We held our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday this year. With an extra day to work with, I thought I’d try taking the bird apart, making the gravy and sides dishes in advance, and then grilling turkey first thing the next day.

The problem I have with roasting a whole turkey is that while the white breast meat is done at 160°F internal, the dark meat is still pretty chewy at that point. Legs and thighs really need to go to at least 180°F to be tasty. By separating the dark and white meat, and by placing the dark meat closer to the heat, I was hoping to get both done perfectly.

Taking the bird apart was the hardest part. I started with an 18-pound, natural bird. Working just with a good chef’s knife, I first removed the hind quarters by pulling the drumstick away from the turkey and then cutting through skin between leg and body down to the joint. I pushed the thigh flat until the joint popped, and then cut through the joint.

I removed the wings by cutting all the way around the joint until the wing came free. Next, I removed the breast by inverting the body and cutting down through the ribs on each side until I cut through the shoulder. A clever might have come in handy here, but my dear wife’s childhood memories of cutting up freshly picked chickens helped, too.

The breast and hind quarters got coated with some olive oil and a heavy dusting of Tasty Licks BBQ Turkey Rub courtesy of Fred’s Music & BBQ Supply. I put them in the fridge overnight uncovered to help crisp the skin.

The wings, back, neck and giblets got coated with some olive oil and sea salt and went into the oven to be roasted at 375°F until golden brown and crispy (about 2 hours) and then into the stock pot with some water, herbs and veggies to become the base for the gravy.

It was a cold and snowy start on Friday. Just 17°F when I shoveled a path across our deck and fired up the Big Green Egg. But within 20 minutes she was at 500°F, and once I got the temp adjusted she sailed along at 350°F for several hours.

I set the grill up for an indirect cook, using a plate setter to diffuse the heat. I put the breast in the center of the grate and arranged the hind quarters around it.

The breast hit 160°F after 1-1/2 hours on the grill. I checked the hind quarters and they were at 190°F and 195°F, so I took all the turkey off the grill and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving. Here it is served with all the usual suspects.

And for dessert we had my dear wife’s gluten-free version of Noble Pig’s Pumpkin Cheesecake.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I’ve been grilling turkeys for 10 years, and this was the BEST bird ever – very flavorful with a just a hint of smoke. The breast was so moist the juices ran all over the cutting board when I carved it, even though I’d let it rest awhile. The thighs and legs just about fell apart. Wonderful.

The cheesecake was also outstanding – rich and tangy. My dear wife substituted gluten-free gingersnaps and flour, used black walnuts instead of pecans, and baked it in a 9×2 spring-form pan.

2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving”

  1. Nicely done and way to brave the elements!

    I like your concept of the broken down bird. I ice down the breast with ice for 30 minutes to try to even out the cooking but that doesn’t always make it work out perfectly.

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