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Roasting a Turkey in a Charcoal Grill

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Picture of Roasting a Turkey in a Charcoal Grill
A 22 inch or larger charcoal grill works very well for roasting a Thanksgiving turkey.

Advantages--

+ This gets the men out of the house and allows them to bond over adult beverages without getting in the way of the women.

+ It is like having another oven available and allows other things to be prepared in the regular oven while the turkey is cooking outside.

+ The turkey will have a delightful hint of smoke in its taste.

I regret I do not have an actual turkey cooking to include in the illustrations.
 
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Step 1: Make Protection for the Sides of the Grill

Picture of Make Protection for the Sides of the Grill
First, I made a shielding band of sheet metal to protect the finish on the sides of the grill from the very hot coals. Whether you do this or not is your decision.

In the photo, the red loop identifies a joint between two pieces of sheet metal. You can see a couple of pop rivets. The yellow lines show the top and bottom of the side protector band of sheet metal. The white paper shows how to develop a pattern for cutting the sheet metal sections.

Remove the grates from your grill. Hold a piece of paper against the side of the kettle where the charcoal grate goes. Trace the outline of the ledge that supports the charcoal grate to get the right curve. Draw a curved line parallel to this one about 3 1/2 or 4 inches away from this one. Use this as a pattern to cut sheet metal sections. Fit these sections to the inside of your grill and mark them for alignment. Remove these sections from the grill. Drill holes and fasten the sections together with pop rivets. When finished you will have a sheet metal band that fits the inside of your grill just above the charcoal grate.

Step 2: Preparations

Picture of Preparations
Thaw an 8 to 12 pound turkey. See a web site on cooking a turkey for times and directions to thaw a turkey. Remove the giblets from inside the bird. Baste or rub the turkey down according to your preference. Do not put stuffing inside the bird. Do not cover the bird in a paper bag. If you wish, you may put aluminum foil around the wings to keep them from over-cooking.

Place the turkey in a disposable aluminum roasting pan. Form the pan around the turkey so it fits the bird closely.

Place a metal meat thermometer about two inches into the breast. The thermometer should not touch bone. It should have a large, easy to read dial. If it has a "bug" you can set to indicate where the needle should be when the bird is done, set it to 185 degrees F. The thermometer is optional if your turkey comes with a pop-up "done" indicator. However, sometimes the pop-up indicators fail.

Step 3: Start the Fire

Picture of Start the Fire
After trying a variety of tools and methods for starting a charcoal fire, my favorite is a chimney fired by newspaper sheets from below. In about 25 minutes you have a roaring charcoal fire. (Place two full sheets of crumpled newspaper under the chimney. Fill the chimney or most of it with charcoal. Light the newspaper with a match. Only one match is necessary. Watch to be sure the newspaper did not go out and make sure the coals begin to ignite. You can hold your hand over the charcoal a few seconds. If the charcoal is igniting, you will feel heat from the coals rising in the chimney.) Be careful with a chimney full of hot coals. When pouring them out, a coal can come out of the bottom and land on your leg or your foot.

Start the fire outside of and away from your grill. You will move the coals to the grill after the turkey has been placed into the grill.

You will need to do some backwards calculations to know when to start the fire. The cooked bird will likely set for a few minutes before you begin to carve it. Carving will take a few minutes, too. Starting the coals will require 30 minutes or more. The turkey will need 3.5 hours to cook and possibly more, depending on the size of your turkey, the temperature you maintain while cooking, the ambient outside temperature of the day and the wind conditions. Windy days require more cooking time.


Step 4: Place the Bird into the Grill

Picture of Place the Bird into the Grill
Remove the grill lid and the cooking rack and set it aside for the day. Open all of the grill vents. Set the turkey and the disposable roasting pan into the grill in the center of the charcoal grate.

Pour your hot coals into an old pan. Use tongs to place the coals between the grill's side protectors and the disposable aluminum roasting pan. Heap extra unlit coals as high as you can on top of the burning coals. The black ellipses in the graphic are coals.

Step 5: Cooking

Picture of Cooking
You will use two thermometers, one for meat in the bird's breast to know when the meat is done and a metal one for candy making that dangles from the upper vent holes to know what the air temperature is inside the grill. The use of these two thermometers is what gives some precision to cooking a turkey this way and makes it a very practical replacement for a regular oven.

The temperature under the grill lid can easily rise to more than 450 degrees F., especially at the beginning. Use the bottom vents to choke off air and bring the temperature down. Watch the candy thermometer in the grill lid. When it begins to drop in temperature open the bottom vents a bit. The thermometer lags what is happening with the coals and you do not want the temperature to go too low, either. A temperature of 350 to 375 degrees F. is nearly ideal. Try not to let the temperature fall below 325 degrees F.

