Barbecued Turkey: It’s Easy!

I don’t have a double oven. Okay, I admit it. Please don’t think less of me. What to do when the menu includes three ducks and one 17-pound turkey? Well, I guess we could have had Thanksgiving at my sister’s house. The one with the double oven (can you tell I have double oven envy?). But she can’t cook anything more complicated than macaroni and cheese out of the box. So all that would happen is that I would have to cook the meal, and she would get the credit. The most exciting and interesting solution would be to fry the turkey. But I just didn’t think this stuff through in time to have a practice run. And I am not thrilled at the prospect of burning my house down on Thanksgiving. So the large vat of flammable oil into which I plunge a potentially explosive food item will have to wait until next year.

The only viable alternative was the barbecue. But the recipes for barbecued turkey were all rather short on detail, and the obsessive-compulsive side of me would have none of that. So I had to debase myself and ask for help — from a thoroughly unlikely source– my other sister’s life partner (SLP). And he came through like a champ. But the process was, at least for me, counter-intuitive.

My first plan was to put the turkey in a roasting pan on the grill and simply use it as an oven. That sounded boring. SLP kept explaining how to do it, but I was too obtuse to understand. It suddenly dawned on me the night before, while we were discussing it at Cucharamama (good food, awful service) that what he was patiently trying to get through to me was to put a pan underneath the grill surface and put the turkey directly on the grill, over the pan. The brilliance of this plan was what went into the pan: Zinfandel! The turkey was partially protected by the pan from the direct heat of the one burner (the back one) that I used to heat the grill to about 325°, and the wine gradually boiled off, keeping the turkey nicely basted and moist. I had to refill the pan once, at SLP’s suggestion, for a total of perhaps 1 liter of wine. I rotated the turkey a few times to keep the side closest to the burner from burning. I also slipped some butter under the skin of the breast, more on the general principle that butter is always good, on all foods, than on any clever plan. For the smoke, all I did was put a big aluminum foil packet of wet hardwood chips above the burner. It took a while to start smoldering, but once it got going, I was impressed by the volume and the duration of the smoke.

I checked the internal temperature after about three hours, and the breast was at about 155° and the thigh was a bit warmer. I took the turkey off the grill after another 45 minutes and let it rest until dinner. The next time I do this — and there will be a next time — I will try to shield the breast during part of the cooking time because it was a bit dry, although I was the only one who thought so. The skin came out nice and crisp, the legs and thighs were cooked nicely, and the wine imparted a bit of flavor to an otherwise boring dish.

The best part was that I freed up the oven for the important work of the day: cooking three ducks to perfection. Damn, I am getting pretty good at this duck thing. I still can’t carve them; it’s more like hacking at them until they fall apart. That will be my next project.

13 Replies to “Barbecued Turkey: It’s Easy!”

  1. where there’s no smoke, there’s no “barbecue”.

    getting that bird out of the oven is a good thing either way. since i deep fried, all three of my ovens were available. ;-p

  2. Hear Hear! I also have limited oven space and therefore have used this technique for a few years now, very similar to the one you described except over charcoal on a Weber. I have found that the key is keep the pan full of red wine and do not fuss too much with the turkey; keep the lid on as much as possible and perhaps rotate the bird once or twice.

  3. well I’m counting the grill as 2.

    duck should be hacked. hacked is good. it encourages the sucking and picking of meat from cartilage and bone, which is the way it should be eaten.

  4. Why the HELL do people who can’t cook get to have double ovens?!? WHY? WHY? WHY?

    At least now I know I’m not the only one with DOE (Double Oven Envy). I’ll see you at the 12-step meeting next week, I guess…

  5. What did you do with your leftover duck? Did you share it equally among your siblings? Why not cook at your incompetent sister’s home and let her clean up?

    I made the best stuffing this Thanksgiving…right out of the white trash cookbook. Would you like me to share my recipe with you?

    Saute veal sausages, spicy pork sausage and sweet pork sausage. Set aside to cut later (when they have cooled.) In the same pan, saute a cup of celery and a medium plain onion in butter. Put everything in a baking dish with a top, add chicken stock, Eli breadcrumbs, and season to taste. (I used pepper and black salt.)

  6. I was standing on line at Fairway waiting for my smoked salmon to be sliced (they do it in slow motion…you must set aside an additional 45 minutes per pound) and stumbled into a conversation with the manger of some very well known restaurants. He always fries his turkey in his backyard. He claims there is no other way to make turkey palatable.

  7. Dwight Shrute hit it on the head. The Fairway in Brooklyn is AT LEAST 45 minutes per pound. I try to kill the time by ;playing with the peanut butter machines.

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