All posts by davidkessler

BBQ roast turkey for Christmas

What, roasting a stuffed whole turkey on the barbecue grill? Are you crazy? Well yes, I am a little, but crazy is as crazy does. And it can be done.

That is, it can be done be done if you have a large enough barbecue to not only accommodate a whole turkey but also to keep the charcoal or wood on the other side, so that the turkey is not cooking on direct heat. If you haven’t got enough room for that, you could try it with a turkey crown or a chicken instead – but then of course, you’d be cooking for fewer people. And, of course, you need a BBQ with a hood. You can’t do this on an open grill.

Let’s go through it. I won’t discuss stuffing or marinades now, but I will give some ideas next time.

Start the fire on one side of the barbecue. This can be done if you have a large kettle BBQ, a closed oil drum or even an upright smoker. (In the latter case, you don’t have to worry about making the fire on one side, you just use the water pan to shield the turkey from direct heat.)

The heat should be medium-high not ultra-hot, so use the right amount of charcoal and the right sort of charcoal (see: Choosing the Right Charcoal). But remember that you need it to cook for anything from two to three-and-a-half hours, so be generous with the coal. You can always take remedial action if the outside appears to be cooking too much relative to the inside.

If you use wood, rather than charcoal, you are probably already an expert.

Preparing the turkey:


  1. Stuff the turkey cavity and neck. In the case of the cavity, do not stuff it full, two-thirds to three quarters is fine. Yes, the surface will dry out but that’s the idea. Good stuffing should have a “bark” just like smoked brisket! (If there is any stuffing left over, you can stuff the spaces between the breast and drumstick – however, be aware that this will slow down the rate at which the breast cooks. Bear this in mind regarding whether or not to cover the breast with foil – see point 5 below).
  2. With a stainless steel injector (see: Things for your BBQ That You Didn’t Even Know You Needed) inject your marinade into the thickest parts of the turkey, say 2-3 places in each breast, the thigh and the thick part of the drumstick.
  3. Then, brush the skin of the turkey with the marinade, making sure you have some left over as you will need to top up once-in-a-while.
  4. Place the turkey on a tray and place it on the food rack in the barbecue, breast side up, and close the hood or lid.
  5. Check every half hour to see how the surface is doing and test the interior of the the turkey with a meat probe thermometer. If the outside is getting done too quickly while the inside is not yet hot enough, baste the turkey thoroughly and cover with foil. In practice the breast cooks quicker, so cover the breast with foil, but leave the legs exposed. (You can in fact do this from the start and then uncover the breast if it is not getting done enough.)
  6. Regardless of whether you cover it from the start or not, make sure that the breast is uncovered for the last 20-40 minutes, so that the skin can brown over and become crisp. This will also ensure that the exposed parts of the stuffing (including the top part of the stuffing in the cavity) will develop a crisp outer layer. (It is probably a good idea to scoop the stuffing out and let it cook on the side for the last twenty minutes. This will ensure that it doesn’t interfere with the inner parts of the turkey cooking and also ensures that stuffing will get crisp on the outside.)
  7. After 2-3½ hours (depending on the size) the turkey should be done. You can test this, either with a temperature probe or by inserting a sharp knife of BBQ fork into the thickest part of the breast and seeing if the juices run clear.
  8. When the turkey is ready take it off and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. 20-30 minutes is better. In fact, according to some chefs – including Gordon Ramsey – that you should let it rest as long as you cooked it. However, to do this without it getting cold you would have to cover it with foil and a couple of towels. Personally, I would recommend 30-minutes. 40 at most. You can do this while everyone is eating the appetizers – or recovering from them!
  9. When the turkey has rested enough – and when your guests have recovered from the appetizers, carve it and serve with roast potatoes, roast parsnips, stuffing, brussels sprouts, broccoli, peas, baby onions or shallots, gravy and all the trimmings.


We’re not going to give a recipe from gravy here as there are so many available from many sources. But here’s a little trick for separating the turkey drippings into juices and fat.

  1. While the turkey is still cooking, use a basting pipette to extract most of the juices and put them into a large jar. The jar should have a flat, closable lid.
  2. Close the lid, and put the jar upside down on a flat surface.
  3. When the jar and juices have cooled off a bit, but the jar in the fridge. The fat will rise to the top (which is actually the bottom) and form a layer there, while the juices will descend to the bottom (which is really the top).
  4. When the jar and contents cool off, the fat will have solidified at the “top” while the juices remain liquid at the “bottom”.
  5. Turn the jar upright, open it and pour of the liquid from what is now the top. You will then have separate turkey juices and turkey fat to use as you please.

You can also do this after the turkey has been cooked and removed, but then you have a narrower time frame to make use of it.

Okay, today we’ve talked turkey. Next time we’ll talk stuffing recipes and more marinades. Christmas is coming, but we’ve still got time. Just to give you a little teaser, we’ve got a marinade that includes turmeric, to give the turkey that little flavor of the east, and a stuffing recipe that includes grated horseradish to give it some zing. There’s even a potato dumpling variant of the

Looking forward to sharing it with you…

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Making pita bread on the fire

Although it is traditional to eat burgers in a bun and hot dogs in a roll, my experience of living in the middle east has given me a preference for using pocket bread – AKA pita – to serve as the “host” for those grilled pieces of meat. The fact that pita can also accommodate sheesh and kofte makes it an all-purpose sandwich bread.

