The Thanksgiving season always calls for at least one new turkey recipe on this site, but that has become increasingly difficult as the years roll on and I've covered so much territory on this subject. I started to wonder if I should even be forcing the matter—at this point, someone can use my site to deliver a different turkey incarnation on their holiday table each year for well over a decade. So I almost let turkey fall off this year, but then I thought of an idea I had not tried and felt intrigued to give it a whirl. My thought was to make turkey pinwheels, which is something I've done time and again with beef and pork, but not in the same manner with turkey. I wasn't even sure turkey would hold up to the job, but in the end, these pinwheels were even better than I could have imagined.
Pinwheels were something I was super into at the start of my cooking journey because they felt impressive with endless permeations, but I kind of burned out on them quickly and they haven't resurfaced for quite some time until now. I had previously always used more firm meats to build these rolled creations and worried turkey would be too flimsy to hold up in the same way, but there was only one way to find out for sure. So I ventured forth by first butterflying open a skinless, boneless turkey breast, then pounded that out to a roughly a quarter-inch thickness.
For the stuffing, I had the primary goals of adding fat and a ton of flavor to make up for two major shortcomings of turkey breasts. The fat I got in by way of bacon, which had the added bonus of imparting those addictive salty and smoky flavors as well. Then for the seasoning, I began with sage, which had I had an excess of after it exploded in my herb garden during early fall, and then layered on crushed red pepper, black pepper, and cheddar cheese. I was also concerned that the cheese would all melt out on the grill, but if it didn't, I was pretty sure it would add a great flavor and texture in the end roll.
Once all stuffed, I rolled the turkey breast closed, which worked out a bit easier than I was expecting, staying pretty firmly closed as I began to tie pieces of butcher twine at roughly two-inch intervals. Once this was done, I took an extra insurance policy of keeping the turkey firm by placing it in the freezer until it just started to feel a bit more solid, but not frozen. In the end though, this was not necessary because I made two rolls and the second one that I cooked did not get the freezer treatment and it held up exactly the same.
I've grilled turkey rolled up like this many times to great results, but what's different in the pinwheel equation is that the meat gets sliced into medallions and then cooked. There was a lot that could have gone wrong with this—the turkey could fall apart, the meat could easily overcook, the stuffing could render out, etc. So I paid extra close attention to what was happening while grilling to hopefully come out on the other side with a serviceable dish, at minimum.
There were a few pleasant surprises while cooking these, starting with the fact that they held together without any issue. Next, while I saw some cheese melt out of the rolls, it was not all of the cheese, and the little that did escape caramelized if it hit the grill grates, adhering to the meat and adding a more attractive appearance than I was expecting. Finally, I kept a close eye on the temperature and these didn't cook as fast as I thought they would, which allowed for a great sear to develop before they hit my target internal temperature of between 145-150°F. Once they reached that range, I removed the pinwheels from the grill, snapped some photos, then let them rest for about five minutes before removing the twine and serving.
For those naysayers that (pretty rightfully) denounce turkey as bland, I'd give them one of these rolls and then revel in watching their minds being changed. These rolls exploded with flavor, with that caramelized cheese really adding an incredible exterior crust that didn't overshadow the bacon, sage, and peppers inside. All of this did drown out some of the flavor of the turkey itself, but the meat remained juicy and a worthy carrier to perform the job. I think turkey may have been the right medium too, as the pork or beef I would normally would use could have lessened the impact of the stuffing, which felt right being front and center. So here's just one more turkey recipe that you could try out this Thanksgiving, and while this one is less traditional, I would wager that it would be way more of a hit than a standard whole-roasted bird.
- Yield 6-8 servings
- Prep 30 Minutes
- Cook 10 Minutes
- Total 40 Minutes
- 2 large boneless, skinless turkey breasts (about 2.5 lbs each)
- 2/3 lb regular cut bacon
- 6 oz grated sharp white cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup finely minced fresh sage
- 3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper, divided
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt
- Butterfly one turkey breast open on a large cutting board and lay flat. Cover turkey with plastic wrap and pound out to an even 1/2-inch thickness using a meat pounder, rolling pin, or similar utensil. Remove plastic wrap and lay strips of bacon across entire exposed breast, trimming off any bacon that overflows the turkey meat. Spread 1/2 of the cheese, 2 tablespoons of sage, 1 tablespoon of black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes evenly across bacon. Roll turkey into a tight cylinder lengthwise and tie closed with butcher twine at about every 2 inches. Repeat with remaining turkey breast and ingredients. Season turkey breasts with remaining black pepper and salt to taste.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Slice turkey rolls halfway between each piece of butcher twine. Place turkey on hot side of grill, cut side down, and cook, flipping occasionally until well seared on each side and an instant read thermometer register between 145-150°F when inserted into center of roll. If rolls have not reached that temperature once well seared, move rolls to cool side of grill, cover, and continue to cook until at temperature.
- Remove turkey rolls to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Remove twine from each roll, transfer to a serving platter, and serve immediately.