I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner. LOVE IT!
This year we will be hosting some friends and family, and Mr. Food Nerd expressed interest in cooking the turkey in our ceramic cooker. We are proud owners of a Big Green Egg – a ceramic Kamado style cooker fueled by charcoal. It can be used as a grill, a smoker or a convection oven. We have been cooking on this thing a couple times a week since we purchased it in March. EVERYTHING is now tested on “The Egg”! It should not surprise anyone to learn that we decided to run a test turkey on the egg this weekend in anticipation of the holiday. We decided to roast the turkey indirectly over the coals, using the egg as a convection oven.
To season the test turkey – a 13 lb Butterball – I created a compound butter using 1 stick of softened butter, 2 heads of roasted garlic, 1 medium shallot minced, fresh thyme, dried sage (because there was no fresh sage at the store), and freshly ground salt and pepper.
I mashed the ingredients for the compound butter together and chilled the mixture briefly to bring it together. While the butter was chilling, I rinsed the and dried the turkey, sprinkled the cavity with salt and pepper, then stuffed a few sprigs of Thyme in for extra flavor.
Once the butter firmed-up slightly, I carefully spread it between the meat and the skin of the breasts, thighs and legs – distributing it evenly and taking care not to tear the skin as I worked. Left over butter was rubbed onto the outside of the turkey (which got a dose of salt and pepper as well). The turkey was placed onto a vertical roaster, and then headed for the grill.
While all this prep was going on, Mr. Food Nerd set the grill up for indirect cooking, lit the coals, and brought the temperature of the cooking chamber up to 325 degrees. We placed the turkey on a drip pan and let it roast. After one hour, it was clear that this turkey was going to be done much faster than anticipated!
Incredibly, the turkey was done in TWO HOURS!!! Using an instant read thermometer (I recommend the Thermopen) we checked the temp in several locations – all were reading well above the necessary 165 degrees. The juices were running clear, and the skin was crisp.
We attribute the ultra fast cooking time to the convection cooking (hot air was constantly circulating around the turkey), and to the vertical roaster that allowed hot air to be pumped into the cavity throughout the cooking.
Sadly, this is where the pictures start to drop off, because I was suddenly way behind on the side dishes!
In addition to the turkey, I served snap peas with crisped bacon pieces (lardons), mashed potatoes with turkey gravy with frizzled shallots, roast carrotts and roast baby eggplant. All of which were delicious, and none of which I have pictures of.
I do have (pre cooking) pictures of the small pink potatoes and the tiny “fairytale” eggplant that I purchased at the farmers market down the street.
Even though the timings did not work the way I thought they would, all turned out well. The turkey had succulent meat and beautifully crispy skin. The phantom sides were a big hit with the guests (I guess you’ll have to trust me on that one).
To make a similar turkey at home in your oven – prep the turkey the same way I did (you can use a vertical roaster or a more traditional roasting rack) and roast at 325 for up to three hours (or until the breast and thigh meat reaches 165 degrees F and the juices run clear). Check the doneness (and darkness of the skin) every hour or so, and tent the breast meat with foil once the skin has the desired level of color. *A similar technique can be used for chicken as well… adjust the cooking time as needed to accommodate the weight of poultry you are cooking – checking for doneness more often for a smaller bird*
As with all roast dishes, make sure to let the meat rest before carving. Not only will this give you time to make gravy and reheat (or finish) side dishes, but it will ensure that the meat retains all the natural juices. Once everything else is ready, carve the turkey and serve your eager guests!