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How to Barbecue a Turkey

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how to barbecue a turkey (and maybe even more).  It smells incredible when it’s cooking and the taste is even better.  And the drippings make the most amazing lightly smoky flavored gravy that you’ll want to put on everything on your dinner plate!

Have you ever tasted turkey cooked on a Weber Kettle Charcoal Grill?

The smoky flavor is amazingly, unbelievably, over-the-top delicious. 

It’s so juicy and tender too.

We’ve made our holiday turkeys on the BBQ for a number of years and the outcome is consistently magazine-cover-ready.  I can’t even tell you how good the leftovers are with the smoky flavor.

And the gravy that’s made from the drippings is the best I’ve ever had.

I put it on everything…ok maybe not the pumpkin pie.

(Update 12/22/2017, here’s a link for how to make this delicious gravy “How to Make Turkey Gravy from Pan Drippings“).

The reason that the outcome is so consistent is that the cooking time and number of mesquite coals used is calculated based on the weight of the turkey.

It’s just 11 minutes of cooking time per pound for a turkey without stuffing, and 13 minutes per pound for a turkey with stuffing.

Below I give an example on how to figure out the time it will take to prep the BBQ, cook, and rest the turkey.   It’s actually very easy and the smell from the turkey cooking in the BBQ is out of this world…it actually smells like it tastes if that makes sense.

I apologize in advance if my explanation below about the cooking time sounds like some sort of a math exam, but the results are so worth it.

You’ll need:

Mesquite charcoal briquets, a whole turkey, dripping pan, butter, salt, pepper and garlic powder.   Also, the type of BBQ and grates (accessories) used are noted at the bottom in the printable recipe.

Here’s how to make it.

First, determine when you should start the cooking process (see the explanation on how to do this at the bottom of this recipe).

Preparing the Grill:

To start, put plastic gloves on (for handling the briquetes) and add 25 Match Light with Mesquite briquets on each side of the BBQ inside the charcoal rails.

Since the Match Light briquets are infused with lighter fluid you’ll only use them for the initial stage of getting the coals hot.

There will be some black colored coals and some light brown coals which are the mesquite briquets.

These charcoal rails are an accessory, and are so handy when making this recipe.

The hardest part of adding the coals is keeping the right count.

Oops…forgot one.

The coals added later in the cooking process will just be the regular (non-Match Light) mesquite charcoal briquets.

TIP – Now that the Match Light briquets have been added it’s a good idea to close the bag and store them away so not to mistakenly use them in the actual cooking process.

Carefully light up the coals with a fire starter.

Light a few of the coals…

…on one side to get them going.

Then go to the other side and light a few of the coals.

No need to put the lid on yet.

You’ll see some flames for just a short while.

But they’ll die down fairly quickly.

Let the coals get hot (about 45 minutes).

Preparing the Turkey (do this while the coals are heating up):

While the coals are getting hot, put the turkey on a large platter or sturdy baking pan.  Drizzle the melted butter over the entire turkey (in the cavity too).  Then sprinkle the entire turkey (including the cavity) with the garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

When preparing a turkey, the legs and wings should be compact to the bird so that it cooks evenly.  A cooked turkey also looks so pretty and professional when the wings and legs are tight to the bird.

Seasoned Turkey on Barbecue Grill

Although we haven’t gotten to the step yet where the turkey is placed on the grill, I included the picture above to point out a few things related to the preparation of the turkey.

In the picture above you can see what is called a “hock lock” holding the legs together.  The hock lock generally comes with the turkey and is either metal or plastic.

TIP – When I first started cooking turkeys I thought that I was supposed to take that off and throw it away!  Don’t be like me and do that!  The hock lock needs to stay on the bird to secure the hind legs (or hock) of the turkey so that the turkey will cook evenly. 

TIP – If your turkey doesn’t come with a hock lock it may need to be “trussed” (or tied).  Trussing, or tying a turkey with twine into a compact shape allows the turkey to cook evenly.  Here’s a helpful link that you may like from Epicurious.com “How to Truss a Turkey:  The Simple, No-Fuss Way” .

It’s great if your turkey comes with a hock lock, but what about the wings, they need to also be tight to the bird so they don’t burn or get too crispy and brown.

TIP – Since I generally have toothpicks on hand I use them to secure the wings to the bird like in the picture above.  As an alternative, the wing tips can be tucked behind the shoulders to lock them in place.  Here’s a link to a slide from the article “How to Stuff and Prepare Your Thanksgiving Turkey” on MarthaStewart.com that shows how to tuck the wings under a turkey.

After the turkey is prepared, set it aside just until the coals are ready.

Once the coals are hot (they will turn a gray color), using sturdy oven mitts, carefully put the pan for the drippings in between the charcoal rails.

