Grilled Turkey for Thanksgiving

The pilgrims didn’t pop their turkey into a pre-heated convection oven—they grilled their birds over real fire. If you’re tired of the same-old turkey each November, give cooking over the coals a spin.

Elliott Robbins, lawyer by day, fabulous cook by avocation, grills at least two turkey breasts every Thanksgiving.

“I start with a boneless turkey breast from Zier’s,” says Robbins. He strongly recommends skipping the frozen breasts in the grocery store, and finding a fresh one from a butcher. “Then I infuse them with a little peanut oil mixed with some Ozark or Cajun spice mix from The Spice House.”

By infuse, he means inject the turkey with a butcher’s syringe in 3-4 places. His recommendation: don’t go too heavy on the spice or the syringe will clog. The skin and cavity of the breast are rubbed with more peanut oil and seasoning.

Robbins cooks on a Weber grill and only uses hardwood charcoal and a few hickory chips for smoke. For a big piece of meat, like a whole breast, Robbins recommends indirect grilling. The coals are off to the side and a drip pan is under the bird.

Try to keep the grill closed, except to turn the breast once (at about 30 minutes) and add wood chips or maybe a little more charcoal if the fire seems to be getting low, Robbins says. You can tell if the fire is hot enough when you can only keep your hand over the vent for about 2 seconds.

This experienced cook can tell when his turkey is done by touch, but you might want to use a meat thermometer. Either way, plan on about 60 to 70 minutes for a 6-8 pound breast and an internal temp of 155 degrees.

“Don’t carve the breast right away,” says Robbins.  He lets his birds sit 30-45 minutes. Then he carves and adds a little turkey juice and warms the platter just before serving. “The gravy has to be hot, but not the bird. If you want a juicy bird, you have to let it sit.”

Robbins should know. He and his wife, Julie, are expecting to entertain about 16 people this Thanksgiving at their home in Wilmette. He’ll have two grills, and at least 3 breasts cooking. Maybe a deep-fried turkey, too, but that’s a different story.