Can you cook your Christmas turkey on a grill?

Can you cook a turkey on a grill?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Turkey is usually the star of the show at Christmas dinner, but if you want to wow your guests even more, you may wonder whether you can cook a turkey on a grill. Grilling fans will be pleased to know that it is not only possible, but it can also bring out that all-important smoky, caramelized flavor.

A grilled turkey centerpiece makes a great talking point for your guests. It’s a superb way to mix things up if you fancy giving your festive feast a twist. We’ll weigh up the pros and cons of cooking a turkey on the grill to help you decide whether to change things up this year. 

Feeding a crowd can be daunting, especially at Christmas when the pressure is on. Help is at hand as we asked a grilling expert for their pro tips on grilling your turkey to perfection. We’ll walk you through step-by-step and give insider tips to make it a Christmas to remember. 

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Can you cook a turkey on a grill?

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you may consider cooking your turkey on a grill. The good news is that not only is grilling turkey possible, but once you try it, you’ll question why you never grilled it before.

“Cooking on the grill is a great way to cook a turkey,” says Bill Hazel, a BBQ guru, chef and owner of Bill’s Grill (opens in new tab)

So, what are the pros and cons of cooking a turkey on a grill? 

Pros

“The pros are that the turkey can come out tender, juicy, and very flavorful,” says Bill. If you’re after a succulent center and crispy skin, grilling is the way to go. It can help you nail that quintessential smoky barbecue flavor. Grilling is a great way to impress your guests with something special on the big day. Plus, it keeps things fresh for you as the cook. 

Christmas dinner can be chaotic when everything is on the go at once. Grilling frees up precious oven space for all those delicious sides, so you don’t have to worry about cramming them in.

A turkey being carved up on a dinner table

(Image credit: iStock / Getty)

Cons

“If you don’t pay attention to it, the turkey can become very dry and tasteless. This isn’t a set it and forget it,” cautions Bill. Thankfully there are ways to avoid a dreaded dry bird, like marinating it before cooking. 

If you opt to grill your turkey, you’ll be cooking outside. Be prepared for it to be a little chilly, and don’t forget to wrap up warm. 

How to cook your turkey on a grill

1. Prepare your turkey

“The first step is to select your turkey. I like birds between 10 and 17 lbs because they grill more evenly,” says Bill.

Remember to defrost your bird if you’re cooking from frozen. Don’t underestimate the timing. “Allow two to three days for the turkey to thaw,” advises Bill. It’s best to do this in the fridge to minimize the risk of food poisoning.

Next, remove the giblets and tuck the wings under the bird for an even finish. 

A tender turkey is the goal if you want to delight your guests. Bill recommends marinating it for at least 24 hours with your flavoring of choice to pack a punch. 

2. Begin cooking 

Preheat your grill to medium heat. The secret to grilling turkey is to cook it over indirect heat to avoid cooking it too quickly on the outside. Once you place your turkey on the grill, turn off the burners directly underneath. 

The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the turkey. As a rough guide, manufacturer Napoleon (opens in new tab) recommends allowing 20 minutes for every pound of meat.

If time is on your side, you may want to experiment with slow grilling your turkey for melt-in-the-mouth meat. “I like to slow cook the turkey for 3 to 4 hours at 250 F,” says Bill. 

Resist the temptation to keep lifting the lid - it will release heat and take longer to cook. Not sure if it’s done? Check the internal temperature of the meat is 165 F to ensure it’s cooked through.

3. Rest the meat

Want to know the secret to a succulent turkey? It’s all about the resting period. This allows the juices to soak into the bird rather than leak out onto your plate. Allow 20 minutes before carving. We promise your turkey will be worth the wait. 

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Louise Bond

Louise Bond is a UK-based writer specializing in health and wellbeing. She has over eight years of experience in management within health and care and brings this passion and expertise to her writing. Louise has been published in The Guardian, Live Science, Fit & Well, Tom’s Guide, Planet Mindful, Breathe, and Psychreg. She is at her happiest when she is out in nature, whether that’s on an invigorating hike or pottering in the garden.

With contributions from