Thanksgiving in Warm Weather- Grilled Bourbon Turkey with Bourbon Gravy, Green Bean Casserole, Stuffed Pumpkin, and Bourbon Pumpkin Tarts

When I was planning the compulsory Food Blog Thanksgiving post, I originally thought that I would just post recipes for a bunch of delicious side dish choices. I mean, I figured everyone would already have their turkey technique decided over years of tradition. But I found a way to cook your bird that is incredible. If you’re open to it, I have found a way to cook your bird that gets the best of both the roasting world and the smoking world, and if you try it, I don’t think you’ll go back to your old method again.

I had recently heard about two friends who were going to brine their bird in Bourbon and then smoke it, which sounded amazing. I mean what better flavor to infuse your bird with than Bourbon for Thanksgiving? I can’t think of another popular liquor that was invented in America other than Bourbon. Sure, we do wine well, but Europe was doing that long before us; beer was invented by Franciscan monks in what is now Belgium; obviously scotch, tequila, and vodka were invented elsewhere. Bourbon, however, is ours. It was invented in Old Bourbon in Kentucky, and that area of America is still where most of the Bourbon in the world is made. And what better holiday to feature American’s spirit than the day we celebrate the Spirit of the New World: Thanksgiving?

There was one problem with recreating my friends’ Thanksgiving Day Turkey idea: I don’t have a smoker. I do have a grill, I thought to myself. There must be some way to grill a turkey, right? And, if there is, what a great way for those of us who live in warm weather cities to celebrate the holiday? If you live in any Southern or Tropical American climates, or if you are celebrating Christmas in Australia, there is no better way to make a Turkey. (Of course any warm weather climate will do. I am just making the silly assumption that I don’t have many South America, African, Asian or Middle Eastern readers, as my blog is not widely translated, but I suppose I could be wrong.)

There are a few guidelines to ensure a perfectly grilled bird, however:

1. Use a roasting pan with a rack. This will allow the hot air to get all the way around the bird, but still leave you pan dripping for a delicious Bourbon gravy. (If you don’t own one, Smart & Final sells cheap disposable roasting pans with racks.)

2. Brine the bird. Basting the bird on the grill will be too disruptive of the heat, and will not get you the delicious crisp skin you want.

3. Cover the top of the wings and the end of the legs with tin foil for the first hour of cooking to keep them from burning.

4. Do NOT start the bird breast down as can be en vogue these days. It cooks just fine breast up, and you will just ruin your turkey’s skin.

5. Do NOT tuck the wings back or truss the bird. This just messes with the cooking on the grill. The wings will over cook and the drumsticks will under cook.

6. Do NOT stuff the bird. (To me, this is the only drawback of a grilled bird. I like a stuffing flavored by the bird. This is why I recommend Stuffed Pumpkins for a side, to get a pumpkin flavored stuffing instead.)

7. Do NOT cover the bird in foil as it sits for the final 15 minutes before serving. The bird will stay plenty warm, and all you are doing is trapping moisture in the skin you took all that care crisping.

8. Pour a little Bourbon (or water) in the bottom of the roasting pan at the beginning of cooking to keep the bird moist.

9. Use soaked wood chips in a pie tin on the grill for a delicious smoke flavor.

10. Rub herbs and oil UNDER the skin as well as over the skin to make it penetrate the meat.

If you follow these 10 rules you are on your way to a very impressive Thanksgiving. And, trust me, guests will be ooo-ing and aah-ing seeing your bird on the grill. Grilling the bird works best for a smaller bird. Mine was 12 pounds. If you need to make a 20 pound monster to feed a crowd, grilling may not be the best method for you.

I also have great recipe for a Green Bean Casserole. I think Green Bean Casserole has a bad connotation now, because it brings to mind soggycasseroles of mushy canned beans in a mushy canned soup paste. If you use fresh Green Beans, shallots, and mushrooms, you can still use some cream of mushroom soup and some fried onion topping for a delicious side that pairs well with the Bourbon flavors.

