Grilled Whole Turkey Recipe

carved turkey on a platter

I’ve been grilling a turkey on Thanksgiving for years, but it’s only been the last few years that I ditched grilling the entire bird as a whole. This is still a grilled whole turkey of course, it’s just grilled turkey in two pieces and that’s what makes it so much better. Read on to find out why…

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Why Cut A Turkey Into Two Halves?

Grilling a turkey as a whole no doubt makes a pretty presentation. That said, I would argue that grilled turkey halves make just as impressive of a presentation — with added benefits.

For example, cutting the turkey in half allows for faster and more even cooking than cooking the bird whole. Cooking time is cut down by 25% or more.

overhead shot of a grilled whole turkey

It’s also much easier to manipulate turkey halves on the grill, or in the oven. Moving around a turkey as a whole is difficult because there’s no flat surface.

Add to that, the portion of the skin that touches the grill grates or the bottom of a roasting pan typically doesn’t cook well. It ends up sticking and going to waste.

Benefits Of Grilling Turkey

I could go on and on about the benefits of grilling most things. In the case of this turkey recipe, not only does it impart some incredible charcoal or wood flavor notes into the turkey, it’s also the perfect way to free up your oven during the holidays.

While the grill is doing its work on the turkey, it’s also a great opportunity to toss some side dishes on the grill as well. Classic homemade stuffing is excellent on the grill and again this frees up oven space in the house.

turkey on a grill with stuffing

Finally, and maybe most importantly, grilling your turkey gives you the opportunity (excuse) to get out of the house and away from the drunk uncle at the big gathering. Gotta keep an eye on the turkey right?

How Do You Keep a Turkey From Drying Out on the Grill?

Because turkey is so lean, it does tend to dry out. This can be prevented in a few different ways. First, you can always brine the turkey for a couple days before grilling it. I love brined poultry!

Next, you can inject your turkey with butter and seasoning of your choice. I do that with my Nashville Hot Turkey and it’s one of my favorite ways to add flavor.

If brining or injecting doesn’t interest you, don’t worry. You’ll be using indirect heat on the grill (gas or charcoal grill). The indirect heat will also help to prevent the turkey from drying out.

In addition to indirect heat, you’ll be basting the turkey every 30 minutes, and that too will help to keep the turkey moist as it roasts on the grill.

close up of a juicy grilled turkey

Above all, don’t overcook the turkey! By leaving the turkey on the grill (or in an oven) until it reaches your desired temperature, the turkey WILL be overdone by the time you carve it. This is due to carry-over cooking.

Remove the turkey from the heat BEFORE it’s fully done (10°-15° or so). Then cover it with foil, and allow it to rest for about ten minutes. The turkey will then be at the desired temperature, not overcooked and dried out.

Can I Cook My Turkey on a Gas Grill?

Absolutely! I prefer a charcoal grill for the flavors that come from lump charcoal and wood. But, if you have a gas grill you can still get some great flavors by using a smoke tube.

If you don’t want the smoky flavor, the gas grill essentially becomes an oven which frees up indoor oven real estate for other things.

How To Carve A Turkey

I like to carve the turkey and create a nice display on a platter. It not only looks fantastic, it’s also much more user friendly for serving.

Start by separating the leg and thigh from the bird, in one piece. There is a natural cut line for this and it’s very intuitive to remove. Depending on the size of the bird, this piece can be served whole, like a chicken quarter, or broken down further by separating the legs and thighs.

Then, remove the wings. This is a little more labor intensive but also intuitive.

sliced turkey on a platter with herbs

Finally, remove the breast meat from the breastbone, by simply using your fingers and peeling it back. Then slice the breast, cutting across it from side to side. This ensures that each slice of meat comes with some of that oh-so-flavorful and perfectly seasoned crispy skin. 

Carving breast meat off the turkey in a more traditional way (end-to-end) is not only a hassle, but it also means that the first slice from each breast will get a disproportionate amount of the skin, which is one of the best parts!

grilled turkey slices on a platter

How to Grill a Whole Turkey

Serves: 8 | Prep Time: 15 mins | Cook Time: 2-3 hours

Ingredients
1 12-16 pound turkey
1 tbsp olive oil
For the rub:
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp ground sage
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp fine ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp rosemary powder
For the baste:
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup olive oil

Step 1: Light the grill and set it up for two-zone cooking, establishing the temperature at 350°F. For added flavor, try adding a pecan or oak wood chunk to the hot coals. 

Step 2: While your grill is preheating, remove the backbone from the turkey with a sharp knife or kitchen shears. Removing the backbone is easy; click here for a video tutorial

Tip: Don’t discard the backbone. It can and should be used to make incredible turkey stock or turkey gravy. 

Step 3: Using the knife or shears, cut down the middle of the breastbone to create two halves of the turkey. Rinse each half under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Then rub each half with olive oil and season the bird liberally with the classic roasted turkey rub. 

Step 4: Place the turkey halves on your grill turkey breast side up, over indirect heat and above a drip pan. Close the lid and allow the turkey to cook for 30 minutes before basting with the melted butter and olive oil. Baste the turkey every thirty minutes until the internal temperature reaches 150°F in the breast or 170°F in the thigh as indicated by a reliable leave-in meat thermometer. This will take roughly 2 hours, depending on the size of your bird. 

turkey halves on a grill

Tip: If you notice the skin of the turkey getting a bit too dark, lightly cover it with aluminum foil.

Step 5: Remove the turkey from the grill, cover with foil and allow it to rest for 10 – 15 minutes before carving. Carry-over cooking will raise the internal temperature to USDA standards. 
Step 6: Uncover the turkey, carve and place on a platter with Thanksgiving dressing.

sliced turkey on a platter with cranberries
turkey slices on a platter

Grilled Whole Turkey

4.46 from 31 votes
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 12-16 lb Turkey
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Classic Turkey Seasoning:

  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground sage
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp garlic power
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp rosemary powder

Turkey Baste

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter melted
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Instructions

  • Light the grill and set it up for two-zone cooking, establishing the temperature at 350°F. For added flavor, try adding a pecan or oak wood chunk to the hot coals.
  • While your grill is preheating, remove the backbone from the turkey with a sharp knife or kitchen shears.
  • Using the knife or shears, cut down the middle of the breastbone to create two halves of the turkey. Rinse each half under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Then rub each half with olive oil and season the bird liberally with the classic roasted turkey rub.
  • Place the turkey halves on your grill turkey breast side up, over indirect heat and above a drip pan. Close the lid and allow the turkey to cook for 30 minutes before basting with the melted butter and olive oil. Baste the turkey every thirty minutes until the internal temperature reaches 150°F in the breast or 170°F in the thigh as indicated by a reliable thermometer. (About 2 hours)
  • Remove the turkey from the grill, cover with foil and allow it to rest for 10 – 15 minutes before carving. Carry-over cooking will raise the internal temperature to USDA standards.
  • Uncover the turkey, carve and place on a platter.

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