Recipe for making turkey BBQ

How to Make Turkey BBQ Recipe

BBQ turkey isn’t just for Thanksgiving—it’s a versatile, delicious option for any time you’re craving some smoky, tender meat. Making BBQ turkey is easier than you might think, and with the right ingredients and a bit of prep time, you’ll be impressing everyone at your next cookout. Here’s a quick overview on how to make turkey BBQ to get you started:


how to make turkey bbq
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  • Turkey (whole or parts, like breast or legs)
  • BBQ sauce (store-bought or homemade)
  • Dry rub (a mix of your favorite spices)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation Time:

  • Prep: 30 minutes
  • Cooking: 2 to 4 hours (depending on the size of the turkey and the cooking method)

Whether you’re a BBQ novice or a seasoned pitmaster, this guide will take you through the steps to achieve BBQ turkey perfection. Ready to dive in? Let’s get cooking!

Choosing the Right Turkey

Selecting the perfect turkey for BBQ is crucial to achieving that mouth-watering, smoky flavor we all crave. Here’s what you need to consider:

Size Matters:

  • Whole Turkey: Ideal for large gatherings. A 12-14 pound turkey is perfect for BBQ as it cooks evenly and retains moisture well.
  • Turkey Parts: If you’re catering to a smaller crowd or prefer specific cuts, turkey breasts or legs are excellent choices. They cook faster and are easier to manage.

Quality Counts:

  • Fresh vs. Frozen: Fresh turkeys tend to be juicier and have a better texture. However, if you’re planning in advance, a high-quality frozen turkey can work just as well. Just make sure to thaw it properly.
  • Organic/Free-Range: Opting for organic or free-range turkeys can offer better flavor and texture. These turkeys are usually raised in better conditions, which can enhance the overall taste of your BBQ.
How to prepare BBQ turkey: Choosing the Right Turkey
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Other Tips:

Check for Additives: Some turkeys come pre-brined or injected with a saline solution. While this can help with juiciness, it might interfere with your seasoning and cooking process. Choose a turkey without these additives for the best control over your BBQ flavor.

Essential Ingredients for Turkey BBQ

When it comes to making BBQ turkey, having the right ingredients can make all the difference. Here’s what you’ll need:

Main Ingredients:

  • Turkey: Whole or parts (breast, legs, or wings)
  • Olive Oil: For basting and keeping the turkey moist
  • Salt and Pepper: Basic seasoning essentials

Dry Rub:

  • Brown Sugar: Adds sweetness and helps with caramelization
  • Paprika: For a smoky flavor
  • Garlic Powder: Enhances the savory taste
  • Onion Powder: Adds depth to the flavor
  • Cayenne Pepper: For a bit of heat (adjust to taste)
  • Dried Herbs: Such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano

BBQ Sauce:

  • Store-Bought or Homemade: Choose your favorite brand or make your own for a personal touch. A good BBQ sauce will balance sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors.

Alternatives for Dietary Preferences:

  • Low-Sodium Options: Use a salt substitute or reduce the amount of salt in your dry rub.
  • Sugar-Free: Replace brown sugar with a sugar-free alternative like Stevia.
  • Oil Substitutes: Use avocado oil or coconut oil if you prefer alternatives to olive oil.

Marinades and Seasonings

Enhancing the flavor of your BBQ turkey starts with a great marinade and seasoning mix. Here’s how to prepare them:



  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce (or tamari for gluten-free)
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. In a bowl, whisk together olive oil, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Stir in minced garlic, chopped rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper.
  3. Place the turkey in a large resealable bag or a deep dish, and pour the marinade over it. Ensure the turkey is well-coated.
  4. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight for maximum flavor.

Dry Rub:

Steps to make turkey BBQ: Dry Rub
Credits to The Online Grill


  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper


  1. In a bowl, mix all the dry rub ingredients until well combined.
  2. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, then generously rub the mixture all over the turkey, getting into every nook and cranny.
  3. Let the turkey sit with the rub for at least an hour before cooking to allow the flavors to penetrate.

If you’re looking to make your own BBQ rub, you can try our easy and flavorful recipe. Learn how to make a perfect BBQ rub at home with this comprehensive guide.

Step-by-Step Cooking Process

Cooking BBQ turkey requires a bit of preparation and some specific grilling techniques to get it just right. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you through every step of the way.

Preparing the Turkey

1. Cleaning the Turkey:

  • Thawing: If your turkey is frozen, ensure it’s fully thawed before starting. Thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of turkey.
  • Cleaning: Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Remove any giblets or neck from the cavity.

2. Marinating the Turkey:

  • Marinade: Prepare the marinade as described earlier. Place the cleaned turkey in a large resealable bag or a deep dish.
  • Coating: Pour the marinade over the turkey, making sure it’s well-coated. Seal the bag or cover the dish and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

3. Applying the Dry Rub:

  • Dry Rub: Mix the dry rub ingredients. After marinating, remove the turkey from the marinade and pat dry. Generously apply the dry rub all over the turkey, ensuring even coverage.

BBQ Techniques for Perfect Turkey

1. Preparing the Grill:

  • Charcoal Grill: Set up your charcoal grill for indirect heat by placing the coals on one side of the grill. Preheat to 325°F.
  • Gas Grill: Preheat the gas grill to 325°F. Turn off the burners on one side to create an indirect cooking zone.

