breast, pull it off the grill, cover with foil, and watch to make sure it gets to about 160 as it rests.

And... that's it!

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