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Grilling for the Holidays: Christmas BBQ Grilling Ideas for Meat, Seafood & Sides

For those in warmer climates—or for intrepid grillers who brave the freezing temps to grill year-round—a holiday barbecue may be a treasured family tradition…or just the shakeup your crew needs to re-invigorate your festive spirit.

Cooking some or all of your holiday feast on the grill offers a few advantages—there will be less heat in your house, more space in your oven for sides and desserts, and it may even free up some time depending on the recipe you choose. Plus, many showstopping BBQ ideas for Christmas and other holiday celebrations are best cooked low and slow, allowing you to set it and forget it—unlike a traditional turkey, which requires regular check-ins and consistent basting.

What’s the key to a successful and succulent holiday cookout? Don’t skip the resting period. It can be tempting to cut right into whatever delicious meal you’ve been dutifully minding, but if you don’t allow your meat to rest before you cut into it, you’ll lose all the delicious juices that were released inside during the cooking process. Resting gives your meat a chance to reabsorb those flavorful juices so every bite is moist and delicious. Don’t worry—your food won’t get cold. In fact, it’ll continue to increase in temperature about 5-10 degrees while it rests. In the meanwhile, use this time to finalize your sides, make gravy, set your table, or finish off any other last-minute to-do items.

In this post, we’ll share some of our favorite holiday grilling ideas along with some tips on how to ensure your feast turns out perfectly, from rotisserie turkey to sumptuous crown roast of pork. Keep reading for our advice on grilling up these delectable holiday mains, including:

  • Whole rotisserie turkeys and smoked turkey breast
  • Whole or spiral hams
  • Grilled crown roast of pork or smoked pork shoulder
  • Prime rib roast and brisket
  • Shoulders or leg of lamb
  • Lobster tails or cedar plank salmon
  • Potatoes, vegetables, and even stuffing on the grill

Let’s get cooking.

Holiday Grilling Ideas: Turkey

Turkey is a holiday classic. This year, turn your traditional turkey on its tail feathers by cooking it on the grill rather than in your oven.

Whole turkey

How much should I cook? Plan for 1.5 lbs per person.

Grilling method: If you’re grilling a turkey, you can cook it directly on the grill in a baking pan, but if you’re firing up the grill, why not switch it up and try a rotisserie turkey? Rotisserie-ing your turkey allows it to self-base while it rotates, leading to unfailingly simple, moist and delicious turkey.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
15 mins per pound Minimum 15 minutes

Top Tips: Stuffing your turkey will increase your cooking time, as well as the overall weight of your turkey, so be sure to factor this in to make sure your rotisserie can handle the weight. Instead of stuffing your turkey with bread stuffing, try filling it with aromatics like quartered apples or lemons to infuse it with flavor from the inside out, then cook your stuffing on the stovetop or in a slow cooker.

Turkey breast

If you’re cooking for a smaller crowd or just want to reduce your workload, turkey breast is a great way to get that traditional holiday taste without the extra work.

How much should I cook? One breast can typically serve 4-6 people. If you’re feeding a larger crowd or want leftovers, consider cooking more than one breast.

Grilling method: Turkey breast can be grilled or smoked. If you’re using a gas grill, add a smoker box for extra flavor.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
Up to 2 hours Minimum 15 minutes

Top Tip: Brine the turkey breast for 24 hours before cooking for moist and flavorful results.

Holiday Grilling Ideas: Ham

Whole or spiral hams are a holiday classic. They’re often pre-cooked, which means you only need to warm them up, making ham a great lower-effort option.

How much should I cook? Plan for ½ per person for a bone-in ham, or ? lb per person for a boneless ham.

Grilling method: Place the ham flat side down in a foil baking pan (you may need two if your ham is especially large or heavy). Heat your grill to medium heat (about 325), and cook over indirect heat just like in your oven, re-glazing every 20 minutes or so. If it starts to brown too much, tent with foil.

GRILL SPOT TIP: If you’re grilling a ham on a gas grill, add a smoker box for some extra flavor. Fruitwoods are typically ideal for smoking ham.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
12-13 mins per pound 10-20 minutes

Top Tip: Look for the phrase “natural juices” on the label, rather than “water added”. “Natural juices” means less moisture is added to the ham, and it will typically be better quality.

Holiday Grilling Ideas: Pork

Crown roast of pork is a show stopping centerpiece. Or, for a more casual cookout, opt for slow-cooked pork shoulder.

Crown roast of pork

How much should I cook? 1-2 chops per person. The average roast has about 18 chops.

Grilling method: Crown roast of pork can be grilled or smoked.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
About 2-2.5 hours 15-20 minutes

Top Tip: You can find crown roasts tied and ready for cooking at many butcher shops, but if you can’t find one or if you prefer to do it yourself, order a center-cut bone-in pork loin. A foil plug in the center will help it cook more evenly and hold its shape.

Get the recipe: Crown Roast of Pork

Pork shoulder

How much should I cook? About ? lb per person.

Grilling method: Grilled low and slow over indirect heat. Pork shoulder can also be smoked for added flavor.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
6+ hours for a 4 lb roast; 12 hours for 8 lb roast 30-60 minutes

Top Tip: Opt for smaller cuts if you’re feeding a crowd—cook 2 smaller shoulders rather than 1 large shoulder. If the meat hasn’t reached 195 degrees after 5 hours on the grill, finish it in the oven for 1-2 more hours.

