How to Grill a Turkey, and More Updates to Traditional Thanksgiving Recipes

Keep tradition going with these lighter versions of traditional Thanksgiving recipes for smoked gravy, cranberry sauce, bread stuffing, maple-orange sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

| October/November 1992

Many of us treasure the nostalgia of old family recipes, regardless of whether or not we actually enjoy them. It's all about tradition. However, most of Grandma's recipes clearly originated from the "more-fat-and-sugar-is-better" era. Therefore I have tried to save tradition while adapting old recipes over the years. Truth is, I don't miss the gooey marshmallows swimming on my yams. Or the puddle of butter in Grandma's turkey dressing. You can alter tradition without killing it, and perhaps create new traditions in the process—as we learned last year when we decided to grill our turkey rather than cooking it in the oven.

How to Grill a Turkey: Some Lessons from Experience

Last Thanksgiving, my husband, feeling adventurous, decided to throw a naturally-raised turkey on the Weber grill. (I was certainly in favor of bypassing five hours of oven-sitting a 16-pound turkey.) It turned out to be the most delicious turkey we've ever tasted—despite a mishap or two.

My husband's holiday philosophy is "Ease into the day," which is why he moseyed out back to begin cooking at 2 P.M.—just when we had planned to sit and eat. Fortunately, it was a warm 30° outside. Unfortunately, there were winds up to 40 miles per hour. Because the turkey made the grill top-heavy in the winds, we had to anchor the grill down with bricks. (We thought it would be disastrous if the turkey blew into our neighbor's yard.)

Not only did it get dark by 5 P.M., but we had trouble keeping the coals burning—especially after it rained. By 7 P.M., I had one seriously crabby husband on my hands. However I also had a very tender smoked turkey.

I didn't stuff the bird since I simply could not imagine a smoked stuffing. So I baked it in a casserole instead, and since my family insists on having mashed potatoes and gravy with their turkey, I made gravy from the delicious smoked drippings. Will we be grilling again this Thanksgiving? Of course! Not because we enjoy suffering on national holidays, but because we're practically experts now—we've practiced on roast chickens all summer long. We are ready for November's "Big Bird BBQ."

When done correctly, grilling is a faster and easier way to prepare a turkey. A 17-pounder will be done in about 2 1/2 hours (approximately 11 minutes per pound.) Once you've mastered this method, you're hooked for life—and eternally liberated from the hells of a hot kitchen. It also beats the plastic roasting bag method (which produces a steamed-to-death turkey), the slow cooking-drowned-in-butter method, and the oiled paper-bag method. (One horrendous year, my brother-in-law filled the house with black smoke, setting off all the smoke alarms.)

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