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Celebrate Thanksgiving the Traditional Way

img_27761When the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians gathered together to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest, the meal was cooked on an open fire and eaten outside. The autumn of 1621 brought about what we consider to be the first Thanksgiving, and the same traditions continue almost 400 years later. Cooking the Thanksgiving feast on an open flame has kept its appeal over the years as over 11 million U.S. households will fire up the grill this Thanksgiving!

Why should you grill your Thanksgiving meal?

  • Grilling your turkey makes it tender and juicy and gives it a nice smoky flavor that will score big points with your guests.
  • You can even grill your vegetables, which will give them a delicious rustic flavor and texture.
  • It frees up oven space! Just think about how many more side dishes and pies you can make without worrying about trying to time everything so precisely.
  • It gives you an escape outside. The fall provides ideal weather conditions that are perfect for grilling.
  • Thanksgiving can get pretty crazy in the kitchen! By grilling the turkey and other side dishes outside, you can have much more room while enjoying the nice crisp air with your family.

How to Grill Your Turkey

The Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association provides four great ways to cooking your turkey outdoors.

Grill-roasted Turkey

  • Purchase a turkey that is broad and flat to fit underneath the covered grill top.
  • Make sure there is at least one-inch of space between the turkey and the grill lid.
  • Prepare grill for indirect heat at 350° F, using a drip pan in the center.
  • Apply a thin coating of non-stick vegetable cooking oil to the unheated rack and brush the outer surface of the turkey with cooking oil.
  • Do not tie the legs together when grilling a whole bird. The turkey will cook more evenly if hot air circulates to all areas of the bird.
  • Allow for two to three hours of indirect cooking time for an eight- to 12-pound turkey and three to four hours for a 12- to 16-pound turkey.

Rotisserie Turkey

  • When setting up the grill, place the drip pan directly beneath the turkey. On a charcoal grill, arrange the coals around the outer edge of the fire pan.  For gas, electric or pellet grills, follow the manufacturer instructions.
  • Adding 1/3 to 1 inch of water in the drip pan will create steam and moisture for the turkey.
  • Make sure the turkey is balanced on the spit to prevent uneven cooking or overworking the rotisserie motor.
  • Once started, observe the rotation of the turkey to make sure it is balanced and there are no obstructions.
  • Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. The breast is done at 170ºF, the thigh at 180ºF.
  • Use oven mitts when removing the rotisserie upon completion.

Smoked Turkey

  • Bring the smoker to an internal temperature of 250° F to 300° F before inserting the turkey.
  • Place the turkey in the smoker with the breast facing up.
  • Make sure there is at least one inch of space between the turkey and the smoker lid.
  • If using a charcoal smoker, add charcoal often to maintain the 250° F to 300° F temperature necessary to produce the hot smoke that cooks the turkey.
  • Smoke the turkey 20 to 30 minutes per pound.

Fried Turkey

  • In addition to frying a whole turkey, turkey breasts, legs and thighs are also ideal for frying.
  • Always use a high smoke point frying oil, such as peanut oil. Never allow the oil to exceed 375° F.
  • Always make sure the turkey is dry before lowering it very slowly into the hot oil.
  • Allow three to four minutes of fry-time per pound for whole turkeys in an oil fryer and eight to ten minutes per pound in an infrared oil-less fryer.
  • Allow oil to cool completely before removing from pot.

Don’t stop with the turkey! Grilling your vegetables and favorite desserts is a great way to embrace tradition. Check out the links below for fun grilling recipes that reinvent the classic Thanksgiving feast!

Farm-to-Grill: Vegetables for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Dessert on the Grill

Grilling your Thanksgiving meal is a great return to tradition that your family will love! It’s easy, affordable, and provides superior taste. So when you are planning your Thanksgiving meal this year, think about taking it outside! Keep tradition alive and cook like it’s 1621.


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