Buttermilk Brined Smoked Turkey for Thanksgiving

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Smoked TurkeyHello everyone and welcome to this special Thanksgiving edition of the smoking meat newsletter. As the tradition would mandate, we are talking about smoking turkey this time and I plan to show you how to make the best smoked turkey you, your friends and your family have ever eaten.

My recipes all begin as little ideas in my head, then I have to test it out, make changes, test it again, etc.. so as you can see, quite a bit of work goes into this. Once I have a workable recipe that I feel produces a really good result, I have to take pictures and write about it so I can show you how to replicate what I did.

All I can say is that I have eaten my share of smoked turkey over the last few weeks.. luckily I like the stuff and there are tons of options for eating the leftovers.

Most of you will remember the "pink" bird that I made last year and wrote about using a cranberry brine. I have had tons of great testimonies on that and it seems that everyone loves it. I went into this year knowing that I needed to top last year somehow.. I'll let you be the judge;-)

This year's turkey smoking experiment had me using a buttermilk brine and lots of flavored butter under the skin of the bird. Worked out like a champ and I'm gonna tell you all about it.

 

It's All About the WOW!!

My rub recipe was initially designed and developed to give ribs that certain wow factor that is so often missing.. I spent years putting this recipe together but when I got done tweaking it to perfection.. I knew that I had created a legacy of flavor that would live forever. Order today and you'll see exactly what I mean.. nothing short of amazing and what's more, it's good on almost everything and it's absolutely amazing on turkey!!

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My Previous Newsletter:

Smoked Turkey Legs + Smoking Pumpkin Seeds and Other Nuts

Complete instructions for smoking turkey legs better than the ones at the fair. As a special addition, this newsletter also shows you my techniques for smoking pumpkin seeds, pecans, almonds and peanuts.

 

Buttermilk Brined, Butter Stuffed Smoked Turkey

Start thawing the turkey about 3 days before you are ready to use it. Remember that turkeys thaw at a rate of about 5 lbs per day. If you have to hurry with it, you can put the turkey in a sink of cold water but you have to replace the water every 30 minutes and I don't recommend doing this from the git-go.

Try to defrost as much as possible in the fridge then if it's still a little frozen when you are almost ready to use it, use the water method to finish it off.

It needs to be completely thawed in order for the brine to work correctly.

 

Brining the bird

The first step in getting the bird ready is brining it. Putting meat down in a particular ratio of salt and water (or other liquid) causes a reaction and somehow through osmosis and other scientific terms that I really don't know a lot about, the salty water is pulled into the bird. The water molecules attach themselves to the protein strands and this just leads to a juicier bird in the end.

When you cook a bird, moisture is going to be lost. So by adding more moisture to the bird, even though we did not prevent the moisture loss, we are left with a lot more juice inside that we would not have had in an unbrined bird.

Needless to say, you and I don't have to understand exactly how it works but suffice it to say that it does work very well and if you try it, I fully believe that you will see and taste the difference.

The cool thing about the brine being pulled into the meat is no matter what you put in the brine, it will end up inside the bird.. it just works that way. For this reason, we add spices, juices, beer, wine, and anything imaginable to the brine as a better way to get it into the bird.

Injecting the bird also accomplishes this task and is faster but I feel that the brining process is far superior when time and space allows it.

So let's get to brining!

The first thing you'll need to know is how much brine you're going to need to make.. this is easy.

Place your turkey in the brining container such as an empty ice chest, large bowl, Jumbo 2-1/2 gallon ziploc, etc. and pour plain water over it to see how much brine it will take to cover it. Discard water when finished making a note of how much water was required to cover the bird.

My 12 pound bird required just under 2 gallons to cover it in a small ice chest.

Now that we know how much we'll need, go ahead and mix up the brine adjusting the recipe if you need to make less or more than 2 gallons.

 


Jeff's Buttermilk Brine for Poultry

Ingredients:

1 gallon buttermilk

1 gallon water

2 cups kosher salt

6 TBS Jeff's rub recipe

Direction:

Pour buttermilk into 1 gallon pitcher. Add 1 of the cups of salt and stir until the salt is dissolved. Add the 6 tablespoons of rub and stir again until well mixed.

