How to Grill a Turkey

It is not the most common way to cook Thanksgiving dinner, but once you learn how to grill a turkey, you will never want to make the bird any other way.
Marinated Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Let’s be honest: Cooking a turkey can be super stressful. Stovetop and oven space are at a premium, plus it’s easy to worry about keeping the turkey moist and cooking it all the way through. It’s time for a change: Put the turkey on the grill!

Thanks to our incredible marinade, this grilled turkey not only cooks up tender and juicy, it also frees up the oven for your favorite side dishes. The heat of the grill infuses the meat with an extra smoky flavor, especially if you’re cooking on a charcoal grill.

Read on: We’ll show you how to grill turkey that everyone will want to gobble.

What are the benefits of grilling a turkey?

carved turkey slices sitting on a white rectangular plate, view from aboveLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Grilling, in general, is a healthy way to cook meat and poultry. The technique requires using less fat than other, more traditional, preparation methods and studies have shown that it preserves certain nutrients, like thiamine and riboflavin, throughout the cooking process.

To talk turkey, specifically, grilling your bird is an excellent way to free up oven space for other tasty side dishes. Additionally, depending on the size of your turkey, grilling can also shave off cooking time in comparison to traditional oven-roasted methods; up to 45 minutes. You might never go back to your oven once you learn how to grill turkey.

Turkey on the Grill Ingredients

raw turkey and other ingredients for grilling turkey on a dark countertopLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

  • Water
  • Chicken broth
  • Reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • Lemon juice
  • Garlic cloves
  • Ground ginger
  • Ground black pepper
  • Turkey (12 to 14 pounds)

Directions

Step 1: Mix up the marinade

mixing marinade for turkey in a clear glass bowl, top viewLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Simply combine the water, chicken broth, soy sauce, lemon juice, minced garlic, ground ginger and black pepper in a large bowl. Set one cup aside for basting. This is one of our favorite turkey marinades because you don’t have to heat any of the ingredients. That also means you don’t have to wait around for them to cool!

Editor’s Tip: Don’t forget to clean your grill thoroughly before you begin. Built-up crud gives your turkey an off-flavor, and it’s also the number-one culprit of stuck food.

Step 2: Marinate the turkey

marinating the turkey in a large oven bagLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

We use oven roasting bags to keep cleanup easy. To make sure the bags don’t leak, place one oven roasting bag inside the other. Then, put the turkey inside the inner bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bags, pressing out as much air as possible, and turn them once or twice to coat the turkey.

Place the bags in a shallow roasting pan. Refrigerate the bird overnight, turning the bag a few times to evenly distribute the marinade.

Step 3: Prepare the grill

top view of an outdoor charcoal grillLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Prepare your grill for medium heat—somewhere between 325°F and 350°. On a gas grill, this is as easy as turning the burners halfway open. When the grill is preheated, turn off the burners on one side to create indirect heat.

A charcoal grill requires a bit more preparation, but you’ll benefit from extra smoky flavor. Place 50 to 60 briquettes in the grill and light them until they are covered in gray ash, about 30 minutes. Then, arrange them into an indirect heat pattern.

Editor’s Tip: If you want to catch the drippings to make gravy from scratch, position a drip pan in the center of the grill underneath the grill grate. Line the hot charcoal briquettes lengthwise on each side of the pan and place the turkey over the drip pan.

Step 4: Ready the bird

a raw turkey sitting on the grillLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Remove the turkey from the oven bags and discard the marinade. Pat the bird as dry as possible and tuck the wings under the turkey to help it cook evenly. Do this about an hour before grilling to allow the skin to dry out, which will result in crispier skin.

When the grill is preheated, place the turkey breast side down on the indirect heat side of the grill. Cover the grill, leaving the vents open to promote airflow. Cook the bird for one hour. (Reference our chart below if you’re grilling a larger or smaller turkey.)

Step 5: Turn and baste

basting the turkey with a basting brush while it is still on the grillLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

After an hour, turn the turkey so it’s breast side up and baste it with the reserved marinade. Add 10 briquettes to the grill and replace the cover, cooking for another 90 minutes to 2 hours. Set a timer to remind yourself to add 10 additional briquettes every hour to maintain the heat.

For the best flavor, we also recommend brushing the turkey with the reserved marinade every 30 minutes.

Step 6: Let it rest

cooked turkey resting on the grillLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey. When the breast reaches 160° (or 170° for the thigh), the turkey is finished. Remove it from the grill. Loosely cover with aluminum foil and let stand for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Grilled Turkey Tips

How long do you grill a turkey?

a digital meat thermometer in the grilled turkey showing 160 degreesLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

When it comes to how long it takes to cook a turkey on a grill, times differ depending on the size and weight of your turkey. When in doubt, always trust your instant-read thermometer to judge a turkey’s doneness. When resting, turkey breasts should reach an internal temp of 165°; thighs should get to 175°.

