On the Grill: Festive Holiday Turkey

By PAUL SIDORIAK

People get stressed out when making a festive turkey.  I have never completely understood this, but best I can think is that there is usually a lot at stake when something like a turkey is cooked for an audience.  No one wants to leave a fowl taste in the guest’s mouth, so I guess the pressure is on to produce something delicious.

One of the great things about getting together for a special event or holiday is often sharing fun times and good laughs over a meal.  Looking back on such events over the years, it’s fun to think about when your Aunt Sophie brings her highly anticipated green bean casserole with those crunchy canned onion thingies on top.  Or brother Bobby’s extra spicy party mix with some kind of breakfast cereal woven between the peanuts and pretzels.

In my family, the festive standbys were solidified on the menu years before I could tell the difference.  One grandmother was a whiz with making homemade and often smoked kielbasa.  The other could kick out a festive German potato salad or Manhattan clam chowder faster than you could go to the store and buy it.  Regardless of the occasion, these dishes seemed to almost always be a staple at gatherings.  There were others as well.  Depending on who attended, a variety of specialties of the house could show up and they were always wonderful.

Of all the parties I attended over the years, the turkey was often the main event at Christmas, Easter, and of course Thanksgiving.  Regardless of who was in charge, it seemed that I had never had a bad bird until I was well into my 20s, having Thanksgiving with friends at a ski chalet in Whitefish, Montana.

The first time I cooked a bird, it was in college.  I was basically kidnapped by some friends and begged to help them with what was sure to be a complete disaster. They put me in charge because I had experience washing dishes at some restaurants to earn gas money in high school.  Not knowing what the heck I was doing, I dismissed them to the beer pong room and began to cook a turkey.  It was a miracle!  The thing had directions written on its packaging. How much easier could this be?  The directions were like, “ Take turkey, wash turkey, season turkey, bake turkey, eat turkey, and receive many high fives from friends.”  It was simple enough, and did not take much more effort than that.  It was actually more challenging to carve the bird than it was to cook it. Unfortunately, after that, I got the call every time a bird got thrown in an oven in off-campus housing.

Being a lover of the grill, I thought that this year it would be fun to try doing a turkey on the grill.  I did various web searches and found one website to be particularly informative for cooking a turkey on the grill.

Taking amazingribs.com advice for cooking turkey, I added a few tweaks and was able to transform a frozen bird from grocer’s freezer to serving dish in under 24 hours. This is how it was done:

  • Home from the market, the frozen 14-pound bird went into a cooler filled with warm water and thawed in it all night.
  • The next morning, I washed the bird thoroughly and patted it dry.
  • It was seasoned with an herb mix of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme grinded to a paste with vegetable oil and schmeared liberally inside and out.
  • It cooked for about 2.5 hours at 325 degrees until its internal temperature was 170 and the juices ran clear.

The grill was set up for a modified indirect cook with my roasting rack raised up on bricks. I used a flat-bottom Dutch oven as a drip tray.  The bricks and Dutch oven provide a much needed buffer from the searing heat of the coals and allow the bird to roast much more evenly.  Some cherry wood chips were also sprinkled throughout the coals, which added a pleasant flavor that was not too overpowering.

This was the first time I cooked a turkey outdoors.  After doing so, I just don’t think I could be cooped up cooking a bird inside ever again!

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Turkey defrosting in a beverage cooler with tap water
Turkey defrosting in...
Trying out my set up to make sure it fits
Trying out my set up...
FestiveGrilledTurkey - IMG_1626.JPG
FestiveGrilledTurkey...
Scarborough fair seasoning
Scarborough fair sea...
The bird seasoned and stuffed with lemon and herbs
The bird seasoned an...
Veggies and liquid to catch the turkey drippings
Veggies and liquid t...
Chery wood smoking away
Chery wood smoking away
Cooked to perfection
Cooked to perfection
Sliced and ready to devour
Sliced and ready to ...
Ready for plating
Ready for plating

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Check out Paul’s other tasty grilling recipes for summer (or any season!) in his blog archive.

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Paul Sidoriak grills it up on the Big Green Egg.

Paul moved to Montana in 1996 with about a dozen friends from Lyndon State College in Vermont. He is still reluctantly paying his student loans and has carved out a career working as a supplier representative for various food and beverage products.

Paul enjoys grilling after a day on the water or an afternoon in the garden, where he has been known to grow heirloom tomatoes and peppers out of spite. Often cooking for extended family and friends, he takes a whimsical approach to cooking simple, seasonal dishes, while not taking it too seriously.

Paul does all of his grilling on the Big Green Egg Grill, available in Missoula at the Axmen.

You can read more of Paul’s grilling recipes at his blog site, Montana Mise en Place.