This is my go-to on the fourth Thursday of November every year. This method has evolved over the years. I’ve tried deep frying, deep frying without oil, spatchcocking (the funniest word in the English language), doing beer can turkey, doing just a turkey breast (before I had four kids), or this turkey breast, 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 as the thighs have more fat. This Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey recipe was designed to make sure that all of the portions of the Thanksgiving turkey are cooked at the same time. 

If you are like me and serve both a turkey and a ham for Thanksgiving, may I suggest taking a look at our grilled pineapple rum ham. It was a HUGE hit this Thanksgiving?

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey Ingredients:

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

Please note

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 the Thanksgiving day chef a ton of anxiety trying to time it just right. 

***Pro Tip ~ 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.

Thanksgiving Turkey Prep

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:

How to Make Compound Butter

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. 

How to Stuff the Breasts with Compound Butter

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:

What does putting butter under the skin of a turkey do?

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. In other words, instead of squirting the bird down every 30 minutes over the course of the cook, for the first couple of hours, the melting butter will do that for me. 

Tuck the Wings

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

Ice Down the Breasts

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 and thus ensures more even cooking. I know some of you are cringing at leaving the bird out of refrigeration for 2 hours. General wisdom says no more than an hour. But with a good portion of the bird sitting under three pounds of ice, I’ve never had a problem with it. If you are worried about it, simply do this for the one hour most other recommend. 

How to Smoke a Whole Turkey for Thanksgiving

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:

Not the whole time

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:

The hardest part

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 butcher’s gloves topped with a pair of nitrile gloves. The cloth gloves insulate enough to be able to pick up the bird with my hands and the nitrile gloves keep the cotton gloves dry. This 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 of the turkey:

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.

Time for even more butter!

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. A turkey baster would work too because that pan is full of melted butter and turkey fat. MmmmmmMmmmmmm. The only advantage 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:

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

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:

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

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

Temp check:

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

Never guess at the temp of poultry or on a meal as important as this one. The peace of mind a Thermapen can give you is well worth the price. 

And color check on our resting Thanksgiving turkey:

Garlic and Herb Butter 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?

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

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

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

How long will a 14 lb turkey take at 250F? Or a 16 lb at 350F. This is the question everyone asks, and there are all sorts of online calculators for this because nobody wants to have a bunch of people over for Thanksgiving and be late with the turkey while the sides dry out in the oven. I’ve been there. I’ve had a grill quit on me mid cook and had to finish a bird in the oven while everyone muttered louder and louder as they drank more wine and beer. This question is very hard to answer when a grill is involved. The temp of the fire, size of the bird and outside weather conditions all can greatly impact cook times. 

How long does it take to smoke a large turkey?

I’m going to give you the best answer anyone can give to this question. Stop. Stop trying to time the turkey. Start the turkey WAY early. I get up, put my turkey on the grill and climb back into bed and watch the parade. When my turkey is done, hours before my guests arrive, I wrap foil over the top of the pans and the bird and wrap it in an old beach or bath towel and drop it into an empty cooler. The first time I did this, I served a piping hot turkey THREE HOURS after I took it off the grill. It was perfect. I didn’t stress one minute that day. If you have the funds, grab a cambro. I bought one of these and don’t have to use the towel anymore. Stop trying to time the turkey just right and get it on really early and keep it warm in a cooler or in a cambro. The moment I stopped trying to time the turkey perfectly was the moment I no longer stressed when the turkey would be done. 

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey Summary:

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.

Thank you

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. 

Also, you can follow us on our GrillinFools Facebook pageInstagram, and YouTube feeds

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

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

Ingredients

  • 12 to 24 lb turkey plastic thermometer removed
  • 3 oranges sliced into sixths or eighths
  • 4 carrots large, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks (substitute a small bag of baby carrots)
  • 1 red onion large, sliced into eighths.
  • 2 limes cut into eighths
  • 2 lemons cut into eighths
  • 1 lb salted butter
  • 4 cubes Dorot Gardens onion
  • 5 cubes Dorot Gardens garlic
  • 5 cubes Dorot Gardens basil
  • 6 cubes Dorot Gardens parsley
  • coarse salt
  • your favorite poultry BBQ 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

 

Garlic and Herb Butter Thanksgiving Turkey

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas, the Original Grillin’ Fool, was sent off to college with a suitcase and a grill where he overcooked, undercooked and burned every piece of meat he could find. After thousands of failures, and quite a few successes, nearly two decades later he started a website to show step by step, picture by picture, foolproof instructions on how to make great things out of doors so that others don’t have to repeat the mistakes he’s made on the grill.
Scott Thomas

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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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