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How to cook turkey: 5 things you need to know


Cooking a golden, succulent Christmas turkey on the barbecue is not that difficult if you focus on a handful of critical elements, according to chef and cooking teacher Jamie Purviance.

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Purviance, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, is the author of a number of barbecue cookbooks. The tips below come from his latest publication, Weber’s Barbecue Bible, which includes 150 recipes for meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables and fruit, as well as ideas for rubs, marinades and sauces.

1 Brining a day ahead

Because turkey meat is so lean and bland, some kind of brining is important. In the prep tips below, I call for a dry brine, which just means coating the turkey with sea salt the day before cooking. Overnight, in the refrigerator, the salt will draw out some moisture, which will mix with the salt, and then the meat will reabsorb much of that flavourful moisture.

2 Maintaining an even temperature

An even temperature in the range of 180 to 200C (350 to 400F) is also key here. That’s easy enough to achieve on a gas barbecue, assuming there is plenty of gas in the tank. It’s a bit more challenging with a charcoal barbecue. Before cooking your first turkey with charcoal, make sure you have had some good experiences maintaining a live fire over the course of several hours.

3 Shielding the breast meat

Because the breast meat cooks faster than the leg meat, you should protect the breast and slow down its rate of cooking. I do that by facing the breast down inside a stock-and-
vegetable-filled pan for the first hour of cooking.

4 Catching the perfect doneness

In a very short period of time, a turkey can turn from moist and fabulous to dry and stringy, so it’s imperative that you use an instant-read thermometer and remove the turkey from the barbecue when the internal temperature in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 77C (170F).

5 Getting enough rest

Finally, don’t skip the resting step after your turkey comes off the barbecue. During that period, the turkey will finish cooking and the juices will redistribute nicely.

How to prep turkey the day before

  1. Generously season the turkey, inside and out, with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  1. Refrigerate the seasoned turkey on a roasting tray, uncovered, for 12 hours. It’s okay if the skin looks dry and tightened at the end of the time.
Recipe and Image From Weber's Barbecue Bible (Murdoch Books).

Recipe and image From Weber’s Barbecue Bible (Murdoch Books).

How to smoke turkey

  1. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and allow it sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Brush the legs, breast and wings with butter.
  2. Place 1 large disposable foil tin inside the other and add the vegetables, herbs and 450ml of chicken stock.
  3. Arrange the barbecue briquettes in a half circle on one side of the charcoal grate. A drip tin filled with warm water will help you maintain the temperature of the fire.
  4. Place the turkey, breast side down, over the vegetables, inside the foil tins.
  5. Add woodchips to the barbecue briquettes and set the pan over the water tin, with the legs facing the hottest side of the barbecue.
  6. Keep the barbecue temperature inside the range of 180 to 200C (350 to 400F).
  7. After barbecuing for 1 hour, flip over the turkey so that the breast side is facing up.
  8. Continue cooking and smoking the turkey, occasionally adding damp wood chips.
  9. After the turkey has been cooking for 1½ hours, cover any parts that are getting too dark.
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