Sunday, 15 November 2009

Perfect Christmas Turkey on the Weber

This simple recipe is the result of many Christmas’s experimenting with turkey and other poultry in a kettle barbeque in both the English winter and Australian summer.

On this particular Christmas, we served an 8.5 kg (20 lb) turkey for a late afternoon Christmas dinner. The plan was to have plenty of leftovers for turkey lasagne, turkey pasties, cold meat and stock. It worked a treat. I managed to feed 9 with one breast, stuffing and one thigh (loads of trimmings and vegetables helped). The next few days were spent preparing and storing the remainder of our every-two-year turkey delights.

One advantage of the kettle barbeque is that it frees up the oven and you can cook a much larger bird than you would be able to in the kitchen.

This is from my archive and what really happened a Christmas (or two) ago.


Collect your pre-ordered turkey from your local butcher. Enjoy the queues and conversations that go with it.

Pre-prepare in advance everything possible… like the bread sauce and stuffing for example, so all that is left to do is to cook the turkey and prepare and cook the potatoes, parsnips, brussel sprouts and carrots.

This year I planned a pre-dinner snack of home made sausage rolls and devils on horseback which were also prepared on Christmas Eve.


Juggling catering obligations with gift opening demands of the kids and family is always a challenge. I write out a schedule a few days before so it is easier to judge the timing and arrange tasks on the day. The main job for the morning is to prepare and cook the turkey. Once the turkey is on the charcoal cooking fire, the preparation of the giblet gravy, vegetables and other compliments then simply falls into place.

I tried a new method for the giblet stock and gravy this time. The neck, heart, liver and kidneys were sauted in a dob of butter with a few whole carrots, bay leaves and peppercorns until lightly browned before adding water and a couple of unpeeled onions.

The stock simmered on the stove for almost as long as the turkey was in the Weber. Masses of gravy was produced, enough for the meal and plenty left over for the turkey pasty filling.

A 20 lb turkey will take about 3¼ hours to cook in a kettle barbeque and then a further 30-60 minutes to carve and serve. Having it ready early is fine as it will stay hot carved or un-carved under foil for an hour or more. The fire will take 30-40 minutes from scratch to mature, so you need to work out at what time it needs to be lit to ensure that your meal will be on the table when you need it to be. Remove the turkey from the fridge early in the day so it returns to room temperature before cooking. This is important especially in the winter as the barbeque will be under enough stress to keep hot as it is.

Get your pre-prepared stuffing ready (I use a well seasoned mixture of sausage meat, fresh breadcrumbs and a bit of grated lemon rind - see Chapter 3) and then put your hand in the neck cavity and carefully work apart the skin from the breast meat with your fingers. Then, a bit at a time, push small handfuls of stuffing under the skin and squash it down to create a thick (up to an inch or so) layer over the whole of the breast. The main cavity is best left open to allow the heat from the fire to cook the turkey from the inside without interfering with your cooking times.

Rub the whole skin with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt before placing the turkey on a large baking dish on the rack of the barbeque. The baking dish will ensure that you safely reserve cooking juices and fat for basting during cooking. Open the lid of the barbeque every 45 minutes or so to check the fire and allow it to re-oxygenate while you baste. You will probably need to add just a chunk or two of charcoal to each side of the barbeque during these times to keep the temperature fairly steady. Don’t worry if the breast starts looking a bit overdone, this is just the stuffing layer doing its job of protecting the white meat during cooking. If the turkey is just gently sizzling, you will know that the temperature of the fire is just right.

Once cooked, serving the turkey should be easy. Cover it with foil and let it stand for half an hour or so, and then with a pair of tongs and a short sharp knife, carefully remove an entire breast in one piece and set it aside. Then remove a thigh with a bit of wiggling and a bit of help from your knife. Remove the thigh bone before slicing the meat across the grain of the muscles. Slice the breast in the same way, across the grain in ¼ - ½ in slices, leaving a thick layer of aromatic stuffing on the outside of each slice. The stuffing may be a little burnt on the outside, but this has only helped to protect the more delicate breast meat from over cooking and drying out.

Protect the uncarved turkey with foil to keep it moist for later. Place the carved meat onto a warmed tray and cover with foil to give you time to serve the vegetables and trimmings onto hot plates before serving the turkey slices and finishing with piping hot giblet gravy.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. For some photos of our 2009 Christmas turkey have a look at Perfect Christmas Turkey in the Weber - Chapter 2. I'm already planning the 2010 version, it's just a few weeks away...
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