Cooking a Thanksgiving feast can turn a home cook into an air traffic controller of sorts.
Precise timing is everything. The menu is planned based on limited oven or stovetop space. The gravy is made while the turkey is resting. The green bean or sweet potato casseroles are baked while the oven is free. Everything is coordinated so all the dishes land on the dinner table at the same time.
On such a day, the grill can be your savior.
"You can use your grill strategically," said Kansas City, Mo.-based cookbook author Judith Fertig, who has written several grilling cookbooks - including "BBQ Bistro" and "The BBQ Queens' Big Book of Barbecue" - with Karen Adler.
Moving the turkey or a couple of sides to be cooked in a smoker or on a charcoal or gas grill can make cooking this feast less like directing airport traffic on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and more like a holiday. Even better, enlist your spouse, a relative or friend to oversee the outdoor cooking.
Fertig and Raleigh, N.C.-based food writer Fred Thompson, author of "Grillin' with Gas" and "Barbecue Nation," shared their advice for cooking some or all of your Thanksgiving feast outdoors:
- Do not cook anything larger than a 14-pound bird or you will end up with dry meat. If you need more turkey to feed your guests, cook two smaller turkeys rather than a 20-pound turkey.
- Smoking and grilling can dry out the turkey, so consider brining the bird beforehand.
- Consider your grilling experience. "This is not the time to do too much," Thompson said. "If you haven't smoked a turkey before, it's not necessarily the best time to do it." The same goes for frying a turkey, he adds. Enlist an experienced griller if you can or do a practice run if possible.
- For beginners, the best option is the gas grill. Be sure to roast the turkey in a roasting pan or disposable foil pan to catch the drippings for gravy. If there is room, Thompson places a pan of water or apple cider next to the turkey to do "internal grill basting," which helps keep the bird moist.
- If using a charcoal grill or smoker, Thompson recommends natural hardwood lump charcoal, instead of briquettes, which contain additives.
- Plan on having the turkey finished cooking an hour before you want to carve it.
With the turkey done and out of the way, you can use the grill to cook side dishes.
- Anything in a baking dish - make-ahead mashed potatoes, dressing, green bean casserole, and macaroni and cheese – can be cooked or reheated in a gas grill. Consider it your outdoor oven.
- Use a cast-iron skillet on a grill to roast Brussels sprouts.
- Use a smoker or charcoal grill to cook sweet potatoes.
- So many classic dishes on the Thanksgiving table are all the same texture: creamy. Fertig suggests using the grill to add texture to the meal, by substituting grilled bread for those soft yeast rolls.
Regardless of how you use your grill, it will help ease the traffic in your kitchen. Plus, it's not bad ambiance. "Just being outside," Thompson said, "the smell of fall, a little bourbon in the coffee or some hard cider for sipping."
That sounds like a lovely Thanksgiving.
THANKS TO HAAND
All the platters and dishes show in the photos were borrowed from Haand, a Graham, N.C.-based maker of porcelain pottery.
MORE IDEAS FOR THANKSGIVING GRILLING
Grilled Potato Halves with Salmon and Dill: Serve these as an appetizer. Place 18 halved baby red potatoes and 2 tablespoons water in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with vented plastic wrap and cook on high in the microwave for 5 to 6 minutes or until just fork-tender. Preheat gas grill to medium heat. Brush potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place potatoes on grill and cook 5 to 6 minutes, turning over once. When done, remove from grill and slice a flat surface onto rounded side of each potato to prevent rolling. Top each with 1/4 teaspoon sour cream, 1 bite-size piece of smoked salmon and some dill.
Grilled Root Vegetables: Slice celeriac, jicama, big potatoes, daikon or yams and grill slowly until very tender and browned. Drizzle with olive oil or melted butter and sprinkle with chopped rosemary or sage.
Grilled Green Beans with Herb Mayonnaise: Puree 1 bunch fresh dill, leaves from 20 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, 1 cup mayonnaise and 2 teaspoons cider vinegar in a food processor. With machine running, slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil through feed tube until incorporated. Place 2 pounds trimmed green beans in a grill basket over medium heat on grill. Cook until they begin to char and soften, about 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve with mayonnaise.
Grilled Apples or Pears for Dessert: Halve, core and grill pears or apples. When done, drizzle with yogurt, honey and pinch of cardamom or cinnamon.
From "The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook," edited by Peter Kaminsky (Sterling Epicure, 2104); "The Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen Grilling Cookbook" (Hearst Books, 2013); and "Where There's Smoke," by Barton Seaver (Sterling Epicure, 2013).