TIP – When putting the pan in the BBQ, be very careful not to get close to the hot charcoal or bump the rack that the briquets are on so that the dust from the charcoal won’t fly into the pan (since the pan will have drippings in it that the gravy is made out of).

These drippings make the most amaaaazing lightly smoky flavored gravy.

I use this old faithful metal pan.

But you can also use a sturdy disposable foil pan if you prefer.

Carefully put the hinged cooking grate in the BBQ (this is also a handy accessory).

TIP – When putting the hinged cooking grate in the BBQ, try to do it gently so not to bump, move or disturb the briquets so the very light dust on them doesn’t get into the dripping pan.

Cooking the Turkey:

Transfer the turkey from the platter on to the cooking grate…

…center the turkey…

…right over the pan that will collect the drippings.

Oh, and about those toothpicks that I use to hold the wings tight to the bird…

…after the turkey has cooked, while it’s resting, I carefully remove all of the toothpicks and the wings generally stay in place nicely.

Put the lid on the BBQ with the vent open.

Every hour, (starting from when the initial coals were added), add 10 regular mesquite coals (not the Match Light coals) to each side of the charcoal rails…

…so about 15 minutes after putting the turkey on the grill (this timing assumes that the turkey was put on the grill 45 minutes after lighting the briquets which would equal a total of 1 hour after the coals were initially lit), take off the lid, open the hinged cooking grates, and add 10 regular mesquite coals to each side.

Then put the lid back on.

Then for every hour thereafter,

continue to add 10 regular mesquite coals (not the Match Light coals)…

…to each side of the charcoal rails.

Here’s what the turkey looks like after about an hour and a half of cooking.

Basting the Turkey – Every ½ hour or so, use a bulb-type baster to transfer the liquid from the cavity of the turkey, to the top of the turkey.

TIP – If the top of the turkey is cooking faster than the rest of the bird, put a piece of foil (just large enough to cover the brown area) on top of the turkey.

This isn’t required but if you happen to have a citrus tree in your patio or yard,

add some of the leaves to the coals…

…during the last hour of cooking for some added flavor.

When the turkey is done cooking, using sturdy oven mitts, carefully remove it from the grill on to a large platter to let it rest for about 30 minutes before carving.

TIP – Removing the turkey from the BBQ is a two-person task because one person needs to hold on to the platter while the other person transfers the turkey from the BBQ to the platter (using sturdy hot mitts).

TIP – The turkey should be transferred to a large sturdy platter with edges because there will be juice that comes off of the turkey.  So it’s not a good idea to transfer the turkey from the BBQ directly on to a cutting board because the juice from the turkey will run over the sides of the cutting board and make a mess.

Using sturdy hot mitts, carefully remove the dripping pan from the grill.  While the turkey is cooling, use these drippings to make your gravy.

Then dig in and enjoy.

DECIDING WHEN TO START THE COOKING PROCESS:

A) Determine When You Want To Serve Your Turkey:
1.  Decide when you want to serve your turkey and hold that thought.

B) Determine How Long To Cook Your Turkey (based on weight):
1.  Do the math to determine how long it will take to cook your turkey by using this calculation:
Cooking time is 11 minutes per pound (without stuffing); (13 minutes per pound with stuffing)

C) Consider “Non-Cooking Time” (BBQ prep and resting time for the turkey):
1.  Add 45 minutes for putting the starter coals in the BBQ and for them to get hot.
2.  Add 30 minutes for the turkey to rest after it’s cooked.

D) Total Time (add “B” plus “C”):
1.  Add the amount of time to cook the turkey (“B” calculation based on the weight of your turkey), to the grill prep and heat time plus resting time (“C” which equals a fixed total time of 75 minutes).

E) Determine When To Start The Cooking Process (“A” minus “D”):
1.  Now go back to when you want to serve the turkey (“A”), and subtract the amount of total time determined in (“D”); the result should give you the cooking process start time.

Here’s an Example for a 19 Pound Turkey:

1.  I want to serve my turkey dinner at 5 pm.

2. My unstuffed 19 pound turkey will take 3.5 hours to cook; 19 multiplied by 11 minutes = 209 minutes; 209 minutes divided by 60 minutes per hour = 3.48 hours. Which rounds to 3.5 hours.

3.  Add 45 minutes for putting the coals in the BBQ and for them to get hot.

4.  Add 30 minutes for the turkey to rest after it’s cooked.

5.  The total time for the turkey is 4 hours and 45 minutes (3.5 hours, plus 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes).

6.  Subtract 4 hours and 45 minutes (total time for the turkey) from 5 pm (when I want to serve my turkey).

Answer – I’ll need to start the cooking process for my 19 pound unstuffed turkey at 12:15 pm to have it ready to serve for dinner at 5 pm.

