Grill-Roasted Turkey with Smoky Cumin Salt

Photo: Christina Holmes

Grilling a whole turkey for Thanksgiving is a wonderful break with tradition, with the added benefit of freeing up the oven. Trussing or stuffing the turkey will impede the airflow into the cavity and mess with the results so please do neither.

Makes: 8 to 10 servings
Time: 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, largely unattended


  • 2 tablespoons salt

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika

  • 2 teaspoons black pepper

  • 1 whole turkey (10–14 pounds)


1. Start the coals or heat a gas grill for medium-high indirect cooking, preferably a three-zone fire (see the note below). Make sure the grates are clean. If using charcoal, put a drip pan under the indirect side of the grill; for gas, empty and clean the fat trap.

2. Stir the salt, cumin, paprika, and pepper together in a small bowl. Trim the excess fat and skin from the turkey without exposing any meat. Sprinkle as much of the cumin salt as you prefer evenly over and inside the turkey, patting gently so it sticks. (You can prepare the turkey to this point, cover and refrigerate it up to a day in advance; then let it sit while you heat the grill.)

3. Put the turkey on the indirect side of the grill, breast up, so the thighs are as close to the fire as possible without any danger of fat dripping onto the flames or pilot lights. Close the lid and cook until the internal temperature at the thigh, away from the bone, is 165°–170°F, 2 to 2 1 ⁄ 2 hours. Also check the temperature at the breast; if it is below 155°F, you can reposition the bird so the breast is closer to the fire, or turn up the heat on the burner closest to the breast if using gas. Keep checking the breast every 5 to 10 minutes until it registers 155°F at its thickest point.

4. Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes, until the internal temperature at the breast comes up to 160°F. Cut the breast halves off, then across into slices. Slice the rest of the meat off the bone and serve.

Grill-Roasted Turkey with Oniony Thyme Salt

Substitute dried thyme and onion powder for the cumin and paprika.

Grill-Roasted Turkey with Sweet Spice Salt

Omit the paprika; add 1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, cloves, and freshly grated nutmeg.

Grill-Roasted Turkey with Lemon-Oregano Salt

Omit the cumin and paprika; add the grated zest of 1 lemon and 2 teaspoons dried oregano.

Note: Cooking Whole Birds on a Gas Grill

Heat the grill and turn of the inner burners. Leave the ignition burner on high or medium-high and the other outside burner one or two notches lower. Put the bird on the grill breast up, as close to the hottest burner as possible with the legs facing that burner.

Grilling chickens and turkeys this way, after 45 to 60 minutes of cooking the internal temperature of the breast can be as much as 20°F lower than the thighs. So after you check the progress at that point, adjust the heat level on the burner closest to the breast, reverse the position of the bird, or even move the breast directly over the fire, so that breast and dark meat are ready at the same time.

Note: Cooking Whole Birds on a Charcoal Grill

You have some options: You can push two-thirds of the charcoal to one side of the drip pan, the remainder to the other side. Or if you have a big enough grill, go with half and half but position the bird so the breast will be farther from the coals than the thighs. You will have to do the same fine-tuning to finish the breast once the dark meat is done or nearly done, as described for the gas grill above.

Note: When There is No Room for a Three-Zone-Fire

If your gas grill only has two burners (or three close together) or if a three-zone fire and a drip pan are too tight a squeeze in your charcoal grill, go with a typical two-zone indirect fire.

To grill a whole or spatchcocked bird, position

it so the legs are closest to the fire. Cooked this way, depending on the heat retention of your grill, the breast can lag even further behind the thighs and legs. Once the dark meat is done, turn the bird around or even move the breast directly over the fire to finish it. (If you’re cooking on a gas grill, make sure the heat is at medium or lower.) Cook times using a two-zone fire will probably be a little longer than for a three-zone fire.

Recipe from How to Grill Everything (Photo: Christina Holmes)