Roast Turkey

I’ve done our Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys on the grill for the past ten years or so. All of them have been tasty, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it the same way twice. This year’s variation was to try and add more juiciness to the breast meat by larding it with a compound butter.

Compound Butter

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 shallot, minced fine
1 teaspoon parsley, dried
1 tablespoon thyme, dried

Add all of the ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor and blend until completely combined. Remove butter from bowl and spoon into a sealed container. Chill for 2 hours before using.

Roasted Turkey

This is a two stage cook – first roasting the bird indirectly over high heat (500°F) and then reducing the heat to medium (350°F) for the remainder of the cook. On the Big Green Egg, I filled the firebox with lump and opened up the vents to get the Egg stabilized at 500°F. I did not load the plate setter.

For this cook I had a fresh, 16 pound, kosher turkey. I cleaned and rinsed the bird and then patted it dry. I turned the turkey so that the cavity was facing me. Working slowly toward the neck, I separated the skin all the way from the cavity to the top of the breast. I did this on both sides of the breast, but left the skin attached along the center.

I worked half of the compound butter under the skin on each side. Neatness doesn’t count here.  As the bird roasts, the butter will melt down and season and moisten the breast meat. I rubbed a little olive oil on the remainder of the turkey, seasoned it lightly with salt and pepper, and loosely placed a quartered yellow onion in the cavity.

I tucked the wings behind the back, but didn’t truss the legs. It’s better to have the legs away from the body when roasting so that they cook a little faster and get done when the breast does.

I put the turkey breast side up on a rack set in a shallow roasting pan.  I added an inch of water to the pan. The rack makes sure that any juices that drip out stay away from the skin to keep it crisp and the roaster keeps the heat from directly hitting the bird. The water helps keeps the dripping from burning.

The rational behind the two stage cook is that the bird gets an initial blast of heat to help crisp the skin, but then finishes roasting at a more moderate temperature so that it doesn’t dry out. You could do this by taking the bird out after 30 minutes at 500°F, letting the grill cool down, and then putting the bird back in, but I like the hot Egg/cold food approach.

So, with the Egg at 500°F, I tossed in a chunk of apple wood and loaded the cold plate setter (legs up), a trivet, the roasting pan full of turkey, and then closed the lid. Even with the addition of that much cold food, the dome temperature stayed at 500°F for about 5 minutes before dropping. I watched the thermometer and adjusted the vents with the goal of getting the dome down to 350°F in the next 30 minutes. At 20 minutes we settled at 325°F. I bumped the vents open a little and at 40 minutes we were at 350°F and stayed there for the rest of the cook.

The turkey cooked for just about 4 hours total (roughly 15 minutes per pound), to the point where my Thermapen instant-read thermometer said the thigh was at 180°F and the breast was 160°F.

I tented the bird losely with aluminum foil, made a big batch of Mad Max gravy, carved the bird, and then sat down with friends and family. The bird was moist, with a crispy skin and just enough smoke. It was a fine feast.