Happy holidays and welcome to Flawed yet Functional! I am a Type 1 Diabetic using the Autoimmune Protocol to manage my blood sugar levels. The AIP diet is dairy, egg, and gluten-free (along with some other “frees”, but those are some of the majors). Butter is usually a mainstay when cooking a turkey, but I’m here to share how to cook a turkey on a charcoal grill that is simple and completely dairy-free! This charcoal grilled turkey is perfect for your next holiday meal!
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The holidays are upon us which means decadent, rich family meals are in store. Although food does not need to be the focus of a holiday get-together, it IS possible to make delicious food that is enjoyed by all guests and still follows the AIP guidelines (check out these 8 handy food tradition swaps!). Whether or not you have dietary restrictions, making a charcoal grilled turkey is an excellent choice for a holiday gathering. It tastes delicious, and it frees up the oven for other food. Win win!
First up, let’s take a look at the tools you’ll need.
Tools for Success
Obviously, to grill a turkey, you need a grill! We have an XL Big Green Egg, but you can cook a turkey on any charcoal grill providing it is large enough. It needs to fit the turkey in a roasting pan and allow the lid to fully close. A Weber or any other brand of kettle-type or ceramic grill will work just fine.
The instructions here will focus on the Big Green Egg or other ceramic style grill set-up. The benefit of this type of grill is it is extremely efficient in its use of heat. A little charcoal goes a long way. If you choose to follow these instructions on a Weber, make sure to watch your charcoal as the turkey cooks. You may need to add more.
One accessory we’ve purchased for our grill is a ceramic plate setter. This is a triangular-shaped ceramic piece that lays below the grill grate with a “plate” in the middle of the grill and three large air holes around the sides.
The plate setter allows for a cook with indirect heat. It can be used for smoking (just add wood on top of the charcoal) or just indirect grilling, which is what we did for our turkey.
To set up indirect heat cooking on a kettle-type grill, check out this video.
A good leave-in thermometer is invaluable when it comes to grilling and smoking. If you use a thermometer, grilling can be “fix it and forget it.” Almost…obviously you still have to keep an eye on the temperature of the grill itself, but it is so much easier!
We use and love the Smoke leave-in thermometer from ThermoWorks. It uses two probes so you can monitor the grill temperature and meat temperature simultaneously.
I highly recommend this leave-in thermometer set up. It works great time after time. We have had ours for 2 years, and it is still working great.
Two years might not seem like a long time to you, but we have had a long string of bad luck with leave-in thermometers from the grocery store. The leave-in thermometers that cost $15 to $25 at the grocery store only last one or two cooks for us. The probe quickly loses its ability to sense the temperature. So having one leave-in thermometer for 2 years that has gone through at least 16+ long cooks is an amazing feat!
V-Rack or Roasting Rack with Roasting Pan
Lastly, you need a rack to hold the turkey in a roasting pan. Even though you are grilling the turkey, you still want to catch those delicious juices for gravy! Simply place the turkey on the v-rack, set the rack in the roasting pan, and then set the roasting pan directly on the grill grate.
Don’t worry about putting pans in a grill! They will be just fine! It’s the same thing as the oven, a little sootier, but basically the same thing!
How to Grill a Turkey on a Charcoal Grill
Don’t be scared! The cooking process really isn’t much different than cooking in the oven. Especially if you have a ceramic grill, it really is an oven with a different heating source. Ceramic grills are extremely efficient in their use of charcoal, so once you set the temperature you should be able to virtually forget it.
Brine the Turkey
First up, you need to brine the turkey. We like to use Alton Brown’s turkey brine and brine the bird for 8 to 16 hours.
After brining, remove from the liquid and pat dry. Place the turkey on the v-rack and in your fridge to allowed to dry age for 2 to 6 hours. Drying the turkey in the fridge will allow the skin to dry out so it will cook crispy without burning. There’s nothing better than crispy skin! Don’t skip this step!
