The City Magazine Since 1975

How to Grill a Turkey

November 2016
How to Grill a Turkey
Few foods smell as good as an oven-roasted turkey on the final Thursday in November. Yet some Thanksgiving Day traditions are made to be broken. This year, why not fire up a charcoal grill for a crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside bird? Here, Circa 1886 chef Marc Collins shares his strategy that begins with a 24-hour brine two days in advance. 

The Bird: These directions are for a 10- to 14-pound turkey.

On Tuesday: Brine

❶ Brine a turkey (get Collins’s recipe below) in a covered pot for 12 to 24 hours.

Pro tip: Finding a stockpot or bucket large enough to contain the turkey and the liquid is key, as is clearing enough room in the fridge. Tight on space? You can also brine the turkey in a refrigerator drawer: clean it out, place the liquid and turkey in a sealable bag, and place it in the drawer. (Make sure you thoroughly clean the drawer after use.)

On Wednesday: Spatchcock

❶ Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. (Discard the liquid.) “The key to crisp skin is thoroughly drying the turkey,” Collins says.

❷ Place the bird breast-side down on a cutting board. Using a super sharp knife or poultry shears, saw through both sides of the backbone and remove. (You can save the bone to make gravy.)

❸ Flip the bird, press down, and flatten.

❹ Move it to a pan, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for another 12 hours or overnight.

On Thursday: Butter & Grill

❶ Prepare an herbed butter (recipe below) and rub it generously under the turkey’s skin.

❷ Once the grill is prepared (instructions follow), light the two outside corners of the coals (the heat will move to the center over time) and replace the top rack.

❸ When the grill temperature reads 350°F, put the bird directly on the rack and over the pan.

❹ Close the lid and cook the bird for roughly 90 minutes at about 325°F to 350°F. Note: If the grill gets too hot, open the vents to let out some heat. If the temperature dips below 325°F, try lighting additional coals or move the turkey to an indoor oven to finish cooking.

❺ To check its readiness, insert a meat thermometer into the fattest part of the thigh, not touching the bone. The turkey is done when it reaches 165°F.

Pro tip: Check the bird at 30-minute intervals. Resist the urge to peek more often, as too much heat will escape and it’ll take longer to cook.

❻ Remove the turkey from the grill and place on a clean cutting board. Create a tent with foil, and let it sit for 20 minutes. “If you cut into it too early, the juices escape,” notes Collins. “Resting helps produce a moister turkey.”

Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, any leftover turkey will keep for up to four days.


Grill prep: Using charcoal holders, add briquettes to the grill’s bottom rack in a half-moon shape. Then, place a four-inch-deep grill pan (a disposable aluminum pan will work) in the empty space to catch the drippings. If you don’t have charcoal holders, place the pan diagonally on the rack first, then build up the charcoal around two corners.

Chef Marc Collins’s Brine
(Yields 1 gallon)

1/2 gal. water
1 cup sea salt, or try smoked salt for a smokier flavor
1/8 cup rubbed sage
6 bay leaves
1 Tbs. black peppercorns
6 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
4 or 5 peeled garlic cloves
1/2 gal. ice-water bath (fill a large pitcher to the 1/2-gallon mark with ice cubes, then add cold water to the 1/2-gallon line)

In a saucepan, bring the water and seasonings to a boil. Boil for two minutes, then strain. Pour the hot liquid into the ice-water bath. Once the ice melts, the brine should be cold. Pour it into a pot large enough to submerge a turkey. If it’s still a little warm, refrigerate the brine in the container until cold. It’s essential that the brine is cold before adding the turkey.

For the Herbed Butter

1½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 Tbs. rubbed sage
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tsp. granulated onion
2 sprigs chopped fresh rosemary
Zest of 2 lemons
Zest of 1 orange
1 Tbs. maple syrup
Pinch salt

Add all ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until well combined.

Resources: