Grilled Turkey – Pavo a la parrilla

You are witnessing history here folks. Something so grand and so extreme that all previous attempts never succeeded because the idea was never conceived. Ok, maybe I went a little too far with those statements but who knows, maybe I’m not too far off the mark.

I’m going to break away from the norm for a bit because, quite frankly, I felt this would make for a good post and it is about cooking on a parrilla. I returned from a trip this past Wednesday and found a huge monstrosity wrapped in a plastic bag at the bottom of the refrigerator while reaching for a cold beverage. At first glance I had no idea what I was looking at. It was definitely a bird but I’ve never seen a bird so large. My first thought was that it was perhaps a rhea, the South American version of the ostrich, but on closer inspection I determined that this must be a turkey. Now it would be nice if we lived in a world where robbers break into your house only to give you items instead of steal them but this was not the case. I had an idea of who was the mystery gift giver and after inquiring with the person in question I was told this turkey came straight from the farm of a family friend who breeds them.

The next question in my head was what to do with this bird. Being from the States I’m quite familiar with how to cook a turkey; season, tie up, and plop it into some sort of cooking device. There was one problem however, this bird was at least twenty pounds. I don’t have a smoker (yet) and there was no way this beast would fit into my oven short of removing the racks and cooking it on the bottom. I’m familiar with 14-15 pound turkeys but not something the size of a cow. The solution was to cut it up. Not a hard task if you know how to cut up a whole chicken. Use of the oven was still out of the picture since I would have to cook the pieces in two batches, therefore enter the parrilla.

I have never seen or read about anyone cook a whole cut up turkey on a parrilla before, but that isn’t to say it has not been done by others, and therefore I had no idea how the outcome would be. I searched around and found only a few instances of turkey cooked on a parrilla but only calling for the breast meat. Turkey is not a popular meat in Argentina. Whole turkeys are usually passed off as too large and cumbersome to cook. The common answer an Argentine will give when asked why they don’t cook a whole turkey is simply because it ends up too dry. Well, that answer is common around the world I should say but it all boils down to how it is prepared. Probably the most popular form of turkey in Argentina is as a deli meat; smoked or processed. However, quite a few recipes float around that call for rolling or stuffing the leg and breast meat with a filling of some sort. Most major supermarkets carry whole frozen turkeys but I never seem to catch anyone in the act of buying one.

Since I couldn’t find any tips, I decided to just picture the turkey as a huge chicken and cook it as such. Butterflying the turkey, cutting and opening along the backbone or breast, didn’t seem practical. Time being one of the reasons and since the meat is quite large I figured many parts would be dried and overcooked before the rest. Therefore, cutting the turkey into pieces seemed logical. Two boneless breasts, two wings, two thighs, and two legs. What was left was passed onto the gift giver as a base for soup stock. You want sneak a turkey into my fridge then you better be prepared to take what I don’t use.

Next I decided that a good brining would help to keep the meat juicy and tender for the lengthy cooking process that was to come next. I soaked all of the pieces for about 12 hours in a brine solution of 1 Tablespoon of salt per cup of water. About one hour before tossing my little bird on the grill I rinsed the meat and allowed it to rest at room temperature. This allows the outside of the meat to dry a little from soaking in brine for so long.

Grill time. Since this was a mix and match of parts with pieces of various thickness, I had to map out how the coals would be arranged under the meat. Again, I followed the same pattern I use for chicken. More coals around the thighs, and thicker parts of the legs and breasts. I set the grill rack a bit higher than usual at about 11-12 inches. I figured that the outcome would improve if I cooked the meat longer at a lower temperature; similar to smoking. Except for the legs and wings, meat was placed skin side up on the grill.

To keep the outside of the meat from drying out too much, I brushed a tangy lemon-rosemary sauce on the meat.

Lemon-rosemary basting sauce:

200 g butter
Juice of four lemons
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons dried rosemary

Place all of the ingredients into a saucepan and boil for a couple minutes.