Dress the Turkey
While performing these final steps to get the turkey on the grill, place a zip-top bag filled with ice on the breast. This will cool down the breasts more than the legs/thighs/wings so that it takes longer to cook. No more dried out white meat!
Usually, we like to smear the skin with a mixture of dried herbs and lard, but in trying to keep this recipe as simple as possible, we skipped that step to show you a fairly plain bird can still be delicious!
Slice one lemon and quarter one apple then place both in the roasting pan below the turkey. Insert one large sprig of both rosemary and thyme into the cavity of the turkey. Lastly, pour one cup of dry white wine into the roasting pan. Insert the meat probe into the innermost part of the breast, and the turkey is ready for the grill!
Set the Grill
- Start the charcoal in the grill, using a chimney. Use enough charcoal for several hours of cooking.
- Arrange coals evenly across the bottom of the grill.
- Cover with plate setter.
- Put on the grill grate.
- Regulate grill temperature to 325° using a daisy wheel on the top of the grill and the vent at the bottom.
Grill the Turkey
- Put the turkey on the v-rack in the roasting pan directly on the grill grate. Remove the bag of ice just before putting the turkey on the grill.
- Set up the grill probe on the grill grate to allow for accurate grill temperature readings. This is the probe just in front of the roasting pan in the picture below.
- Close the lid and allow to cook until turkey reaches 165°.
- Monitor the grill temperature to ensure it stays at 325°. Open or close the daisy-wheel at the top of the grill or air vent at the bottom to maintain the temperature.
- Rotate the turkey as needed to allow for even browning of the skin.
Allow to Rest
The turkey is so picture-perfect coming off the grill, but don’t cut into it just yet! Give the turkey 30 minutes or more to rest and allow the juices to redistribute through the meat. Proper rest time is crucial to a moist and tender bird.
Don’t worry, it won’t get cold in that amount of time! While you wait, make the gravy using the drippings collected during the cook.
Enjoy the Turkey!
Dietary restrictions or not, turkey can be enjoyed by all! Well cooked meat doesn’t need a lot of extra ingredients, as this recipe proves! Leaving out the butter to make a dairy-free turkey will not disappoint anyone at your table. Try making charcoal grilled turkey at your next gathering. Not only will everyone love it, but your oven will also be available to cook or keep warm all the other dishes!
The outside of the roasting pan will get quite sooty. Grab some baking soda and a sponge with a scrub pad. Get the sponge wet then sprinkle it liberally with baking soda. Rub the baking soda on the outside of the pan, and the soot will wipe off easily! This trick even works if you’ve left the pan sit for several days before tackling the soot (don’t judge…the inside was clean!). So don’t stress about it until you have time!
Charcoal Grilled Turkey
Free up your oven by using the grill to cook your next turkey! This AIP and Paleo recipe is gluten, dairy, and egg free allowing you and all your guests to enjoy turkey this holiday season.
- 16 pound fresh turkey
- 1 recipe Alton Brown’s brine
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 lemon sliced
- 1 apple quartered
- 1 cup dry white wine
Remove the neck and organs from the turkey. Put in refrigerator for gravy. Make one batch of Alton Brown’s turkey brine and soak turkey for 8 to 16 hours.
Light charcoal grill and bring to 325°. Create indirect heat by using a plate setter underneath the grill grate or some other method.
Remove turkey from brine, pat dry, and place on v-rack. Allow to rest, uncovered, in the fridge for 2-6 hours.
Remove turkey from fridge and place a bag of ice on the breast to keep it cool while preparing the pan and turkey for the grill.
Insert fresh rosemary and thyme into the cavity of the turkey. Place apples, lemon, and white wine in the roasting pan under the turkey.
Place slow-cook meat thermometer in the innermost part of the breast. Put the turkey on the grill. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 165°. You may need to rotate the turkey halfway through for even browning.
Allow turkey to rest for 30 minutes prior to carving. Keep pan drippings to make gravy.