I made a Stuffed Pumpkin as well. Just follow the link to my Halloween blog, but use one medium sized pumpkin and cook it for 2 hours rather than the small pumpkins cooked for 90 minutes. (I made the rice stuffed pumpkin this time, but use what you like. This can also be a good vegetarian option. Just eliminate any meat products. Or you can add soyrizo or any other vegetarian sausage.)

Jodie made little Pumpkin Tarts in a filo dough cups (that we got on sale at Fresh and Easy.) She topped them with a home-made Bourbon Whipped Cream and a little candied ginger. These flavors worked so well together, we had guests tell us that they loved them even though they didn’t normally like pumpkin or candied ginger. This is a great alternative to pumpkin pie.

Last but not least, shop around for your bird. All of your local stores will have their Turkey sales listed on their weekly ads. Just search the internet for the store’s name and find the weekly ad page link on their home page. This year, I found Vons (Pavillions / Safeway) selling 12 pound frozen birds for eight dollars. I also saw Ralph’s selling birds 2 for 1, which is great if you can find a friend to buy their bird with you, but doesn’t seem likely. Frozen birds are often cheaper, and I  don’t find any significant difference in flavor. Just allow it 2 days to defrost in your brine.

Grilled Bourbon Turkey

1 10 to 16 pound Turkey (I recommend about 12 pounds.)

1 onion, quartered

4-6 garlic cloves

½ cup Bourbon

1 bag wood chips (hickory, mesquite, etc.)

tin foil


1 cup Bourbon

1 cup Maple Syrup

¾ cup whole crystal sea salt or 1 ½ cups table salt

1 quart water

Wet Rub:

1 Tablespoon dried thyme (or your other favorite herb)

1 Tablespoon dried parsley

½ cup olive oil

  1. Mix the brine ingredients together in your largest pot or Dutch oven. Unwrap your Turkey and submerge in the brine. If your bird is frozen, brine for 36 to 48 hours, if fresh, brine for 12 to 24 hours. Remove the bird at least 1 hour before ready to cook to allow it to come to room temperature. (If your turkey doesn’t totally submerge, flip the bird every 12 hours.)
  2. Prepare the grill. You need to cook the Turkey over indirect heat. Make sure you have plenty of propane. Begin by preheating your grill by turning the burners to high and covering the grill. Then set up your grill for indirect grilling. Hopefully, you have burners that will allow heat from 2 sides of the Turkey. If so leave the middle burners off, and the side burners at medium. If you have only 2 burners, leave one burner off, and turn the other to high. If you are using a 2 burner grill, be aware you will have to turn you roasting pan every hour for equal roasting. If using charcoal, you are a brave soul, and make sure your coals and wood chips are spread to two sides, with no coals directly in the center.
  3. Soak wood chips for ½ hour. (Unless using charcoals, then add the chips directly to the coals.)
  4. Mix the herbs in the oil to create the wet rub. Let this sit while you prepare the turkey, to let the flavors meld together. Do not use any salt, the turkey is salted enough from the brine.
  5. Remove the giblets from the center of the turkey and rinse the bird. It is important to rinse the salty brine off of your turkey. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels.
  6. Using your fingers loosen the skin of the turkey from the flesh. You fingers will have to poke through some membranous tissue, but be careful not to poke through the actual skin. Rub the bird with the wet rub over and under the skin. Poke the skin with a fork or bamboo skewer 5 to 6 times to help the oils escape during cooking to crisp the skin.
  7. Place the onion quarters and garlic in the cavity of the turkey. These should fit in loosely as aromatics, not as a stuffing. A few sprigs of fresh herbs can be added here as well.
  8. Place the turkey in a roasting pan with a V-shaped rack, breast side up. Pour ½ cup of bourbon in the roasting pan. Cover the tops of the wings (do NOT tuck these back) with foil, as well as the extremities of the drumsticks to prevent burning.
  9. Place the turkey on indirect heat on the grill and the half of the wood chips in a pie tin over the direct heat.
  10. Roast the turkey for 15 to 20 minutes per pound. (My 12 pound bird took 2 and ¾ hours.)
  11. Check on the bird every half hour very briefly. (Do not keep the grill open too long to let the heat escape.) During the first hour add more bourbon or water to the bottom of the roasting pan if necessary. After an hour, remove foil from the wings and legs. After the first hour, keep an eye on the wood chips. You’ll need to replace them with the second half of the soaking cips when they get too blackened. You do not want your turkey to taste of burnt wood.
  12. When the bird reads an internal temperature of 165 (NOT 180!) in several places, the juices are running clear, and the wings and legs move freely when wiggled, the turkey is done. Remove it from the grill and let it sit for 15 minutes before carving (use this time to finish you sides, make gravy and get everything to the table.) Do NOT tent the bird with foil.
  13. Carve and serve, passing Bourbon gravy (Directions below)

