I open the back door and step into the crisp autumn morning. The fallen leaves are still damp with frost. The sun is pushing its warmth toward the shadowed patio. Immediately, like a beautiful ribbon falling from the sky, an aroma circles my senses. I close my eyes and breathe in this cool appetizing air.
I smile at the "chef." He gives me a thumbs-up. He is wrapped in a corduroy jacket, tongs and pot holders in hand. He casually leans against the railing while he chats with his son-in-law, still in his sweats. They are sipping coffee or tea or maybe hot cider. It is Thanksgiving morning. Another holiday, another houseful, another divinely delicious day of great groceries centered on our succulent smoked turkey.
Oh busboy, we've been doing this for years. We roast our turkey on a charcoal grill and it is scrumptious. Usually, when we grill in the yard we use a gas/propane grill but not on holidays. Just for holidays we keep a large domed Weber charcoal grill to tenderly roast our "tom." Actually, this past year we splurged and bought a shiny new black one. It's a beauty. It replaced our first Weber that had served us well. Many people probably have one like our first, with the wheel missing and the holes burned in the base and the many years of smoked juices attached to the grate.
We started roasting our Thanksgiving turkey when we purchased that first grill. We had a small oven and needed more cooking space. Roasting the turkey outside frees up a whole oven for: cooking mashed potatos or green bean casserole; browning the marshmallows on the top of the sweet potatoes; baking the pumpkin, mincemeat and apple pies; warming yeast rolls; steaming the dressing, etc. We also found it not only frees up oven space, but it frees up kitchen space as most of the males congregate outside to keep my "chef" company.
Roasting a turkey with charcoal is much easier than one would expect and tastes much better than one can imagine. We have learned the large Weber will actually hold a turkey that weighs more than 20 pounds so we always cook a big one. Lots for everyone and lots of leftovers.
Some points for roasting poultry on charcoal:
1.) Turkey is cooked using the indirect method.
2.) Charcoal should be started early and needs to be added every hour.
3.) The turkey browns naturally, but can be basted.
4.) It takes less time to grill in this manner than in the oven. A meat thermometer is important.
5.) You cannot cook the dressing in the turkey. I bake the dressing in the oven and mix yummy smoked juices in it at the end.
6.) The drip pan will collect enough juices for smoked gravy, but I usually make a base of giblet gravy ahead of time then add the grill drippings.
7.) I always make soup with the grilled bones. It's fantastic.
The indirect method is similar to roasting, but with the added benefits of that grilled texture, flavor and appearance you can't get from an oven. Heat rises, reflects off the lid, and slowly cooks the food evenly on all sides. The circulating heat works much like a convection oven, so there's no need to turn the food.
According to www.weber.com, to grill by the indirect method on a charcoal grill, arrange hot coals evenly on either side of the charcoal bowl. Place a drip pan in the center of the bowl between the coals to collect gravy drippings. Place the cooking grate over the coals and place the food on the cooking grate, centered over the drip pan. Place the lid on the grill and lift it only to add charcoal, or to check if it's done at the end of the suggested cooking.
Prepare a fresh or completely defrosted turkey by removing the giblets then rinsing it thoroughly with water. After patting it dry, my chef rubs the turkey all over with olive oil and seasons it inside and out with kosher salt and ground pepper. Other spices and herbs may be used to your liking. I put lots of fresh sage leaves in the cavity. Secure the wings, legs and neck skin as desired. Place the prepared turkey on the hot coals centered over the drip pan. Add charcoal as directed every hour. Cook 9 to 12 minutes to the pound reaching an internal temperature of 170-180 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh. Let rest 15 minutes before carving. Enjoy.
Charcoal briquette guide: We start with 35 briquettes on each side during the first hour. Add 8 per side every hour. This varies to the size of your grill and turkey. Easy? You bet. If you have any questions, you can always ask my "chef."