Fresh turkeys are hard to find in July, so I wind up with a frozen one, which is O.K. I usually ask the butcher to saw the bird in half lengthwise with a breast and leg quarter on each side. I warn you that this will take some convincing to get them to saw one in half, but you are the customer. You can of course cook the turkey whole, which does make a nice presentation. Thawing a frozen turkey needs attention-I usually use a cooler and rotate those blue ice blocks every twelve hours or so. If you have never thawed a frozen turkey, better consult with your cookbook or a ‘how to’ website. You need to know some important food safety measures. When your Turkey is thawed, rinse in cold water and remove the large clumps of excess fat.
I am a Charcoal fanatic. I would not know how to cook a turkey on a gas grill, so don’t ask me. ( I guess it could be done.) Traditionally I have used a kettle style grill. By using charcoal I can add wood chips from hickory, apple, or even grape vine cuttings which will give grilled meats an extra smoky flavor. Have you tried one of those chimney styled Charcoal lighters yet? Try one once and you will never go back to lighter fluids. I really like them.
COOKING THE TURKEY:
If you have ever cooked chicken on the grill, you will do fine. Turkey is the same, only larger. If you have split your turkey, place the cup side down (one side has a wing, the otherside a cup- look at a split chicken or turkey, you will see what I mean.) directly over your hot coals. Cook with direct heat. If you have a whole turkey, push the coals to each side and cook with indirect heat. I will sometimes lay one strip of bacon over each breast to accent the flavor.
COOK WITH THE LID ON.
Fifteen minutes later begin basting, and try to remember to baste every fifteen minutes. I also like to rotate the grill surface every half hour or so to even the cooking. If you’re working with a split bird, use the big tongs and turn the halves over every forty minutes or so. Watch for flame ups. For basting, I use a 2 inch paint brush. If you really want impress some one, use one of those ‘trim’ brushes with the angled bristles. I don’t know the reason, but I swear they give better sauce coverage. Monitor your coals and their temperature. I have found that about half way through the cooking I need to replenish the fire. Again, those chimney starters work really well.
Give yourself 4-6 hours to fully cook a grill turkey. The internal temperature is the indicator to tell when your turkey is fully cooked. I rely on one of those cook’s thermometers with the dial on top that you stick into the breast or thigh. The temperature should read about 160-165 degrees (the bird will continue to cook internally), and the juices should run clear. Check the joints to see that they are loose. An exact cooking time is difficult nail down. How big is the turkey? How hot are your coals? Always use the thermometer. Besides, it is the Fourth of July, a holiday, so take your time and enjoy the day.
When your turkey is done, remove him to a sheet of heavy duty foil, baste once more, and wrap tightly in heavy duty foil. I like to then let the turkey season for an hour or two which allows the flavors to bind together for an even richer flavor. To keep life simple, I get one of those flat boxes from cola or beer cases, completely wrapped in the heavy foil, and use as a serving tray. Don’t forget to garnish with some herbs and wild flowers. (Who wants to clean up afterwards? Save the knives and throw away the empty platter.)
Those of you from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia will recognize the basis of this recipe from our weekend BBQ chicken community cooks. Many versions of this exist. None is correct, all are good. I must warn you that I approach recipes as an artist approaches paint, they are to be mixed and changed. Please feel free to embellish and change this recipe as you wish. Here is the base:
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup of red or white wine (hey, I have used beer too)
1/4 cup of peanut oil
2 tablespoons of salt
1 tablespoon of ground pepper
1 tablespoon of poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon of granulated garlic
1 tablespoon of paprika
Mix all of these together and baste every fifteen minutes. I sometimes give this sauce a blast in the microwave, about two minutes on medium high. Options, as you wish. Show your independence and experiment with these additions:
Lemon juice, catsup, Tabasco, tomato juice, Old Bay (a steamed crab seasoning).
"SAUCE TO SERVE WITH THE TURKEY:
I have an old mustard crock which I put in the freezer several days in advance. Mix one spoon of horseradish sauce with two spoons of mayonnaise then accent with some Tabasco. Those are the portions, make as much as you like. Stir all into a bowl and refrigerate. Just before serving, I pour the sauce into the frozen crock which keeps it cool for a couple of hours.
A French Beaujolais (a red wine you should chill). You see the French were very helpful to the colonies when they were gaining their independence from Great Britain. A glass of French wine on the Fourth is a fitting tribute. I choose Beaujolais because that when Thomas Jefferson was our Minister to France and living in Paris, he took a six week road trip through the burgundy wine region. As he traveled through the Beaujolais region he remarked in his writings that "...the hills north of Lyons are the most productive in the world." He was talking about Beaujolais.