Smoking a Turkey

turkey-cooked

I smoked a turkey over the weekend and the results were out of this world!
I was hoping to include some video showing the process but technical difficulties has made that impossible. I am still working on it and once I get everything straightened out, I will post it here.

Here’s that video I promised.  https://youtu.be/saaZDkUo0fE

This blog includes a recipe for an Apple/Orange brine that is delicious. It reminds me of a Cuban Mojo. It is ideal for any fowl but could also be used on a pork butt or pork roast. The flavors are subtle but so delicious!

I started out with a 12.75 lb frozen turkey (only because I could not find a fresh one). I let it thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours but found that it was still partially frozen when I went to take it out so I submerged it in hot (not boiling) water that I changed out every hour or so for about 3 hours – at that point, the bird was completely defrosted and I could easily remove the giblets and gizzard – DON’T FORGET TO REMOVE THESE “EXTRAS” BEFORE YOU BRINE AND SMOKE THE BIRD!!

rawturkey

TIMINGS:
Defrost (frozen turkey) 24-48 hours
Brine preparation 30 minutes
Brining of the bird 24 hours
Smoking time 35 minutes per pound

Let’s start with the brine. Here are the ingredients you will need:

2 quarts apple juice or cider (I prefer cider)
1 pound brown sugar
1 pound kosher salt
3-4 oranges (quartered)
one good size fresh ginger root (about 4-5 ounces) unpeeled and thinly sliced
6 large garlic cloves peeled and crushed (I’ll teach you an easy technique for this)
15 whole Clove
6 bay leaf
2-3 quarts water (with some additional in reserve if needed)

Measure out the brown sugar and salt ahead of time and set aside.
Pour your apple cider in a “non-reactive” pot that will be large enough to hold the brine and your bird since you will be brining the turkey in this same container. A non-reactive material is stainless steel, porcelain, ceramic, or glass. I use a Le Creuset stock pot. Add your brown sugar and salt and put the pot on a high flame, stirring constantly until the sugar and salt desolve – this is your brine base. Bring this concoction to a boil and then turn it off and allow to cool while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.

brinebase-cooked

Next slice your ginger root nice and thin (see technique instructions below).
You then want to take your garlic and crush it (see technique below).
Finally, quarter your oranges.

Add the oranges, ginger, garlic, Cloves, bay leaf, and 2 quarts of water to your brine base. As you are adding the orange quarters be sure to give them a good squeeze to draw all the juices out into the brine. Stir the mixture well and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Now you want to place your bird into the mixture. Make sure all crevices are void of water – doesn’t have to be dry, just no extra water. Fully submerge your fowl, breast side down, so the legs are sticking up. Make sure that the main cavity is full of your brine mix. At this point, push the bird all the way down to the bottom of the pot, if there is any part that is not fully submerged, add the extra water. If I add water, I like to also add more salt, since it is the salt that reacts with the flesh of the turkey and actually penetrated the tissue that allows the other flavors to macerate. Cover the pot and set in your refrigerator for 14-24 hours. It’s that easy!

Techniques:

Thin slicing – This technique (as with all other knife techniques) requires a very sharp knife – in this case, I recommend a chef’s knife for added stability and heft.
If you are right-handed like me, take the knife in your right hand and holding the root with your left hand (with the tips of your fingers) gently press the knife against your left knuckles – this is how you will guide the knife and make sure the slices are nice and thin and you don’t slice off a finger in the process. Make sure you are holding the root length wise, this way you are cutting with the grain. Holding the knife vertically, take the front end of the knife blade and rest it on the cutting board and determine the spot in the ginger you want to make the incision by resting the blade on the chosen spot. Once you have lined up a slice (no more than an eighth of an inch in thickness), push down and away on your knife. You should slice right through the root if your blade is good and sharp. A dull knife will bind, causing your hand to slip and increasing the chances of injury.