Thank you so much for stopping by CCC!

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How to Barbecue a Turkey

Everything you've ever wanted to know about how to barbecue a turkey (and maybe even more).  It smells incredible when it's cooking and the taste is even better.  And the drippings make the most amazing lightly smoky flavored gravy that you'll want to put on everything on your dinner plate!

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword Barbecued Turkey
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 3 hours 30 minutes
(Resting Time Not Included in Total Time) 30 minutes
Total Time 4 hours 30 minutes
Servings 15 (Servings, Prep, Cook, Total Time Based on a 19 pound Turkey)

Ingredients

For the Turkey (ingredients are based on a 19 pound turkey):

  • 1 whole turkey (a fresh turkey or a completely defrosted turkey)
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt

For the Barbecue:

  • Weber 22.5” Charcoal Kettle Standing BBQ
  • 1 bag (7.9 pounds) Mesquite charcoal briquets
  • 1 bag (6.3 pounds) Match Light with Mesquite charcoal briquets
  • A metal or aluminum disposable pan (9" x 12.5") (for the drippings that will be used to make the gravy)
  • Charcoal rack with rails (this is an accessory)
  • Hinged cooking grate (this is an accessory)

Instructions

Determine When to Start the Cooking Process:

  1. Please see the explanation below that discusses how to calculate the total process time along with an example.

Preparing the Grill:

  1. Put plastic gloves on (for handling the briquets).  

  2. To each side of the BBQ, inside the charcoal rails, add 25 Match Light with Mesquite briquets.  There will be some black colored coals and some light brown coals which are the mesquite briquets.  
    Since the Match Light briquets are infused with lighter fluid you’ll only use them for the initial stage of getting the coals hot. The coals added later in the cooking process will just be the regular (non-Match Light) charcoal briquets.  The bag of Match Light briquets can be closed and stored away so not to mistakenly use them again in this cooking process.

  3. Carefully light up the coals with a fire starter. Let the coals get hot (about 45 minutes).  No need to put the barbecue lid on yet.

Preparing the Turkey (do this while the coals are heating up):

  1. Set the turkey on a large platter or large sturdy baking pan.  Drizzle the melted butter over the turkey (in the cavity too). Then sprinkle the entire turkey (including the cavity) with granulated garlic, salt, and pepper.  Set aside (just until the coals are ready).

Cooking the Turkey:

  1. Once the coals are hot (they will turn a gray color), using oven mitts, carefully put the pan for the drippings in between the charcoal rails. 

  2. Next, put the hinged cooking grate in the BBQ.  Transfer the turkey from the platter (or baking pan) on to the cooking grate centered right over the dripping pan. 

  3. Put the lid on the BBQ with the vent open.  

  4. Every hour, (starting from when the initial coals were lighted) add 10 regular mesquite coals (not the Match Light coals) to each side of the charcoal rails:
    About 15 minutes after putting the turkey on the grill
    (this assumes that the turkey was put on the grill 45 minutes after lighting up the coals; this should equal 1 hour from when the initial coals were lighted), take off the lid, open the hinged cooking grates, and add 10 regular mesquite coals to each side. Then put the lid back on. 

  5. For every hour thereafter, continue to add 10 regular mesquite coals (not the Match Light coals) to each side of the charcoal rails. 

  6. If the turkey is getting too brown on the top during the cooking process, put a piece of foil (just large enough to cover the brown area) on the top of the turkey. 

  7. Basting the Turkey - Every ½ hour or so, use a bulb-type baster to transfer the liquid from the cavity of the turkey, to the top of the turkey (this not only adds to the beautiful golden color of the turkey but will allow the delicious juice to drip into the gravy-drippings pan that's sitting on a rack under the turkey)

  8. This is not required but if you happen to have a citrus tree in your patio or yard, carefully drop a few green leaves between the spaces on the grill on to the coals during the last hour for added flavor. 

  9. When the turkey is done cooking, using sturdy oven hot mitts remove it from the grill on to a large platter and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. 

  10. Using sturdy hot mitts, carefully remove the dripping pan from the grill. Use these drippings to make your gravy.  How To Make Turkey Gravy From Drippings.

DECIDING WHEN TO START THE COOKING PROCESS

A) Determine When You Want To Serve Your Turkey:

  1. Decide when you want to serve the turkey and hold that thought.

B) Determine How Long To Cook Your Turkey (based on weight):

  1. Do the math to determine how long it will take to cook the turkey by using this calculation:
    Cooking time is 11 minutes per pound (without stuffing); (13 minutes per pound with stuffing)

C) Consider "Non-Cooking Time" (BBQ prep and resting time for the turkey):

  1. Add 45 minutes for putting the starter coals in the BBQ and for them to get hot.

  2. Add 30 minutes for the turkey to rest after it’s cooked.

D) Total Time (add "B" plus "C"):

  1. Add the amount of time to cook the turkey ("B"- calculated based on weight of turkey), to the grill prep and heat time, plus resting time ("C" - fixed total of 75 minutes).

