Stop me if this sounds familiar. It’s a Thursday in late November. The Cowboys or Lions are playing in the background. Everyone is dressed in their party best. The aromas of entrees and sides are as vibrant in your mind as the fall themed decor to your eyes. Friends and family are greeting and grinning, all thankful to be together. Out of the oven the centerpiece of the celebration appears, the skin a golden brown. The knife is rasped across the sharpener and the breast is sliced. You fill your plate with mash potatoes, honeyed yams, and turkey, but no gravy as you are trying to keep your waistline in check. You take a bite of the turkey and give your jaw a work out trying to choke the firm fowl down. Waistline be damned, you reach for gravy boat because that oven baked bird is dried out yet again. Have you ever considered applying the beer can deal we do with chicken to turkey? Yeah, beer can turkey is a thing.
If dry turkey is part of your Thanksgiving tradition, it’s time to change the tradition. First, start grilling that bird. And in this case, grill it over a beer can so there is no way the turkey is dry, even the breast. The turkey in the picture above is not only beautifully browned on the outside, but also glistening/oozing on the inside. There are many ways to do grilled turkey, but this is probably the simplest and one of the best.
Truth be told, over the years my Thanksgiving Turkey recipe has evolved into this one which has been my go to for many years now. Still, this beer can turkey is a fantastic bird and makes for an awesome presentation. Also, here’s another beer can turkey recipe from my friend Steve Raichlen.
Beer Can Turkey Ingredients:
- 13 lb turkey
- Your favorite BBQ rub
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 24 ounce can of your favorite beer
A beer butt chicken only needs a 12 ounce beer to slide inside. A turkey won’t set on a 12 ounce beer. For beer butt turkey we need a 24 ounce beer to balance out the increased weight and size of the turkey.
What else you will need
As you can see, you will also need an aluminum pan and a turkey baster.
You see there are no amounts here because it is so simple that we don’t need to measure anything out exactly.
The first step is to thaw out the turkey properly which means doing so in the refrigerator over a few days. There should be some directions on how long on the back of the turkey packaging. This may in fact be the most complicated part.
Next up, cut this thing away from the legs:
Also, remove the innards and give the turkey a rinse and pat it dry with a paper towel.
I removed that little pop up thermometer as I will be using my Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer, but you can leave that plastic deal in if you like:
Beer Can Turkey Prep
She’s ready for some rubbin’, with her wings tucked in to keep them from cooking faster than the rest of the bird.
Coat the front of the turkey with salt, pepper, the rub:
Now crack that fat can of beer and pour off a few ounces into a glass for the grill master and place the turkey over the can, allowing the beer to slide up into the cavity:
I bet you’re wondering why I didn’t rub the whole bird before putting it on the beer can. Because if I rubbed one side, then flipped it over to rub the other, a bunch of the rub from the first side I coated would stick to the cutting board and require me to re-apply. Coat one side, prop it up on the beer can in the pan and coat the other side. NOW that the turkey is elevated off the cutting board, season the other side.
How to Grill Beer Can Turkey
Next up, prepare the grill for two zone or indirect grilling with a target internal temperature of the grill of 300F degrees with coals and smoke wood on one side and the bird on the other. In this case, I used my kamado style grill and thus I used a plate setter to deflect the heat away from the bird, but I had one problem. I placed the turkey on the grill grate and couldn’t close the lid. My tower of turkey was too tall. Instead, I took the grill grate out and placed the disposable pan and turkey right on the plate setter, giving me the room I needed to close the lid:
Now my beer butt turkey, with that opened 24 ounce can of beer (minus a few ounces for quality control) fits in the grill:
I tossed some smoke wood in, in this case fresh cut apple (yes you can smoke with green wood), but any of the lighter fruit woods would work such as apricot, peach, and pear. For the most complete list of smoke woods on the web, click here to see the one I came up with along with what meats and veggies each wood pairs well with.
Now close the lid and let the heat and smoke work its magic:
After an hour of grilling the beer can turkey is looking fantastic:
And now for the turkey baster and why the bird is in the aluminum pan, to collect the juices to be be added back to the bird:
***Pro Tip ~ Aluminum foil is your friend
After the bird had grilled 90 minutes, I was worried about the top of my beer can turkey browning too much with the top being where all that heat leaves the chamber so I applied a sheet of foil to deflect the heat.
Grilling time will vary depending on the size of your turkey and heat of the grill. The back of the packaging for this bird said that a 13 pounder would take close to four hours at 300F. But this beer can turkey hit 160 at just under the three hour mark:
Some of you will mention that poultry needs to be grilled to 165F before being removed from the heat. But I let this bird rest for 30 minutes at which point the internal temperature rose the last 5 degrees to 165F.
After the resting period, which allows for the juices inside to calm down from an excited state and redistribute throughout the turkey which also helps to ensure that each bite is moist, the bird is ready to carve:
If you are searching for a new thanksgiving turkey recipe, this is it. It frees up the oven for a pan of green bean casserole or some candied yams. It also guarantees a juicy turkey every time since the beer continually bastes the bird from the inside as it is grilled. And it’s low carb.
If you have any questions about this grilled beer can turkey recipe, leave them below or shoot me an email, even if it’s Thanksgiving. If I see the message, I’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can. But email me too late, and I very well might be dozing on a recliner after a juicy bird bender!
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Beer Can Turkey
- turkey baster
- 13 lb turkey
- your favorite BBQ rub
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 24 oz your favorite beer (one 24 oz can)
- Remove the innards and leg bindings from the turkey legs of the thawed bird
- Rinse the turkey in cold water and pat dry with a paper towel
- Coat the front of the bird with salt, pepper, and the BBQ rub
- Crack the beer and pour off a few ounces into a glass for the grill master
- place the turkey on the beer can and season the back, making sure to tuck the wings under themselves
- Prepare the grill for two zone/indirect grilling with a target temperature of the at 300 degrees
- Place the beer can turkey in the grill and toss some smoke wood on the coals
- Close the lid
- At the 60 minute mark, baste the turkey with the juices from the pan and add smoke wood if needed
- Baste every 30 minutes
- When the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees, remove from the grill and allow to rest for 30 minutes at which point the temperature should rise another 5 degrees or so
- Slice and serve
We just did a bird a few weeks ago too and I’m ready for another one. Nice bird!
Thanks, Chris! It was pretty epic!
Gonna give this a try. Looks great. Two questions:
Do I need to brine?
Would injecting it be beneficial?
You can definitely brine if you want. If you are just going salt water, I wouldn’t. Most commercial turkeys have had that already. And the steaming beer will baste it the entire time. But if you were going to brine with say, apple juice or even better, cider, then you could go that route. As for injecting, you could do that too. You don’t have to do any of that if you don’t want. It’s pretty foolproof with just the beer can. Take some pics and let me know how it goes…
I decided I’m gonna try the brine. I don’t have a pot or a cooler thought. Do they sell bags big enough for a 13lb turkey? Also, would it be okay to put it in said bag(if I can find one that big) and then just get one of those plastic paint can things from Home Depot to sit in in? What would you suggest?
They do make brine bags specifically for this. And sure, place the bird in the bag along with the brine, tie it off and into a bucket. You could probably put a bag of ice on the bottom and one on top of the bird, cover with some towels to hold in the cold and leave it outside (depending on where you live) all night and be find if you don’t have room in the fridge for a 5 gallon bucket. I wouldn’t swear to that as it has a lot to do with the weather.
You could also see if your grocer has any extra food grade buckets you can use. Good luck!
Hey Scott, some people say it’s a dangerous way to cook poultry (recently saw a long article about it on amazingribs.com, for example). Everything from being easy to not cook the meat hot enough to kill salmonella, to the paint on the can being poisonous. Old wives’ tales or what do you think? Speaking for myself, I haven’t seen any sick people after a plate full of beer can chicken and certainly hasn’t done me any harm either.
I’ve never had a problem with not cooking it through. As long as you use a thermometer, there should be no problems.
As far as the paint? I’ve never seen any paint come off a can. If that worries you, they make metal stands that you pour the beer into that has no paint.
Sometimes the guys at Amazing Ribs do their “scientific” research to find controversy, not to really show anything.
Let’s put it this way. I have no problem feeding beer can chicken or turkey to my kids…
Scott, can you do this in the oven also ? I have with the beer can chickens and they work . Thanks Mike
The only reason I wouldn’t think this would work in the oven is the height. Can you stand a turkey up on a beer can and fit it in the oven. It barely fit in my grill…
Mike when I brine I use an orange bucket from home depot make my brine on the stove (I use alcie waters turkey brine recipe) place the turkey and add ice and a weight and place on the floor of an unheated new England garage for 12 hrs
Can you use a gas grill for this?
You can smoke on a gas grill, but the problem is being able to stand the bird up inside the grill. I can’t think of a single gas grill I have ever seen or used that can handle a turkey standing upright inside it…
I’ll be doing this for the fourth year in a row. It turns out great. Thanks GF
I’ve been searching beer can turkey for several days in anticipation of cooking a Christmas turkey. After looking at many recipes I’ve culled them down to yours. My mouth is watering in anticipation of this recipe. I’ll post back with results.
Whats the best beer to use
Whatever your fave is, Randall!
Happy Thanksgiving 2017 Scott! This year I wanted to try and make a gravy from the dripping. Any suggestions on a recipe?
John, I don’t have any gravy recipes off the top of my head, sorry.
We are planning our Thanksgiving, and we came across your recipe and it sounds amazing. Do you have any recommendations with doing this on a Weber grill? Would you recommend getting the grilling stone, which would hopefully be the equivalent of your smokin’ stone?
I would stand it on a couple bricks to give you enough clearance.
Hi Scott: At my husband’s suggestion, I’m going to try the beer can turkey this year. We’ve done this method with chickens for years and it’s the best chicken you’ll ever eat. I was all set to do my “Weber recipe book” method again – the book that came with a Weber grill about 25 years ago! It’s an indirect method with the pan and basting, etc. Couldn’t find that book this year and I’ve been looking all over the internet for that particular method. Weber has updated the method and, in my opinion, made it too hard. Sooooo, I’m gonna quit being stubborn and do the beer can method. Yum. Can hardly wait. Thanks for sharing with us. Happy Thanksgiving.