Peeling and crushing garlic in one easy step – The reason we crush the garlic is to release the oils contained in the flesh of the clove. If you have ever tried to peel a clove of garlic with a knife or by hand, you know how hard it can be, especially when those beautiful oils start escaping and your fingers get all sticky. Here’s a great technique that will save your loads of time and frustration.
Take your garlic clove, unpeeled, and place it on the cutting board on one of the flat sides. Next rest the flat side of your chef’s knife on the clove and hold the knife handle securely (if you don’t your garlic clove will go flying across the room). Now, with the palm of your free hand, strike the flat of the blade forcefully, but not with so much force that you disintegrate the garlic clove. Take the knife away and you will see that the meat of the clove has already begun to separate from the skin. The remaining skin should just fall away with very little effort. Voi la!

SMOKING THE BIRD

It’s now been about 16 hours and you’re now ready to smoke your turkey.

Remove your turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Fold the wings under the breast and tie the legs together with a piece of butchers twine. I like to stick 2 or 3 of the orange wedges into the cavity of the bird to add flavor.

NEVER STUFF A SMOKED TURKEY!! This is one sure way to end up in the hospital with food poisoning!

I used my Weber Smokey Mountain kettle smoker for this because of it is top loading and ease of access. I have discovered a great natural starter for my fires called “Stump Chunks“, which is made from ground up tree stumps and is manufactured in the beautiful state of New Hampshire. All you need is a couple of hands full of this at the button of your fire pit, I also used Sugar Maple lump coal as my base. Once you light the Stump Chunks, pour a good amount of the lump coal on top of it and let nature do it work. While you are waiting for the coal to get good and hot, put about 4 cups of water in the off-set pan at the bottom of the smoking cylinder. Once your coals are ready, throw some chunks of smoking wood on top. I recommend that you use Apple wood to smoke, since it will compliment the apple cider in your brine and is a great flavor for poultry. Once the chunks have started to burn and the heavy smoke a dissipated, put the smoking cylendar in place over your fire pit and put the lid on. Make sure that all your vents are wide open to begin with so the temperature comes up quickly. Once your thermostat reads 275 degrees, put your bird on the top cooking rack and put the lid back on. You then want to regulate your vents so the temperature reduces to around 250 degrees. Make sure the temperature remains constant; too high and your bird will dry out; too low and the internal temperature of the turkey will not reach the critical 140 degrees fast enough and you may end up with a case of salmonella on your hands!  Your turkey must pass through a critical range of 40° F to 140° F in 4 hours or less.

I check the smoker chamber temperature every 15-20 minutes, adjusting the vents as necessary and adding more apple wood when needed. When adding more wood or charcoal, keep the access door open for a while to help vent out the thick smoke that will occur when new wood is added. The goal is to achieve that blue/gray wispy smoke for the best flavor.

I started checking the temperature of the bird at about 6 hours into the cooking process to ensure that I was not going to end up with a big lump of coal instead of a succulent apple smoked delight. The timing for you will depend on how big your bird is. The temperature on an instant read thermometer should be 185-190 degrees in the thigh (right where the wing and thigh meat) and about 165 degrees in the breast. Mine was supposed to take about 8 hours to cook but was done at 7 hours. This was probably due to the warm, dry weather on the day I was making barbecue.

Now remove the bird from the smoker, put it in a pan and cover it with tin foil. Let it sit, undistrubed, for about 20 – 40 minutes. This allows the juices to redispurse evenly throughout the turkey. When you cut into your turkey you should see a nice red “smoke ring” about 1/4″ around the outside of the meat and the juices should come oozing out. Now all that’s left is to enjoy.

I made swiss chard and mac and cheese as sides. Delish!

Final Notes:

When working with turkey, or any other fowl for that matter, it is of the utmost importance that you maintain a sanitary environment. Make sure to always wash all surfices that come into contact with the bird as well as utencils. I always keep a bottle of a water/clorine solution (about 100 to 1).

That’s all for now, enjoy!

The BBQ Don

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