Step-by-Step Guide to Making Rotisserie Turkey

  • 01 of 08

    How to Prepare

    Rotisserie Turkey
    Regarding BBQ, Inc.

    Rotisserie turkey is the perfect way to cook that holiday meal. Self-basted, moist, and tender, this is one of the best ways to prepare a turkey. Before starting, determine whether the rotisserie kit for the grill can hold the turkey.

    Most rotisserie kits are designed to hold up to 15 pounds. A larger turkey will bend the rod and it won't turn properly. Check with the grill's manufacturer before considering this method.

    The next step is to calculate the cooking time. The target temperature for the grill is between 325 F to 350 F/160 C to 175C, so the cooking time is 15 to 20 minutes per pound/500 g. Determine how long the grill will need to burn and how much fuel it will need for that length of time.

    As a general guideline and calculated on the safe side, a 12-pound/5.5-kg turkey will take 4 hours and a 15-pound/7-kg turkey will take 5 hours. It's not recommended to cook a turkey larger than 18 pounds/8 kg on a rotisserie. The weight and size become prohibitive as the turkey gets larger. Most gas grills cannot accommodate that large of a bird.

    You will need:

    • A grill (charcoal or gas)
    • The rotisserie kit for your specific model of grill
    • Fuel for your grill to run for 4 to 6 hours
    • A whole turkey
    • An aluminum pan
    • A hot pad or fireproof gloves
    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Rotisserie Setup

    Rotisserie Setup
    Regarding BBQ, Inc.

    Set up the rotisserie kit on the grill. This typically requires about 10 minutes and a screwdriver. Different grills and rotisserie kits have different arrangements, so read the instructions.

    Depending on the layout of your grill, either remove the center cooking grate (you can remove them all) and place an aluminum pan directly under where the turkey will be. This might be a challenge depending on the design of the burners. Nearly all the drippings from the turkey will fall from the widest point of the bird so the pan only needs to be 5 to 6 inches wide. If you can secure a drip pan under the bird, you can catch the drippings for gravy. Prior to cooking, fill the pan half full of water to prevent the drippings from burning. Keep an eye on the drippings and add more water throughout the cooking if the pan begins to dry up. 

    Next, prepare the turkey. Remove the contents from the inside and cut off any loose skin. To increase tenderness and moisture, brine the turkey or use a turkey marinade. It also is helpful to truss the turkey like you would a chicken to hold it together better on the rotisserie.

    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    Preparing the Rotisserie Rod

    Lemon on Rod
    Regarding BBQ, Inc.

    Since the turkey is large, it's important to get the rotisserie rod placement right. This process is very difficult hovering over the grill, so it helps to mark the center of the rod over the grill before putting the bird in place. To mark this place, you can use a lemon, an apple, or an onion. Lemon adds a nice flavor. As the rod heats, the lemon cooks and releases flavor and moisture into the middle of the turkey.

    The lemon (or another food item) should be centered in the grill, just above the aluminum drip pan. This is where the widest part of the turkey should be.

    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    Securing the Turkey

    Secure Turkey
    Regarding BBQ, Inc.

    It is important to secure the turkey to the rotisserie rod. This is the most challenging step in the process, but if you do it right, you won't have any more trouble with it. Since a turkey has many parts that are loose, secure not just the bird, but the legs and the wings. It's helpful if the turkey is trussed.

    It can be easier to place the turkey on a platter or cutting board and then run the rod (while not moving the lemon) through the bottom of the turkey and out through the neck. This puts the lemon safely inside.

    Put the fork on the rod, pointing toward the neck of the turkey and bring it through. It might seem like you don't have enough hands for this operation but be patient. You need to make sure that the whole turkey is tight in the forks before proceeding.

    Press the forks together, gathering up the legs and wings in the forks so that they are held in place. If you have a dangling wing it will flop around and likely burn.

    Once you have the bird secured, tighten the screws on the fork. Make sure they are very tight. Roll it around a little to make sure that the legs and wings hold. Don't worry about the balance just yet. 

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Setting the Counterbalance

    Adjusting Rotisserie Counterbalance
    Regarding BBQ, Inc.

    Some rotisserie kits do not have or need counterbalances. If yours does, make sure you follow these instructions.

    Balancing the turkey on the rotisserie makes sure it cooks evenly and doesn't burn out the rotisserie motor. If the rotisserie kit has a counterbalance, then there should be no trouble getting it balanced. If not, there isn't too much you can do about it. Turkeys are heavier on the back than on the breast side.

    To balance the turkey, remove the motor from the bracket and place the rotisserie rod with the turkey on the grill so that it moves freely. The heavy side will drop toward the bottom. Pull the counterbalance straight up and tighten. It won't balance perfectly, but you will offset the weight enough to allow the motor to handle the load easily.

    Now attach the motor and turn it on. Make sure that the turkey doesn't slide on the rod and that it turns easily. Once you have determined that it will stay put, you can start the grill.

    Rotisserie turkey is grilled indirectly. This means that the burners directly underneath the turkey are off and that all the heat is being provided by the other burners. If the burners under the turkey are on, you will get flare-ups.

    Adjust the heat on the grill until the temperature reaches around 350 F/175 C. It is not a good idea to wander away too long. It is best to keep an eye on the turkey for the first few minutes to make sure that everything is going right.

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Basting the Turkey

    Basting Turkey
    Regarding BBQ, Inc.

    Add flavor to the bird by basting. A good baste needs to have flavor and oil. The oil (any fat like butter or olive oil) helps hold in the moisture and browns the surface of the turkey. Start basting the turkey after about 1 hour on the rotisserie. Continue basting every 30 minutes until the turkey is nearly done.

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    Checking the Temperature

    Finished Turkey
    Regarding BBQ, Inc.

    At a cooking temperature between 300 F and 350 F, it takes a turkey around 20 minutes per pound to cook. A 15-pound turkey should take around 5 hours. When the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 160 F to 165 F, it is time to get it off the heat.

    As the turkey cooks, you might notice that it tends to plump up. As the turkey gets close to being done this plumping goes away and the turkey shrinks. The skin of the turkey should be a dark, golden brown. These are clues that it is nearly done and time to start checking the internal temperature.

    To test the internal temperature, use a meat thermometer and take a reading in at least two different places. Test the center of the turkey breast and in the thigh right above the drumstick. These are the densest parts of the turkey and the slowest to cook. When both of these places read above 165 F, it is time to take the turkey off the grill.

    Have a hot pad or fireproof glove and a platter or cutting board ready beside the grill. The metal rod of the rotisserie is going to be about 300 F when you grab it. It is easy to burn yourself so be careful.

    When taking the rotisserie rod and turkey off the grill, start by turning off the burners and rotisserie motor. It is usually easier to lift up and pull off the motor first. Get a good hold of the rod on both ends and place the turkey on your platter and cutting board.

    Removing the drippings pan can be difficult. Use a turkey baster to siphon off most of the liquid to transfer to a pan to make gravy.

    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    Removing the Turkey

    Rotisserie Turkey
    Regarding BBQ, Inc.

    Using your hot pad or glove, loosen the screw on the fork closest to the neck side and slide it off. Now the turkey is free to move. Holding the turkey on the platter or cutting board, slowly pull the rod from the turkey. The lemon inside will stay with the turkey and you can remove it before carving.

    Cover the turkey with aluminum foil and a kitchen towel and let the turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes allowing the juices to flow back into the meat. Then carve the turkey as normal.

    Final Tip: If there was no drip pan, the drippings from the turkey would have fallen into your grill without burning off. It is a good idea to light up the middle burner and get it burned off or next time you use your grill, this might cause a pretty big flare-up.