Holiday Grilling Ideas: Beef

Two cuts of beef top our list of BBQ ideas for Christmas: prime rib roast and brisket.

Prime rib roast

Known for its tenderness and succulent taste, prime rib roast is a true BBQ showstopper.

How much should I cook? Plan on 1 lb per person, or one bone for every two people.

Grilling method: For extra tender results, cook the roast over low indirect heat (250 F), then crank the heat up to about 400 and continue grilling the roast till it reaches an internal temp of 135 and a crust has formed.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
A 6 lb roast will take about 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach the proper internal temperature. 30 minutes

Top Tip: French the bones (“frenching” means to scrape the meat away” for a fancier presentation.

Brisket

Brisket is a high-payoff meal that takes more time than effort. It’s all about going low and slow to melt that connective tissue, so plan to barbecue and smoke your brisket the day ahead of your feast (or be prepared to get up early).

How much should I cook? Plan for about ½ lb per person.

Grilling method: Brisket is best smoked at a low temperature of 225-250 for about 1-1.5 hours per pound. It can be cooked on any type of grill. To get that smokey flavor on a gas grill, invest in a smoker box. Use a temperature probe to monitor its progress without opening your grill.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
Depends on size and thickness, often up to 8 hours or more for larger cuts. 1-2 hours

Top Tip: Beware “the stall”. The stall happens when the fibers of the meat contract as it nears the “well done” zone of cooking, around 150-160 degrees. This occurs with both beef and pork, and continues to about 180 when the meat fibers start to relax. Wrapping the brisket tightly in foil to prevent the evaporation that creates the stall—a tactic sometimes called the Texas Crutch—can help shorten this time period.

Holiday Grilling Ideas: Lamb

Lamb may not be your first thought for a holiday feast, but it’s a great alternative to more traditional options like turkey or ham.

Lamb chops

How much should I cook? Plan for 2 loin chops per person, or 2-3 rib chops per person

Grilling method: Lamb chops can be marinated and grilled or smoked. If you marinate, marinate for 30 minutes or up to 1 day. When you’re ready to cook, set up two heat zones and grill using the reverse sear method—start the chops on the cooler, indirect side of the grill and cook, then move them to the hot side of the grill for a final sear.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
3-4 minutes per side over indirect heat, then 1-2 minutes per side over direct heat 10 minutes

Top Tip: Frenched rib chops make for the prettiest pics.

Leg of lamb

How much should I cook? ½ lb per person for bone-in legs of lamb, ? lb per person for boneless

Grilling method: Leg of lamb can be grilled or rotisseried. Whichever method you choose, let the lamb sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling to reduce the chance of overcooking the outside and undercooking the inside.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
15-25 minutes per pound, usually 40-45 minutes total to cook and sear 20 minutes

Top Tip: Opt for a boneless cut if you want something lighter for your rotisserie, or something that’s easier to move from grill to plate.

Holiday Grilling Ideas: Fish and Seafood

Looking for lighter fare this holiday season? Lobster tails and cedar plank salmon are festive options that won’t weigh you down.

Lobster tails

How much should I cook? At least 1 tail per person, or 2 if you aren’t serving any other mains

Grilling method: Grill over direct heat.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
7-8 minutes Serve immediately

Top Tip: Place a wood or metal skewer through the lobster meat to keep it from curling up as it cooks.

Cedar plank salmon

How much should I cook? About ½-¾ lbs per person. You can cook individual portions, or one large fillet.

Grilling method: Dry rub, marinate, or brush your salmon with herbs. Warm the plank over medium heat till it smokes, then place the salmon on the plank and cook till it flakes easily.

How long will it take?

Active Cooking Time (not including prep) Rest Time
12-20 minutes Serve immediately

Top Tip: Submerge the plank in water and soak for 1-4 hours to prevent burning.

Holiday Grilling Ideas: Side Dishes

Want to stick with your tried and true Christmas classic? If your oven real estate is spoken for, you can still use your grill to cook up holiday side dishes. Here are some of our favorite sides to cook on the grill:

  • Potatoes. Grill new potatoes in a vegetable basket, cook whole potatoes on your grill just like a baked potato, or grill potatoes and mash them up like usual.
  • Vegetables. You can cook any vegetable in a grill basket, including holiday classics like carrots.
  • Stuffing. Yes, you can grill stuffing! Start by toasting your bread on the grill, then mix the ingredients in a foil pan and cook on the grill just like you would in your oven.
GRILL SPOT TIP: If you aren’t quite ready to cook your holiday feast on your barbecue but space in your kitchen is limited, you can also use your grill as a warming zone to keep dishes warm as you finish the rest of your meal.

Grilling for the Holidays

Tired of the same old turkey you cook every holiday season? Why not fire up the grill and try something a little different this year? Whether you opt for a self-basted rotisserie turkey or are ready to explore other succulent, showstopping mains, there is no shortage of ways to take advantage of your barbecue when preparing a holiday feast.

If you aren’t used to grilling in the winter, check out our best winter grilling tips and stock up on winter grilling accessories for BBQing in cold weather:

SHOP FOR HOLIDAY GRILLING ACCESSORIES:

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Grill Spot Team

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