But in my experience, it is very hard to buy good pita bread in the west. The pita bread that they sell in supermarkets is produced with shelf-life in mind, rather than taste. It has less gluten than bakery-fresh pita. This makes it somewhat healthier, I suppose. But it also makes it far less soft – and thus far more fragile. As soon as you try to cut it open, it tends to fragment or even crumble. And if you manage to cut it open without bits breaking off or flaking off, it starts to break when you actually try to put anything inside it. Heating it up slightly – whether in a microwave, regular oven, grill or open fire – can help it survive the ravages of cutting and filling, but it is at best an imperfect solution.

Also, pita bread bought in the supermarket is just not as good as the kind of fresh baked-the-same-day pita bread that you can buy in the middle east. It just doesn’t have the taste!

Now of course if you live in a big city – especially one with a diverse cosmopolitan population – you will be able to find places where they sell fresh, real pita bread. But what if you don’t? Or what if you want to try something more adventurous for your next barbecue? After all you’re going to have a nice fire going anyway. What if you want to have a go at making and baking your own pita bread in your own barbecue?

There are two parts to making pita bread: the preparation and the actual cooking. We’ll start with the preparation.

How to prepare the dough for pita bread

The quantities below are for making 12 pocket pita breads of about 5 inches diameter. You can change the quantities according to your needs.


First the ingredients:

  • 1½ teaspoons of active dry yeast
  • 1½ cups of water
  • 5 cups (600 grams) bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil



  1. Put the water into a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the yeast to the water and stir gently, but making sure that it is all mixed.
  3. While the yeast is reacting to the water, put the flour into a mixing bowl and add the salt and olive oil.
  4. Then pour in the mixture of water and yeast and mix them all together using (clean) hands, a wooden spoon or a blender/mixer until they form a single ball of dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl and can hold together on its own surface tension.
  5. Sprinkle a small amount of flour onto a clean, flat surface such as a large wooden board and transfer the dough ball to the surface. (The flour is just to stop it sticking: you do not have to use much.)
  6. Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes. This can be done with your knuckles, the palms of your hands or both. You should knead it into a moderately flat lump, then when it is wide enough and thin enough, fold it over on itself and do it again. Also, rotate it a quarter turn, and repeat the process, so that it is folded different ways. You may, if you like, also flip it over, once in a while, and work it from the other side. (If you are using an electric mixer, after you have got the dough ball, you can simply run the mixer at a lower speed for 10 minutes to get the same effect as kneading.)
  7. Spray, brush or rub a suitably sized lidded container with olive oil and place the dough ball in the container and flip it over. Alternatively, you can rub or brush some olive oil directly onto the surface of the dough ball. The important thing is to make sure that the dough ball is covered with olive oil.
  8. Then, close the container and leave it for at least an hour at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. It will be ready only when it has doubled in size.
  9. When the dough ball is double the original size, put some more flour onto work surface and divide the ball into three equal parts. Then divide each of these into four parts, rolling them into soft, elastic balls. (The best way to shape them – according to some patisseries – is not just to roll them but to stretch some of the dough this way and that like a skin covering the rest and then, when the ends meet up, to squeeze them together. But this technique is optional.)
  10. Let these balls rest for at least 10 minutes. Longer is fine too. No harm will come to them.

Baking the pita breads

Pre-heat a pizza stone in your wood, charcoal or gas barbecue. Heat the stone gradually with the fire, don’t wait until the fire is raging hot. One way to do it is to make the fire at one and/side and put the stone at the other. If you have a gas barbecue, you can put the stone on one side and heat the burners on the other side, avoiding subjecting the stone to direct heat.

Meanwhile, put some more flour on your work surface and roll out the pita breads to about ¼ inch thickness. If my calculations are right, they should be about 5 inches across. But I may be wrong. Do not worry about making pockets, these will create themselves in the heat and you will see this in the way the pita breads puff up and rise in the middle.

When the barbecue and pizza stone are hot enough, put one or two pitas on the pizza stone, close the hood and let them cook until they puff up. This should take anything between two and four minutes. It depends on how hot the barbecue is, but three minutes is the average. Bear in mind that the barbecue cools off noticeably when you open it.

Remove the pita and put new ones using a large spatula or – ideally – a pizza peel (such as one from American Metalcraft in the USA or Non Consumables in the UK)

As the soon as the pita is cool enough to touch (i.e. before it has got cold) slit it open wide enough to insert the cooked burger patty, hot dog (sliced down the middle, lengthways), kofte or sheesh and you’re done – ready to eat!

And what about pizza, instead of pizza?

Pizza dough and pita dough are actually the same thing. The only difference is that when you spread it out larger and add weight to it, the dough doesn’t rise as much when it cooks through and therefore doesn’t form a pocket.

So, if you want to make pizza, just use the same mixture as above, split it into larger balls, roll it out bigger and cover it with tomato paste (purée), grated cheese and whatever toppings you want to add. Cook it the same way, but you may have to give it slightly longer.

With pizza it is best if the stone is not over the direct heat. This avoids burning the tomato paste and other toppings.

Bon Appetit!

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