Barbecuing a Turkey

Food Safety is Fun!

Turkey On the Grill

Outdoor cooking of a big bird for the holiday meal is becoming a popular cooking method. During grilling, a turkey cooks by indirect heat in an outdoor covered gas or charcoal grill and a pan of water is placed beneath the grilling surface to catch the fat and juices that drip from the turkey as it cooks. Cooking is done by the hot, smoky, steamy air.

Safety First! Find about BBQ and food safety.

Covered Charcoal Grill

Turkeys that are 16 pounds or less are the recommended size for safe grilling. A larger turkey remains in the "Danger Zone"—between 40 and 140 °F—too long. Do not stuff the turkey. Because cooking is at a low temperature, it can take too long for the temperature of the stuffing to reach 165 °F. Also, smoked stuffing has an undesirable flavor.

Begin with clean equipment and a good quality charcoal. Build a pyramid of charcoal to one side. Ignite the charcoal, and let the coals get red hot. Place an appliance thermometer on the food rack to monitor the air temperature inside the grill. When the charcoal has developed white powdery ash—about 20 to 30 minutes—and the air temperature reaches 225 to 300 °F, place a drip pan with water in it to create moist, hot steam for cooking, in the center of the grill beneath where the turkey will be set and carefully push the hot coals evenly around the edge. Position the grill rack and place the prepared turkey on it (breast side up). Then place the cover on the grill.

Replenish with about 15 briquettes every hour as needed to maintain 225 to 300 °F. If desired, add water-soaked hardwood or fruitwood, in the form of chunks or chips, to add flavor to the turkey as it is cooking. Do not use a softwood (pine, fir, cedar, or spruce) because it gives the food a turpentine flavor and coats it with a black pitch or resin.

Cooking times depend on many factors: the size and shape of the turkey, the distance from the heat, temperature of the coals, and the temperature of the outside air. Always use a food thermometer. The turkey is done when the food thermometer reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Estimate 15 to 18 minutes per pound if using a covered grill. A whole turkey can be successfully cooked, provided the turkey is not stuffed and has been completely thawed.

Covered Gas Grill

Gas grills have become very popular in the last few years. The gas heat can be supplied by either propane tanks or by natural gas piped from the home.

If your gas grill has only one large burner, place a pan of water under the grate to create indirect heat. Place the turkey in a roasting pan and place on top of the grill.

If the grill has two or three burners, the turkey should be placed away from the flame. This can be done by turning off one of the burners and placing the turkey in that area. When using a gas grill, always follow manufacturer's directions for cooking times.

This site contains information produced by the US Dept.of Agriculture and compiled by the site owners. We are not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of this information. Layout and site design copyright 2007

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