 

Pour brine into brining container.

Pour water into the 1 gallon pitcher and add the last cup of salt stirring until it is completely dissolved. Pour into brine container with buttermilk brine and stir both together to mix.

Q: Why not add both cups of salt to the buttermilk or the water all at one time? A: Only so much salt will dissolve in a gallon of liquid and I did not want to push those parameters. Feel free to try it if you wish.


 

Once the 2 gallons of brine are in the brining container, it's time to submerge the turkey in it.

Remove the packaging from the turkey and be sure to remove the neck, giblets and anything else that might be in the birds cavity.

Place turkey down in the brine and use a heavy plate, bowl or even a bag of ice to weigh down the turkey if it tries to float. It is important that it be completely submerged.

 

The turkey must stay between 33 and 39 degrees for it to be safe so the fridge is the best place to keep a brining turkey if possible and you have the room.

If you cannot use the fridge then you will have to use one of the following methods:

1. Add some ice to the brine (see photo above) to get the temperature down to where it needs to be. Use a thermometer to make sure the temperature is in the "safe" zone.

2. Place the turkey with the brine in a very large ziploc or plastic bag. Set the closed bag down in an empty ice chest and pour ice all around the bag to keep it cold. This will keep the brine from being diluted.

I usually just use the first method since most of the ice does not melt throughout the night and I have had really good results using that method.

Let the turkey brine for 10-12 hours then rinse well under cold water and set aside.

 

Seasoning the Turkey

I usually place the seasoning on the outside of the turkey and try to get a little under the skin wherever possible but this time I had this bright idea to flavor some butter with my rub, some garlic and a few chives and to stuff that under the skin.. all the way under.

Great idea so let's make up that butter.. it's easy!

 


Garlic, Rub and Chive Flavored Butter

Ingredients:

1 lb "real" butter

2 Roasted Garlic heads (see directions below) or 2 TBS minced garlic (easier)

1/2 cup of Jeff's Rub recipe (adds amazing flavor)

3 TBS of fresh chopped chives

Directions:

Let butter sit on counter for several hours to soften slowly. Place butter into medium sized bowl and beat on low speed for about 1 minutes or until it is nice and creamy. Add rub, garlic and chives and use a fork to fold it all in and make sure it is well mixed.

 

I wanted the butter to be cold when I put it under the turkey skin so I formed it into a rectangular block, wrapped it in wax paper and placed it into the fridge a few hours before I needed it.

 

You can use the minced garlic in this recipe and it is very good but I am partial to the smoke roasted garlic and if you want to take the time to do it, it's not difficult and I think you'll really like it.

 

How to Smoke Roast Garlic

Make sure the garlic head is clean. Cut off the top about 1/2 inch down or so just so you can see the top of some of the cloves. Leave the skin on.. it won't hurt a thing.

Place the heads of garlic in individual foil boats.. just press some foil around the bottom of the head but leave the top spread open.

Drizzle extra virgin olive oil on top and place them in the smoker at normal smoking temps of 225-250 for about 2 hours or until they are soft and mooshy.

Cheat: roast in the oven at 275-300 for about an hour. No smoke but it'll still be good.

When done, let them cool for a bit then use a butter knife to pop the cloves out of their little cocoons. Mash them up a bit and you have garlic puree that can be spread on toast or added to butter for some flavor.


 

Stuffing the Turkey with Butter

The turkey has been brined, rinsed and is ready for some flavor. Take the flavored butter out of the fridge, and slice about 1/3 of it into pieces that are about 1/8 inch thick.

 

Now, in order to properly stuff the butter under the skin we have to very carefully loosen the skin from the meat so we can really get up under there. Lay the turkey breast side up and work your hand under the skin little by little all over until it is loose from the top and from the sides.

 

Starting with the sides and working toward the top, stuff the pieces of butter between the meat and the skin so that it completely covered with the butter. No need to massage it or press it smooth. If you have some extra pieces, throw them into the cavity of the turkey and it's ready to smoke. A little rub on the outside for good measure!