Bourbon Gravy

Pan Drippings from Grilled or Roasted Turkey

1 cup flour (approximately)

4 cups Turkey or Chicken Broth (approximately)

4 Tablespoons butter

½ cup Bourbon

  1. If possible place your roasting pan directly on your stove’s burners. Otherwise scrape the pan drippings into a large pan. Over low heat, add flour and butter to the pan dripping to make a roux. The roux should be thick and not watery, but the flour should be completely dissolved.
  2. Once the flour is once mixed thoroughly with the fats of the turkey drippings and butter, Turn the heat to high, and pour the bourbon and half the broth into the pan while whisking vigorously. (This is the tricky part. If a friend is available, have them pour the whiskey and broth, while you whisk your heart out for the roux to dissolve.)
  3. When the gravy thickens, add more broth. Continue to do this until the gravy is at your desired consistency while also at a rolling boil. (If you do not boil the gravy, it will retain a floury taste.) Let it boil for a few minutes, then remove and serve immediately.

Green Bean Casserole

2 cups (16 ounces) fresh green beans, rinsed and the ends removed

3 to 4 shallots, minced

6 to 8 white button mushrooms, sliced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 cups cream of mushroom soup (I prefer Trader Joe’s Cream of Portabello mushroom soup)

½ cup shredded cheddar or swiss cheese

2 cups crispy onion topping

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Parboil the green beans, by cooking them 5 to 6 minutes in boiling water, and then immediately drain them and rinse with cold water. Transfer the beans to a casserole dish.
  3. Saute the shallots in the olive oil. Once softened, brown the mushrooms in the shallots and oil until shimmering.
  4. Mix the shallot mushroom mixture with the mushroom soup, and green beans in the casserole dish.
  5. Top the mixed beans with cheese. Then top the cheese with a thick layer of crispy onions.
  6. Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Pumpkin Tarts 

12 mini filo dough tart cups

1 16oz package of cream cheese, softened

1 can of pumpkin

1 cup sour cream

1 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or allspice, ginger)

Candied ginger, cut into small pieces

  1. Using an electric mixer, combine sour cream, cream cheese, and brown sugar until smooth.
  2. Add pumpkin and spices, beat until smooth.
  3. It is a little slow but you can use a turkey baster to suck up the pudding and squeeze into the filo cups, or spoon a cup or two into a freezer bag and cut a small piece of one of the corners off and squeeze like a pastry bag.
  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
  5. Remove from refrigerator, top with Bourbon Whipped Cream (below) and a small piece of candied ginger.

Bourbon Whipped Cream

1 small (1/2 pint) carton heavy whipping cream

2 Tablespoons powdered sugar

1 ½ Tablespoons Bourbon

1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract

  1. Combine ingredients and the beat, using an electric mixer, on high heat with whisk attachments until the cream has stiff peaks.

5 responses to “Thanksgiving in Warm Weather- Grilled Bourbon Turkey with Bourbon Gravy, Green Bean Casserole, Stuffed Pumpkin, and Bourbon Pumpkin Tarts

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