SO.....Thanksgiving is right around the corner, followed by Christmas.
I know that there's always a KOZILLION turkey threads that pop up this time of year, so I thought I'd chime in with what I've learned.
Everyone feel free to post your favorite smoked/roasted/fried turkey recipe on here and I'll bookmark it and be able to just throw it up when the holidays roll around next year!
If I had one single tip for how to improve your holiday bird cook.....it would be summed up in one single word....BRINE!
A quick search on your favorite internet search engine will yield a plethera of brine recipes. Over the years, I've ended up with a pretty simple brine recipe. I have found that the salt is the real secret to a brine. All the other stuff helps a little, but to keep it easy, I like a nice and simple brine:
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 cup salt (I usually just do Morton's table salt, but I've also done kosher)
- 1/2 cup sugar (sometimes white, sometimes brown.....depending on my mood)
- About a palmful (I'd guess a TBS or more) of whole peppercorns
- Sometimes if I feel the spirit, I'll add a squeeze of honey or maple syrup or squeeze a fresh orange or lemon
Just whip up the brine, place the completely thawed turkey SLOWLY into the brine and if necessary, top off with water to completely submerge. I've used a 5 gallon bucket before, but a 16 qt stockpot works well too. You want to make sure not to use an enhanced bird (injected) as it won't take the brine as easily and may already have salt in it. I brine my turkeys for 18-24 hours.....usually 24 hours, if I've not pushed the time limit!
One big tip that I can offer regarding brining is this.....PLAN FOR ENOUGH TIME FOR THE BIRD TO REST!!!
The skin on a brined bird will also take on some moisture with the process. Pur right on the smoker, this will make more of a "rubbery" skin when finished. If, on the other hand, you take the bird out of the brine the night before the big cook and place it back in the fridge on a rack (or upside down plate in a pan....just to keep it out off the bottom and out of the water), the refer will "dehydrate" the skin a bit and allow it to tighten back up and go back to "normal". This will yield a better finish texture to the skin in the long run.
THE TURKEY CANNON:
For me, I love smoked turkey. I also love gadgets. Brother Norcoredneck turned me on to the TURKEY CANNON a couple of years ago. It' a great way to do something very similar to a "beer can turkey", but it allows the turkey to lay down so it will more easily fit on the smoker/grill.
Here's a link to a thread I posted this past spring where I utilized the cannon:
Here's more info on this awesome tool and one place where the Turkey Cannon can be found, but you can find it cheaper.....just do a quick search:
HERE'S THE RUB ON TURKEY RUB:
For the holidays, I don't usually do the BBQ rub thing. I prefer to make a herb/butter paste and rub it all over and under the skin. I like to use the following recipe as a base, but have tweaked it to my liking more than a few times:
There's a TON of turkey recipes out there. I think the herbs are a great compliment to turkey. Rosemary, basil, thyme and parsley are always classic pairings with poultry in general. BUTTER is a turkey's friend too. The only caution is that adding oil, butter or any fat to the skin (especially with a higher temp cook) will surely make it darker.....which is not a BAD thing, just something to be aware of.
TRUSSING A TURKEY:
When I don't have the room on the smoker or the turkey is a bit too big for the CANNON, I'll just cut an orange, an onion and a lemon in half, stuff the cavity of the turkey with the goodies and truss it up. Trussing helps the bird cook at a more even pace and keeps the "limbs" (wings & legs) from overcooking. Here's a great video on trussing a turkey by THE MAN (IMHO):
How to Truss a Turkey-Food Network - YouTube
GET YOUR SMOKE ON!!!!
So.....I mean, it IS a BBQ/Smoking forum, right? Oh, sure you COULD plop that bad boy in the oven like Grandma used to do, but......if you've not tried or had a true smoked turkey......well......you don't know what you're missing!!!
If you've done smoked chicken, you already know that poultry doesn't need a heavy dose of smoke. In my opinion, turkey and chicken also do better with a hot & fast cook time/temp. This is not to say that smoking a turkey at 225 does NOT yield fine results, but most people like the skin on a turkey a little more crispy and less rubbery. THUS.....higher temps!
I get my smoker to at LEAST 325 before putting the bird on. I usually fire the smoker before I start any of the prep for the turkey, that way (and this is nothing new to most of you) the smoker has time to get up to temp and burn nice and clean and hot and get to the "sweet blue" smoke that we know to be the best! Place the bird on a roast rack, on the CANNON or right on the cooking grate and let it go! If using a weber kettle grill or similar device, I like to use a drip pan and heat shield (foil wrapped bricks work well) to prevent the direct heat from the coals.
I usually let my smoker go, exhaust wide open and intakes tweaked to let the smoker temp go anywhere from 325-400. YES....400! This spring, I "screwed up" and by the time I checked the smoker, it was roaring along at 450! I thought surely I'd ruined it, but it ended up being the best turkey we'd ever had! PLUS...it was done in 2 hours!
I prefer apple, pecan or cherry for my birds. Fruitwood, or any other mild smokewood, IMHO yields the more subtle results. Also, I don't use a lot. 1-2 good chunks is all that's needed for me. I like the meat to JUST have a hint of smoke. Overpowered smoke flavor is just too much for turkey for me.
WELL.....that's what I've learned over the past few years of learning how to properly smoke/fire roast turkeys!
Hope it helps someone else out there!
HAPPY THANKSGIVING BBQ-BRETHREN!!!!