12/01/2010 05:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why Didn't You Grill Your Turkey?

Was it because they say grilling over open, direct fire risks drying lean meat, leaving it parched and tough?

Did they say that big cuts will overcook on the outside and undercook on the inside?

Or did they just cross their arms and tell you a Thanksgiving turkey shouldn't be grilled, on principle?

Don't listen to them. It can -- and more importantly should -- be done.

The first grilled Thanksgiving turkey was a scary enough proposition, even for a grill designer, that it rated a dry run with a turkey body double. Three days before, a large chicken was selected to stand in, providing a subject - nay canvas - for a test before the Big Dinner. The chicken was brined for eight hours, seasoned over the skin and under, then placed for sixty minutes of rotisserie rotation over a medium flame.

There is no substitute for a dress rehearsal in advance of what you hope to be a command performance. The test results, though palatable, made clear that suspended cooking removed a couple of surface grilling aces - namely the tasty char and the ability to use the grill's V-Channels to capture the juices and baste. Rotisserie was thrown out as the technique of choice.


Thanksgiving day saw a new plan executed: the turkey was split down the middle, to be reassembled AFTER cooking into a turkey Frankenstein - Frankie for short - on the serving platter. This reduced the bird's thickness enough to treat it like a large filet or rib steak over the heat. In advance of the cooking, Frankie was rosemary brined, injected and brushed with butter before taking her place on a surface cushioned with an inch of fresh rosemary.

And if all that sucked, another brine injected bird - McTurkey - was deep fried.

The vat and the grill were placed side by side. They were lit before the assembled guests, one shiny, modern, timer-controlled and contentedly boiling away - and supposedly the odds-on favorite, the other an unknown quantity, blackened, crackling and flaring, throwing off plumes of herbed smoke that drifted into neighboring yards.

If nothing else, the scene was both atmospheric and aromatic. At one point a gust of wind swirled around the yard and one guest, engulfed in a rosemary cloud, stopped in mid-conversation and with a stone straight face proclaimed: "I want to die this way."

The two five-pound halves on the grill spent about 40 minutes cut-side down on the rosemary. The fire had an established apple/hickory coal bed with short flame, the adjustable surface kept no closer than five inches from the top of the fire. The turkey was turned only once, and with the protective rosemary burned away, lowered close to the flame to allow the butter-brushed skin to flare and crisp. Twenty minutes more and a quick cut to confirm the juices ran clear, and off the grill she came.

Frankie was reassembled on the serving platter for comedic effect, but it was clear that a touch less impatient a crew could've made her a legitimate piece of table art.

After the ceremonial carving of the first plates Frankie and McTurkey stood side by side on the buffet - the procession for seconds and thirds their final judge.

Hours later the battlefield delivered the score. McTurkey, denuded of her irresistibly crunchy skin, occupied a good 20% of the refrigerator. But Frankie - all that remained of the tasty upstart was a Ziplock baggie of breast and a single brown wing. That, and a lingering aroma of toasted rosemary.

In our house they now say the Thanksgiving turkey should be grilled.

Recipe stats:

-10-14 lb turkey (smaller is better after the split - do two if you need more)
-Your choice of brine, working out to about 4-5 gallons of fluid to cover the bird for 6-8 hours
-Food syringe to inject brine into the deepest part of the breast
-A bushel of your chosen green herb - enough for a thick layer over the grill - rosemary a good choice, but pair to what is in the brine
-Butter to baste the skin side

Tips: back off a notch on the brine strength and time in the fluid. If your brine instructions say 8-10 hours, do 6-8. Turkey takes grilling flavor well and you don't want to end up tasting only seasoning, smoke and no turkey. Your breast brine injections will ensure flavor and moisture in the deeper areas.