This year may have been the year of the best turkey I’ve ever made. It was also the most oven space I have ever had to work with for a Thanksgiving meal (though still not enough – we need a second oven).
The trick was on the grill. And shellacking it with a sweet boozy basting liquid. Oh yes, and brine and smoke. If you have ever wanted to make people’s jaws hit the floor when the bird hits the table on Thanksgiving day, this is the way to do it.
This thing looked downright MEDIEVAL. My dear brother-in-law described the legs as looking straight out of Beowulf – thanks for the name, Matt!
Keep reading for the full recipe, as well as all of the steps to a perfect bird.
Frees up hours in the oven, and lets you smoke that sucker. Only use good, natural, hardwood charcoal (so help me, if you subject this creature that gave its life for your meal to lighter fluid or accelerant-soaked briquettes…) and natural hardwood chips (oak, cherry and hickory would all work, but I used applewood here, to continue on the apple theme).
When you have a giant, long-cooking piece of meat, especially the kind where different parts of it need to be cooked to different temperatures, especially when some of that meat is lean white meat that dries out quickly, brining can save your meal. Osmosis pulls all of the salt, sugar and flavors in the brine deep into the meat of the turkey, and the added salt helps protect the meat from drying out. Somewhat. If your turkey is frozen and needs to be defrosted anyway, you can combine thawing and brining into one step.
For a turkey with crisp skin, you need to start with dry skin. So after brining, rinse and dry that turkey well and put it in the fridge, allowing it to air dry the rest of the way. Letting it come up to temperature a bit on the counter will also help the turkey cook more evenly all the way through.
Grill-Smoked Applejack-Molasses Beowulf Turkey
Yield: 14 servings
For the prep:
- 1 20-lb turkey
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 2 heads garlic, cut in half
- 2 onions, quartered
- 3 golden delicious apples, quartered
- 1 bunch sage
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 Tbsp butter (or more)
For the glaze:
- 1 cup chicken broth or turkey stock
- 1/2 cup applejack
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp molasses
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp dried rubbed sage
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the grill:
- 1 cup applewood chips
- Natural hardwood charcoal (with no lighter fluid or other additives)
For the prep:
- Place turkey in a large cooler and cover with 20 quarts of water. Add 1 cup kosher salt, whole peppercorns and 1 onion. Turkey will defrost at a rate of 1 lb every half hour (10 hours for this size turkey). Brine for anywhere from 1 to 2 days, adding ice as it melts to keep turkey cold.
- One day before cooking, remove turkey from brine, rinse well and dry inside and out with paper towels. Place turkey on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet in the refrigerator to air dry completely.
- One hour before cooking, remove turkey to the counter to come up to temperature. Stuff turkey with 1 onion, apples, sage and cinnamon stick. Tie legs together. Rub turkey with butter and season with salt and pepper.
For the glaze:
- Combine glaze ingredients, bring to a boil. Set aside.
For the grilling:
- Place a large disposable aluminum pan in the bottom of a charcoal grill. Fill a charcoal chimney with charcoal and light.
- When coals are covered with ash, spread half on either side of disposable pan. Place applewood chips in the center of double thick heavy-duty aluminum foil and gather up the edges, making a small pouch. Leave the pouch open at the top. Set this directly on top of the charcoal. Set top grate on the grill.
- Place turkey on a rack for easy removal later, and place directly over the pan in the center of the grill. DO NOT PLACE DIRECTLY OVER COALS.
- Close grill, and insert the stem of an instant-read thermometer into the hole in the hood of the grill. You are aiming for a constant temperature of 350 degrees. Open vent slightly to increase the temperature, close slightly to lower it. Have another charcoal chimney standing by, ready to be lit if needed. Pour half of the basting liquid over turkey.
- Roast turkey for 30 minutes. Pour remaining basting liquid over turkey, and continue to baste with liquid in the pan below every 30 minutes.
- Rotate turkey 180 degrees every hour until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh without touching bone reads 165 degrees, about 4-1/2 hours.
- Transfer turkey to a platter. Tent with foil and let rest for 1 hour before carving.