Why write documentation

This turkey won’t win any prizes, but it was perfectly edible and it was simple enough that I would like to do it again, with only small changes. These are my notes on what I did and what I’d do differently.

Stuff you’ll need

  • garlic, onions, celery, kosher salt, black peppercorns, allspice, vegetable oil.
  • instant read meat thermometer; I probably have the cheapest kind.
  • 2.5 gallon zippered bag (Hefty makes them).
  • two sprigs of fresh rosemary (many neighbors grow their own).
  • a box of fresh thyme from the store, or sage; but they’re both optional if you have rosemary.
  • aluminum drip pan, about the size of the turkey, like a smaller lasagna pan: the turkey doesn’t need to fit in it, but the pan needs to be big enough to catch what drips off the turkey, besides keeping it bathed in steam. It can’t be too deep, because it must fit between the heat deflector and the grill rack. This height limitation will dictate the length and width too: they only make so many sizes of disposable aluminum pans. Use your judgment.

The main bits of math

  • 14 lbs is the biggest turkey I would cook
  • 1/2 tsp of kosher salt per pound of raw bird for the brine
  • smoke at 300 degrees for 15 minutes per pound of raw bird

Sourcing an appropriate turkey

It’s Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. I bought this turkey frozen on Monday morning. Next time I’ll buy it on Sunday morning for better thawing.

This was a 14 lb bird; 10 to 14 lb is an OK size. It’s hard to find frozen whole turkeys that are smaller than 10lb, though Butterball advertises a Li’l Butterball that’s supposedly 6 to 11 lbs. I’ll look for it next year. Besides size, I will have to look closely at the package, so the turkey doesn’t come with any extras like “self-basting” or “brined” etc. I just want a raw turkey without that red popper (if it does have a red popper, I will take it out after thawing).

Frozen is probably the freshest turkey anybody can buy at a reasonable price, so frozen is the way to go, but thawing it in the fridge takes time. In my fridge on Wednesday night there were still ice chunks in the cavity.

On the subject of thawing: the turkey comes in a form-fitting plastic bag. You thaw it in the bag, so you will only open it when you’re ready to brine. But don’t assume that the bag doesn’t have any holes in it. Thaw on a shallow pan, so if juices seep out of the bag they don’t drip into your vegetable drawer.


The New York Times has a great turkey cooking guide here, with a welcome emphasis on simplicity. My dry brine – a rub, really – is a version of theirs:

  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt per lb of raw bird
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground allspice

Mix this stuff together. Set aside in a small bowl. You will also need a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary aand some fresh thyme, about the same amount of foliage as the rosemary. Crush and peel six cloves of garlic.

Back to the bird: unwrap it, and get out the neck (from the cavity) and the bag of giblets (from under the neck flap). Next, cut off the tips of the wings at the joint. Everybody leaves them on and they look nice and crispy in every picture of a roasted turkey, but they’re useless for eating. Bag them with the neck and giblets and freeze them for soup. Also, these turkeys come with their legs tucked under a strip of fat and skin at the end. This gives the bird a trussed appearance that must have been greatly prized back in the 1960’s. Untuck them. Sometimes the turkey comes with the legs tied together with a kind of plastic shackle. Unshackle them. There’s nothing wrong with a turkey whose legs stick out and up. Next, pat the bird as dry as you can with paper towels. Rub it all over with the dry brine, and put the garlic into the cavity.

Get a 2.5 gallon zippered bag. Put the turkey in there (it will be snug, but a 14 lb bird fits), and tuck in the rosemary and thyme down the sides. I did this on Wednesday night and left the turkey in the fridge overnight. It’s sufficient.

This dry brining is close enough to what’s described in the NY Times Guide. There’s not much to it. It’s a rub. Watch the embedded Essential Roast Turkey video (3 minutes) and see how Melissa Clark prepares that bird.


