November 19, 2012
How to Grill a Wild Turkey
By David Draper
Sure, you could play the hipster card this Thanksgiving and roast your $75 heritage turkey in the oven, but because you’re a Wild Chef reader, you’ve gotten your free-range, organic holiday bird by more honest means—by hunting it. And, because you follow this blog, you also grasp that the purest way to cook that bird is over fire, on a charcoal, or if you must, gas grill.
I will admit those perfect, pricey store-bought turkeys and their Butterball brethren have a leg (and plump breast) up on the wild turkey in that they’ve been bred for both the taste and ease of cooking—a result of their fat-filled diet. The wild turkey is a lean bird, spending its days in the opposing efforts of feeding and fleeing predators. This leanness can present some challenges in cooking it on the back deck, but these obstacles can be easily overcome with these simple steps.
Brine The Bird: By Wednesday morning, at the latest, you should have your wild turkey, whether it’s plucked whole or just the breast, in some sort of brine. I won’t get into the details of osmosis and diffusion, but put simply, brining transfers moisture and flavor into the meat, which greatly enhances the finished product. The basic brine ratio is one cup of both salt and sugar to one gallon of cold water. You’ll probably need to double this for a whole turkey. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water, then submerge the bird and place the container in the refrigerator or an ice-filled cooler for 24 to 48 hours. Don’t be afraid to experiment with other flavors by adding garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, peppercorns, or other spices to the brine.
Spatchcocking: If you’ve got a big enough grill (or small enough bird), you should consider spatchcocking your turkey. The photo above shows a chicken that has been prepared for this simple technique, which promotes quicker and more even cooking of a whole bird. Remove the turkey’s backbone by using kitchen shears to cut down either side of it. Then flip the bird over and press down on the breasts until the bird lays flat. You may also have to manually disjoint the leg quarters by pulling them up and away from the body cavity.
The Whole Bird: If you prefer the presentation of a whole bird, Weber has a great recipe. Note this is for a commercial turkey, so you may have to babysit the bird a bit more to ensure it doesn’t dry out. Just be sure to pull the turkey off when a thermometer stuck in the thigh reaches 155 degrees or so.
Choose Your Smoke: A simple way to raise the flavor bar when grilling your bird is the addition of a handful of wood chips to the fire. I throw these directly on the hot coals, but you can also put them in a smoke box, or make your own with some heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Beer Can Turkey: Another great way to infuse flavor and moisture into your turkey is by cooking beer-can chicken style. The tough part is finding a big enough can. In his magazine column awhile back, Field & Stream Wild Chef columnist Jonathan Miles solved this problem by using a Foster’s “oil can.” There are also several commercially made infusers on the market. I’ve used the Camp Chef Turkey Cannon on turkeys, geese, and ducks and can attest that it works well.