Thanksgiving Dinner – Traditional Grilling Recipes for Your Charcoal Grill
Let’s do Thanksgiving on the grill this year! Charcoal grilling adds a rich, deep flavor to the traditional Thanksgiving menu. Plus, grilling makes prep a lot faster and easier, so you can focus on other aspects of Thanksgiving that are important to you— like family, gratitude, and the big game.
Let’s fire up the grill for our Turkey Day feast!
Here’s our Thanksgiving menu:
Appetizer: grilled salad
Main dish: grilled turkey (various styles)
Main dish: stout stuffing
Side: sweet potatoes
Side: cider-glazed veggies
Side: green beans
Dessert: grilled apple crisp
Psst… Almost all of these recipes require your charcoal grill at medium-high temp (350-400°F) with two-zone cooking (direct and indirect). Make sure you use your Kick Ash Basket for easy and safe cleanup between cooks, so you can keep grilling all day long. We also have dividers available, so creating two zones has never been easier!
Appetizer: Grilled Salad
Did you know you can grill salad? It’s true— and it tastes way better than regular salad. Not all lettuce can be grilled, but grilled romaine is the only way you can force me to eat my greens. You still get the crunch from the lettuce, but there’s also a tenderness and smoky flavor that’s the perfect addition to any salad, especially an autumnal one.
To grill romaine, just cut a romaine heart in half by slicing it through the stem. Drizzle olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Throw the romaine on your charcoal grill over direct heat for one minute on each side— no more, because it can cause the romaine to wilt. Keep the grilling short and snappy.
After you’ve cooked the romaine, throw in the rest of your salad favorites. The romaine will add a smoky zest that goes especially well with bacon, parmesan cheese, croutons, garlic, and onions. See some scrumptious Thanksgiving salads here.
Photo by ???? Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash
Main Dish: Grilled Turkey
No Thanksgiving feast is complete without the turkey. I don’t know about you, but I dread cooking my turkey in the oven. It seems to take all day, and if you leave it in three minutes too long, it’s suddenly dried out. That’s why I started cooking my turkey on the grill instead, and my family couldn’t be happier that I did. The grill enhances the robust flavor from the marinade while retaining the juices of the bird, so you get an absolutely delectable bite for your Thanksgiving main course.
Martha Stewart likes to roast an entire turkey on the charcoal grill to prepare her table, so you can try it her way. We’re also obsessed with this Weber recipe of brined and barbequed turkey with pan gravy. It calls for a flavorful brine for the full turkey, and then you use that brine’s broth for the gravy for an irresistibly flavorful combo.
If you don’t care about having a whole turkey on your table, though, we have a few other turkey Thanksgiving dinner ideas that will take your feast to a whole new level.
Grilled Turkey Breast
We almost always go for grilled turkey breast recipes for the holidays. You never worry about wasting food or having a fridge full of turkey leftovers, especially if you have a smaller Thanksgiving party. Plus, turkey breasts are way easier and faster to cook. Cooking a grilled turkey breast over a charcoal grill is the best way to get a smoky skin with a tender middle.
This citrus turkey breast is one of our favorites because it has both a refreshing and deep flavor that blends beautifully with other Thanksgiving sides, like cranberry sauce and cider-glazed veggies. (This recipe calls for wood chips for an added flavor, but you can leave that part out if you don’t have access to any.)
5-6 lb bone-in turkey breast
1 stick butter (room temp)
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage)
1 tsp grated lemon zest
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp grated orange zest
Juice of 1 orange
First, blot the turkey breast with a paper towel. Trim away any excess skin and fat. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and rest at room temp for 60 minutes. Meanwhile, soak apple or cherry wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes. Prepare your charcoal grill for indirect cooking, with medium heat (about 350-400°F). Once the grill has reached the desired temp, carefully put the wood chips atop the charcoal using charcoal prep gloves.
In a medium bowl, combine butter, herbs, and lemon and orange zests. Gently loosen the skin from the turkey breast with your finger, and rub the butter/herb/zest mixture all over the turkey breast. In the remaining mixture, melt butter, and stir in lemon juice and orange juice. Brush turkey skin with melted butter mixture.
Grill the turkey breast skin side-up over indirect medium heat. Close the lid and cook for about 60 to 90 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees in the thickest part of the breast. Baste the turkey with melted butter every 20-30 minutes to retain moisture. Remove from the grill, then let rest for 20 minutes before serving.