On Thursday morning, get the bird out of the brine, drain it, pat it dry with paper towels, all over and inside the cavity. Transfer the thyme and rosemary into the cavity. Leave the crushed garlic there. It’s still good. Put the bird back in the fridge uncovered. The fan of the frigde will dry the skin. You won’t have the 4 hours the NY Times guide calls for, and that’s probably OK.

While the turkey is waiting, prepare the grill

The bird goes directly on the rack, so make sure it’s clean. You will need a heat deflector. Mine is a medium pizza pan wrapped in aluminum foil, sitting on top of a charcoal grate from the 22in Weber kettle. This grate is sold at Lowe’s along with all sorts of Weber parts. It is 16.5in across, and it fits perfectly on top of the three metal brackets that are meant to hold the Akorn’s own expensive stone heat deflector, sold separately.

Use lump charcoal. About as much as will fill a Weber chimney to the top is enough, and you will have leftovers. If you close the vents after the turkey is done, the leftover charcoal can be used again. So, fine: if you want to be super sure you won’t run out of coals mid-smoking, put some on the bottom rack next to the chimney. They’ll catch fire from the ones you light.

Back to the bird

Get it out of the fridge, pat it dry again. Add a stick of celery and two quarters of an onion into the cavity. Rub it with vegetable oil all over. Leave it on the counter. It needs to come back to room temperature, more or less, before going onto the grill.

Light the grill

Light the charcoal in the chimney, dump it onto the charcoal rack. If you want smokier flavor, add a chunk of smoke wood of your choice. One chunk the size of a tennis ball is enough. People think that fruit wood works best for poultry. This means that Bradford pear should be close enough, and people always cut down or trim back those things. Get a chunk or two when you run across such an event. But cooking on lump charcoal does come with smoky flavor built in, so this is optional.

Set up the heat deflector. Put the drip pan on top of it, filled with water 1 inch deep. Put the grill rack on. Open the bottom vent to 1 and the top vent about \(\frac{1}{4}\) inch wide at the rounded ends, and let the temperature go up to 300 degrees (read from the thermometer on the lid). If it has a hard time, open both vents a smidgen more, not too much. Let it stabilize for about 20-30 minutes. This is important. Charcoal starts burning hard and fast in the chimney. It takes some time for it to learn to burn slow and steady as the air flow allows it, and during this time it will belch out an ugly, thick smoke that you don’t want on the turkey. As the temperature stabilizes, so does the smoke flow.

Actually smoking the bird

15 minutes per raw pound works out to 3.5 hours for a 14lb turkey. But the Akorn is a very efficient grill. If you’re running it at even a little higher than 300 degrees you should check that bird after 3 hours. If the juices run clear and you’re at around 160 internal temperature, you’re much closer than 30 minutes to done. You’ve been warned. When you take the bird off the grill, close the vents.

Resting the bird

Carve the bird an hour after taking it off the grill. It needs this time to finish cooking, then to cool gently to eating temperature.


After you eat and have a nice walk with the dog, the fire should be out. Go back to the grill. The water in your drip pan is now a glistening, smoky, flavorful broth. Ladle it out and put it in the fridge. You’ll find some use for it sometime. Next, wash out the drip pan (or toss it, but these single-use aluminum things are sturdy enough to be re-used), wash the grill rack, and knock the leftover coals around a bit to get an idea what’s ash and what’s leftover charcoal.

Closing remarks

If you do the brining on Wednesday night and start puttering with prepping the bird, getting the grill ready, etc. at around 9am, this turkey will go on the grill at 10:30am and it will be ready to eat at 3pm. It will be off the fire between 1:30 and 2pm, but it needs its rest. With the small interruption of taking it off the grill and closing the grill vents, you will be free to hang out, drink a beer, rake leaves, or help out in the kitchen between 10:30am and 3pm. There is no basting, turning, opening the lid to peek, etc. This is a low-labor, no-bullshit turkey.