How to Grill a Turkey

Grilling a turkey on your BBQ grill is simple and so delicious! Each Thanksgiving it seems that I am always maxing out the stovetop and oven. It gets a little crazy in the kitchen with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, veggies, sweet potatoes, casseroles and any other creative dishes I decide to make.  The oven gets a major workout and I usually have to juggle what goes in the oven and when it is cooked. It can get challenging with different dishes cooking at different temperatures and trying to get everything ready all for dinner time.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to relieve the oven of some of the jobs??

Well, it is possible! Cooking the turkey on the outdoor grill is a great way to free up space and time in the oven for the many other dishes that need to be cooked. Not only can the grill cook a turkey effectively, but I actually PREFER the taste of turkey done on the grill. I find that the skin is extra crispy and the breast meat is very juicy. Also, if you use a grill that is fired with wood or charcoal, the turkey has an enhanced mild smokey flavor that an oven cannot replicate.

Below are the directions for cooking the Thanksgiving turkey on the grill. I used my PG500 Pellet Grill from Cookshack. It is great because you can set the temperature you want. If you use a charcoal grill or gas grill that does not allow you to actually set the temperature, you will need to monitor the temperature and make any adjustments necessary to keep it at (or around) 325F.

How to cook a turkey on the grill pg500

I found 325F to be the perfect temperature for cooking the turkey on the grill. Prep the turkey however you like. I brine the turkey overnight and then rub it down with a spice blend.

Here are a couple different spice blend options:

BBQ Turkey Spice Blend

  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp sugar

Herb and Garlic Spice Blend

  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp garlic
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp tarragon
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp sugar

How to cook the Thanksgiving Turkey on the Grill- text

It is important to use indirect heat when grilling the turkey. Indirect heat means that the flame is on one side of the grill and the turkey is on the other side and there is no flame under the bird. If the flame was directly under the turkey, it would burn the bottom of the bird before the top was even cooked. In the picture above, you can see that the heat is on the left side of the grill and the turkey is on the right side. I place the turkey in a pan with a rack. This helps to contain the drippings, which can be used for gravy. It is not necessary to use a pan and the bird can be placed right on the grates of the grill.

How to cook the Thanksgiving Turkey on the Grill- one hour

After each hour rotate the bird 180 degrees. If the turkey is in a pan, rotate the pan as well. The purpose of this is to make sure that the turkey is cooked evenly throughout. Keep it at the same spot on grill, in the indirect portion. Just rotate it in place.

How to cook the Thanksgiving Turkey on the Grill-4a

The size of the turkey will determine length of the cooking time. Also, different grills hold the heat better than others, so it is not really safe to cook only according to time. Time can be helpful as a guide and planning around 20 minutes per pound is typically a safe bet, although birds above 14 pounds may cook quicker than 20 minutes a pound.

Instead of time, it is more important to cook according to the internal temperature. I check both the temperature of the turkey breast and the thigh. The internal temperature needs to be at a minimum of 160-165F. The turkey will continue to cook once taken off the grill, so I personally like to remove the turkey once it reaches 160F. It should climb past 165F while it is resting. Usually it will reach the target temperature on the breast before it does on the thigh. That is why I like to check at both locations. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing that the breast is at the right temperature and then cutting into it only to find a bunch of pink meat around the back and thighs.

How to cook the Thanksgiving Turkey on the Grill-6a

Once the turkey has reached the target internal temperature, take it off the grill and let it rest for about 20 minutes before carving. If a pan was used, there may drippings that can be used to make gravy.

Enjoy and have a Happy Thanksgiving!!

About Steve Cylka

Steve is the author of The Black Peppercorn. He is a recipe developer and food photographer. His recipes have been featured on websites like Bradley Smoker, Times Picayune, Buzzfeed, and Basil & Salt. He has also authored and co-authored a couple cookbooks.

2 comments

  1. That’s a great “How To” Steve! And the turkey looks delicious enough to eat without a fork and knife!

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