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…

Leave a Comment: