This is my go-to Thanksgiving turkey that I make every year on the fourth Thursday of November. This method has evolved over the years. I’ve tried deep frying, spatchcocking and all manner of cooking it traditionally. Frying is delicious but also a mess and the peanut oil costs more than the turkey. Spatchcocking speeds things up and it cooks really evenly, but the presentation just isn’t that storybook look I want. So I went back to traditional and then evolved the recipe over the years into this method. I have two slight variations to this recipe, depending on my mood. One involves compound butter under the skin covering the breasts and the other involves using sausage rather than the compound butter. This recipe takes into account the fact that despite the thighs being smaller than the breasts, they cook slower than the larger breasts. This method will help to make sure that all of the portions of the Thanksgiving turkey are cooked at the same time. 

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey Ingredients:

  • 1 turkey, plastic thermometer removed
  • 2 disposable aluminum pans big enough to hold the turkey
  • 3 oranges, sliced into sixths or eighths.
  • 4 large carrots, skinned and cut into 1 inch chunks (substitute a small bag of baby carrots) 
  • 1 large purple onion, sliced into eighths. 
  • 2 limes, cut into eighths 
  • 2 lemons, cut into eighths
  • 1 pound of salted butter
  • 3 cubes of Dorot Gardens  onion
  • 4 cubes of Dorot Gardens  garlic
  • 4 cubes of Dorot Gardens  basil
  • 5 cubes of Dorot Gardens  parsley
  • Coarse salt
  • Your favorite chicken/poultry/turkey barbecue rub

Please note that I don’t tell how heavy the turkey should be. That depends on how many you are feeding. This works for anything from 12 pounds to 24 pounds. Now, how long it takes to cook will change drastically from 12 to 24 pounds, but I have a solution for that to save that Thanksgiving day chef a ton of anxiety trying to time it just right. 

Start by doubling up a couple disposable aluminum pans. If only one pan is used, it won’t hold the weight of the aromatics/veggies and a full-size turkey.

Chop the fruit, veggies, onions, etc into good size chunks. Fill the bottom inch or two of the double-stacked pans:

Then stuff the turkey cavity with the fruit, veggies and onions:

I’m also going to save a bunch of time with this compound butter. First off, set the butter out on the counter for a few hours or even overnight. Here are two sticks of butter after being set out all night (two more sticks were added later):

Then grab some Dorot Gardens garlic, herb and onion packets to save some serious time and not sacrifice quality or flavor:

Here’s that aforementioned garlic:

Now dump the garlic, onion, basil and parsley into a microwave-safe dish so we can thaw the frozen cubes in the microwave. If we put them right in with the butter then when we thaw them in the microwave the butter will turn to liquid which will make it real hard to stuff under the skin of the turkey. 

Drop that bowl into the microwave for about 20 seconds.

Once the garlic, onion and herbs are thawed, I dump them into the bowl with the butter:

Then blend to make a compound butter:

With the Dorot Gardens garlic, onions and herbs, I didn’t have to source the fresh herbs (and be invariably disappointed when what I wanted looks wilted and brown in the plastic container in the grocery store). I didn’t have to remove any herb leaves from the stems. I didn’t have to chop anything. I didn’t have to peel all that sticky paper off garlic cloves. I didn’t have any sting in my eyes from slicing an onion. I quite literally had compound butter in under 90 seconds which included 20 seconds in the microwave.

Now, let’s get back to this bird and create a pocket between the skin of the turkey and the breasts on both sides by simply working my hands between the skin and the meat:

I worked my hands down just about as far as I could without tearing the skin. 

Next up, grab a wad of that glorious compound butter:

Shove that wonderful mess of butter into the pockets just created:

In honor of J. J. Abrams and his love for lens flares, I had to include this pic:

I reserved some of that compound butter for later:

Yes, that’s almost a half pound of butter on top of each breast. Trust me here. The goal is for the butter to slowly melt in the heat and continually braise the breasts.

Make sure you tuck the wings back up under themselves so the tips of the wings don’t burn:

Now, time for one of my aces in the hole to make the breasts and the thighs cook at the same rate. Grab one of those zipper bags and fill it with ice and place it on the breasts and leave it there for 90 minutes to 2 hours:

Do not place the turkey in the fridge to do this. The counter works just fine. We want the dark meat to be room temp and we want the breasts to be well below that. That way, when the turkey cooks, it takes longer for the breasts to come up to temp.

Time to set up the grill. I set my grill for two-zone/indirect grilling. This means coals on one side and the turkey on the other. So I set up my grill with a bed of coals on the right side and placed my aluminum pan on the left. I have a deflector plate over the coals. Target temp inside the grill is around 350-400F: 

I dropped some hockey pucks of pear wood on the fire:

Before I put the turkey on the grill, I salted the breasts:

Now for that other ace in the hole. I start by cooking the bird thighs side up to start. Wait, what? Yeah, I know I just salted the breasts, but that’s OK. We are going thighs side up and give them a sprinkle of salt as well:

First off, we aren’t cooking it this way the whole time. Just for the first 90-120 minutes or so. Second, the reason we are doing this is because heat rises and thus concentrates at the top of the bird. So to start off, we are going to let those thighs take the brunt of the heat. Once the skin browns up nicely, we will be able to flip that thanksgiving turkey over:

Truth be told, the flipping is the hardest part of this recipe. Doing it with tongs is not easy. I highly recommend a couple cheap cloth butchers gloves topped with a pair of nitrile gloves. The cloth gloves insulate enough to be able to pick up the bird with my hands which makes flipping much easier than with tongs:

Here is our bird, with a little coloring from that purple onion:

Don’t worry. Once we brown up the top, that purple will completely disappear. 

Here is our compound butter under the skin leaking out now that we have flipped it over. This is why we added so much in the first place:

Grab that chicken/poultry/turkey barbecue rub and sprinkle a little on here:

This is a good time to add some more charcoal and smoke wood to the fire and close the lid to let the heat and smoke work their magic.

Here we are an hour after the flip:

The skin is browning nicely at this point, but I want it to brown more. I want that traditional presentation of a beautifully browned Thanksgiving turkey. Remember that compound butter we reserved at the beginning of this? 20 seconds in the microwave and it is now turkey tanning lotion:

Notice in that picture above that the BBQ brush is barely touching the skin? Or not at all in the picture below:

Be very careful with the brush. It is very easy to brush the rub right off the skin.  I recommend drizzling and dabbing over brushing the butter on. 

You could just spoon the stuff that will have melted into the disposable aluminum pan, but the reserved butter has a higher concentration of those Dorot Gardens garlic, herbs and onion and I want that on the skin. See what I mean:

We are looking great, but the skin on the breasts hasn’t caught up to the skin on the other side of the turkey yet:

Give it a little time. Because when we have 165 in the thigh and the breast, our browning is beautiful. Temp check:

And color check on our resting Thanksgiving turkey:

Allow the turkey to rest for a good thirty minutes, during which time the turkey should continue to cook and come up that last few degrees to get us to 165F

But what about that breast?

Glistening and juicy as well as some awesome compound butter to dip bites of turkey in, or dab our bread into: 

Let’s face it, turkey is a little bland. But at the same time, it makes for a wonderful canvas for all manner of amazing flavors. Get out that flavor paintbrush, dip it in some Dorot Gardens and brush that stuff on liberally. Trust me. No one will complain about a boring bird if you do. Did I mention that those butter-poached carrots and onions in the aluminum pan are to die for?

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or send me an email. But please don’t email me about how long it takes to cook the bird. NEVER cook to time. Cook to temp. Aim to get the turkey done early. Even three hours early. Then use a faux Cambro. A Cambro is what restaurant and catering professionals use to keep the food hot and juicy. Unfortunately, they are ridiculously expensive. A faux Cambro simple involves a big cooler, some foil and an old bath towel. Leave the turkey in the aluminum pans, top with a couple layers of foil to hold in the heat, wrap in that towel to further hold in the heat and set inside that cooler. Close the lid and you can carve that bad boy three hours later and it will still be hot, juicy and delicious!

I’m proud to work with Dorot Gardens on this post. Their product is brilliant as it is simple as it is high quality and delicious. My only regret is not coming up with this idea myself. My freezer will always have some Dorot Gardens in it. Also, check out my Garlic and Herb Ribs using the Dorot Gardens squares. 

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

My go-to turkey recipe which involves a number of tricks for even cooking and time saving deliciousness in this garlic and herb butter Thanksgiving turkey.
Prep Time30 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Whole Turkey
Cuisine: Thanksgiving Dinner

Equipment

  • 2 disposable aluminum pans big enough to hold the turkey

Ingredients

  • 12 to 24 lb turkey plastic thermometer removed
  • 3 orange sliced into sixths or eighths
  • 4 carrot large, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks (substitute a small bag of baby carrots)
  • 1 red onion large, sliced into eighths.
  • 2 lime cut into eighths
  • 2 lemon cut into eighths
  • 1 lb salted butter
  • 4 cube Dorot Gardens onion
  • 5 cube Dorot Gardens garlic
  • 5 cube Dorot Gardens basil
  • 6 cube Dorot Gardens parsley
  • coarse salt
  • your favorite chicken/poultry/turkey barbecue rub

Instructions

  • Rough chop the veggies, onion, and fruit and place in the double layer aluminum pan, stuffing some of that into the cavity.
  • Combine the room temperature butter with the Dorot Gardens garlic, onion and herbs
  • Create two pockets between the skin and the turkey breasts
  • Stuff with about 2 sticks of the compound butter into each pouch, reserving a few ounces of that butter for later in the cook
  • Place a bag of ice on top of the breasts and leave on the counter for 2 hours
  • Prepare the grill for two zone grilling with coals and smoke wood on one side and the turkey on the other
  • Target temp inside the grill is 350-400
  • Salt the breasts and then place the bird in the pan full of veggies, onion and fruit breast side down
  • Salt the thighs and close the lid
  • Once the back has browned up a bit, flip the turkey over very carefully
  • I recommend cloth gloves underneath nitrile gloves
  • Season the breasts with that BBQ rub and close the lid
  • After an hour or so, melt the remaining butter and drizzle and dab it over the breasts
  • Once the breasts and thighs reach 160-165F remove from the heat and allow to rest for 30 minutes which should take the turkey up past 165F
  • Slice and serve

 

3 comments

Could this be done on a propane grill? Put the turkey on one side and turn on the burners on the other? Or would I be better off using my smoker(BGE)?

Reply

Mike,

You could do this on a gas grill, but I would go with the kamado if it were me…

…….Scott

You were fantastic today for our event. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!!

Reply

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