Good Monday to you all.
As promised last week we are talking Turkey this morning, “Holiday Turkey” that is. For the most part we associate turkey with our holiday dinner/lunch gatherings and while it is readily available all year long we rush to it during this time of year. As you may have noticed I cook this off and on all year long. It’s a healthy choice for dinner and makes for great left overs, I have some in the freezer right now.
So here we go. First thing to consider is that when you are getting ready to smoke the bird is what type of processing it has been put through. This will determine your brining choices as well as you prep timing. All over the web you will read about using a minimally processes bird OR to go to your local butcher and buy a “fresh” bird. This is because when the folks that “manufacture” the frozen bird you buy at the local super market get the turkey to process they inject it with a bevvy of flavor enhancing solutions to help you along the way with cooking your chosen meal. As I have been searching out new and different way to flavor the turkeys I cook I have read (again on the web) that finding a “natural minimal” processed bird is the way to go.
If you go with buying one from your local butcher you may also have the option to get one that is “organic” or raised with no additional feed enhancements either.
In choosing to use the minimally processed “Natural” turkey the odds are that is has not been overly salted. If you are going to brine the bird this is something to consider. In brining you will use salt in the soak and if the turkey has already been salted this may make it too salty for most of your dinner guests’ taste. So, read the label and adjust accordingly.
Next thing to consider is timing your purchase. If you are going to buy a frozen bird allow DAYS for it to thaw before you plan to cook. You will always thaw in the refrigerator at a temp under 40 degrees. Never thaw on the counter or above 40 degrees, this gives the nasties time to grow on your food and make you VERY VERY sick. ***Fish and Fowl seem to be worse about this than red meat.*** Depending on the size of the turkey it can take 2 to 3 days for this to happen. Second thing is how large a bird you going to smoke. Most recommendations are to not smoke one larger than 15 lbs, if you are going to have a large group and this is too small consider cooking 2 or having a second entree available. Having said that, we smoked a 17 + lb bird which took less time than expected to cook….more on this later. Your brining should take 12 to 24 hours in the fridge at a temp under 40 degrees. for the entire time. If you do not have fridge space then pack it way in a cooler with ice and check the temp often so that it does not rise. Once the brine has finished it’s magic, remove the bird ad pat it dry you can allow it to sit in the fridge on a tray to catch the runoff and let it dry for a few hours. Drying the bird will help the skin crisp up during cooking. Also during this time you can do additional spicing/rubs to add flavor before you put her on the smoker.
Now I need to add a caution here: after each time you handle the turkey you need to do a thorough cleanup of the area you are working in as well as your hands. Cross contamination is a hazard here. Use a different cutting board for your Veggies and you meat. A bleach based cleaner is a good idea – just be careful not to get it on your clothes.
Plan on a long cook so start this process early so your not up against a room full of hungry friends and relatives. You can always warm the bird up in time for the meal. I try to maintain a cook temp between 235 and 255 and minimize fluctuations lower or higher. At this temp count on 35 minutes per pound +/-. Just for reference, if you were oven cooking it is recommended to set your oven at 325. Now having said that…..we cook for internal temperature to determine doneness…Use a good meat thermometer, I use a Maverick ET732 that I love. Your shooting for an internal temp between 170 and 180, this is not the final temp the turkey will continue to cook after you remove it from the smoker (more on this later). You also need to check the temp in more than one place, White meat cooks differently than Dark meat so you will need to check the breast and the thigh. I have considered buying a second instant read thermometer for this. The Thermapen:
is the one I have decided to get, this will allow me to do a very quick temp check and minimize the time the smoker is open, it reads the temp in about 3 seconds.
I did a few things differently for this cook, If you look back to last weeks post where I talked about the smoker cooked leftover Turkey soup, I mentioned that we had the pleasure of visiting the Big Green Egg Corporate office here in Tucker, GA. We went there because I wanted to smoke this turkey vertically, like I do some of my whole chickens and Cornish hens. They carry a vertical smoking frame that is a similar design to the chicken rosters I have.