I had to flip the meat about four times throughout the cooking process to keep the sides from getting to crisp or burnt. Short of three hours later the meat was ready.

Pavo - Turkey

So how did it turn out? Pretty good for the first time. Better than any turkey I’ve had that was cooked in an oven. The legs and thighs were excellent and couldn’t be better. The wings were a bit tough but I think it had more to do with the muscles of the turkey. The thicker part of the breasts were succulent and tender but the thinner side was a bit dry. I should have butterflied the thicker part to create a more even cut. Overall I believe with another trial or two I can perfect the outcome. Would I do it again? Maybe, but I better invite quite a few guests. If you are familiar with Thanksgiving leftovers in the United States then you know that having to eat turkey for the next few days gets to be a bit boring now matter what dishes you invent. Invite as many people as you can to finish it off in one sitting.

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3 Comment(s)

  1. Read your article on turkey and was interesting.

    I have barbecued at least 10 turkeys over the past 8 years and everyone remarks on how juicy the white meet is. I have a photo but could not include. Here is my recipe.

    Barbecue Turkey Recipe
    By Ken Barger

    A grilled/smoked turkey is juicer and has a far better flavor than an oven roasted turkey. The turkey will be more tender and juicy than you thought possible. The recommended size for bbq is 12-14 pounds.

    The turkey must fit under the lid with about 1-inch space between top of turkey and lid.

    Preparing the Turkey

    Most recipes on bbq´d turkey first start out giving instructions for brining. Store bought turkeys such as Butterball are brined.

    After turkey is thawed, remove giblets and nick from the body. Rinse turkey in fresh water and pat dry with paper towels. Turn the wings back and return legs to tucked position if untucked. Do Not Stuff.

    Lightly oil the whole turkey inside and out (olive oil recommended), and season. I use Badia Complete Seasoning. Using the string lifter provided, secure turkey and place on a flat pan. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.


    Before turning on the grill, lift grates and place a drip pan (±10½W x 13L x 2½H inches) at the center and directly on the flavorizar bars, ceramic tile or rock. Pour 2 cans of beer, chopped onions and minced garlic into drip pan and stir. Replace cooking grates.

    Prepare grill for indirect cooking according to owner’s guide for grill. Turn temperature down to medium or to a setting that maintains approximately 350ºF.

    Position smoke pan at one end and fill with hickory or apple chips. When finished smoking refill with chips. Smoke for about 1 hour.

    Insert thermometer into thickest part of breast. Position turkey on grill above the drip pan and close the lid.

    Every 30 minutes brush turkey with basting sauce. When thermometer is around 160°, baste with glaze mixture every 10 minutes until temperature reaches 160°F. Remove turkey from grill and let stand for 15 minutes before carving. The temperature will rise to about 165°F. Enjoy!


    Basting Sauce

    ½ cup salid oil
    ½ cup lemon juice
    ½ cup wine vinegar
    ¼ cup soy sauce

    Combine all ingredients and add herbs to suit yourself. Keep in covered jar in refrigerator.


    ¾ cup maple syrup
    ½ cup dry white wine
    ½ cup Dijon mustard
    ¼ stick butter

    Combine all ingredients in saucepan over medium heat, whisk until smooth. After cooling, keep in covered jar in refrigerator.

    Beer Sauce

    2 cans beer (I use Old Milwaukee)
    2 med. onion, chopped
    6 cloves garlic, minced


    Ken Barger | Feb 16, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thanks Ken that looks great!

    Asado Argentina | Feb 16, 2009 | Reply

  3. I have decided to rebel! This years turkey will be cooked on the Uruguayan grill.

    I am cutting the turkey into legs, thighs, and breast quarters. I will treat it just like a big chicken, except i reserve the option of marinating, injecting, and basting with lemon juice, olive or canola oil, salt, and pepper. Who knows, maybe I’ll even add rosemary.

    Gary Knackstedt | Nov 23, 2011 | Reply

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  1. Nov 22, 2011: from Want to grill your turkey for Thanksgiving? Try this. « Gaucho Garcia

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