Brined barbecued turkey with a rich gravy
- December 2021
- Serves 12-14
- Hands-on time 45 min, plus cooling, 48 hours brining, drying and resting time. 2-2½ hours BBQ time.
Gill Meller explains how to brine and barbecue a Christmas turkey. The method may be unconventional but the results are succulent and full of flavour.
Our simple turkey brine is a handy recipe to have up your sleeve this Christmas.
- 11.5g (4.9g saturated)
- 7.7g (4.4g sugars)
- 6-8kg free-range turkey
- 2 onions, chopped
- 4 carrots, chopped
- 4 celery sticks, chopped
- Small bunch thyme
- 3-4 fresh bay leaves
- 500ml water/medium-dry cider
- 75g soft butter
For the gravy
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 125ml red wine
- 500-750ml chicken/beef stock
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
For the brine
- 500g fine sea salt
- 3 litres water
- 1 litre good apple juice
- 1 litre cider
- 500g light brown soft sugar
- Small handful each coriander seeds and black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp cloves
- 8 bay leaves
- Bunch thyme
- Pared zest and juice 2 oranges
You’ll also need
- Food-grade plastic box or bucket that just fits the turkey (find one at Amazon or Lakeland)
- Charcoal barbecue with a lid and temperature gauge (or use an oven thermometer)
- Smoking wood chips or logs
- Chimney starter (see Know How)
- Digital thermometer
- Put all the brine ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat, stirring regularly to stop the salt and sugar catching. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool. Pour the brine into the plastic food box/bucket, then chill until ready to use.
- Remove the giblets from the turkey (if applicable) and lower it into the brine. Set a plate over the top with a weight on it to keep the bird is submerged. Cover the tub or bucket and leave for 48 hours. The bird needs to be kept cool while in the brine – depending on the weather it may pay to leave the tub outside, somewhere cool and secure, or in a spare fridge (see Know How).
- After 48 hours, lift the turkey out of the brine, rinse it carefully in fresh cold water and pat dry. It’s best to let it sit uncovered in the bottom of the fridge for 12 hours or overnight to dry off.
- When you’re ready to cook the turkey, light your barbecue. You’ll want to use sustainably produced lumpwood charcoal alongside a few small hardwood logs or handfuls of smoking wood chips. Let the charcoal burn until you have a good bed of glowing coals – you’ll need plenty of them. Add the logs/wood chips. As the wood smoulders it’ll create an aromatic smoke, which will flavour the bird beautifully. Set an indirect cooking plate over the fire or move the hot coals and wood to one edge of the barbecue so the heat isn’t directly underneath the bird. Adjust the air vents to set your barbecue’s internal temperature to around 180°C. It may fluctuate and you might need to add more fuel (see Know How).
- Put the chopped onions, carrots and celery in a suitably sized roasting tin. Put the thyme and bay in there too and set the bird down over the top of all the veg. Pour in about 500ml water (or cider). Rub the bird all over with the soft butter, then put the roasting tin on the barbecue grill and close the lid. Cook the turkey, basting it every 25-30 minutes with the buttery juices from the tin. You may need to top up the liquid once or twice. The bird will take 2-2½ hours to cook (or longer depending on its size and heat from the barbecue), but it’s key to take temperature readings from the deepest parts of the bird before you remove it. The thickest part of the breast as well as the thigh should have reached 65-72°C. If it’s lower than this, shut the lid and keep cooking. Once the bird has got to this temperature, you can carefully lift it out and rest it somewhere warm for an hour.
- To make a simple yet gorgeous gravy, lift the turkey out of the tray onto a large plate/platter. Set the tray of vegetables and roasting juices over a low heat. Sprinkle in the plain flour and stir well, cooking gently, for 1-2 minutes. Crush the onions and carrots with the back of a spoon and scrape up any dark sticky patches on the bottom of the tin. Add the red wine along with enough really tasty chicken or beef stock to give you a good consistency. Bring the gravy to a simmer, stirring regularly until it begins to thicken. Pass the gravy, along with all the veg, through a fine sieve into a clean saucepan, pressing out all the flavour with the back of the spoon or a ladle as you go. Set the pan over a low heat and add the red wine vinegar and redcurrant jelly. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir well.
Don’t waste it: Strip leftover meat, portion into bags, then freeze for up to 3 months. Use in curries or pies. Use the carcass to make stock.
Cook it in the oven: If you don’t want to barbecue the turkey, heat the oven to 180°C fan/gas 6. Cover the tin and bird with a loose foil tent and put it in the oven. Remove the foil after 2 hours to brown the skin, regularly basting the bird with the tin’s juices and testing the internal temperature – it may take another hour to cook. Make the gravy as per recipe.
You need to start this recipe 2-3 days ahead for brining and drying.
You need to keep the turkey cool (5°C or below) while brining. Check the temperature a few times during the process. You can add a few ice cubes to lower the temperature, but adding a lot will dilute the brine. Put the brining box/bucket in a larger vessel and pack ice around it to keep cool if necessary.
If you’re not brining the bird, start at step 4 and season it generously inside and out. To keep the barbecue going, you’ll need to top up the coals. Use a chimney starter to get the coals glowing so it only takes a few minutes to add the fresh hot coals (and more smoking chips), then replace the bird.
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