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Grill and go on Thanksgiving Day

by Flip Putthoff | November 23, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
Try brining your Thanksgiving turkey for a tastier bird. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

Dancing the two-step is a fine way to burn some Thanksgiving Day calories before starting a two-step process for cooking a tasty holiday turkey.

Brining your bird then smoking it on a charcoal grill results is haute cuisine on this special day of thanks. Not only that, cooking a turkey outdoors frees up the kitchen for whipping up delicious sides like home-made mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.

If you're turkey is frozen, better start thawing it now because it needs to soak in brine for 16 to 24 hours. Brine you say? That's just soaking your turkey in salt water and seasonings for several hours. Brining almost guarantees a turkey that's moist inside and full of flavor. Whip up a brine with this easy recipe and say bye-bye to dry turkey.

Here at the shack-ri-la, we pour two gallons of water into a large pot, add a cup of salt, and two cups of brown sugar.

Those are the key ingredients, but we also add slices of unpeeled orange, stir in a few bay leaves and put some rosemary and three or four cloves of minced garlic in the brine. Try any seasonings you like.

Boil the concoction so the salt and brown sugar dissolve and let it cool. Next, put your thawed turkey into a bucket or other container and pour the brine over the bird so it's mostly covered. A medium-sized ice chest is about right for brining an 11-pound turkey. Put the bucket or what have you in the garage or another cool place and soak for 16 to 24 hours.

Now it's time to fire up the grill. A kettle-style grill is our favorite for turkey smoking, but any grill with a lid works if the turkey's not to big for the lid to close. Here's a neat trick so you shouldn't need to add extra charcoal while the turkey cooks.

First, get a good-sized pyramid of charcoal going at the edge of the grill. When the coals are white hot, pour more briquettes into the grill next to the hot briquettes. Pile the cold charcoal in a semicircle around the edge of the grill. Scoop plenty of cold charcoal on top of the hot coals so the cold charcoal will eventually get hot. Rub olive oil or vegetable oil on the outside of the bird, place it on the grill and close the lid.

Hot briquettes gradually ignite the cold charcoal in a slow burn around the semicircle, sort of like a real slow fuse on a fire cracker. It's a fire that's good for several hours at a temperature inside the grill of about 350. Add a chunk of smoking wood such as hickory somewhere along the semicircle and you're in business.

Cooking time depends on how hot the fire is and the size of the turkey. Plan to smoke your bird for three to five hours. Most turkeys have one of those pop-up things that tell you when the turkey is cooked. We've found our turkeys are done before the gizmo pops up. Better to check by inserting an instant-read digital thermometer into the turkey breast. We take the turkey off the grill at around 170 degrees. Let is cool for about 30 minutes then let the feasting begin.

The beauty of not adding charcoal is you can take a calorie-burning hike or bike ride while your turkey smokes. Lately, on Thanksgiving morning, we've been pedestrian-paced participants at the annual 5-kilometer Turkey Trot for Heroes at the Center for Nonprofits in Rogers. It's a benefit for Sheep Dog Impact Assistance that helps veterans and their families, deploys at disasters and does so much great work. The run starts this year at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving morning, we start the pyramid of charcoal and get the grill going about 7 a.m. The bird goes on about 7:30 just before we leave for the race. When we get back to the shack later that morning, our turkey is done or close to it.

The real key is brining your turkey whether it's smoked or roasted in the oven. We'll always brine before it's time, time to cook a delicious Thanksgiving bird that is.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at

Brining helps keep a Thansgiving turkey moist and tasty.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Brining helps keep a Thansgiving turkey moist and tasty. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

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