 

I like to save the metal piece that holds the legs together and reuse it at this point to hold things together a little better while it smokes. Regular butcher twine will also work to tie things up a bit if you are so inclined.

 

Smoking the Turkey

Whether you are using a gas, electric charcoal or wood smoker, do what you have to do to get it going and set it to maintain about 240 degrees. Once the smoker is holding steady and producing light smoke, place the turkey directly on the grate breast side up. (normally we go breast side down for a bit then flip but I want the butter to do it's job here and that requires putting it in breast side up and leaving it be.

If you are cooking a 12 lb bird which is the recommended size for smoking, it will take around 6 hours at 225-240 degrees +-30 minutes.

Use a digital probe meat thermometer to tell you when the turkey reaches 165 in the thickest part of the breast or thigh.

Don't use the little red popup to tell you when it 's done.. it is normally set to 180 degrees and that's overcooking the bird. I usually remove and discard.

 

Important: When smoking meat, use time to estimate and plan, use a thermometer to cook.

Once the turkey has reached it's goal temperature, remove it from the smoker and set it aside with foil tented over the top for about 20-30 minutes before carving, poking or messing with it. This allows the juices to redistribute through out the meat. If you cut it early, the juices will all run out onto the cutting board. It's worth the wait.. trust me.

 

Serve the Smoked Turkey

Carve that bird up, hack it up, whatever.. depending on your skills. Mine are not the best when it comes to turkey so I won't bore you with my recommendations on carving a turkey, just get it cut up and into plates before the natives get any more restless and you end up with a mutiny on your hands.

Enjoy!

 

A Few Words About the Smoke

Unless you are using a wood smoker, you will want to keep adding chips/chunks for about 3-4 hours for that nice smoky flavor. My usual recommendation is to keep the smoke going for about half of the total estimated cook time. If you expect the turkey to take 6 to 7 hours then just do some quick figuring to come up with 3-4 hours of smoking action.

I recommend using cherry, pecan or perhaps apple. Any fruitwood is great and I especially like plum and cherry on the turkeys. Any good smoking wood will work if you are limited on options. I have used nothing but oak before and it was very tasty.

My recommendation is to be as choosy as you're able to be.. if all you have is pecan, oak or perhaps hickory then that will work just fine.

 

Summary

  • Thaw turkey for 3 days in fridge or 5 lbs/day
  • Unwrap and remove "stuff" inside turkey
  • Brine turkey 12 hours using buttermilk brine (recipe above)
  • Rinse well
  • Use hands to dislodge skin from meat
  • Stuff flavored butter (recipe above) under skin
  • Prepare smoker for cooking at 225-240 degrees F
  • Place turkey on grate breast side up
  • Cook for about 6 hours or until 165 degrees F
  • Let turkey rest (tented)for 30 minutes before carving

 

Notes:

  • Never stuff a turkey that is to be smoked. The low and slow method of smoking meat allows the meat to stay in the danger zone of 40-140 degrees F (the temperature at which bacteria grows best) for too long.To remedy this, make the dressing in the house and stuff it in the turkey just before serving.
  • I do not recommend soaking wood chips/chunks in water. I have not found it to be beneficial.
  • If your smoker has a water pan, use it. You can also add juice, beer, broth and even spices, onions, garlic, etc. to the water pan to help flavor the meat. I cannot prove that this works but many folks claim that it does.

 

Order My Recipes

Folks.. I never stop amazing myself at how good my rib rub recipe and sauce recipe is on various kinds of meat.

Whether it is ribs, brisket, pork shoulder or even turkey, chicken or chops, every time I use my rub and sauce I am blown away by the flavor all over AGAIN!

I always think to myself, "I sure hope everyone can try this.. it is too good to go through life never having experienced this!"

I am not being dramatic.. just try it and you will join the ranks of those who know if I'm lying then I'm dying! This stuff is Fan-flavor-tastic and you need it in a bad-bad way;-)

Here is a few recent testimonies from other folks who decided to go for it and are glad that they did. Be sure to send my your testimony once you try it and realize that you have just tasted of HEAVEN.

