Grilling and brining are two “new” ways to roast turkey. At home, I rarely brine my turkey because brining introduces a new (and to my mind, totally unnecessary) flavor to the bird. Grilling imparts a delicious smokiness, so I will brine a turkey for that method. Also, due the heat fluctuations that can occur with the grill, it might do well to have an extra measure of protection against overcooking. Here’s my go-to method for grilled turkey.
Apple Cider-Brined Grilled Turkey with Sage Gravy
Makes 12 servings
•There is a very important caveat about brining turkey: Do not brine a thawed frozen, kosher, or self-basting bird. These turkeys have already been thoroughly salted during processing, so brining would mean salting a salted bird.
•Smoking gives the turkey a mahogany-brown skin that you may not be expecting. Do not worry.
•Cold November weather can affect the grill temperature, complicating the timing. The solution: Grill the turkey to get smoke and charcoal flavor for about 2 hours, then transfer to a 325°F oven and roast for about 1 hour, until done. This also fills the house with that wonderful roast turkey aroma that is such an important part of the Thanksgiving experience.
•I usually recommend a high-quality roasting pan for cooking the bird. However, grilling can discolor the metal, so use a doubled stack of disposable aluminum foil pans for this method. Making the gravy in the thin metal can be tricky—take care not to pierce the metal.
•A twelve-pound turkey is the largest size that most grills will hold. You can experiment with larger sizes, but experience has proven that you will get the best results with relatively small turkeys. For large crowds, grill turkey breast halves (with the skin and bone) for extra servings.
•An even grill temperature about 325°F is ideal. For a charcoal grill (always my preference), adjust the vents and the amount of briquets in the grill as needed to maintain this optimum. If your grill doesn’t have a thermometer in the lid, drop a deep-frying thermometer with a long metal stem through the vent holes to gauge the temperature. Or, place an inexpensive oven thermometer next to the bird—just don’t open the lid too often and let the heat escape.
•The pan drippings will be salty and smoky, but it is difficult to say just how strongly they will be flavored, so use caution when adding them to the gravy. For this method, consider the drippings a seasoning to be used according to taste. The gravy probably won't be as dark as usual, but don't use liquid gravy colorings. Keep it natural, and the flavor will be great.
Apple Cider Brine
1 1/4 cups table (plain) salt
1 packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons dried sage
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
3 bay leaves
5 quarts ice water
Two 12-ounce containers frozen apple juice concentrate
1 (12-pound) fresh turkey (see Note), giblets reserved to make Turkey Stock
1 large onion, chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, as needed more
4 handfuls of apple or hickory wood chips soaked in water for least 30 minutes, drained
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart Turkey Stock, as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. The night before, make the brine. Bring 1 quart water, the salt, brown sugar, rosemary, sage, peppercorns, and bay leaves to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Transfer to a large bowl and add the ice water and apple juice concentrate. Stir until the brine is well chilled.
2. Remove any pads of yellow fat from the tail area of the turkey and refrigerate. Place the turkey in 2 turkey-sized roasting bags in an ice chest. Add the brine, press out excess air from the bag, and secure the bag with a rubber band. Add ice packs or ice cubes to the chest and close. Chill the turkey for at least 8 and up to 12 hours.
3. Build a charcoal briquet fire in an outdoor grill for indirect medium grilling (use about 4 pounds of briquets.) Divide the briquets into 2 mounds on either side of the grill, leaving the center empty. Let burn about 20 minutes, until the coals temperature is about 325°F. For a gas grill, preheat the grill on High, then turn one burner off and the other burner(s) on Medium to adjust the temperature to 325°F. You will not need a drip pan.
4. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Mix the onion, apple, and 1 tablespoon of sage in a bowl. Tuck the wings akimbo, tucking the tips behind the turkey’s shoulders. Stuff the neck cavity with some of the apple mixture, and pin the neck skin to the back skin with a small wooden or metal skewer. Stuff the remaining mixture into the body cavity. (The onion mixture is merely a seasoning; do not serve it.) Place the drumsticks in the ovenproof plastic or wire holder at the turkey tail, or tie them together with kitchen string. Insert one heavy-duty disposable aluminum foil roasting pan inside a second pan. Place a roasting rack in the doubled pan, and then the turkey on the rack. (Do not use solid metal pans, as smoke will discolor pan.) Brush the turkey with 3 tablespoons melted butter.
5. Place the turkey in the pans on the grill grate over the empty area of the grill. Pour 1 cup of water into the doubled roasting pans. Add the reserved fat to the pan.
•For a charcoal grill, add 2 handfuls of chips to the coals and cover. Grill for 1 hour. Add the remaining chips and 10 briquets to each side of the grill, cover, and grill for another hour (2 hours total).
•For a gas grill, wrap am extra handful of DRY chips in a packet of aluminum foil, and tear open the top of the foil to expose the chips. Place directly on the heat element. When the chips ignite and smoke, add a handful of the drained chips. Grill for 2 hours, adding the remaining chips at 30 minute intervals.
4. Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Supporting the bottom of the pan, carefully transfer the turkey in the doubled pan to the oven. Roast, basting occasionally with the pan juices, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into meaty part of thigh, not touching the bone, registers 180°F, about 1 hour.
6. Tilt the turkey so the juices run out of the turkey into the foil pan. Transfer the turkey to a platter and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Pour the pan juices into a fat separator (preferably one with a built-in strainer.) Let stand for 3 minutes so the fat rises to the top of the separator. Pour the pan juices into a 1-quart measuring cup. Add more of the stock as needed to make 1 quart.
7. Measure the fat. You should have 1/2 cup; add melted butter as needed. In a medium saucepan, heat the fat (and butter) over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and let bubble for 1 minute. Whisk in the stock mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the gravy base for 5 minutes. Pour the gravy base into roasting pan and scrape up any browned bits in the pan with a rubber spatula, taking care not to pierce the foil pan. Place the doubled roasting pans over medium heat, and bring to a simmer, stirring with the spatula, and adding more of the drippings to taste. Strain the gravy. Stir in the remaining tablespoon sage. Season carefully with salt and pepper—the brine may have seasoned the gravy enough.
8. Carve the turkey and serve with the gravy.
Note: Be sure not to use a thawed frozen, kosher, or self-basting bird.