Six Reason to Give Thanks


Dear Up In Smoke Subscriber,

Let’s face it: A lot of bad turkey gets served every Thanksgiving. The problem has less to do with human error—well, usually—than with avian anatomy. The simple fact is that the delicate white meat of the turkey breast cooks faster than the dark rich meat of the legs and thighs. So if you cook a turkey to a safe temperature (165 degrees F), the breast is almost guaranteed to dry out.

What’s a griller to do?

Well, there’s a simple solution to this problem. Actually, there are six. Brine the bird. Cure it. Inject it. Chop it. Smoke it. Grill it. All will give you every grillmaster’s dream holiday bird—moist, tender, smoky and bursting with flavor. Here’s a quick rundown on each:

Brine it. Brining is the process of marinating the bird overnight in a saline solution (saltwater). By the process of osmosis (remember your high school chemistry?), some of the brine is drawn into the turkey, making the meat both succulent and flavorful. Brining works great for both whole turkeys and turkey breasts. Below you’ll find an orange-brown sugar brined turkey adapted from my forthcoming book, Planet Barbecue.

Cure it. Curing is a bit like brining, only you use a dry rub instead of a liquid. The salt draws some of water out of the turkey. You might think this would make the bird dry. It doesn’t. What it does do is give you a rich-textured bird and bold flavor. Here’s a prime example: the turkey pastrami in The Barbecue! Bible (page 270 if you own the original edition, and page 286 if you own the anniversary edition). Or if you’re in a hurry, check out our Best of Barbecue Pastrami on the Grill Kit.

Inject it. You could think of the process of injecting a turkey as marinating from the inside out. Using a kitchen syringe (it looks an oversize hypodermic needle), you inject a mixture of broth, melted butter and other seasonings (such as cognac or Madeira wine) deep into the breast and thigh meat. This keeps the bird moist—even after prolonged cooking on a grill or in a smoker. Not to mention the mad scientist machismo of brandishing the injector. (Raichlen’s Rule #6—never underestimate the importance of looking cool when you set out to grill. Rule #7? Never put coarse ground spices in an injector sauce—they’ll clog the needle.) In the recipes section below, you’ll find a recipe for a Madeira turkey injection adapted from How to Grill.

Chop it. This refers to the “divide and conquer” approach to grilling. To keep turkey moist on the grill, start with thin slices of breast or thigh (as they do in Israel) or even finely chopped turkey (as they do in Russia and the Republic of Georgia) to make a sort of grilled skinless turkey sausage called shashlik. Small pieces of meat cook more quickly than large, so you can cook them through without drying them out. Below you’ll find a recipe for Russian ground turkey kebabs—again adapted from the new Planet Barbecue.

Smoke it: One of the best ways to keep turkey moist on the grill is to smoke it in the style of the American South. The closed cooking environment holds in not only the smoke, but the moisture. The low to moderate heat used in smoking cooks the bird without drying it out. By the way, smoked turkey is an excellent dish to make in the Weber 22-1/2-inch Smokey Mountain smoker or the Big Green Egg.

Grill it: When working with turkey steaks (cut from the breast) or chopped or ground turkey, the best method is direct grilling. Work over a medium-high to high heat to sear the meat on the outside while keeping it moist in the center. Target temperature for doneness is 165 degrees F. To add flavor, spray the bird as it grills with olive oil, wine, or a spray marinade, such as our new Best of Barbecue Balsamic Ginger Spray Marinade.

The turkey is a bird near and dear to the American heart, for it’s indigenous to the New World—domesticated by the Aztecs long before long before the arrival of the Spanish. Benjamin Franklin regarded turkey so highly, he wanted to name it—not the eagle—our national bird. So how did a fowl with such deep American roots come to be called turkey? In the 16th century, many luxury consumer products came from or through Turkey. Thus, labeling this New World fowl a “Turkie bird” helped lend it cachet and commercial acceptance. Here’s a new twist on an American Thanksgiving icon, and brining and smoking virtually guarantee your bird will be moist. Note: I prefer indirect grilling to smoking for turkey as smoking tends to make the skin leathery, while indirect grilling keeps it crisp. But I give both options below.

Looking for a unique recipe to spice up the holiday season? Try the Ultimate Grilling Contest winning recipe:

London Broil “Pizza” Grilled with Roasted Garlic, Kalamata Olives, and Fontina by Judy Armstrong of Prairieville, LA

Serves: 6

1 1/2 pounds London broil (top round steak), approximately 1 1/2 inches thick, butterflied and flattened
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons mashed roasted garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups shredded Fontina cheese
5 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup seeded, halved Kalamata olives
1/2 cup jarred or frozen sliced artichoke bottoms, thawed
1 cup fresh grated Romano cheese, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves, plus extra for serving

1. Place the butterflied London broil in a food-safe plastic bag. Add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and thyme. Close the bag and massage the marinade into the steak and refrigerate for 1 to 6 hours. Remove from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.

2. Preheat the grill to medium.

3. Remove the steak from the plastic bag, and discard the marinade. Pat the steak dry with a clean towel. Season with the salt and pepper.  Open up the steak to its full measure and place it on the grill, cut side (inside of the butterfly) down. Grill for 1 minute to sear. Turn the steak and smear the cut side all over with the roasted garlic and Dijon mustard. Layer the Fontina, tomatoes, olives, artichoke bottoms, 1 cup Romano cheese, the red bell pepper, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, and the basil over the steak. Continue to cook until the cheese is melted, 7 to 8 minutes more.

4. Remove the steak to a cutting board, let sit for 3 minutes, then cut it into 4 pieces. Garnish with additional fresh basil and Romano cheese and serve.


Serves 12.