2. Cooking the Turkey:

  • Placement: Place the turkey on the grill over the indirect heat zone, breast side up. This prevents the turkey from cooking too quickly and drying out.
  • Temperature Control: Maintain a consistent temperature of around 325°F throughout the cooking process. Use a grill thermometer to monitor.
Steps to make turkey BBQ
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3. Basting and Flipping:

  • Basting: Every 30 minutes, baste the turkey with a mixture of olive oil and any remaining marinade. This keeps the meat moist and adds flavor.
  • Flipping: If cooking turkey parts, flip them halfway through the cooking time for even cooking.

4. Cooking Time:

  • Whole Turkey: Plan for about 12-15 minutes per pound. A 12-pound turkey will take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours.
  • Turkey Parts: Breasts and legs will cook faster. Check for doneness starting at 1.5 hours.
Steps to make turkey BBQ
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5. Checking for Doneness:

  • Internal Temperature: Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. The thickest part of the breast should reach 165°F, and the thighs should be around 175°F.
  • Resting: Once done, remove the turkey from the grill and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute, ensuring a moist and flavorful turkey.
Checking for Doneness in bbq turkey
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Pro Tips for Perfect BBQ Turkey:

  1. Wood Chips: Add soaked wood chips to your grill for a smoky flavor. Apple, cherry, or hickory wood chips work great with turkey.
  2. Tent with Foil: If the turkey is browning too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil to prevent burning while it cooks through.
  3. Consistent Temperature: Avoid opening the grill lid too often, as this causes temperature fluctuations.

Serving Suggestions

Once your BBQ turkey is cooked to perfection, the right side dishes and presentation can take your meal to the next level. Here are some ideas to complement your turkey and impress your guests.

Serving Suggestions for BBQ turkey recipe guide
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1. Classic BBQ Side Dishes:

  • Coleslaw: A tangy and crunchy coleslaw made with shredded cabbage, carrots, and a creamy dressing.
  • BBQ Baked Beans: Smoky baked beans with bacon and a hint of molasses.
  • Potato Salad: A classic potato salad with creamy dressing, hard-boiled eggs, and a touch of mustard.
  • Mac and Cheese: Creamy, cheesy mac and cheese that’s always a crowd-pleaser.

2. Fresh and Light Sides:

  • Green Salad: A simple green salad with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and a light vinaigrette.
  • Grilled Vegetables: A medley of grilled veggies like bell peppers, zucchini, and asparagus, seasoned with olive oil and herbs.
  • Fruit Salad: A refreshing fruit salad with a mix of seasonal fruits like watermelon, berries, and mint.

3. Sauces and Condiments:

  • Extra BBQ Sauce: Serve additional BBQ sauce on the side for extra flavor.
  • Cranberry Sauce: A sweet-tart cranberry sauce can be a surprising and delicious complement to BBQ turkey.
  • Gravy: A rich turkey gravy made from the drippings, perfect for drizzling over the turkey and sides.

Presentation Tips

1. Carving the Turkey:

  • Resting: Ensure the turkey rests for at least 20 minutes after cooking. This helps the juices redistribute.
  • Carving Station: Set up a carving station with a sharp carving knife and a sturdy cutting board. Carve the turkey at the table for a dramatic presentation.

2. Plating:

  • Arrange Neatly: Arrange slices of turkey on a large serving platter. Fan out the slices for an attractive display.
  • Garnishes: Add fresh herbs like parsley, rosemary, or thyme around the platter for a touch of color and fragrance.
  • Colorful Sides: Serve side dishes in vibrant, colorful bowls to make the meal visually appealing.

3. Serving Style:

  • Buffet Style: Set up a buffet table where guests can help themselves. Label each dish to guide your guests.
  • Family Style: Place all dishes in the center of the table and let everyone pass them around, creating a communal and cozy atmosphere.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Even the best cooks can make mistakes, but knowing what to watch out for can save your BBQ turkey from disaster. Here are some common pitfalls and how to avoid them:

1. Not Thawing Properly:

  • Mistake: Cooking a partially frozen turkey can lead to uneven cooking.
  • Solution: Allow enough time to fully thaw your turkey in the refrigerator. This takes about 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of turkey.

2. Overcooking:

  • Mistake: Overcooked turkey is dry and tough.
  • Solution: Use a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature. Remove the turkey when the breast reaches 165°F and the thighs 175°F.

3. Insufficient Seasoning:

  • Mistake: Under seasoning can result in bland turkey.
  • Solution: Be generous with your marinade and dry rub. Ensure the turkey is well-coated and let it marinate long enough to absorb the flavors.

4. Uneven Cooking:

  • Mistake: Cooking the turkey over direct heat can cause the exterior to burn while the inside remains undercooked.
  • Solution: Use indirect heat for more even cooking. Place the turkey away from the direct flame and maintain a consistent grill temperature.

5. Not Resting the Turkey:

  • Mistake: Carving the turkey immediately after cooking causes the juices to run out, making the meat dry.
  • Solution: Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.

6. Ignoring the Grill Temperature:

  • Mistake: Fluctuating grill temperatures can lead to uneven cooking and inconsistent results.
  • Solution: Use a grill thermometer to keep the temperature steady around 325°F. Avoid opening the grill lid too often, as this causes temperature drops.

FAQs About Making Turkey BBQ

Maintain a consistent grill temperature around 325°F and baste the turkey every 30 minutes with olive oil or the marinade. Cooking over indirect heat also helps keep the turkey moist.

Marinate the turkey in a resealable bag or a deep dish. Ensure it’s fully coated and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, for maximum flavor.

Apple, cherry, and hickory wood chips are great choices. They add a sweet and smoky flavor that complements the turkey well. Soak the wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes before using.

Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. The breast should reach 165°F and the thighs should be around 175°F. Ensure you check the thickest parts of the turkey.

Disclosure: Our blog contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

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