Smoked turkey is GOOD! It has become a tradition in my family to smoke a turkey during Thanksgiving the past couple years. It frees up the oven for other dishes and let’s face it, smoked turkey rocks! FYI we do smoked turkey a couple times a year so don’t be afraid to pick up a few extra the day after Thanksgiving when they go on sale, usually around $.50 a pound. Throw them in the deep freeze and they’ll keep for about a year. I always get a few and either practice new techniques or bust them out during the year for special occasions.
If you don’t want a frozen turkey, you can get them fresh from a few stores but you will pay extra. Remember too that you will need to keep them under 40 degrees Fahrenheit before cooking to keep them from spoiling.
Speaking of spoilage, let us discuss FOOD SAFETY! I read about salmonella and food poisoning a lot when dealing with poultry. It is important that you are aware of storage temps, thawing temps, brining temps, and cooking temps.
- 12-14 pound turkeys – these are what I cook. I don’t mess with small birds as I prefer leftovers and they fit in the food grade buckets better.
- Large turkeys 16lbs and larger require more cook time and stay in the danger zone longer, between 40 and 160 degrees. This allows for a higher risk or chance that bacteria will develop.
- No Stuffing goes inside a smoked bird. Stuffing slows down the cooking process on a smoker and can again cause a higher change of bacteria. We do our stuffing in the oven.
- After handling poultry, always wash your hands.
Thawing a Turkey
There are typically three methods used for thawing a turkey; thawing in the fridge, thawing submerged in cold water, or thawing in the microwave. I have used both of the first two methods but I refused to use a microwave to thaw my birds.
- Fridge Thawing (to me, this is the easiest and safest method)
- General Rule - allow 24 hours per 5 pounds of meat. So if you have a 14 pound bird it will take roughly 72 hours to thaw. I like to build in a safety net and give it an extra 12 hours of thaw time.
- Cold Water Thawing
- General Rule - allow 30 to 45 minutes per pound. If you have a 14 pound bird, it will take around 10 hours to thaw (past experience confirms).
- NEVER USE WARM or HOT WATER, USE COLD
- You will need to change out the water every 30 to 45 minutes to help ensure that the temp stays under 40 degrees (food safety, we want to be fat and happy, not sick and dying).
- Microwave Thawing (this is not an option and never will be in my home)
- Look up and follow the directions listed by the manufacturer of your Microwave.
- Once you nuke a bird it has be cooked, it cannot be refrozen.
What will you need?
I’ve used this technique and recipe on 40 or so Turkeys now and it is pretty much my go to … I have used others techniques and recipes but this one I like best. Doesn’t mean I won’t find something better, but at this point, this is what I like.
· 1 Turkey (12-14lbs)
· 1 Gallon of Water
· 1 Cup Salt (Morton’s Table Salt or Kosher; either is fine)
· ½ Cup sugar (I use organic ground brown sugar)
· 2 TBSP whole peppercorns
· 2 TBSP Honey
· 1 Cup EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
· 1 Cup favorite Rub (aka seasoning)
· 1 Large Brining Bag
· 1 Five (5) Gallon Food Grade Brining Bucket
How to Smoke a Turkey (Gerry Style)
- Thaw and clean the turkey – rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water, remove the giblets/packets from the cavity of the turkey. My wife is from the Philippines and loves cooking these up, so I take them out and hand them off to her. I also remove the pop-up thermometer that comes in most turkeys. You don’t have to, I just don’t like them and I find them to be more of a nuisance than a help.
- Make your brine: in a large pot combine ½ gallon of water, salt, sugar, peppercorns, and honey over medium heat. Once it begins to simmer turn off the stove, boiling causes the honey to break down, plus we need to cool the brine to under 40 degrees Fahrenheit before using. Allow the ingredients to thoroughly mix and the salt and sugar to dissolve. Add the remaining ½ gallon of water and a couple trays of ice. Place brine in fridge until cooled. Because I brine I do not inject. I usually make my brine the night before and refrigerate it to ensure that the brine is cool before adding the bird.