I also bought a 20 lb bag of their organic lump charcoal to use in my smoker….I am using it in the Brinkman smoker I have. These guys were very helpful even though I do not own a BGE…..yet! <grin>
I also started my cook WAY before dawn on Thanksgiving day and was for the most part finished smoking at around 9am..dinner was at 4pm. Given we had a 17+ lb bird I did not know how long it was going to take to achieve temp AND it was fairly cold here so I was worried that the Brinkman was going to lose heat quickly and need more attention than usual. I was wrong on both counts. My Little smoker worked great, and I was able to maintain a temp of right around 255 for around 8 hours.
I think that the bird cooked much quicker due to the VTR (Vertical Turkey Roaster) somewhere around 28 minutes a lb. I used apple wood to provide the smoke. I noticed 2 interesting facts about the Lump charcoal, 1. I used around 1/3 of the bag +/- of lump charcoal. 2. There was very little ash left at the end of the cook, this allowed for better air circulation through the fire bowl which helped maintain the smoker temp. I was pleased with this!
So lets get started!
First my brine, I adapted it from this Pioneer woman recipe.
I placed my turkey in the container I was going to brine in and filled it with water. I did this to make sure it was going to fit since it was a rather large bird an to be sure that my liquid ingredients were all going to fit. I used my 16Qt stainless steel cook-pot to brine in.
Here they are:
3 cup of organic apple cider.
1 gallon of water you will add more more to cover the turkey when it is added
1/2 cup fresh from our garden Rosemary Leaves. these were striped from the branches
6 fresh cloves of garlic crushed then minced
1 1/2 cups of Kosher salt
1 cup of DARK brown sugar
1 cup of Turbinado sugar
1/4 cup of crushed pepper corns
5 whole bay leaves
Zest from 3 large Navel oranges
Place everything in a large pot and bring to a boil allowing the sugar and salt to dissolve. Remove from the burner and set aside to cool to room temperature. Be sure to allow time for this in your planning, you do not want to add your turkey to hot brine. Doing so can allow bacteria to develop.
Once your brine has cooled put your turkey in either a brining bag or a pot large enough to allow the turkey to be fully covered with brine and add your liquid, you can add additional water to your mixture to make sure the turkey is covered. Then place the container and turkey in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Check it every once in a while to make sure that the bird remains covered and to “slosh it around” as my mother would say.
When you are getting ready to cook take the turkey out of the brine and rinse the surface of the bird to remove excess salt and pat dry. Throw the brine away. Placed the Turkey on the VTR, and then you can add any rub you have decided on.
The rub I used was:
1 stick of unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons of black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
I used a potato masher to blend the mixture and rubbed it on to the breast meat under the skin. crushed the sage leaves by hand and placed them and the rosemary on the breast meat under the skin, secured the skin with tooth picks and put the bird in the fridge while I got the smoker ready.
Set up the smoker I used enough lump charcoal to fill the fire bowl and started it with the electric starter. Once the coals were starting to turn I removed the starter and covered the fire bowl. I allowed the temperature to peak then settle back down to 250 added apple wood and put the turkey on to smoke. With the digital thermometer I was able to monitor both the turkey temp and the grill temp. When the grill started to dip in temp I added a couple of handfuls of charcoal and applewood. I kept and eye on the smoke so I added a little more applewood than charcoal because I wanted to maintain the smoke throughout the cook. Adding Applewood will cause the temp to fall then rise as it catches fire so do not add too much at one time, this can cause the fluctuations that I was talking about.
When you are ready to take the bird off the grill be sure to check the thigh temp to make sure that it is fully cooked. If you need to leave the bird on the smoker to bring the thigh temp cover the breast meat with Aluminum foil to reduce the cooking there. remove the bird and cover it entirely in foil and if you have a cooler large enough you can place it in there to rest, you can also use towels to hold in the heat. If you are really good at timing it can remain in the cooler till your ready to carve it if not place it in the fridge and hold it there till about 2 hours before dinner. Then remove it and put it in the oven at 200 to bring it back up to temp if you want a warm bird on the table.
All in all this was an educational cook for me, the bird was great and the subsequent Dutch Oven Leftover Turkey Soup was wonderful.
Have a great week and check back next Monday to see what we over next weekend.