Adapted from Planet Barbecue (Workman, May 2010)

For the brine:

1-1/2 cups kosher salt
1-1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1 gallon cool water
4 bay leaves
4 strips orange zest (removed with a vegetable peeler), plus the juice of the orange
4 whole cloves
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 turkey (about 12 pounds)
4 tablespoons salted butter, melted, for basting
Madeira Gravy (recipe follows)

You’ll also need: trussing string; about 5 cups soaked, drained hardwood chips or chunks

1) Make the brine: Place the salt, sugar, and 1 quart water in a large stockpot or clean bucket. Whisk in the remaining water. Add bay leaves, orange zest strips, cloves, onion, cinnamon, black peppercorns, and orange juice to the brine.

2) Wash the turkey inside and out with cold running water, then place it in the bucket with the brine. Place a heavy weight, like a saucepan or a resealable plastic bag filled with ice, on top to keep it submerged. Brine-cure the turkey in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

3) Drain the turkey well and blot dry with paper towels. For a more professional-looking presentation, truss the bird with butcher’s string.

Indirect grill method (best done on a charcoal grill): Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium-low (300 degrees F). Place the turkey, breast side up, on the grate over the drip pan. Add 3/4 cups wood chips or chunks to each mound of coals. Smoke-roast the turkey until dark golden brown and cooked through; the internal temperature of the meat in the deepest part of the thigh should be 165 degrees F. Here’s another test for doneness—pierce the thigh with a slender skewer: the juices should run clear. This will take 3 to 3-1/2 hours, and you’ll need to replenish the charcoal every hour. Add another batch of wood chips after the first and second hours, but not the third. Start basting the turkey with melted butter after 2-1/2 hours and baste every 20 or 30 minutes.

Smoker method: Set up your smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 275 degrees F. Drain the turkey well and blot dry. For a more professional- looking presentation, truss the bird with butcher’s string. Place the turkey in the smoker, breast side up. Smoke the turkey until dark golden brown and cooked through; the internal temperature of the meat in the deepest part of the thigh should be 165 degrees F. Here’s another test for doneness—pierce the side of the thigh with a slender skewer: the juices should run clear. Depending on your smoker and the temperature outside, this will take 4 to 6 hours. Start basting the turkey with butter after 3 hours and baste every 30 minutes.

Transfer the turkey to a platter and remove the trussing string. Let rest for 20 to 25 minutes, loosely tented with foil. Make the Madeira Gravy (recipe follows) and serve at once.


Makes 3 cups.

Turkey is only as good as the gravy you spoon over it. This may be about the best gravy you’ve ever tasted, enriched as it is with smoked turkey drippings, Madeira, and for an unexpected touch, a splash of coffee. Note: the easiest way to defat the turkey drippings is to use a fat separating gravy boat (the sort whose spout comes off the bottom). Fat rises, so when you pour off the drippings, the fat stays in the gravy boat.

2 cups turkey drippings
1 to 2 cups chicken or turkey stock
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup Madeira wine
1/4 cup coffee
1/4 cup heavy cream
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1) Strain the turkey drippings into a fat separating gravy boat. Wait a few minutes, then pour the drippings into a large measuring cup, stopping when the fat starts to come out. Add enough chicken stock to obtain 3 cups.

2) Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook until a dark golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

3) Remove the pan from the heat and gradually whisk in the Madeira, coffee, cream, and the turkey drippings with stock. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil, whisking steadily. Simmer the sauce over medium heat until richly flavored and reduced to about 3 cups, 6 to 10 minutes. Correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.


Below is a basic injector sauce I’ve adapted from How to Grill (Workman, 2001). It can be used on a raw turkey in place of a brine to keep turkey moist and succulent. Make the sauce as directed and keep it warm (not hot). Draw the injector sauce into the syringe, and inject into the drumsticks, thighs, and the plumpest parts of the breast. Then indirect grill, smoke, or rotisserie the bird. (Discard any leftover injector sauce.)

1/2 cup chicken broth (preferably homemade)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons Madeira wine
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan and cook just until the butter melts. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. Keep warm until ready to use, then transfer to the kitchen syringe.


Advance preparation: For the best results, make the meatball mixture 2 to 4 hours ahead and refrigerate until firm.

Adapted from Planet Barbecue (Workman, May 2010)

Makes 8 5-inch kebabs, enough to serve 4.

1-1/2 pounds boneless skinless turkey thighs or breasts
2 ounces turkey or chicken fat, chilled, or 2 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
1 clove garlic, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons coarse salt (kosher or sea), or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 cup rough-chopped sweet onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Vegetable oil for oiling your hands.

You’ll also need: flat metal or bamboo skewers

1) Cut the turkey and turkey fat into 1-inch pieces and place in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper. Grind the chicken to a coarse puree, running the processor in short bursts. Add the onion and dill and run the processor in short bursts just to mix. If using butter, work it in now, running the processor in short bursts.

2) Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. This step is optional, but it will make the turkey kebabs easier to form.

3) Mold the turkey mixture onto flat skewers to make kebabs that are about 1-inch in diameter and 5 inches long. You should get 8 kebabs. It helps to lightly oil your hands before molding. Place the kebabs on a plate lined with plastic wrap, cover with more plastic wrap, and refrigerate (ideally, 1 to 2 hours more, but you can grill them right away) until you’re ready to grill.

4) Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. Brush and generously oil the grill grate. Note: If using grateless grilling, there’s no need to oil the grate.

5) Grill the turkey kebabs until golden brown on the outside and cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes per side (8 to 12 minutes in all). Carefully slide the turkey kebabs off the skewers onto a platter or plates. Serve at once.

Yours in righteous grilling,
Steven Raichlen, Grill Master and Editor-in-Chief
Nancy Loseke, Features Editor

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