- I’ve done injection but prefer brining. Sure there is more time involved but I prefer it. If you don’t want to brine I would highly recommend injecting the bird. This will only take about 30 minutes.
- Over medium heat, combine 1 stick of butter, 1/8 cup of your favorite seasoning/rub, a 32oz box of chicken broth, and a dash of salt. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and allow the injection to cool. Strain injection to remove large sediments so you avoid clogging the injector.
- Inject the turkey breasts, then the thighs and legs.
- Once injected move to step 6
- Line the inside of a 5 gallon food grade bucket with the bringing bag (I use bags from http://www.starkboards.com/Disposable_Cutting_Boards.html) and fill with the cooled brining liquid.
- Submerge the turkey in the liquid, and close the bag. Get as much air out of the bag as possible. You can take some heavy bricks wrapped in foil and in Ziploc bags or a heavy pot and set it on top to help keep the turkey from floating if you would like. The turkey needs to remain under 40 degrees during the bringing process so either store in the fridge OR fill the bucket with ice. You will need to constantly check the ice and change it out as needed. I have a fridge outside with a shelf removed so I can fit my turkey in there. Some people use their vegetable crisping drawer for bringing so they don’t have to worry about space. You can also use an ice chest – it will keep ice longer.**Little Side Note: I prefer to brine all natural and non-enhanced turkeys. This means they haven't been injected with a 8% or 12% solution. Natural allows for the turkey to take the brine better.
- I brine my turkeys (12-14lbs) for around 16 hours. I will typically put my turkey in the brine early Wednesday morning and then take it out of the brine Wednesday night before bed. Once out of the brine, I thoroughly rinse the turkey inside and out, pat the skin dry with a paper towel, then set it on a cooling rack (this allows all of the skin to dry) and put it in the fridge overnight. After brining for that long, the bird needs time to recover, more specifically the skin. The fridge will dry the skin out, allowing it to tighten back up resulting in a better finish and texture to the skin. IE more crisp skin. If you skip the drying out / recovery phase, the skin will have more of a rubbery consistency. No Bueno in my book.
- Bring the pit up to temp. I usually cook my birds at around 350 degrees. Turkey and chicken for the matter, in my opinion, don’t need a heavy dose of smoke and fair better at a high temp for a faster cook. Or in the words of most of the BBQ peeps out there, Hot & Fast. I’m not saying that a cook at 225-250 is bad, it typically yields a great bird, but for me I like high temp on the bird, shorter cook time, and usually because of the higher temp a crispier skin. I will use a drip pan and a turkey rack inside the smoker. The rack elevates the turkey to allow it to receive smoke all the around and the drip pan catches those yummy drippings to accentuate our wonder gravy! That said I found that I do need to go out at about 2 hours and use my suction tube baster to suck up the juices so they don’t burn off.
- About 20 to 30 minutes before my pit is going to reach cooking temp (depending temp outside and your pit this can take as little as 30 minutes to as long as a couple hours…) I will pull my turkey out of the fridge and do the last bit of prep. I will lightly rub it down with EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) then sprinkle with the rub of my choosing. This year it’s a simple rub; kosher salt, fresh ground peppercorns, garlic powder, onion powder, dash of paprika, and maybe a little spice. I won’t rub olive oil on the inside cavity but will put rub inside. Again NO STUFFING goes in a turkey that you are smoking – the risk of bacteria is too high in my book.
- You will smoke the turkey until the thigh reaching a temp of 160 to 165. At 350 this is around 3 to 3 ½ hours. If cooking low and slow at 250 its closer to 6 hours. This time line is again for 12-14lb birds. Thighs will take longer to cook than the breast meat so at around 2 ¾ hours I put a piece of aluminum foil across the top of the turkey to help prevent the breast from drying out. I know some who baste their birds during the cook, I do not. Tried it a couple times and just didn’t notice enough of a difference, especially since I brine my birds.
- Pull it from the pit and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before carving it up. This lets it cool off a little and allows for the juices to redistribute evenly.