This guide will help you understand all the basics of cooking a Thanksgiving turkey on a Traeger grill. We’ll cover choosing how much turkey to make, thawing your turkey, cook times and temps, and different methods for preparing your turkey on a Traeger.
Let’s begin with choosing how much turkey you’ll need.
Depending on the grill size you have, we can tell how many turkeys you can fit
THAWING A TURKEY
If you choose a frozen turkey, you’ll want to give it plenty of time to thaw completely before you fire up the grill. Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator (the safest method) takes roughly 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat, meaning you’ll need to clear out fridge space well in advance of the big day. However, if you’re in a pinch you can use cold water to speed up the process. Just be sure to change the water frequently.
After you’ve thawed your turkey, the next step is seasoning it. You can keep things simple with a dry rub, or you can make sure the flavor really gets in there by brining or injecting your turkey. Then it’s time to cook. If you have plenty of time and want maximum wood-fired flavor, then smoking your bird low and slow is the way to go. Pressed for time? Spatchcock your turkey to cut down on cooking time while ensuring super juicy meat with perfectly crisp skin. And of course there’s nothing wrong with going the tried-and-true traditional route. As long as you’re cooking it on a Traeger, it’s going to be good.
This a general guide to cooking times when doing a traditional roasted turkey. If you’re smoking or spatchcocking your bird, then you’ll want to refer to specific recipes for accurate cooking temps and times.
For further guidance, we’ve put together a turkey-related FAQ below.
WHAT TYPE OF TURKEY SHOULD I BUY?
A: You’ll see a lot of labels on turkeys in the store these days. We’re just going to focus on a few of the most important ones to look out for. ·Kosher: Turkeys that are certified kosher have been thoroughly salted on the outside, but not brined. You can soak them in cold water overnight to draw out some of the salt before brining. Kosher turkeys are also typically antibiotic-free and vegetarian-fed, resulting in a higher quality bird. ·Natural: These are conventional breeds that have been minimally processed, making them a good choice for customizing with your own brine and rub. ·Heritage: Heritage breeds are closer to the turkeys that would have been recognizable at the first Thanksgiving. These are leaner birds with more intense, slightly gamey flavor and darker dark meat. However, that delicious flavor comes at a cost, as heritage turkeys can cost several times what a conventional turkey costs. These birds are also the best choice for anyone concerned with animal welfare or environmental concerns. ·Basted or Self-Basting: These are conventionally raised turkeys that have been injected with solutions. They are usually very salty and not suitable for further brining or rubbing. We do not recommend using this type of turkey.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO THAW MY TURKEY?
A: There are two safe ways to thaw a turkey. The easiest way is to put a roasting pan under it and thaw in the refrigerator. Allow about 1 day for every 4 pounds. In other words, a 20-pounder will take 5 days. The second way to safely defrost a turkey is to make sure there are no tears in the wrapping, then submerge it in a sink, food-safe pail, or large basin filled with cold water (40 degrees F or less). It’s a good idea to put the turkey in a large resealable plastic bag so the water and turkey juices don not mingle. Allow about 45 minutes per pound. Be sure to drain and change the water every 30 minutes.
WHY WOULD I BRINE A TURKEY?
A: Brining a turkey adds more flavor and juiciness than any other method we have tried. Brining allows you to season your turkey from the inside out before cooking, and who doesn’t want yummy flavor in every single bite? A simple brine is 1 gallon cold water, 1 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup brown sugar and any additional seasonings you’d like. We recommend peppercorns, thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, or garlic. Or, you could just make it easy and use our Traeger Orange Brine & Turkey Rub Kit to guarantee great flavor every time.
Q: HOW LONG SHOULD I BRINE MY TURKEY?
A: Opinion on this varies, but we recommend no less than 16 and no more than 32 hours. We find 24 hours is the perfect amount of time to add the right amount of flavor without the turkey getting too salty.
WHAT DO I SEASON MY TURKEY WITH?
A: We like to keep this one simple and classic. We mix 8 tablespoons of softened butter with 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mixed herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and marjoram and use our fingers to press the butter mixture up under the skin of the turkey. Spread it evenly across all areas of the bird. Drizzle the outside of the bird with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper or Traeger Turkey Rub.
DO I STUFF THE CAVITY OF MY TURKEY?
A: This one is completely personal preference, but we prefer not to. When you stuff a turkey, the internal temperature of the stuffing must reach 165 degrees F and that typically means the breast and thigh meat of your turkey is much higher and the meat will be dry. We like to stuff the cavity of our turkeys with aromatics like onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme and citrus quarters that can infuse the meat with more flavor from the inside out.
DIRECTLY ON THE GRILL OR IN A ROASTING PAN?
A: This comes down to personal preference. We will always choose to put a whole turkey in a roasting pan so we can collect the drippings for gravy. When using a roasting pan, we also like to add a few cups of broth to the bottom of the pan to steam the bird with extra flavor and moisture while cooking. No roasting pan? Layer the bottom of a large pan with carrot and celery sticks and place the bird on top. This will elevate the bird enough so it isn’t stewing in its’ own juices and will also add great flavor to the drippings.
HOW LONG AND AND WHAT TEMPERATURE DO I COOK MY TURKEY?
A: A small bird (8 to 12 pounds) requires 2-1/2 to 3 hours at 325 degrees F; a medium (12 – 18 pounds) will need 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours; and a large bird (over 18 pounds) could take up to 6 hours.
HOW DO I ADD MORE SMOKE FLAVOR TO MY TURKEY?
A: Cook your turkey on the Smoke setting for 1 to 3 hours, then finish cooking on higher heat (325 degrees F or higher) to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and crisp the skin. We do not recommend cooking a turkey – especially a large one – entirely on the Smoke setting as it adds hours to the cooking time. The skin also tends to be rubbery as the heat on the Smoke setting isn’t high enough to render the fat.
WHAT FLAVOR OF PELLETS SHOULD I USE ON A TURKEY?
A: Our favorite is a 50/50 mix of apple and hickory. Of course, you can always refer to our pellet guide and pick your own or create a personal blen
SHOULD I BASTE MY TURKEY, OR LEAVE IT ALONE?
A: Basting is entirely optional. If you’ve already brined, seasoned, and smoked we don’t think basting is completely necessary but it is a good way to add extra flavor to the skin specifically. Just keep in mind that every time you open the lid, you lose up to 20% of the heat in your grill.
HOW LONG DOES MY TURKEY NEED TO REST?
A: We recommend letting a 12-15 lb turkey rest for at least 20 minutes. Anything over 15 lbs needs at least 30 minutes to rest before carving. DO NOT tent your turkey with foil. The steam from the hot turkey will collect on the foil and drip onto your perfect turkey skin and make it anything but crispy.
Now you have our tried-and-true methods for the perfect turkey. Make the ultimate Thanksgiving feast and Traeger your turkey. Follow this guide and the only worry you’ll have on the big day will be your cocktail glass getting low.