If you need to increase the temperature, add more coals and allow more air into the grill.

Step 6: Stoking the Fire

Picture of Stoking the Fire
The coals you loaded into the grill at the start are not enough to cook a turkey over more than 3 hours. Every 45 minutes lift the lid and tamp the burning coals with tongs. You will be surprised at how much ash falls off of the coals and how few there suddenly seem to be. Pile new unlit coals on top of the burning coals and close the lid. The new coals will ignite in a few minutes. The candy thermometer will register a dramatically lower air temperature inside the grill for a few minutes, but it will come back to a more accurate reading in a short time.

Step 7: Checking the Temperature of the Meat

Picture of Checking the Temperature of the Meat
Position the grill lid so the vent holes are above the meat thermometer in the turkey's breast. As the cooking time nears completion, remove the candy thermometer from the vent holes and shine a flashlight through a vent hole while looking through another to read the meat thermometer. Do not let too much smoke get into your eye. It stings.

When the meat reaches 185 degrees F. remove the lid. Use a couple of pairs of large pliers to lift the turkey and its disposable pan out of the grill. Set it on a platter and carry it inside for carving. There may be just a little ash on the turkey's skin, but you can wipe that off.

Close the grill and its vents and allow the charcoal to snuff itself out.

Enjoy the turkey.

Great tips! I will be
using a 16” x 12-1/2” aluminum pan on the grill, two piles of coals (indirect)
method.

A 13.4 lb. turkey and a 7.5 lb turkey roll, and
a large ham.I’ll be adding eight new
coals to each side every 30 minutes.The
practice of letting the product “rest” for 15 minutes before cutting into it,
is quite important!That steam bursting
out, leaves your turkey quite dry!

NDaussie13 years ago
A turkey on the Weber is just in my opionion the best way to cook Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner. I live in North Dakota and it is my ritual to cook even in the coldest weather.

The main difference is I use a foil pan with water in between the charcoal (indirect heat method). And I do leave the upper grate on the grill. (I use the type I can add more charcoal on ether side of the grate without lifting out the enter grate). A turkey with a pop up timer is really helpful.

Cooking time about 11 min / lb unstuffed, 14 min /lb stuffed.

A great treat is if you have some apple twigs, soak them in water for about an hour before cooking then add them to the beginning. Umm Goood!
nrkey4ever4 years ago
What is this 'chimney'? Is it a tool bought in the barbecue section of the hardware store? I've never encountered one before, I just light the charcoal directly in the grill.
Phil B (author)  nrkey4ever4 years ago
Over the years I have lit charcoal by every means known to mankind, and have settled on a chimney as the best and only way to do it. There is no lighter fluid smell or taste. The coals are flaming red more quickly than any other method I have used. Only one match is needed. You can get chimneys in barbeque sections of hardware-type stores. You can also make your own from some wire and a piece of stove pipe or a large can. There are even some Instructables on making these. A handle that stays cool to the touch is essential. The cutaway graphic in step 3 is a pretty good depiction.
I just use an electric charcoal starter, though its not as fast its more convenient
Phil B (author)  pdagrizley4 years ago
Borrow someone's chimney sometime and try it. If you have not already tried a chimney, I think you will be surprised at how very well it works.
Wow I tried one on the weekend, Its so much faster I think ill buy one
Phil B (author)  pdagrizley4 years ago
It scares me when people like something I suggested. I am glad you like it. I really do, too. ;-)
dpolson Phil B3 years ago
I am the grill master in my house and I swear by my chimney. And this tutorial is what I was looking for. Hubby wants grilled turkey this year and I love grilling!
Phil B (author)  dpolson3 years ago
Thanks. Allow plenty of time for unexpected disasters, like cold ambient temperatures or a strong cold wind. Those will slow your cooking time. Another problem happens when the fire gets too low and it takes too much time to gain a good cooking temperature again. It should work out well for you. Please let us know how it was for you.
dpolson Phil B3 years ago
Thanks for the tips. I will make sure to keep a close watch on it. Being that I live in the midwest it is going to be a bit chilly and although I am a year round griller (I even do Christmas dinner on the grill) like I said, I never did a turkey. I may even do it beer can style like a commenter below said. I did it that way in the oven last year and it was a hit. I'm very excited about this and will tell you how it turned out!
Phil B (author)  dpolson3 years ago
The one possible problem with beer can style is that I think you need to turn the turkey so the neck end is up. There may not be enough clearance under your lid. Also, it will be more difficult to place a meat thermometer in the breast and read it through the vent holes. But, you could depend on a pop-up doneness button or lift the lid periodically when you are near to finished. You can always set up a protective windbreak on the windward side of the grill to reduce the effects of any wind. Maybe you will have a calm day. When we wanted to eat around noon, I started the fire around 7 AM. I will be glad to hear how it works for you.
dpolson Phil B3 years ago
last year when I did beer can turkey in the oven, instead of opening the top of the can I popped a hole in the side so I could still lay the turkey down. It still had the same effect, just a little different setup. With the onions and whatnot I had shoved in there I was able to prop the can in place. But I guess I'll play that by ear. I work until midnight the day before Thanksgiving so I don't know how in the mood to play with fire I'll be at 7 am. But yea I will start it early.
Phil B (author)  dpolson3 years ago
It sounds like you have all of the bases covered. I figure there are windows of about 45 minutes when you might be able to schedule a nap before anyone arrives.
dpolson Phil B3 years ago
Phil, oh my goodness - my turkey was amazing!!! It was juicy and delicious, evenly cooked and mouth wateringly good. I used some apple and some hickory chips (alternated as I added coals) and it gave it the perfect smoke flavor. I think I have found my new favorite way to really impress at Thanksgiving. It was more labor intensive than throwing it in the oven but DEFINATELY worth it. I keep thinking about all the other meats I want to cook like this. Thanks for giving me the knowledge and confidence to pull this off!
Phil B (author)  dpolson3 years ago
Thank you for the report. I am very pleased it worked well for you. I trust you also used the beer can.

