What’s more festive than a good holiday turkey on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve? A barbecue turkey rubbed and sauced by Chef Rodney Scott of Whole Hog BBQ.
The second pit-master to win a James Beard award, Scott was named Best Chef: Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2018. Today, he's spicing up your turkey game with a three-step rub, sauce and grill method that'll have your guests clamoring for more.
“When you cook a turkey on the pit the way we do,” Scott says, “you don’t end up with a pretty, gold bird like the ones you see on the covers of the Thanksgiving issues of all the food magazines, but I don’t think most of those pretty birds taste as good as the one that’s been smoked on the pit or grill and seasoned the way we do. Spatchcocking the turkey allows us to cook it more evenly and get seasoning throughout the bird. You be the judge.”
The sauce is used in large quantities at Rodney Scott’s four restaurants "to mop our hogs when they are cooking."
"It gives the meat a slight tang and a little heat," he says. "Some folks may feel like there is too much acid when they taste it on its own, but that acid is essential for balancing out fatty, rich meat. We serve 'whole hog,' which means the meat we serve is pulled from all parts of the hog that has been pit cooked, so that each guest gets a little of the shoulder, ham, belly, etc., and hat means the blend is rich and flavorful, and can use this hit of acid."
The sauce can also be used in other recipes, including collard greens. While it may taste unconventional to someone unfamiliar with Eastern Carolinian cuisine, it reflects Rodney’s cuisine and heritage. Give this barbecue bird a try, and follow Scott's pro tips for the perfect bite.
Rodney Scott’s Holiday Turkey
- 1 whole turkey (12 to 14 pounds), giblets removed, and spatchcocked (save the giblets for gravy, dressing or discard)
- ½ cup Rodney’s Rib Rub (see recipe)
- 4 cups Rodney’s Sauce (see recipe)
- Fire up your grill to 250°F.
- Prepare the turkey by sprinkling rib rub all over both sides of the bird. Place the turkey on the grill grate, skin-side down. Close the grill and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- Using a small, clean mop or a basting brush, baste the turkey with the sauce. Flip the turkey so it’s skin-side up and baste the skin side. Close the grill and cook until the thickest part of the thigh meat measures 160°F, about another 1 hour and 30 minutes. (Once you have finished basting the turkey, discard any remaining sauce, as it will have come in contact with raw turkey).
- Remove the turkey from the grill and let it rest for 30 to 40 minutes before carving and transferring to a platter.
Rodney’s Pro Tip
“Spatchcocking the turkey allows it to lie flat on the grill.” Scott recommends having your butcher do this, or doing it yourself by setting “the turkey breast-side down on your work surface, with the tail facing you. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut up from the tail to the neck on each side of the backbone. Remove the backbone and save for soup or discard. If you prefer, at this point, you can cut the turkey in half through the breastplate.”
Rodney’s Rib Rub
Makes 2 cups.
- ½ cup kosher salt (we like Diamond Crystal)
- ¼ cup MSG
- ¼ cup fresh ground black pepper
- ¼ cup paprika
- ¼ cup chili powder
- ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix all of the ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
Makes 1 gallon
Note: This recipe is for a large amount, but because of the ratios and the way it cooks down, it is important to make this much—it is not recommended to reduce this recipe by more than half. If you are using it as a “mop sauce” while grilling or smoking, you will need quite a lot with some left for the table. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 8 weeks.
- 1 gallon distilled, white vinegar
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- ½ cup ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoons red pepper flakes
- 2 cups sugar
- In a small stockpot, warm the vinegar over medium-high heat.
- After about 5 minutes, when the vinegar reaches 150°F on an instant-read thermometer, just before it starts to simmer, add the lemon slices and continue to cook until the lemon peels begin to soften and wilt, about 10 minutes more.
- Whisk in the black pepper, cayenne, pepper flakes and sugar.
- Continue to cook over medium-high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the sauce reaches 190°F, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and allow to completely cool before using. Once the lemon is removed, the sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 8 weeks.