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Sara Hansen

Take Your Holiday Cooking Outdoors: How To Cook Thanksgiving & Christmas Dinner On The Grill Or Smoker Easily

You love your grill. Who doesn’t love a good grill or smoker!? But, traditional BBQ or grilled steaks aren’t the only things you can do on the grill. Why not take your upcoming holiday cooking outdoors? But you may be wondering, how do I cook Thanksgiving dinner on the grill? Most grills and smokers these days are big enough to do this much easier than you think. Whether it is Thanksgiving dinner or your Christmas feast, you can cook an entire hearty holiday meal in your backyard in 3 hours. You’ll also be imparting some fantastic additional flavor.

You don’t have to spend hours and hours crammed in the kitchen with family running around. Turning your feast into backyard cooking will give you plenty of room to work. Family will also have an opportunity to spread out freely, and it cuts down on your clean up.  


Master Your Temperature Control

One of the biggest reasons that Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner often takes so long is that you can only cook at one temperature at a time. This limits the number of things that can be cooked at the same time in one oven. By taking your holiday cooking to the grill, you can use both indirect and direct heat at the same time.

With indirect heat on a grill, you can cook to the side of the fire but still over plenty of heat. Allowing your turkey and side dishes to cook through without burning. With direct heat, you cook directly over the fire for a nice char on vegetables and other sides. You end up with total temperature control and can cook more things at once. Resulting in an outstanding meal in much less time.

When you cook Thanksgiving dinner on the grill, your turkey and most side dishes will cook over indirect heat. If you are using a gas grill, which normally comes with multiple burners these days, just turn on one or two burners, leave the others off, and close the lid. Allow the inside temperature to reach 350-400 degrees. This is the temperature range used most often in an oven inside.

Charcoal grills can still be great for holiday meals also. In regards to direct and indirect heat, the same concept works. Light the coals and once they are gray, move them to one side of the grill. Then you’ll cook over the side without coals for indirect heat and can char on the other side over the direct heat.


thanksgiving turkey | cooking thanksgiving dinners on the grill | holiday cooking | cooking outdoors | how to cook thanksgiving dinner on the grill

Source: America’s Test Kitchen


How To Cook Your Turkey On The Grill

When it comes to cooking Thanksgiving dinners on the grill, you’ll start with the turkey. This, of course, will take longer than your side dishes and dessert. A 15-lb turkey will take about 3 hours to cook on the grill. There are several great ways you can cook a turkey on the grill. Two of them are: butterflying it and cooking it flat (also called spatchcocking) or cooking it whole on a rotisserie attachment.


Butterflying (Spatchcocking) & Cooking A Turkey

While your grill is preheating is when you can prep your turkey. If you are going to butterfly the turkey and cook it flat on the grill, just use poultry scissors or a chef’s knife and cut the backbone out, slice down along the breast, and flatten it out. Make sure to rub the turkey with oil and then season it with your favorite seasoning. A good mix to try is homemade sage butter.

Once you’ve got it prepped and seasoned, lay your turkey skin side down over the hot burners (direct heat). Allow it to cook this way until the skin is crisp and then move it over the indirect side of the grill to cook the remaining time (3 hours total, until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees). Make sure to place the legs and thighs closer to the lit burners because they do take longer to cook.


Grilled Rotisserie Turkey 

Another great way to cook a turkey on the grill is on a spinning rotisserie attachment. By cooking your Thanksgiving turkey this way, you’ll end up with a deliciously basted turkey that is juicy and has a hint of smokiness from the grill. You can also position your stuffing, cooking in a sheet pan or disposable aluminum pan depending on how much clearance you have, under your turkey so it catches the drippings. Talk about great added flavor! 

To prep your turkey, you can rub it down with a simple mixture of sea salt, pepper, paprika, and sugar and position it on the rotisserie on the indirect heat side over the pan. Depending on clearance, you may have to remove a grate under the turkey to fit your stuffing pan. You’ll start your turkey before the stuffing. When you start cooking the rotisserie turkey, close the lid and cook for 20 minutes. Then, open the lid, drizzle some melted butter over the turkey, close the lid and cook for the remaining time (roughly 3 hours total, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees). Check out the full recipe for this great rotisserie turkey and stuffing. 


thanksgiving turkey | cooking thanksgiving dinners on the grill | holiday cooking | cooking outdoors | how to cook thanksgiving dinner on the grill

Source: Food Network

Another great way to cook a Thanksgiving turkey is in your smoker of course. Champion Pitmaster Craig Sharry does a great brine smoked turkey with Pepper Jelly glaze and showed us how!


Cook All Your Holiday Meal Sides On The Grill Too!

You can cook a ton of great Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner sides and desserts on the grill as well. A lot of them can be cooked on the grill at the same time as your turkey, allowing you to finish the whole meal in 3 hours. We already briefly talked above about your stuffing, which is already cooking nicely alongside your turkey. You want to start your stuffing with enough time so it cooks for about 1.5 hours. For the other sides, think of your vegetables (or even fruit) in two categories: what will be charred and what won’t. 

Your root vegetables, like yams or potatoes, will need to cook the longest and over indirect heat. Start them wrapped in foil to protect them from direct heat. These will need to cook for about 40 to 60 minutes. 

Other veggies, like brussels sprouts, whole carrots, whole onions, peppers, and fennel, are great charred over direct heat. The smaller veggies should be either skewered or cooked in a grill basket and will need to cook for only about 5 to 10 minutes of direct heat. The larger veggies, like whole onions or fennel, will need to cook for up to 20 minutes over indirect heat after being initially charred for a few minutes.

Don’t forget your dessert! Once you take the turkey and side dishes off the grill, while everyone is eating dinner, you can easily cook a great pie for dessert on the grill. It just takes a few minutes to mix everything for the pie when you have a free moment cooking dinner. Then it will be ready to put on the grill while everyone is enjoying dinner. In this great recipe, you can cook a delicious and simple grilled pumpkin pie in a disposable metal pie plate and have it ready in an hour.

You can also do a delicious smoked bread pudding. Check out champion Pitmaster Sterling Smith's recipe and method.


thanksgiving turkey | cooking thanksgiving dinners on the grill | holiday cooking | cooking outdoors | how to cook thanksgiving dinner on the grill

Source: Food Network


Wrapping It All Up

If you cook Thanksgiving dinner on the grill outdoors, it can be fun and more advantageous for many reasons. Not only do you get to show off your grilling skills, but you’ll have more room to move around, less cleanup, and be able to cook the whole holiday meal in less time. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any holiday meal in between.

Just make sure you are prepared and have everything you need, all utensils and seasonings before you start cooking. Also, make sure you’ve read through any recipes you’ll be using ahead of time. This will ensure you are familiar with the process. Most importantly, have a timeline laid out for the meal and give yourself 3 hours to cook an awesome Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

Have you grilled a holiday meal before? Are you grilling your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner this year? Leave a comment below. We want to hear about it!

Learning how to master your grill and elevate your outdoor cooking is exactly the type of stuff you’ll learn from the world-class grillmasters and pitmasters here at BBQ Champs Academy. The first online BBQ cooking school of its kind. Grab your all-access pass today!

Sara Hansen

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One comment on “Take Your Holiday Cooking Outdoors: How To Cook Thanksgiving & Christmas Dinner On The Grill Or Smoker Easily”

  1. This was the first year that my turkey wasn’t dry. Yay!!! I followed your recipe with some exceptions. Instead of fresh herbs, I used *dried. I didn’t have any dried tarragon, so I substituted with Mexican Oregano and for the Lemon Zest, I used powdered Lemon Peel.

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