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Jeff, your Rib Rub is to die for, I have used it on all meats including Venison and I have to say you have created a master piece, Thank you for letting us common folk in to your smokin life ~ Kevin

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I would like to Thank You for the Rib Rub Recipe, I made this for my family and the results were unanimous, everyone said that the ribs were the BEST they ever tasted, and the meat was very tender and moist. I haven't tried the BBQ sauce recipe yet, but I will in the near future. ~ Jerome

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I purchased the rub and sauce and I have to say that I love it and so has everyone that has tried it, just like you and others said they would. ~ Matt

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Jeff I have to tell you that your rub and sauce recipes are the best. I had never smoked a rib or anything until last weekend and by fallowing your directions on your site I was the RIB KING for a day. Thanks a bunch pal, ~ Harold

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Let me say that I've been using your Rib Rub for a couple years now. I use it on ribs (obviously), but I also use it on steak, ham, chicken, and everything else I smoke. My family and I absolutely LOVE it! It rocks! ~ Trapper

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Jeff, I did a smoked pork roast yesterday and used your recipe both for the pork and for your Smoky Barbecue Sauce. Everyone loved it. My wife said the sauce was the best she had ever tasted and I have to agree. Fantastic. ~ Barry

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You deserve the very best and is is completely within your grasp! Only $18.95 and worth every penny. Not only do you get the best rub recipe and sauce recipe available, you are supporting this website and helping to make sure the bills get paid so we can keep on doing what we do to teach thousands and thousands of people across the world the art of smoking meat.

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Note:

My system is automated which means you should get a download email within mere MINUTES of ordering.. check your spam/junk folder first then, if you can't find them, contact me to get the recipes sent to you as an attachment.

 

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In Closing

Thank you for being a part of the smoking meat family which includes the newsletter, the forum, the smoking-meat.com website and many other resources that we try to provide to help you and countless others learn this great art.

A HUGE thank you to all of you who support the site by purchasing the recipes and other products that we sell. That is what keeps the wheels turning here at Smoking Meat HQ and it is much appreciated.

Until next time.. keep smoking and God Bless.

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Jeff Phillips

 

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Comments

  1. Matt says

    Trying this for the first time. I’ll be cooking a 20lb. Would that make my cooking time to be around 10hrs?

  2. Paul Richartz says

    Jeff
    Happy Thanksgiving g to you and yours
    I have tried this before on a wood smoker using cherry wood and it came out awesome. All my family has been buggjng me for weeks to see whi h one im making this year. The answer is yes but I wouldn’t Want to ruin the surprise for them now.

  3. Whitney says

    Hi Jeff,

    I will be giving your turkey a try this TG. Can you clarify if the wood chips should go on at the beginning or the end of the smoking process? Does it matter?

    Thank you!

  4. Jan Talbott says

    I want to try the buttermilk brined turkey for TG but want to do it with a deconsstructed bird, (i.e. cut up).  I think it will speed up the cooking time and eliminate that last minute messy rush to carve the bird while everything else is getting to the table hot.

     

    Can anyone give me some tips on adjusting Jeff’s recipe for a deconstructed bird?

     

    Thanks,

     

    Jan

  5. Jan Wm. Talbott says

    Jeff:

     

    I truly enjoy your rub and sauce and have tried a few of your smoker recipes with good results.  I’m very interested in doing the buttermilk brined smoked turkey for TG, but I had planned on doing a deconstructed bird to save time and the messy carving after cooking.

    Can you recommend any variations on your technique for this recipe for a deconstructed bird?

     

    Thanks,

     

    Jan

  6. Josh says

    Trying this recipe for the 1st time on Saturday, and I'm super pumped about it.  One thing that isn't clear to me is whether or not I use all the garlic, rub, and chive flavored butter, or just the 1/3 of it that I cut into 1/8 slices?

    Any direction would be greatly appreciated!  Thanks!

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