One of the easiest ways to cook a turkey so that its skin is crispy and the meat flavorful and juicy is to cook a spatchcocked turkey on the grill.
Spatchcocking is just the reverse of butterflying a turkey or chicken. Instead of slicing at the breast and laying the bird flat, you remove the back bone and lay the bird flat. Doing this does two things – first it will make the turkey cook more evenly and it will also cook the turkey faster.
If you are buying a fresh turkey, you can ask your butcher to spatchcock the bird for you. But chances are that you are buying a frozen turkey and it will have to be thawed first so you’ll have to do the spatchcocking at home. No big deal. It’s pretty easy and the only “special” equipment that you will need is a pair of poultry sheers or just a large, sharp knife.
When I cook a spatchcocked turkey, I like to use a technique referred to as “raised direct grilling” which is simply grilling on an elevated grilling rack. This also does two things for the bird – it moves it further away from the heat elements providing a gentler, more even heat and it moves the bird closer to the heat reflecting off of the grill lid to evenly brown the top of the turkey. As a bonus, you don’t even have to flip the turkey when you use this method.
I’ll show you how to do both of these techniques in the notes below the recipe. These techniques work for whatever flavor profiles you are using but in this recipe I decided to use the fall flavors of apples and sage. This recipe builds on the sweet apple and savory sage profile using an infused butter injection to get the flavor inside the meat and a compound butter on the outside of the bird.
Spatchcocking a turkey will make it cook more evenly and quickly. Injecting it with a flavorful honey-butter mixture will add juiciness to the meat.
- 12-14 pound turkey, thawed and spatchcocked
- 3/4 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup unsalted
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 ounce dried apple
- 4 whole leaves fresh sage
- 1 1/2 stick butter
- 1/4 teaspoon dried lemon peel plus apple and sage from the injection mix
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon peel
- 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
- Combine the stock, butter and honey in a saucepan over low heat. Add the apple and sage, bring to a simmer and then shut off the burner. Let the mixture steep for 5 minutes.
- Combine the butter and lemon peel. Remove the sage and apple from the injection mix and finely mince them. Stir into the butter and lemon peel. Set aside.
- Combine the salt, black pepper, garlic, dried lemon peel, and parsley together in a small bowl.
- Set up the grill for raised direct cooking and preheat to medium low heat (325 degrees).
- Inject the turkey. Flip the turkey skin side down. Fill a meat syringe with the injection and inject the mixture from the back side of the breasts and thighs, refilling the syringe as needed. Inject the legs in two or three places from the front side.
- Stuff the compound butter under the skin of the turkey. Whatever is left in the bowl can be melted and drizzled over the top of the turkey to help the rub stick to the bird.
- Season the turkey on front and back with the rub.
- Place turkey skin side up on the elevated grill grate, close the lid and cook over medium low heat until the internal temperature of the breasts are 160-165 degrees and the thighs are 175-180 degrees. With this set up and heat, that should take about 15 minutes per pound or three hours total.
- Remove the turkey from the grill and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Infusing the flavors of the sage and apple into the butter injection gets flavor deep down into the turkey. Marinades and brines are great but they are like beauty – only skin deep in most cases.
Mince the reconstituted dried apple finely so it will be evenly distributed in the butter. You don’t want big chunks. We had dehydrated our own apples so I had them on hand but you can find dried apple in the dried fruit or bulk foods sections of many stores these days. If you can’t find dried apples, you can just use about 1/4 cup of fresh grated apple in the compound butter.
To spatchcock the turkey, cut parallel alongside the backbone as pictured. I prefer using sharp poultry sheers, but you can also use a large sharp knife.
Repeat along the other side of the backbone and remove it entirely. I like to save it for making stock later.
Pry the bird open like a book, flip it skin side up, then forcibly push down on the center of the breast until you hear it crack and it flattens out. If you are used to doing this with chickens, you will notice it takes a bit more force.
Injecting the bird from the backside avoids tearing the skin on the front side with needles. Inject the needle in 3-5 places in each breast and thigh and inject slowly as you pull the needle back out.
To inject the thighs, come in from the back and side like this.
You can’t get the legs from the back side so just approach them from the front like this.
Season the backside of the bird. Don’t forget it just because it doesn’t show.
Just lift the skin from the meat, separate it using your fingers and then start working clumps of the butter underneath the skin.
Once under the skin, you can massage the butter into place from above.
As mentioned, you will have a little leftover butter in the bowl. We like to microwave that and pour it over the turkey. Not only does this add flavor, but it will help the rub to stick to the bird.
To create the raised cooking rack, I improvised. I used four EMPTY small tomato paste cans to support a resting rack (the kind of rack you’d use for cooling after baking or roasting). This raises your turkey about 3 inches. This might not work on smaller grills but should work on any three or four burner Char-Broil® gas grill. With the right sized rack and a smaller bird (10-12 pounds) you could do this on many two-burner grills.
With three burners on the lowest setting, my Char-Broil® Gourmet TRU-Infrared™ held 325 degrees for most of the cook. Later it started climbing to near 350 degrees as the turkey warmed up, so I would shut off the middle burner for about 5 minutes to get the temp back down to 325.
With the bird flat like this, it will heat evenly since the heat is hitting a flat bird instead of a roundish target.
Fifteen minutes per pound is just about perfect on a mild day. I started checking internal temps once the skin started to brown like this at about 2 1/2 hours. When cooking poultry, check temps early and often because dried out chicken or turkey is depressing.
Never go by appearance or smell alone. Always use a quality digital thermometer to verify that the breasts are 160-165 degrees and the thighs are 175-180 degrees. If this cooks so even, how do the two end up at different temps? First, you want these pieces at those temps for optimal texture, moisture and flavor. If you look at the flattened bird, you notice the thighs are a good inch thinner than the breasts. So even though heat is hitting the turkey evenly, the leg quarters will get hotter sooner, which is a good thing.
If you want to serve a gravy with your turkey, no problem. Just put an oven sheet pan under the turkey for the last hour or so to collect the drippings.
While the turkey was cooking, I had par-boiled some fresh green beans. Then as the turkey rested, I used my trusty side burner to saute some shitake mushrooms.
After about 5-6 minutes, I added the green beans and tossed with a little stock, salt and pepper for a quick side dish that I topped with crumbled bacon.
Is it juicy? Of course it is! The butter injection and TRU-Infrared™ technology keeps this bird from drying out. This picture was taken after we ate and you can see it is still dripping with juiciness.
Save the oven for your side dishes and casseroles – the grill is where your turkey belongs!