I have had some things vary in the cooking procedure, but the results have always been very good.
Phil B (author) 3 years ago
I cooked a 10 pound turkey breast on this grill yesterday afternoon. Outdoor temperatures were around 40 degrees F. with winds of about 7 mph. My wife applied a spice rub and wrapped the bird in aluminum foil. The turkey had a smaller footprint in the grill than usual. There was more room than usual for coals. I was busy with a couple of other things and could not give it my full attention. The fire produced more heat than usual and the candy thermometer in the upper vent holes registered well beyond its top end of 400 degrees. After about two hours I choked off the vents and the temperature slowly dropped to around 380 degrees F. I expected another hour or more of cooking time and opened the aluminum foil so the smoke could flavor the meat. I inserted the probe for a remote temperature indicator my daughter gave me. To my surprise the turkey was finished cooking in only a little over two hours. The meat was just right when we began to eat.
bl0rq3 years ago
This is a pretty bad method. For starters, 185 is about 22 deg too high for the meat. Having the bird that close to the coals will really mess up the cooking evenness. If you dont have the right equipment for the job, just use the oven. If you want to do it right, get a Big Green Egg and use something more like http://www.nakedwhiz.com/madmaxturkey.htm
Phil B (author)  bl0rq3 years ago
Well, I have done what I described many times over quite a few years and the meat was always evenly cooked, but not overcooked. But, suit yourself.
erothman23 years ago
I love using a chimney when I'm lighting charcoal. When I was a kid, my dad made one out of a big coffee can, with vent holes around the bottom- made with a church key? Tin snips?- and a wire bail handle. If you don't want to pay the $20, you can make it, but if you have the $20 it will be a lot easier to use if you buy one.
Phil B (author)  erothman23 years ago
There are some Instructables on making your own chimney from a large can. I always thought ours would rust or burn out, and I would made a replacement, but it has endured very well. It was purchased in a store.
looks yummy..
you should try the turkey plug roaster for the grill.. that would be awesome!
nrkey4ever4 years ago
Clever. Very clever idea over all.
Phil B (author)  nrkey4ever4 years ago
Thanks. I think the basic idea was included with instructions that came with our grill. I made some adaptations with the candy and meat thermometer. I also learned some things on my own about how and when to add charcoal.
I have never put my turkey that close to the charcoals.  I usually put mine on the grill itself.  I can smoke a 22lb turkey in about 3-4 hrs.
Phil B (author)  treehugger303415 years ago
Thanks for your comment.  You are doing well if you have room between the grill rack and the top cover for a 22 lb turkey.  Our kettle grill is not that large.  The tips of the wings singe a little from being close to the coals.  We could put aluminum foil over them to protect them.  It works out well to have the meat so close to the coals.  3 -4 hours is a good time.
Nice instructable. I grilled my turkey last year, BEER CAN style. Fosters all the way.