Smoking a turkey on a charcoal grill is quite simple, yet the flavors are complex and make for a wonderful addition to your Thanksgiving table. This method works great for whole birds or bone-in breasts and the leftover sandwiches are masterpiece-level delicious thanks to the punch of smoky goodness.
Cook Time:2-5 hours
Total Time:2 days
Supplies & Equipment-
Charcoal kettle grill
Charcoal and chimney starter
Disposable aluminum tray
About 5 Wood chunks or chips (Maple, Apple, Cherry, or Hickory are my favorites. I do not recommend mesquite in this recipe as it is too overpowering for poultry.)
Bone-In Turkey Breast, about 7-8 pounds, fresh or thawed from frozen
3 tablespoons Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
½ teaspoons dried thyme
½ teaspoon rubbed sage
½ teaspoon rosemary
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2-3 days ahead of time: Dry brine the turkey- Combine all kosher salt, thyme, sage, rosemary, and dark brown sugar in a small bowl. Rub into and under the skin of the turkey. Place turkey on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and refrigerate uncovered for 2-3 days. Remove from refrigerator at least 30-60 minutes prior to smoking to allow it to come up to room temperature.
On Cooking Day: Soak the wood chunks in the aluminum tray filled with water for 30 minutes prior to smoking.
Start the charcoal using a charcoal chimney starter. (This is the most efficient method of starting charcoal in our experience and does not necessitate using starter fluid.) Let the charcoals burn until glowing red before transferring to the grill, about 15-20 minutes.
Arrange the charcoal along one side in the bottom of the grill. Set the tray of water with the wood on the other side.
Remove wood chunks from water and arrange 2-3 wood chunks on top of the charcoal. (Use 4 or 5 chunks if the pieces are small.)
Place the cooking grate into position and cover the grill for a few minutes while the cooking grate heats up. Adjust the air vents so they’re less than half-way open. Medium-low INDIRECT heat is the goal.
Place turkey breast onto pre-heated grill skin side down. Replace cover and let cook for 1 hour before removing lid. Flip bird over and cook another 30 minutes, adjusting vents as needed to control browning, checking temperature periodically until minimum temperature of 165°F is reached. To check the temperature: Insert an instant-read thermometer into thickest part of the breast without touching bone. Once the target internal temperature has been nearly reached, feel free to add more charcoal and open the vents to increase browning as desired. We do not usually need to do this step, but that is another nice feature of using a charcoal chimney- you can heat up more charcoals while the grill is in use.
Transfer cooked turkey to a platter and tent with foil for 20 minutes before carving.
A note about cook times: My rule of thumb when grilling and smoking turkeys is 1 ½ hours per 5lbs. of meat. A 7-8 pound bone-in turkey breast is typically done in about 2 hours. For a 12-14 pound whole turkey, plan for about 4-5 hours of cook time. Tip- Spatchcocking the bird can help cut down on the cook time. Do not use time as the judge for doneness. The only way to ensure safe cooking temperatures is by using a thermometer.
A note about cooking temperatures: More air = Higher heat. Less air = Lower heat. Adjust vents on your grill accordingly as needed to control cooking temperature.
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