Beer, Birds and BBQ


A smoked 12-lb. bird waiting to be carved.

I’m a turkey fiend (as opposed to a fiendish turkey). I wish Thanksgiving was held once a month. I make turkey once every month or so and my specialty is smoked turkey. My smoked turkey turns out nicely every time in part because of the cooking method I use — setting the turkey on a beer can “throne” à la beer can chicken and barbecuing it upright. This crisps the skin all around the bird but leaves the meat inside juicy.

I do some things differently than many BBQ cooks. First and foremost, I don’t smoke the bird “slo and lo.” I smoke closer to oven roasting temperatures because I think the pink meat that comes from smoking at around 225 °F (107 °C) tastes slimy. Even though I like beef rare, poultry cooked in the same manner simply tastes undercooked to me. I like the taste of roasted turkey meat — Maillard reactions are good! — so I cook at a temperature that yields white (fully cooked) meat. Also, to me one of the best things about turkey is a nice, crispy skin. Smoking the bird at 225 °F (107 °C) yields whitish, rubbery skin. Likewise, some cooks spice their brine and even inject spices into the turkey. I like the spices to be associated with the skin, so I don’t usually add spices to the brine or inject them under the skin or into the meat.

You can take this recipe and adapt it for roasting in the oven or using your own favorite brines or spice rubs. Enjoy!


This recipe yields a moderately smoky bird with crispy skin and roasted (but not dry) meat. The spice is mostly associated with the skin, so the meat —especially the white meat — can be used for any number of leftover recipes. I think the Octoberfest yields a very subtle maltiness to the flavor of the bird.






The Bird

11–13 lb. (~5–6 kg) turkey (fresh or frozen)

The Brine

8.0 fl. oz. (240 mL) coarse salt (such as sea salt)

500 mL Octoberfest beer

placed in a 2.5-gallon (~ 10 L) Ziplock bag

The Rub 

seasoned salt

seasoned pepper


The Throne 

one can Foster’s Lager (in the 25-oz. “oilcan”)



The Day Before

Place the turkey in the Ziplock bag. (It’s OK if it is frozen at this point. If it isn’t, remove the giblets from the cavity and neck from the neck cavity.) In a 1-gallon (~4-L) pitcher, combine the salt and beer. Add water and stir until you have 1 gallon (3.8 L) of brine. Pour the brine over the bird and seal the bag, excluding as many bubbles as is feasible. Place it in the refrigerator overnight.  Soak two fist-sized chunks of mesquite — or your favorite hardwood — overnight in a pitcher.


Turkey Day 


Turkey ready to be smoked.

Roughly 8 hours before mealtime, rinse the turkey then place it back in the fridge — sitting on the Ziplock bag, topped with some paper towels — and let it “air dry” for about 4 hours. (You can also remove the giblets and other stuff if you haven’t already.) Prepare the fire in your smoker so it’s ready to go about 4 hours ahead of mealtime.  Take the Fosters out of the fridge and pour out about 2/3 of the beer. You can add the beer to the water in the smoker pan, if you’d like. If I’m feeling ambitious, I slice two navel oranges and place them in the water pan. Apply your spice rub to the turkey, then set it on “the throne.” To get the bird to balance and not topple during smoking, press down fairly hard on the bird to wedge the can into the cavity solidly. Set the turkey in your smoker, in an aluminum pan. (If you line the pan with aluminum foil, you can use it over and over.)


I sometimes add orange slices to the water pan in the smoker.

Smoke the turkey, starting at 350 °F (177 °C). After roughly 20 minutes, drop the temperature to 275 °F (135 °C). Your smoking time should be roughly 3.5 hours at this temperature (but test the meat for doneness before pulling the bird off and expect some variation in cook times). Do not open the smoker until it is time to test for doneness. Pull the turkey when the internal temperature reaches 170 °F (77 °C). At this temperature, the meat should be white and taste roasted (but not dry) and the skin should be crisp. Let the bird sit for about 20 minutes before removing the can — it helps to have a second pair of hands for this — and carve it. Make pan gravy from the drippings in the pan. Put the carcass in a large Ziplock bag and refrigerate or freeze it — you can make soup stock with it later.





Two oven-roasted turkeys and three smoked chickens.



  1. I’ve always loved applewood-smoked beer can chicken, so when I saw this recipe, I couldn’t resist trying it for our Thanksgiving dinner. The bird came out looking great, and the taste was even better. The smoke flavor was more pronounced than I was expecting, but still subtle and well-balanced with the malty flavor from the beer. Gravy made from the drippings really had a great smokiness.

    Outside temperature was in the 20s, so I had to run my Weber bullet at “full throttle” with no water in the pan to achieve the prescribed temperatures.

    Thanks for a great recipe!

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