Type Weight Cook Time
Whole 8 to 12 lbs. 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hrs.
12 to 14 lbs. 2-1/2 to 2-3/4 hrs.
14 to 18 lbs. 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 hrs.
18 to 20 lbs. 3-1/2 to 4 hrs.
20 to 24 lbs. 4 to 4-3/4 hrs.
Breast, Bone-In 4 to 6 lbs. 3/4 to 1-1/4 hrs.
6 to 8 lbs. 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 hrs.
8 to 10 lbs. 1-3/4 to 2 hrs.

Editor’s Tip: The cook times are based on a fully thawed turkey and moderate outside temperatures on a grill that’s 325° to 375°. Keep in mind that cook times may need to increase slightly if your turkey is not fully thawed or if the outside air temperature is below 50°.

What size of turkey should you buy?

In general, this depends on the appetites of your party and how much you want left over. A good rule of thumb is to buy 1 pound of turkey per person for birds up to 16 pounds. For birds over 16 pounds, you can plan closer to 3/4 pound per person. Keep in mind that if you want leftovers you may want to bump these numbers up by 1/4 to 1/2 pound per person.

For grilling, especially using indirect heat on a charcoal grill, a 12 to 16 pound turkey is the best size. The drip pan will fit underneath, the turkey won’t cook right on top of the hot coals and the cover should close, which is needed to regulate the heat.

Do you use direct or indirect heat when grilling turkey?

Whether using a gas or charcoal grill, indirect heat is the way to go when preparing a turkey. Be sure to set your gas grill accordingly and if using a charcoal grill, arrange the coals in a pattern that prevents any part of the turkey from sitting over a direct flame. Direct heat is too intense for turkey and causes it to cook too quickly.

How do you keep turkey from drying out?

  • Marinate or brine: A good marinade or brine bath is the perfect way to not only introduce flavor but add moisture to a grilled turkey. For best results let fully thawed turkey soak in brine or marinade for at least 24 hours.
  • Add fat: Upon removing turkey from its marinade or brine bath and patting it dry, add a slathering of butter, olive oil or even mayonnaise to the outside of your turkey and under the skin. This extra layer of fat protects and insulates the turkey meat from hot spots on the grill that may cause parts of the turkey to cook faster than you want them to.
  • Baste: Basting is a good way to keep a turkey moist while grilling. Since the drippings of a turkey may be difficult to access or salvage on a grill, make an extra 1 to 2 cups of marinade and use it to baste your bird, every 30 minutes or so, while it cooks.
  • Flip the bird: Start with your bird breast side down and then flip halfway through cooking to ensure the delicate white meat of the turkey gets cooked through but is shielded from the higher heat of the grill for the last half of cooking.
  • Let it rest: We know everyone is hungry and your turkey smells delicious, but resist the urge to cut into your bird when it’s hot off the grill. Instead, tent the turkey loosely with foil and let it rest on a carving board for 15 to 20 minutes before carving it. This will allow all the juices to redistribute evenly through the turkey rather than leak out upon carving.

Watch how to Make Marinated Thanksgiving Turkey

Grilled Turkey

My family enjoys this Thanksgiving turkey because it cooks up tender, tasty and golden brown. Build up flavor by marinating the meat, then grill it to add a tempting barbecued flavor. —Ken Churches, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Marinated Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time

Prep: 10 min. + marinating Grill: 2-1/2 hours + standing

Makes

12 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 turkey-size oven roasting bags
  • 1 turkey (12 to 14 pounds)

Directions

  1. Combine the first 7 ingredients; set aside and refrigerate 1 cup for basting. Place 1 oven roasting bag inside the other. Place turkey inside inner bag; pour in remaining marinade. Seal bags, pressing out as much air as possible; turn to coat turkey. Place in a shallow roasting pan. Refrigerate overnight, turning several times.
  2. Remove turkey; drain and discard marinade.
  3. Prepare grill for indirect medium heat. Tuck wings under turkey and arrange breast side down on grill rack. Grill, covered, for 1 hour.
  4. If using a charcoal grill, add 10 briquettes to coals; turn the turkey. Baste with reserved marinade. Cook, covered, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, adding 10 briquettes to maintain heat and brushing with marinade every 30 minutes until thermometer inserted in thigh reads 170°. Remove turkey from grill; tent with foil. Let stand 20 minutes before carving.
  5. Conventional roasting method: Follow steps for marinating turkey overnight. Preheat oven to 325°. Place turkey on a rack in a large roaster. Bake, uncovered, 3 to 3-1/2 hours or until a thermometer inserted in a thigh reads 170°. Baste frequently with reserved marinade. When turkey begins to brown, cover lightly with a tent of aluminum foil. Remove turkey from oven; tent with foil. Let stand 20 minutes before carving. If desired, skim fat and thicken pan drippings for gravy; serve with turkey.

Nutrition Facts

9 ounces cooked turkey (calculated without gravy): 407 calories, 12g fat (4g saturated fat), 171mg cholesterol, 383mg sodium, 5g carbohydrate (0 sugars, 1g fiber), 67g protein.