I want an easy Turkey this year. Maybe I’m growing up. Maybe I’m getting lazy. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is at my Mom’s house this time around. I just have to show up with a turkey and a grill*. *Bringing a turkey, a Weber kettle, and a rotisserie ring to dinner is my version of easy. Doesn’t everyone bring a grill to Thanksgiving at Mom’s?
This recipe is as easy as I get with Thanksgiving turkey. My definition of easy makes some people flinch, but this is a recipe I can do in my sleep. What do I consider non-negotiable? I won’t give up my rotisserie. I want a normal bird, not one “enhanced with a 10% saline solution.” This bird is dry brined with Cajun rub and salt – and the Cajun rub is already in my pantry. I love Harold McGee’s “bag of ice on the breast” idea, which keeps the white meat down in the 155*F range where it is nice and juicy, while the dark meat gets up to 180*F where it is well done and tenderized. And that’s it. Simple, right? *Really, the Cajun rub is optional. Salt and pepper dry brine is simple and fabulous. But…Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl of home cooking. I’d lose my food fanatic membership card if I didn’t get fancy.
Dry Brine (1/4 cup kosher salt and 1/4 cup Cajun spice rub)
1/4 cup kosher salt (I used Diamond Crystal; reduce to 3 tbsp if using Mortons, because it is denser).
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated onion
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cup dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons cup dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Dry brine the turkey: 1 to 3 days before it is time to cook, dry brine the turkey. Mix the dry brine ingredients in a small bowl. Work the skin loose from the breast, being careful not to tear it, and rub 1 tablespoon of dry brine directly on the breast meat, under the skin. Sprinkle and rub the rest of the dry brine evenly over the turkey. Make sure to rub some inside the cavity of the turkey as well. Put the turkey on a rack over a roasting pan or baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate, removing the plastic wrap the night before cooking to allow the skin to dry. (If you are only dry brining for 24 hours, skip the plastic wrap. If you are closer than 4 hours to cooking, dry brining won't help - wait until right before you truss the turkey to rub it with the salt and spices.)
Prepare the Turkey: One hour before cooking, remove the turkey from the refrigerator. Truss the turkey and skewer with the rotisserie spit. Put a gallon zip-top bag full of ice on the breast, not touching the legs or drumsticks, to chill the breast meat until cooking.
Prepare the grill: Set the grill up for rotisserie cooking at indirect medium heat (325*F to 350*F). If you can, put all the heat on one side of the grill - instead of two outside burners on medium, set one outside burner on high, and leave the other one off - this concentrates the heat on the legs, which we want to cook more than the breast. For my Weber Summit, I remove the grates, preheat the grill on high for 15 minutes, then turn off all the burners except burner #6, right next to the smoker burner. I leave burner #6 on high, turn the smoker burner on high, and set the infrared rotisserie burner to medium. The drip pan goes in the middle, over the unlit burners.
Cook the turkey: Put the spit on the grill (with the leg side of the bird facing the two lit burners, if your grill can be set up that way). Start the rotisserie spinning, and cook the turkey with the lid closed for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. (If you are using an infrared rotisserie burner, check the turkey every half hour, and shut off the infrared burner if the bird is browning too quickly. I usually shut mine off after the first hour.) Start checking the temperature in the breast with an instant read thermometer at 2 hours. The turkey is done when the breast meat registers 155*F to 160*F in its thickest part with an instant read thermometer. Remove the turkey from the grill, remove the spit from the turkey, and cut the trussing twine loose. Let the turkey rest for 15 to 30 minutes before carving.
Carve the turkey: If you have a favorite way of carving a turkey, go ahead and use it. My preferred method: Cut the legs free from the body of the bird, and cut the drumsticks away from the thighs. Leave the drumsticks whole (my favorite part!) and slice the meat from the thighs in 1/2" slices for dark meat lovers. Peel the entire breast half from one side of the bird by working a knife down the keel bone, following the inside of the ribcage, from the top of the bird down to the wing. Once the breast half is free of the bird, it is easy to slice into 1/2" thick slices on a carving board. Repeat with the other breast half. Finally, cut each wing away from the carcass, separate the drumette from the wing and the wing from the wingtip. Arrange all these pieces on a platter and serve.
Cajun spice rub (I make extra for use in other recipes)
Turkey with ice on breast
Light the burners on the leg side, and the infrared rotisserie burner
Store bought cajun rub: Cajun rub is easy to make on your own, but you can use a store-bought Cajun rub. If you do, watch out for the salt content. Check the label – If salt is the first or second ingredient listed, there is a lot of salt in the rub. Cut the Kosher salt in half – 2 tablespoons Diamond Crystal, or 1 1/2 tablespoons Morton’s.
Fresh vs Frozen Turkey: Fresh turkey has two advantages. First, they are rarely “enhanced”. That is, pumped full of a saline solution. Dry brining an enhanced bird is redundant. Watch out for the words “enhanced with a X% solution” or “pre-basted” on the package.
The second fresh turkey advantage – no thawing! If a frozen bird is the only option, thaw it in the refrigerator for three days before dry brining. (In other words, start thawing a week before thanksgiving.) If you have an “enhanced” bird of 8% or 10% saline solution, just use the cajun rub – cut the salt out of the dry brine.
I used Cajun Injector on a few Turkeys and other birds. I don’t think it was worth the effort. The injected marinade would concentrate in thin veins where I shot it; most of the meat was unaffected. I eventually lost my injector needle…and didn’t notice it was missing for a few years. When I started dry brining, I tossed the giant syringe, and never looked back.
Weber Summit note: With my rotisserie burner on medium, smoker burner on high and burner #1 on high, I had an internal temperature of 375*F. That’s the temperature range you want – 350*F to 375*F. My 12 pound bird finished in exactly two hours; I expect a 14 pound bird to be closer to 2 1/2 hours.
Rotisserie Turkey with Cajun Dry Brine
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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