The first Thanksgiving turkey was most likely cooked over a wood fire. Today’s grilling enthusiasts have the benefit of modern equipment and techniques with which to improve upon our national holiday bird. Here, the turkey is brined before grilling to add flavor and enhance the juiciness. A compound butter boosts the taste even more.
For the spice-herb butter:
- 2 Tbs. white peppercorns, toasted
- 2 Tbs. fennel seeds, toasted
- 2 Tbs. coriander seeds, toasted
- 1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 Tbs. chopped fresh sage
- 1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
- 16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 Tbs. granulated garlic
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp. coarse salt
For the apple-bourbon brine:
- 4 cups apple cider
- 2 cups bourbon or other whiskey
- 1/2 cup coarse salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 yellow onion, quartered
- 3 or 4 bay leaves
- 1 fresh turkey, 12 to 14 lb., or 1 fresh wild turkey, neck, giblets and wing tips removed and turkey dressed
- Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
- 3 large carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
- 4 celery stalks
- 2 yellow onions, peeled and quartered
- 1 to 2 lb. wood chips or chunks, soaked for 30 minutes
For the country-style gravy:
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup water, chicken stock or broth
- 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
- Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
To make the spice-herb butter, in a spice grinder or blender, combine the white peppercorns, fennel seeds and coriander seeds and process into a coarse powder. In a small bowl, stir together the spice powder, the rosemary, sage, thyme, butter, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt. The butter will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer. Bring to room temperature before using.
To make the brine, in a clean 5-gallon plastic bucket, combine the apple cider and bourbon. Whisk in the salt and sugar until dissolved, then add the onion and bay leaves.
Place the turkey in a large container, stockpot or clean plastic bucket and pour in the brine. Add enough water to cover and weigh down with a plate to submerge the bird in the brine. Refrigerate overnight.
Remove the turkey from the brine. Season the turkey inside and out with white pepper. Starting at the neck end, carefully loosen the skin from the breast with your fingers. Working from the cavity end, loosen the skin from the breast and legs. Massage the spice-herb butter under the skin; massage any remaining butter into the outside of the skin. Truss the turkey.
Prepare a grill for indirect grilling over medium-low heat. Arrange the carrots, celery and onions in a large aluminum roasting pan. Place the turkey on top of the vegetables.
For a charcoal grill: Sprinkle half of the wood chips over the coals. Place the pan with the turkey and vegetables on the cooler side of the grill. Cover and cook until the skin is nicely browned and the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours or 12 to 15 minutes per pound. Replenish the coals and wood chips and baste the turkey with its own juices every 30 minutes.
For a gas grill: Increase a burner to high. Heat a smoker box half full of wood chips until smoking, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Place the pan with the turkey and vegetables over unlit burners. Cover and cook until the skin is nicely browned and the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours or 12 to 15 minutes per pound. Replenish the wood chips and baste the turkey with its own juices every 30 minutes.
To test for doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone; it should register 175°F. The breast meat should register at 165°F.
Transfer the turkey to a carving board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the gravy: Mash the roasted vegetables that were under the turkey in the roasting pan. Return the pan to the grill over direct heat or set on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add the wine and water and deglaze the pan, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits. Strain the pan juices through a sieve into a measuring cup with a spout or beaker; discard the solids. Using a small ladle, skim the fat off the top, leaving 1 to 2 Tbs. in the cup with the pan juices.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, stir in the flour, season with salt and white pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the strained pan juices, 1/2 cup at a time, and briefly remove the pan from the heat, whisking vigorously, after each addition. Simmer the gravy until it is very smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and white pepper.
Carve the turkey and arrange on a warmed platter. Serve the gravy alongside. Serves 8 to 10.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma On the Grill, by Willie Cooper (Oxmoor House, 2009).