Thanksgiving Turkey Burger
Turkey burgers are a unique idea that are always a hit, especially with the kids. You just make a burger out of ground turkey meat instead of ground beef. Grill the turkey burgers for about 5-6 minutes on each side to ensure they’re cooked through but not dried out. Don’t forget to throw your buttered buns on the grill for a couple minutes to get that crisp bite and those perfect sear marks.
Instead of the regular lettuce and tomato, top your turkey burger with gravy, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. You’ll have a Thanksgiving dinner in just one bite!
Smoked Turkey Wings
Smoked turkey wings are overlooked and totally unappreciated. They’re easy to make and even easier to enjoy. Prep your charcoal grill for dual zone cooking: a hot and a cool zone. Use the natural hardwood charcoal to bring the grill temp to 400°F. Cover your turkey wings in a rub (see our favorites below). Make sure to remove the tip of each turkey wing, cutting through the joint at the top. Get rid of the wing tip before cooking.
Put the turkey wings on the hot side of the grill. Cook on each side for about 5 minutes, until brown and crisp. Move to the cool side of the grill. Cover the grill and let wings smoke for about 40 minutes or until they’ve reached an internal temp of about 165°F. If you want to throw on your favorite homemade BBQ sauce, cook for an additional 2-3 minutes for the sauce to set. You can also slather the wings in gravy and cranberry sauce for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner that is out-of-this-world delicious!
Grilled Turkey Meatballs
I will never, ever turn down meatballs. This grilled turkey meatball recipe is the perfect addition to a Thanksgiving table.
Get your grill ready for two-zone cooking. Put charcoal on one side of the grill while leaving the other side cool. Preheat to about 400 degrees.
In a bowl, combine 3 pounds ground turkey, 1 pound ground pork, 12 oz green onion, 1 oz sage, 2 ½ tbsp black pepper, 2 tbsp salt, and 12 oz cranberries. Yup, there’s cranberries in there for a little Thanksgiving zing! Roll the mixture into meatballs, no more than an inch or so in diameter.
Grill the meatballs over indirect heat for 10 minutes and/or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F. Serve with all your favorite sides, honey mustard, and a thick gravy for Thanksgiving dinner ideas that everyone at the table will love.
Poultry Rubs We Love
The Charlie Brown: ¾ tbsp Kosher salt; 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp ground mustard, ½ tsp dried parsley; ½ tsp dried oregano; ¼ tsp ground rosemary; ¼ tsp ground thyme
The Kicker: 5 tbsp salt; 2 tbsp smoked paprika; 1 tsp chili powder; 1 tbsp ground pepper; 1 tbsp garlic powder
Also check out our Sweet Mama BBQ rubs! They’re great for grilling poultry!
Main Dish: Beer Stuffing
Is it really Thanksgiving without the stuffing? Isn’t that everyone’s favorite part? One of our favorite Thanksgiving dinner ideas is a beer stuffing. BBQ and beer are a perfect pairing, especially since the charcoal grill brings out a magnificent essence from the beer. This stout stuffing is perfect for refined palates looking for a uniquely delicious flavor this year.
1 stick butter
1 leek (white stalk removed, finely chopped)
2 stalks celery
12oz bottle of stout beer (Guinness)
1 tbsp fresh sage (chopped)
2 tbsp fresh parsley (chopped)
2 cups chicken broth
2 eggs, beaten
6 cups dried bread cubes
¾ cup dried cranberries
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Get your charcoal grill prepped to medium heat, about 350°F. If your grill is already hot from cooking your turkey, you can keep it at the same heat— just cook for slightly less time.
In a large cast iron skillet over stovetop or side burner, melt butter on medium-high heat. Add leek and celery, and cook until light brown (about 8-10 minutes). Don’t forget all the bad “leek” jokes you can make that your family will love!
In the pot, add the beer, sage, parsley, chicken broth, and beaten eggs. Turn off heat and stir contents in skillet. Add bread cubes, cranberries, salt, and pepper. Stir until the liquid combines and soaks the bread cubes.
You can leave the stuffing in the cast iron skillet (make sure it’s grill-proof), then grill over indirect heat for approximately 30 minutes. Remove and serve for a unique spin on a traditional Thanksgiving mainstay.
Gravy: No-Pan Drippings
It’s not Thanksgiving without gravy! Most gravy recipes call for “pan drippings.” Since we’re slow grilling the turkey, you won’t get those “pan drippings” that you would in the oven. But you can still make a kick-ash gravy without pan drippings… especially if you add a little beer to the mix!
