Getty; Inset: Courtesy Alton Brown
What if we told you there’s a way to cook your Thanksgiving turkey that’s faster, easier and less messy than roasting it in the oven?
Don’t believe us? Just ask Food Network star Alton Brown, who swears by making his bird on a gas or charcoal grill. “Grilling will let you free up your oven for other duties,” he tells PEOPLE.
It’ll also make your turkey taste great: think moist, smoky and, if you use Brown’s brine recipe, sweet. “With my recipe, the honey brine gives a sweeter edge to the smoke than straight sugar would,” says Brown, who’s celebrating the holiday before his first national tour, Alton Brown Live!, picks up again in January.
Brown brines his turkey for 12 hours to moisten the meat. If you’ve never brined before, it’s surprisingly easy. (You’re basically giving the turkey an overnight bath in broth.) Rather than taking up valuable refrigerator real estate, Brown likes to brine his bird in a 20-quart plastic water cooler that he leaves outside. Then, it’s to the grill.
We know what you’re thinking: ‘Brown lives in mild Atlanta, but I’m going to freeze running outside to check the turkey!’ That’s why it’s worth investing in a new thermometer. A bluetooth-enabled one can send updates to your phone or tablet, leaving you free to stay in the warm indoors until you know the meat is cooked. And more importantly, you want the bird to stay warm: Repeated openings of the grill lid will cause heat loss and prolong the cooking time, which defeats half the purpose of grilling it.
And Americans may be, ahem, warming to the barbecued turkey trend: In the last year, calls to the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line—a holiday consumer hotline for home cooks—about charcoal grilling have increased, says Talk-Line director Mary Clingman. “It’s now one of the top ten questions we receive,” she tells PEOPLE.
Alton Brown’s Honey-Brined Smoked Turkey
1 gallon hot water
1 lb. honey (about 1 ⅓ cups)
1 lb. kosher salt
2 qts. vegetable broth
1 (7 lb.) bag of ice
1 (15- to 20-lb.) turkey, with giblets removed
Vegetable oil, for rubbing turkey
1. In a large cooler, combine the hot water, honey and kosher salt, stirring until the honey and salt dissolve. Stir in the vegetable broth, then add the ice and stir until the brine is cool.
2. Place the turkey in the brine, breast side up, and cover with cooler lid. Brine overnight, up to 12 hours.
3. Remove the turkey from the brine rinse inside and out. Discard the brine. Pat the turkey dry with clean paper towels, then rub the bird thoroughly with the vegetable oil and leave at room temperature for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the grill.
4. Heat the grill to 400 degrees.
5. Using a double-thick piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, build a smoke bomb by placing a cup of hickory wood chips in the center of the foil and gathering up the edges, making a small pouch. Leave the pouch open at the top. Set this directly on the charcoal or on the metal bar over the gas flame.
6. Set the turkey over indirect heat, insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast meat, and set the alarm for 160 degrees. Close the lid and cook for 1 hour; when the skin is golden brown, cover with aluminum foil and continue cooking, replacing wood chips with a new cup.
7. Once the bird reaches 160 degrees, remove from grill, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. Carve and serve.