Smokey bird

Grill-roasting for those other turkey days

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Thanksgiving is not the time for change. Especially when it comes to the food we share. There is probably no holiday for which the comfort of tradition is stronger, and something as minor as messing with mom’s pumpkin pie recipe (“Um, is this coconut?”) is enough to cause a mild depression. And that’s the last thing anyone needs in these trying times.

With that said, I won’t suggest that anyone forgo oven-roasting the turkey if that’s what you and yours always do for Thanksgiving. But, if you’re having other get-togethers during the extended holiday season, there is a better way: grill-roasting.

It’s nearly as easy: Basically, you put packs of wood chips over the hot burners of a gas grill, put a turkey on a V-rack over the cool burners, flip/rotate the bird three times. Done.

It’s less messy: No crusty roasting pan to soak overnight.

It tastes amazing! You get an incredibly moist turkey with crispy skin, plus a great smoked flavor.

The method I use comes from my trusty Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. I just bump up the amount of wood chips for smoking, and I ignore the 14-pound limit for turkey weight. I had a big crew of friends from my circuit-training class over for a Friendsgiving feast last weekend, and thanks to steady temperature regulation, the 22-pound turkey I got from WinCo (for less than $14!) came out perfect in about four hours.

Grill-roasted turkey (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)


1 22-pound turkey (self-basting or kosher), tailpiece trimmed, giblets and neck removed, wings tucked

4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

12 cups applewood (or other mild wood) chips

vegetable oil spray

Notes: If using a charcoal grill instead of gas, pile the briquettes on one half (for the hot side) and place bird on the grill over the other (cool) side. Add more briquettes and adjust vents as needed to maintain temperature. If cooking a smaller bird (12-14 pounds), reduce everything (butter, wood chips, cooking time) by one-fourth.


Soak applewood chips in water. Tear off three large pieces of heavy-duty foil. After 15 minutes, drain and evenly divide wood chips between three pieces of foil, wrap and seal and then slice a few holes in the top of each for venting.

Get out your V-rack and spray with vegetable oil. Using paper towels, pat turkey dry inside and out. Brush turkey skin with melted butter and place bird on the V-rack, breast side down.

Place one package of wood chips over the gap between two heat shields over the burners on the hot side of the grill. Turn all of the burners to high. Close the lid and wait about 15-20 minutes until the chips start smoking. Then, turn off burners on one side and place the V-racked turkey on the cool half of the grill with one of the sides—not the head or tail—facing the heat. Close lid and adjust the heat to 325. Cook for 75 minutes.

Using potholders, pull V-rack off the grill and place on a cookie sheet or big piece of foil. Replace spent wood chips with a fresh pack. Using wadded up paper towels, flip the bird breast-side up. Grab potholders and return V-rack to the cool side of the grill with the opposite wing/leg facing the heat. Close lid and cook for 60 minutes.

Rotate bird 180 degrees (leaving it breast-side up). Replace spent wood chips with final fresh pack. Close lid and cook for 60-90 minutes (or more) until breast temperature reaches 160 and thigh temperature reaches 175 degrees.

Remove from grill and let rest (uncovered so that skin remains crispy) for at least 20 minutes before carving. Dig in.