Our recipe for juicy, succulent, maple butter turkey is roasted on the grill, giving it a smoky flavor. Learn how to spatchcock, brine and grill the best turkey you’ve ever had!
Growing up, we always roasted our Thanksgiving turkey in the oven. So it was a total surprise to me when I learned that Kevin’s family grilled their holiday bird. Turns out, it’s a really flavorful way to cook a turkey! Bonus: it also frees up the oven for baking your side dishes!
How to spatchcock a turkey
Kevin’s family grills the whole traditional bird, stuffing and all. If you’ve read my post on Brown Sugar Date Turkey, you already know I’m too impatient for that method. Instead, I prefer to either cook turkey pieces or spatchcock the turkey.
Spatchcock is an old-fashioned word that means to cut open the bird for cooking. Basically, butterflying it. To do this the backbone must be removed and the breastbone and ribs cracked so the turkey cooks flat.
This technique is what speeds up the cooking time and allows the legs to get done at about the same time as the breast. Compared to 3-4 hours this method will take 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
It’s a bit of a messy job, so before starting, we place a cookie sheet inside a kitchen trash bag to catch all the juices. Then we open up the turkey bag on the trash bag so all the mess stays in one place.
It’s important to remove the plastic and the neck and organs which will be inside the turkey. Then using kitchen shears, cut out the backbone. Save both the neck and backbone for making turkey stock and then flip over the bird.
Place your hand in the middle of the breast and press until the sternum cracks. If this sounds confusing, take a look at Martha Stewart’s post on how to spatchcock a turkey. This tutorial has step by step pictures to walk you through the process.
How to brine a turkey
Now that your turkey is butterflied, it’s time to brine! We used our apple cider brine which makes the meat so moist and flavorful!
We place the turkey in our Cusinart Stock Pot with the brine and then soak it overnight in the fridge. I love this pot because it easily fits a turkey but for brining the important factor is handles since the turkey + brine is quite heavy. This does take up a considerable amount of space in the fridge but it assures that the turkey stays at a safe temperature while brining.
If you simply do not have the space, you can use a cooler filled with ice instead. This is what my inlaws do since they usually make a larger turkey. Place the turkey in a brining bag with the brine and cover with ice. However, if you do this, make sure your turkey stays cold! Place the cooler in the coldest location you can find in your house and add ice as needed.
We recommend a maximum of 12 hours for brining but 8 hours is the sweet spot. Remove the turkey from the brine and pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Baste the turkey with melted maple butter on all sides and you’re ready to experience the thrill of the grill!
How to grill a turkey
We have a Weber charcoal grill, so that’s what we use, but any large gas or charcoal grill should work. The key is using indirect heat, so you want the heat to be at the sides and not directly under the turkey. For a charcoal grill, fill the baskets with charcoal and place them on the sides. Light the grill and then let it preheat. You want the temperature to be in the 300-350F range.
Because turkeys are large, we found it helpful to cover the charcoal baskets with foil to protect the turkey edges from burning. Place a couple of sheets down and then place the turkey directly on the grill. Make sure the turkey is flat with the legs facing out.
The wings will be up, so carefully place them under the breast to protect them from burning. Close the grill and set a 30 minute timer. At the 30 minute mark, baste the turkey and then baste every 15 minutes thereafter, checking the temperature each time and adding more charcoal as necessary.
If the breast starts to get brown more quickly than the rest the turkey, place a piece of foil on top of the breast. When the temperature reaches about 140-145F, stop basting the turkey so the skin can crisp up.
At 160F it’s time to remove the turkey from the grill (these turkey forks are super helpful). Place the turkey on a CLEAN cookie sheet and cover with aluminum foil. Allow the meat to rest for 15 minutes before carving it.
We served our maple butter turkey with sauteed brussels sprouts, sour cream mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and quinoa stuffed acorn squash. For dessert, we went all in on the maple flavor with these maple bacon cupcakes!
Looking for more inspiration? See our post Thanksgiving menu ideas.
Grilled Spatchcock Turkey with Maple Butter and Apple Cider Brine
Apple Cider Brine
- 2 cups apple cider brine mix
- 4 cups apple cider
- 10 cups cold water
- 1.5 cups butter
- 1/2 cup maple syrup (preferably dark or extra dark)
- 1 orange
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 -12 lb turkey
- Garnish ideas: sage, rosemary, fresh bay leaves, kale, grapes, oranges, pomegranates, apples
Apple cider brine
- Place brine mix and apple cider in an extra large soup pot.
- Bring mixture to a boil, cooking until salt has dissolved.
- Turn off heat and add cold water.
- Let brine cool to room temperature and then add spatchcock turkey. (See above post for instructions on how to spatchcock a turkey)
- Refrigerate overnight, up to 12 hours.
- Bring all of the maple butter ingredients to room temperature.
- Juice and zest the orange.
- In the bowl of a mixer, soften the butter.
- Slowly add the remaining ingredients to the butter, mixing thoroughly with each addition.
- Cover your mixer with a clean tea towel and turn up to high. Be patient, the butter will eventually whip to a fluffy consistency.
- Season butter with salt and pepper to taste.
- Divide butter into two portions: one to serve on the table and one for basting the turkey.
Grilling the turkey
- Preheat grill to 300-350F using indirect heat (see above post for more details).
- Remove turkey from brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- Melt a portion of the maple butter and baste the turkey with it.
- Place turkey on the grill, breast side up and tuck the wings under the breast.
- Cover the grill and let cook for 30 minutes.
- At the 30 minute mark, start basting the turkey every 15 minutes until it is almost done (about 140-145F).
- When the turkey reaches 160F, remove from the grill, cover and let rest 15 minutes before carving.
- While the turkey rests. line the platter with greens.
- After you’ve carved the turkey, place fruit around the turkey and serve.
- To make the maple butter by hand, it’s easier to melt the butter and let it reharden in the fridge, but it won’t have the light, fluffy consistency.
- See in process photos and more tips within the blog post.
Looking for more dinner inspiration? Check out all our main course recipes.
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