Juicy, Smoked Turkey: How To Barbecue A Whole Turkey

Barbecue Turkey Recipe for Grilling A Whole Turkey

When we bought our home, it was one of the last two homes with our floorplan left in the subdivision and the cabinets had already been installed. It wasn’t a huge deal, but the one thing I wish we had that we don’t is double ovens. I would kill for double ovens. Cooking for large groups would be so much easier with double ovens, especially at the holidays.

Because we’re stuck with only one oven, and it needs to be free for everything else we make — like the sweet potato casserole, stuffing, and pecan pie — we barbecue our turkey. We’ve always barbecued our turkey. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it, until I was chatting with a friend about cooking a turkey and bonding over not having enough oven space.

Apparently this isn’t something everyone does. I asked Brian for the recipe so I could share it, but he said there isn’t one. His dad cooked turkey on the barbecue, he taught Brian how to barbecue a turkey, and they now just “know” how to cook a whole turkey on the grill.

Most of the time I do all of the cooking, but when it comes to certain things, like cooking a turkey or making stuffing and homemade gravy, Brian does it all. And, like with Brian’s grandpa’s stuffing recipe, passed down from generation to generation, the whole process wasn’t written down, so while Brian cooked, I asked questions, took notes and photos, and documented the process.

Cooking A Turkey On The Barbecue

When you cook a whole turkey on a barbecue, it gets a deep, rich smoky flavor, and it is tender and juicy and so delicious. The best turkey I have ever tasted has been cooked on a Weber barbecue. The best part is that grilling a turkey frees up my oven for stuffing and sweet potatoes and reduces the turkey cook time to only 2-2.5 hours.

The secret to making the best tasting barbecue turkey ever is using a soaked wood chip packet. Wood chips are what adds the smoky flavor to the turkey, soaking them in water keeps them burning longer and creates more smoke, and wrapping the wood chips in foil helps prolong the smoke exposure even more — all of which dramatically increase the flavor of the turkey.

How To Barbecue A Turkey

First, Prep The Wood Chips

The night before barbecuing the turkey, place half a bag of wood chips inside a plastic bag, fill it with water until the wood chips are covered, and let the wood chips soak overnight. For a more intense flavor, replace a half-pint of water with a half-pint of Makers Mark bourbon whiskey. Before prepping the turkey, drain the liquid from the wood chips, wrap the soaked wood chips in foil to create a packet, and puncture the top of the packet with a fork several times. Set the packet aside.

Second, Prep The Barbecue And Charcoal

Add a half bag of charcoal to a Weber barbecue and top it with one small bag of Match Lite charcoal. Lite the charcoal and leave it uncovered while the charcoal burns down. It will be ready when there is no more burning flame and it has ashed over — about 20 minutes.

Third, Prep The Turkey

While the charcoal is burning down, prep the turkey by discarding the gizzard and bag of turkey parts, rinsing the turkey thoroughly, and letting it drip dry in the sink. If you’re making homemade turkey gravy, set the turkey neck aside in a small sauce pan.

Place turkey in a foil roasting pan, pour olive oil generously over the turkey, and massage it into the skin with your hands. Then flip the turkey over and rub olive oil into the bottom of the turkey. Season the bottom of the turkey with salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning, before flipping the turkey right side up and liberally covering the top and sides of the turkey with salt, pepper, paprika, poultry seasoning, and Cajun seasoning. If you are also making stuffing, now is the time to stuff the turkey cavity and neck.

Fourth, Barbecue The Turkey

Cover the turkey loosely with foil, leaving the sides slightly open to allow the barbecue smoke to get under the foil and flavor the turkey. Place your wood chip packet on top of the hot coals, add the grill plate, place your turkey pan on the barbecue, and put the lid on the barbecue. Soon your barbecue will begin smoking and it will smell heavenly!

After 90 minutes, remove the lid from the barbecue, check your charcoal, and remove the wood chip packet. If needed, gently but quickly remove turkey, add more regular charcoal, put turkey back on the barbecue, and close the lid until the turkey is done barbecuing. Depending on the size of your turkey and whether or not you stuffed it, cook time will be approximate 2-2.5 hours.

Fifth, Cut And Serve The Turkey

I know it is tradition to carve the turkey and slice off pieces, but that’s actually the worst thing you can do! Instead of slicing your turkey, use a knife to remove the whole turkey breast and then cross cut it. Cross cutting the turkey helps it retain more juices and prevents it from drying out.

