Beer Can Turkey
OK-this isn’t really a “Beer” turkey. But, the holder is the kind we used to see commercials for several years ago for “Beer Can Chicken.” I got mine for 5 bucks at Wally World a few years ago. I don’t think I’ve ever used beer. I’m not against it, I just don’t use it very often when I am cooking. On average, I use the holder once or twice a year. Cooking a whole bird is not high on my list, but it is worth the work when I do.
My favorite celebrity chef, Alton Brown, had an episode in Season 2 of Good Eats titled, “Romancing the Bird.” Alton put the turkey in a brine overnight. I have never failed to do the same to my turkeys ever since. The turkey absorbs all of the flavors and becomes the juiciest bird that will bring delight to your mouth.
Number one priority for this recipe is to purchase a SMALL bird. Unless you have a firebox separate from the main cooking chamber or are using a gas grill, you will not get a large turkey fully cooked. Every time the lid is removed from the grill, heat is lost and it is crucial to maintain a constant temperature. If you have the capability to control the fire without having to open the main cooking chamber, go for the bigger bird (and good luck). I found an 8.5 pound turkey and I did have to finish off the dark meat inside. It just got to be too hard to maintain the temperature after a couple of hours.
First thing to do is prepare the brine. It will need some cooling and fridge time before the turkey is added. For the brine: Water-4 quarts plus more; 1 cup cider vinegar; 1-2 tbsp ground sage; 1 1/2 tbsp ground ginger; 1 tbsp fresh ground pepper; up to 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder; 3 tbsp onion powder; 1 1/2 tbsp allspice; 1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar; 1/2 cup coarse salt. All ingredients go into the biggest stockpot you have (or if you are doing a big bird (not the big yellow guy from Sesame Street!), a pot big enough for all of the above) and heated to dissolve the salt and brown sugar. The salt and sugar must be dissolved completely. What you are doing is creating a solution that will eventually even out the moisture balance inside and outside the bird via osmosis. The moisture becomes trapped in the protein cells of the turkey and will leave the meat nice and moist even after 2 or 3 hours on the grill (or in the oven). No one really wants to chew a moisture sucking piece of meat, now do they? Cool the brine to room temperature then refrigerate until ready for it.
While the brine cools its heels, get the thawed turkey ready. Make sure you remove the giblets and neck. Check the body cavity and the neck cavity (boil them up with some simple seasonings and use in a gravy or stuffing ala Betty Crocker recipe-or cook them up for your dog or your neighbor’s dog). Rinse and pat dry the turkey. The bird will go right into the stock pot with the brine and add enough ice water to cover completely. If the stock pot isn’t big enough, use a cooler. Place the turkey and the brine right into the cooler along with ice water to cover the turkey. Cover/seal the stock pot/cooler. The goal is to soak that bird for about 12 hours.
Ready to start your fire? Give yourself plenty of time to get things started. You are going to have a big pile of charcoal for this and I kept a smaller grill nearby with coals started to add as needed during the cooking time.
Now is the time to end the spa soaking of the turkey. Choose your 12 ounce canned beverage of choice. I generally use ginger ale or lemon-lime soda, but I had neither and used a Coke Zero. Whatever you choose, even if it’s beer, should go well with the turkey. The brine is sweet, savory and a sweetened beverage or hoppy or malty beer will work just fine. Pour out half of the beverage (drink it, pour it down the sink, whatever!). Place the can in the holder and add a couple of smashed cloves of garlic-no need to peel them. Put the whole thing in a disposable pie plate or round cake pan. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse inside and out and pat dry. Place over the can and rub with oil and more ground sage. Pin the wings with sturdy toothpicksto prevent them from becoming cinders.
Put the lid on and insert a thermometer in the vent opening. Try to maintain a temperature of 325 degrees F. Add coals from started stock as needed. I added coals about every half hour to 45 minutes to maintain the temperature.
For an 8.5 pound turkey, expect 3 1/2 to 4 hours on the grill. I had a difficult time maintaining a 325 degree temp and if I had, the bird would have been cooked all the way in that amount of time. As it was, I took it off after 3 hours since my temp was steadily below 275 and I finished it in the oven. Despite that, the turkey had a perfectly smoked flavor and was super moist. Good luck on this one-for me, this was one of the hardest things this girl has ever cooked on the grill.
Enjoy and until next time, Grill, Baby, Grill!