Instead of pan drippings, you can create an aromatic mixture of onions, garlic, celery, carrots, and mushrooms simmered in butter. Throw these chopped up goodies in a medium saucepan on the stove over medium-low heat, and simmer with at least 4 tbsp butter. Then, add ¼ cup of flour; add slowly and consistently until it starts to brown. Whisk in 2 cups of turkey or chicken stock. Let cook and thicken for about two to three minutes. Finally, whisk in ½ cup of a beer of your choosing (something belgian or dense works best) and reduce heat to low. Cook until the gravy is thick, stirring occasionally to prevent burning or sticking. You can strain before serving if you’d like.
P.S. This is still a great recipe without the beer.
Sides: Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a must-have for the Thanksgiving table, but this grilled recipe takes this cozy favorite to the next level by moving these sweet starches from the oven to the grill. This recipe makes four potatoes, so adjust according to your needs.
4 sweet potatoes
4 tbsp salted butter
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Use indirect cooking on a medium-high charcoal grill, about 350°F. You can put the potatoes right on the grill or foil them if you prefer. Cook for about 50 minutes until they’re tender but can still hold their shape.
When the potatoes have cooked, remove from the grill and cool for 15-20 minutes. In a large bowl, add brown butter, cream, sugar, vanilla, ½ tsp salt. Scoop out the flesh from the potato skins, keeping skins intact, and add the flesh to the bowl. Blend with a potato masher until smooth.
Scoop the mixture back into the potato skins. Top each with two marshmallows. Put potatoes in a grill basket, cover grill, and cook until inside filling is hot and skins are bubbling around the edges (about 10 minutes). Let cool for about 5 minutes before diving in.
Photo by Peter Wendt on Unsplash
Sides: Cider-Glazed Veggies
I prefer to indulge in stuffing and dessert for Thanksgiving, so I usually try to keep my sides a little lighter and healthier. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor! When I think of autumn, apple cider is the first thing that comes to mind. So, I create an homage to this autumnal drink by glazing my veggies with it. Cider glaze creates a sweet and delectable flavor while retaining all of its good-for-you nutrients. You can use any vegetables you like with this recipe, but I’m a fan of carrots, radishes, asparagus, and sweet onion. These pair nicely with the glaze for a sweet and savory treat. Forget the crudité!
½ pound cut radishes
1-pound asparagus stalks
1 large sweet onion
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup apple cider
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp maple syrup
Get your grill ready for direct cooking with medium heat (350 degrees). You’ll also want a perforated grill pan (aka a veggie pan), preheated for 10 minutes.
Peel and cut veggies into bite sized pieces. The quantity of veggies you use is up to you. Toss the veggies in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the vegetables in the grill pan in a single layer. Grill with the lid closed, stirring veggies occasionally. Cook for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender and lightly browned.
While those are cooking, on the stove, bring the cider, broth, butter, and maple syrup to a boil. Cook uncovered until reduced by half. This takes about 10 minutes and results in a thick, syrupy substance. Add salt and pepper if you’d like.
Transfer the veggies to a bowl after cooking and toss with the apple cider glaze. Serve immediately.
Here are some other delicious sides to try out on the grill too!
Sides: Green Beans
Want another healthy-yet-scrumptious side? Green beans are the food you didn’t appreciate as a kid, but now you realize the power of the mighty bean. This green bean recipe has a kick with garlic and jalapenos, so you can get that spice you’ve been longing to hit the Thanksgiving table.
Check out the healthy benefits of grilling here.
Dessert: Grilled Apple Crisp
Grilled desserts are heavily underrated. This crisp is arguably better than apple pie because of the sweetness the grill pulls out of the fruit. This recipe is easy, delicious, and the most delectable substrate for vanilla ice cream.
5 cups peeled, cored, sliced Granny Smith apples (any apple will work as long as it’s crisp)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¾ tsp ground cinnamon (or more to taste)
1 stick unsalted butter
Get your charcoal grill ready for medium-high heat with indirect cooking. Put the sliced apples in a large cast-iron skillet, layered almost to the top.
In a bowl, combine flour, oats, cinnamon, sugars, and salt. Cut butter into small cubes and add to mixture. Use your hands to press butter into dry ingredients to create a crumble. Sprinkle the crumble over the apples in the cast-iron skillet.
Put the skillet over indirect heat. Cover grill to let it smoke. Cook for about 30 to 40 minutes, until apples can be easily pierced. Serve warm with ice cream, whipped cream, or any other apple pie side you like. Mm-mm good!
What are YOUR favorite grilled Thanksgiving dinner ideas and recipes? Send us your favorite recipes!