Here are a few things to remember as you barbecue your turkey:

  • Stuffing the turkey is optional. Without stuffing, the turkey will cook about 15 minutes faster.
  • Only use 1/2 bag of charcoal at first, as you may need to add more charcoal to the barbecue later during cooking. Do not add Match Lite charcoal during cooking — it will cause a fire, off gas fuel, and ruin your turkey.
  • If you need to add more charcoal during cooking, be sure to wear thick long sleeves and heavy duty gloves. Brian wears welding gloves when handling the turkey over the barbecue.
  • Resist the urge to open the lid and check on your turkey. Opening the lid will affect the cook time of the turkey.

Barbecue Turkey, Perfect For Summer Barbecues

Cooking a whole turkey is traditionally done for Easter dinner, Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas dinner, but when you cook a whole turkey on the barbecue, it’s no longer just for holidays, but for summer barbecues, cookouts, and poolside dinners.

Barbecuing a turkey is a fantastic summer dinner option because you don’t have to turn on your oven and heat up the house, you’re already outside anyway, and you can enjoy even more of the scrumptious smells that radiate from the barbecue as the turkey cooks.

If you have the freezer space, it’s best to snag a turkey or two when they go on sale at the holidays and save them for summer time parties. Barbecue turkeys are easy to make, they don’t cost a lot on sale, they taste amazing, and they feed a ton of people — or leave you a lot of leftovers!

Juicy, Smoked Barbecue Turkey

Barbecuing a whole turkey speeds up cook time and frees up the oven for delicious sides. Plus, a soaked wood chip packet gives the turkey a rich juicy, smoked flavor.

Barbecue Turkey Recipe for Grilling A Whole Turkey

Ingredients

  • 1 whole turkey
  • 1 bag wood chips
  • 1 small bag Match Lite charocal
  • 1 large bag charcoal
  • Foil roasting pan with handles and bottom supports
  • Olive oil
  • Paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cajun seasoning
  • Poultry seasoning

Instructions

  1. Place half a bag of woodchips inside a Ziplock bag, fill it with water until woodchips are covered. Soak woodchips overnight.
  2. Drain liquid from woodchips and wrap loosely with foil to create a woodchip foil packet. Puncture the foil packet several times across the top with a fork. Set packet aside.
  3. Add 1/2 bag charcoal to a weber barbecue and top with 1 small bag of Match Lite charcoal. Lite the charcoal and leave it uncovered while the charcoal burns down. (The charcoal is ready when there is no more burning flames and it has ashed over — about 20 minutes.)
  4. While the charcoal is burning down, prep the turkey. Discard the gizzard and bag of turkey parts. Rinse the turkey thoroughly and let it drip dry in the sink. If making homemade turkey gravy, save the turkey neck.
  5. Place turkey in the foil roasting pan, pour polive oil generously over the turkey, and massage it into the skin with your hands. Flip the turkey over and rub olive oil into the bottom of the turkey.
  6. Season the bottom of the turkey with salt, pepper, and cajun seasoning. Flip the turkey right side up and liberally cover the top and sides of the turkey with salt, pepper, paprika, poultry seasoning, and cajun seasoning.
  7. Stuff the turkey cavity and neck until full — really pack the stuffing in tightly. Cover the turkey loosely with foil, leaving the sides slightly open to allow the smoke to get under the foil.
  8. Place your wood chip packet on top of the hot coals, add the grill plate, place your turkey pan on the barbecue, and put the lid on the barbecue. Soon your barbecue will begin smoking and it will smell heavenly!
  9. After 90 minutes, remove the lid from the barbecue, check your charcoal, and remove the wood chip packet. If needed, gently but quickly remove turkey, add more regular charcoal, put turkey back on the barbecue, and close the lid..
  10. Depending on the size of your turkey and whether or not you stuffed it, cook time will be approximate 2-2.5 hours.

Notes:

Stuffing the turkey is optional. Without stuffing, the turkey will cook about 15 minutes faster.

Only use 1/2 bag of charcoal at first, as you may need to add more charcoal to the barbecue later during cooking. Do not add Match Lite charcoal during cooking — it will cause a fire, off gas fuel, and ruin your turkey.

If you need to add more charcoal during cooking, be sure to wear thick long sleeves and heavy duty gloves. Brian wears welding gloves when handling the turkey over the barbecue.

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