If you love the smoky flavor of chicken or turkey cooked on the grill, but find that it often turns out dry and overcooked, grilling (or smoking) a whole goose might be the alternative you've been looking for.
A large goose can produce up to four cups of liquid fat. While this extra fat proves essential in keeping the meat moist and flavorful, you can't just let it drip onto your coals (or your gas burners), so it's important to set yourself up for grilling and smoking success.
Something else to remember: goose is considered red-meat poultry, which means it should be cooked medium-rare or medium. This is important, because unlike chicken or turkey, which simply turn dry and stringy, overcooked goose turns tough, chewy, and livery.
Build a Two-Zone Fire
To ensure that it doesn't overcook (or that the outside cooks while the inside stays raw), it's essential to build a two-zone fire.
A two-zone fire lets you cook via indirect heat, like in a home oven—which means that you are in effect roasting the goose. But, unlike an oven, a charcoal grill will infuse the goose with plenty of smoky wood flavor.
To build a two-zone fire, situate the hot coals on one side of the grill, leaving the other side empty. You'll cook the goose over the empty side of the grill, which is what is meant by indirect heat.
On a gas grill, light half the burners, and place the bird over the unlit burners. And remember, whether cooking with charcoal or gas, keep the lid closed.
Prep the Goose
To start, plan on 1 1/2 pounds of precooked goose per person. That means a 12-pound goose will yield about 8 servings.
The first step is to remove any slabs of excess fat from inside the body cavity, as well as trimming away any loose bits of skin from around the opening.
Some cooks like to brine their goose before cooking. Brining, which adds flavor and moisture, is common when grilling chicken and turkey since they dry out easily, and because their leanness often translates into lack of flavor.
This isn't the case with goose. And unless you're injecting brine directly into the breast, the liquid won't penetrate much beyond the skin. You're mainly brining the fat, much of which is going to render off anyway. So we'll call brining optional, but you won't miss it if you skip it.
Do rinse the bird inside and out with cold water, however, and pat it dry thoroughly.
Finally, you're going to want to score the skin, especially on the breasts and thighs. This helps release the fat as the bird cooks. Use a sharp knife to make several shallow, intersecting diagonal cuts (producing a diamond pattern) across the skin, taking care not to cut into the flesh. Score the skin only.
Alternately you can prick the skin all over with something sharp like the tines of a roasting fork, but the cross-hatching method works better and produces a more visually appealing result.
Now you can season inside and out with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. You can fill the body cavity with quartered onions, citrus, or even apples, along with fresh herbs such as thyme, sage, and rosemary. Truss the legs with butchers twine.
How to Grill a Goose
Preheat your grill to 350 F, which is considered a medium grill. If you're using a chimney lighter, this corresponds with half to 3/4 of a chimney of charcoal.
Place an empty foil pan under the grate on the cool side of the grill (i.e. the side without the coals). This pan is what will catch the rendered fat as it drips from the bird.
Grill the goose on the side away from the coals, lid closed, for 2 to 3 hours (around 18 to 20 minutes per pound). Replenish the coals every 45 minutes or so. Just add 8 to 10 new briquets on top of the ones that are already going. If you're using a probe thermometer, insert it into the deepest part of the thigh. When it reaches 160 F, you can remove the goose from the grill, cover with foil, and rest it for 20 minutes before carving.
Using the Rendered Goose Fat
While it's resting, you can retrieve that pan of goose fat. Most of this liquid gold you can pour off through a strainer lined with cheesecloth and use it the way you'd use bacon fat. But for right now, set aside about 1/4 cup.
While the goose is cooking, parboil some quartered potatoes, like Yukons or red. Drain and let them steam dry in your colander while the goose finishes. Then, while the goose rests, toss the potatoes in the 1/4 cup of goose fat, season with Kosher salt, transfer them to a foil pan, and finish them on the grill with the lid closed.
How to Smoke a Goose
Cooking a goose in a smoker is more of an advanced technique, but figure about 30 minutes per pound, and bear in mind that while the low heat of the smoker will be sufficient to render off the excess fat, what it won't do is crisp the skin. Therefore, when smoking a goose, you're going to want to finish it over a medium grill or 350 F oven for a few minutes.