Thanksgiving is almost here, and the quest for the perfect turkey is afoot. Many a traveler still sadly uses a conventional oven, and others more daring grill over open flame. Yet for the true adventurer, using the rotisserie yields a prize beyond compare – moist and tender inside, surrounded by irresistibly crisp and crackling skin. Here is your quest: Grilled Rotisserie Turkey, Dry Brined with Orange and Spices.
Cooking on the rotisserie yields the most uniform doneness because of the constant rotation. Still, without the proper preparation by brining, any large bird will still dry out through the long cooking time. For this recipe, use a dry brine of salt, orange zest, brown sugar, fresh ginger, garlic, and black pepper. This will infuse the meat with salt and spices while locking in the moisture during roasting. Most rotisseries will only handle weights of 12-14lbs, so plan accordingly when selecting the bird. Smoking a turkey is also very popular because of the depth of flavor, but it yields leathery inedible skin. However, using a chunk of smoking wood with the rotisserie captures that smoky flavor while providing the most succulent, crispy skin. This is adventure; this is fulfilling; this is Thanksgiving – let the quest begin…
Grilled Rotisserie Turkey Ingredients
- Grill with Rotisserie attachment
- Aluminum foil drip pan (11-inch by 13-inch, “turkey size,” or whatever fits your grill)
- Cotton twine
- Gallon zip-top bag full of ice (optional)
- 12-14lb Turkey
- Fist-sized chunk of smoking wood (hickory, oak, pecan or a fruit wood; I love oak wine barrel staves)
- ¼-cup kosher salt (I used Diamond Crystal; reduce to 3 tbsp if using Mortons, because it is denser).
- Zest of 1 orange (save the orange, cut in half and wrapped in plastic wrap to stuff the turkey)
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (about a ½-inch piece)
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh garlic (2 cloves)
- ½-teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ¼-teaspoon ground cloves
Grilled Rotisserie Turkey Directions
- Dry brine the turkey: 1 to 3 days before it is time to cook, dry brine the turkey. Mix the dry brine ingredients in a small bowl, then sprinkle and rub evenly over the turkey. Make sure to rub some inside the cavity of the turkey as well. Put the turkey on a rack over a roasting pan or baking sheet, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate, removing the plastic wrap the night before cooking to allow the skin to dry. (If you are only dry brining for 24 hours, skip the plastic wrap.)
- Prep the Turkey: One hour before cooking, remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Stuff the turkey with the halves of the orange, then truss and skewer with the rotisserie spit. Put the zip lock bag full of ice on the breast, not touching the legs or drumsticks, to chill the breast meat until cooking. Put the wood chunk in a bowl of water to soak.
- Prep the rotisserie: Prepare the rotisserie for cooking on indirect medium heat. You want an internal grill temperature of 350°F for turkey.
Gas – Set up the heat on the leg side of my turkey, to cook the legs faster than the breast. Turn the two burners on the right (burners 5 and 6) to medium, and turn the infrared burner to medium. Then place a drip pan in the middle, over the unlit burners.
Charcoal – Light a chimney 3/4 full of charcoal and wait for it to be covered with ash. Then, instead of pouring it in my usual two piles on the side of the grill, pour it in a U shape at one end of the grill. Place the drip pan in the middle of the U of charcoal. Finally, put the wood chunk on top of the charcoal, and give it five minutes to start smoking.
- Cook the turkey – Gas: Put the spit on the grill, and turn on the rotisserie motor. Cook with the lid closed. It should take 2 hours to 2.5 hours, depending on the size of the bird. A 14lb bird should be done in about 2 hours 15 minutes. It’s better to go by temperature, though – you want the breast at the thickest part to read 160°F to 165°F; start checking about 15 minutes before you think the bird will be done.
Charcoal – Put the spit on the grill, with the leg side of the bird inside the “U” of coals. Cook the turkey with the lid closed; it will take 2 to 3 hours (usually about 2 1/2 hours for a 12lb turkey). Every hour, add 24 fresh charcoal briquettes to the grill, nestling them into the burning charcoal. Start checking the temperature in the breast with an instant read thermometer at 2 hours. The turkey is done when the breast meat registers 160°F to 165°F in its thickest part.
- Remove the turkey from the grill, remove the spit from the turkey, and cut the trussing twine loose. Let the turkey rest for 15 to 30 minutes before carving.
- Carve the turkey: If you have a favorite way of carving a turkey, go ahead and use it.
My preferred method – Cut the legs free from the body of the bird, and cut the drumsticks away from the thighs. Leave the drumsticks whole (my favorite part!) and slice the meat from the thighs in ½” slices for dark meat lovers. Next, cut the entire breast half from one side of the bird by working the knife down the keel bone from the top down to the wing, following the inside of the ribcage. Once the breast half is free of the bird, it is easy to slice into ½” thick slices on the carving board. Repeat with the other breast half. Finally, cut each wing away from the carcass, and separate the drumette from the wing, and the wing from the wingtip. Arrange all these pieces on a platter and serve.
Notes: *Fresh vs Frozen: There are two advantages to a fresh turkey. The first is they are rarely pre-brined, which is redundant because of the dry brine. (Watch out for the words “enhanced with a X% solution” or “pre-basted”) The second advantage to fresh turkey is no thawing is needed! If you have to get a frozen bird, make sure to leave an extra three days or so to thaw it in the refrigerator before staring the dry brine; start thawing it about a week before you’ll need it.
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