Smoking a Turkey
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays! It has it all, food, family, football and food! It's the only holiday where everyone eats themselves to the point of exploding and then blames the tryptophan for the food coma they're about to slip into
Today we're going to learn to smoke a turkey and the prep before hand to make it the most juicy and succulent bird you've ever had. Like all our recipes, the process is pretty transferable to any cooking device, smoker or oven but for turkeys, we like to use our Kamado! We use a Louisiana Grills Kamado and we love it! It's bigger and a little cheaper than the Big Green Egg.
First thing you want to do is select your bird! If you can go organic, do it, if you can find a bird without a solution that's been injected into it, do it. You want to control the flavor, if you can't it's alright, we're going to add quite a bit of flavor to this bird. Here's a conundrum that we often find ourselves in. The bigger the bird, the harder it is to get flavor all the way through it and smaller birds have more flavor and are the most juicy, so if you have a family the size of mine do you cook 2 medium sized turkeys, or just one big one. We generally cook 2 birds, mom does one of her classics and I smoke one. I do however go big because with this recipe and our methods, they NEVER lack for flavor... so listen up! :-)
This year we went with an 18 pound organic turkey. It is important to know the weight of the bird so you can formulate your plan and know your timing. The most important thing to do is make sure that the turkey is fully thawed, this usually means pulling it out of the freezer 3 or 4 days before you brine it.... yes, we're going to brine as well! It will be in the brine for 2 days, that means you're going to need to thaw your turkey out on Friday or Saturday so you can brine it on Tuesday and have it ready to cook on Thursday. There are faster ways to thaw out a bird, if you put it in your brine bucket with tepid water this will speed the process along, but make sure to not use hot water as you'll start cooking the meat, ruining it and also allowing bacteria to grow.
Let's make the brine, I actually like to make my brine in the morning, let it marry with all the flavors all day and then put the bird in the bucket at night. Why brine? This will add a ton of flavor but more importantly, it'll yield the juiciest meat you'll ever have!
What we need:
You'll need a 5 gallon bucket, clean and sterilized. Get a large pot, not crazy huge like a turkey fryer, but the large pot in your set. Fill it 3/4 of the way with water, bring to a boil. Then add 2 cups of white sugar, and two cups of salt. The reason we add this to boiling water is so the granulated salt and sugar melt and dissolve and you don't have any grit in your brine. This is making a brine concentrate, and we don't want hot liquid going on a raw bird so the next step is getting a bag of ice. Put the bag of ice in the bucket, add the concentrated solution and stir till ice is melted. We want about 2 to 3 gallons of liquid in the bucket. Once all the ice is melted it's time to add flavor to the brine, here's what I use:
Stalk of celery chopped
2 white onions chopped
Bag of large carrots, chopped
One smashed head of garlic, skin removed
2 oranges, quartered
2 apples, quartered
Fresh herbs (Thyme, rosemary, sage)
Handful of peppercorns
Handful of coriander
Mix all that together and set aside for 6-7 hours, add the turkey, make sure the whole bird is submerged put a lid (or foil) on top, put in fridge for 2 days (one is the minimum)
IT"S TURKEY DAY!!!!! All the prep is about to pay off!!! If you remember anything out of this, remember this VERY IMPORTANT step, when you take the turkey out of the brine RINSE THE TURKEY!! Say it with me... RINSE THE TURKEY!! The flavor you want is INSIDE the meat, the only thing on the outside is an incredibly salty brine solution, if you don't want awkward smiles when they bite into the bird, and people pretending to like it while looking for an animal to feed it to... you'll rinse off that bird!
Now that it's rinsed off... RIGHT? Yes... now that it's rinsed off there's a few steps you want to take before we put it on the pit. The most time consuming one is prepping the smoker. The Kamados (Ceramic eggs) take about an hour to prep and get to temp. So get your lump charcoal, and smoking woods ready. We like to use 70% apple 20% hickory and 10% pecan
Arrange your coals and woods, lite them up and bring the pit to your desired temperature. The most often asked question on anything I cook is, "Time and temp?" There are actually 2 ways you can go here, like we discussed in our first blog... Hot and fast, or low and slow. I personally like to go low and slow for one main reason. It gives me more time in the kitchen to do everything else and I don't have to constantly go out there to check on the bird.
Here's both formulas for your turkey, you pick which one suites you best
Hot and fast 350 degrees cooks at 12 min per pound. 18lb turkey = 3.5 hours
Low and Slow is 275 degrees cooks at 20ish min per pound 18lb turkey = 6 hours
Making sure the pit is emitting a clear blue vapor and not billowing white smoke is what we're looking for, white smoke is bitter, it'll turn clear, just give it time. Once your pit is ready lets finish prepping the bird
Return to your RINSED bird that's sitting on a cookie sheet (you'll also want a turkey roaster pan) We're going to pat the turkey dry with a paper towel and then flip so it's presentation side down first. This way when we do the other side the rub won't wipe off the side we're trying to keep pretty
Spray the bird with pam cooking spray, just a lite coat and then add your favorite poultry rub. I don't go too crazy on this because I don't want to overpower the awesome flavor that the brine is going to provide and the natural flavor of the turkey, so just go with a light sprinkle. Flip over so it's legs up, bring the two drumsticks together, tie them together with butcher string and repeat the rub process.
Next, check the cavity, making sure you removed the neck and bag giblets that usually comes with and discard. Once cleared out stuff that cavity with 2 chopped apples, onions and oranges, also stuff some thyme and sage in there. You want to stuff that cavity till it's totally full. This does a couple things, it adds flavor but it also reduces the amount of dead space in the bird making it so the whole turkey will cook evenly. Pop it in a roasting pan and then line the edges of the pan with about 5 or 6 tabs of butter.
Put in the smoker, close the lid and walk away! Do not check on it every 20 minutes, "if yer lookin, yer not cookin" right? About half way through the cooking process you can take a peek, do a little basting, getting the buttery juices all over the bird, when it's about 2 hours out from being done, and the rub has firmly stuck onto the skin, then add another cube of butter, sliced up to the top of the bird. Once melted, you can baste every 30 min or so at the end with the melted butter. That last 30-45 min though, leave it alone so the skin gets a little crispy and doesn't slide off when you cut it.
The magic number we're looking for is 165 degrees, I'd invest in a digital meat probe. I personally have one that Bluetooth's the temp to my phone so I don't need to walk out to the pit and check all the time. It's been a great investment. Once we hit temp we want to take the bird CAREFULLY out of the smoker and bring it inside, move to another aluminum tin of some sort, getting it out of the juices and butter it's in. That will only make the skin soggy at this point. Clear out the cavity and discard.
Let rest for about 30 min and start carving. Here's a very helpful link that'll help you carve that bird!!
Once broken down, arrange on a nice dish or clean cutting board, drizzle some of the juices from the new pan all over the white meat and go nuts!!
I hope I answered any questions you may have and I hope you all have a very happy, safe and healthy Thanksgiving!!! I'm about to go get my brine ready and find my loose thanksgiving pants!! Gotta prep for everything right? Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!!