E) Determine When To Start The Cooking Process ("A" minus "D"):

  1. Now go back to when you want to serve the turkey ("A"), and subtract the amount of total time determined in ("D").

Here's an Example for a 19 Pound Turkey:

  1. I want to serve my turkey dinner at 5 pm.

  2. My unstuffed 19 pound turkey will take 3.5 hours to cook; 19 multiplied by 11 minutes = 209 minutes; 209 minutes divided by 60 minutes per hour = 3.48 hours. Which rounds to 3.5 hours

  3. Add 45 minutes for putting the coals in the BBQ and for them to get hot.

  4. Add 30 minutes for the turkey to rest after it’s cooked.

  5. The total time for the turkey is 4 hours and 45 minutes (3.5 hours, plus 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes).

  6. I’ll need to start my 19 pound unstuffed turkey at 12:15 pm to have it ready for dinner at 5 pm.

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes

TIPS:


Barbecue Preparation

  1. Right after the Match Light briquets have been added it's a good idea to close the bag and store them away so not to mistakenly use them in the actual cooking process.
  2. When putting the pan in the BBQ, be very careful not to get close to the hot charcoal or bump the rack that the briquets are on so that the dust from the charcoal won't fly into the pan (since the pan will have drippings in it that the gravy is made out of).
  3. When putting the hinged cooking grate in the BBQ, try to do it gently so not to bump, move or disturb the briquets so the very light dust on them doesn't get into the dripping pan.

Preparing the Turkey

  1. When I first started cooking turkeys I thought that I was supposed to take that off and throw it away!  Don't be like me and do that!  The hock lock needs to stay on the bird to secure the hind legs (or hock) of the turkey so that the turkey will cook evenly.
  2. If your turkey doesn't come with a hock lock it may need to be "trussed" (or tied).  Trussing, or tying a turkey with twine into a compact shape allows the turkey to cook evenly.  Here's a helpful link that you may like from Epicurious.com "How to Truss a Turkey:  The Simple, No-Fuss Way" .
  3. Since I generally have toothpicks on hand I use them to secure the wings to the bird.  As an alternative, the wing tips can be tucked behind the shoulders to lock them in place.  Here's a link to a slide from the article "How to Stuff and Prepare Your Thanksgiving Turkey" on MarthaStewart.com that shows how to tuck the wings under a turkey.

Cooking the Turkey

  1. If the top of the turkey is cooking faster than the rest of the bird, put a piece of foil (just large enough to cover the brown area) on top of the turkey.
  2. Removing the turkey from the BBQ is a two-person task because one person needs to hold on to the platter while the other person transfers the turkey from the BBQ to the platter (using sturdy hot mitts).

Resting the Turkey

  1. The turkey should be transferred from the barbecue to a large sturdy platter with edges because there will be juice that comes off of the turkey.  So it's not a good idea to transfer the turkey from the BBQ directly on to a cutting board because the juice from the turkey will run over the sides of the cutting board and make a mess.

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14 Comments

  1. 10 per side briqeuts charcoal or 10 total added each hour?

    • Hi Pete, it’s 10 per side added each hour.

      About 15 minutes after putting the turkey on the grill, take off the lid, open the hinged cooking grates, and add 10 regular mesquite coals to each side. Then put the lid back on. Then for every hour thereafter, continue to add 10 regular mesquite coals (not the Match Light coals) to each side of the charcoal rails.

  2. This is a great tutorial. I followed your mathematical equation and my 19 lb stuffed bird was cooked almost to the minute. 

    Cheers 

  3. Whoa. The color on that bird looks so good! I’ve never had a grilled turkey, but that might just have to change this year!

    • Hi Amy, I actually have the kettle BBQ just to make my turkey each year. Just the smell alone while it’s cooking is so amazing and of course the taste of the turkey is wonderful too. Have a great day!

  4. Great post. Turkey looks great. I bet it taste great.

  5. What a great tutorial…my kids were talking about this recently. Looks amazing!

  6. Lovely! The turkey is looking beautifully barbecued and so even in its colour. Being cooked on the bone, the turkey would have tasted delicious. Great post and thanks for step by step preparation details.

  7. Great post! I did a boneless turkey breast on the charcoal grill for my thanksgiving feast, it tasted amazing. The only thing I did different was that I soaked the breast in a salt brine the night before, that way I didn’t have to baste during the cooking process.

    • Hi Justin, what a great idea to soak the turkey in salt brine….I’m going to try that next time!