Food & Drink

Turkey Talk With the Grill Mayor

Give thanks for Craig Jones’ tips to achieve a tasty holiday bird.

Story and Recipe by Craig Jones  |  Photos by Gay Jones

Thanksgiving. That’s where it all started for me.

Years ago, I was just a “griller guy.” You know, the guy that occasionally grills and whose repertoire consists mainly of burgers, brats and chicken.

But back in 1998, I decided to cook Thanksgiving turkey outside. All I had was a grill, so I wondered: Why couldn’t I use the grill like an oven to cook the turkey, and infuse even more flavor? Because of the results, that one experience was a turning point for me. It launched my obsession with becoming an outdoor cooking enthusiast. In fact, I now cook outside more than 300 days a year.

My brined and grilled Thanksgiving turkey is unlike any you’ve experienced before: juicy, steeped with deep flavor, crowned with crisp skin and paired with shockingly good gravy. Will this brined turkey, prepared on the grill, set you on a path of grilling passion as it did for me? I don’t know. But I guarantee this: After learning to cook turkey on the grill, you can cook anything on the grill.

Here’s an easy step-by-step guide through the complete process to achieve a delicious grilled turkey, moist and full of flavor. Forget calling the turkey hotline on Thanksgiving Day in a panic—here is your private Grill Mayor lesson.

And as I always say, “Cooking outside tastes better and it’s a heck of a lot more fun.” Happy grilling—and Happy Thanksgiving.

The Official Craig Jones Grilled Turkey Recipe

1 turkey, 10 to 12 pounds, defrosted or fresh

Brine

  • 2 quarts apple juice or cider
  • 11/4 cup Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoon dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Turkey

  • 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 large carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • Small chunks apple, oak or hickory wood

Gravy

  • Turkey liquid (strained from the pan) and enough chicken stock to make 4 cups of liquid
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, divided into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper

 Preparation and Cooking Instructions

To brine the turkey:

First, combine the brine ingredients in a large pot until dissolved.

Next, rinse the turkey with cold water. Remove the neck, giblets and wing tips and set aside in the refrigerator for later.

Fill the bottom of a cooler with a one to two inch layer of ice. Place a 14-gallon kitchen trash bag in the cooler and put the turkey in the bag, breast side down. Pour the brine mixture and an additional three quarts of water over the turkey. Seal the bag, and fill the cooler with additional ice. Let the turkey brine for 16 to 24 hours.

To grill the turkey:

When you are ready to cook the turkey, set your grill up for a two-zone low fire (300°-350°F). Push the charcoal as far as you can to one side, forming a slight semi-circle following the inner curve of the grill bowl. Replace the cooking grate. You can accomplish this on a gas grill by lighting the burners on one side of the grill and leaving the others off.

Remove the turkey from the cooler and rinse it inside and out. Brush the turkey with some of the melted butter and season with pepper.

In a heavy duty roasting pan (13 inches by 9 inches), add the carrots, celery, onions, neck, giblets and wings tips. Place the roasting pan on the cooler side of the grill. Add the stock to the pan then put the turkey in the pan, breast side down with the legs facing the fire. Add one to two chunks of wood to the charcoal. Place the lid on the grill with the vents directly over the turkey, opposite the fire.

After the first hour, carefully turn the turkey over in the liquid so it is breast side up. Add 10 to 15 briquettes of charcoal to maintain the heat and add two more wood chunks.

After the second hour, add an additional 10 to 15 briquettes of charcoal to maintain the heat. Brush the rest of the melted butter on the turkey. If parts are getting too dark, cover with foil.

The total cooking time should be two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours. When the internal temperature of the thickest part of the leg reaches 170°F, remove the turkey from the grill and place on a cutting board. Loosely cover with foil. Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

To make the gravy:

Strain all of the liquids from the pan into a fat separator and remove all of the solid pieces. Using the strained (defatted) liquid, add additional stock (if needed) to equal four cups of liquid.

In a cast iron pan, add the butter and flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until it turns to a medium brown color. Add the wine and four cups of the turkey liquid to the pan. Bring to a boil, while whisking the mixture.

Lower the heat to simmer until the desired thickness is achieved. Remove from the heat. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To carve the turkey:

After the turkey has rested for at least 20 minutes, carve the meat and serve.


About Craig Jones
A live-fire cooking expert, Craig is the 2012 Food Network Grill Mayor, owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts and a food blogger. A certified KCBS barbecue judge, Craig and his wife, photographer Gay, of Lee’s Summit, like to share their backyard grilling antics and tips to help maximize enjoyment of the non-Olympic sport.