Hello all and welcome to the Smoking Meat Newsletter.. as you can imagine we are dealing with the only possible things we could be dealing with this month and that is smoked turkey!
I love thanksgiving (not just because it is my birthday either) but because it is many things such as cooler weather, crisp cool nights, sitting by the fireplace, cracking fresh pecans, a slightly slower paced lifestyle, to name a few things.
Well.. let's get right into it then!
Smoking turkey is much easier than you realize and I am going to go over this in detail so your holiday will be a huge success.
I recommend starting with a turkey that is no larger than 12 pounds and should read "MINIMALLY PROCESSED" on the label for best results. This means the bird has no additives and is as fresh as possible. You may find some frozen ones that have this label but that is fine. I have used the frozen with very good results when thawed properly in the fridge.
I highly recommend brining your thanksgiving turkey but it will be good regardless.. if you decide to brine it then you should read about it here before continuing on.
When you are ready to smoke the turkey, remove the bird from the fridge and remove all giblets, neck, etc. from the inside before smoking it. (if you brine the bird then it would have been removed at that time).
Wash the bird well inside and out with cold water and set aside.
I like to rub olive oil or butter all over the skin to help it stay moist and to help crisp it up during the long smoke time.
You can also place some fruits and/or veggies inside of the cavity of the turkey for some great flavor combination if you like. I have been known to use things such as apples, carrots, onions, garlic, jalapenos, celery, etc. so just let your imagination go wild. As a precaution, do not stuff the turkey cavity full.. just a few things will work better and still allow the heat to flow freely inside the turkey.
You are now ready to setup the smoker and get it ready for smoke cooking the holiday turkey. If you are using a charcoal smoker then you will need to have at least 10 to 15 pounds of lump charcoal available to use. For best results use a charcoal chimney to light the charcoal and pour into the charcoal pan/firebox.
Get the smoker going and once it reaches 225 degrees and is smoking you are ready to place the turkey breast side down in the smoker on the uppermost grate if possible.
Let it smoke for an hour or so and then flip it to breast side up for the remainder of the time.
You can expect a 12 pound turkey to take about 6.5 hours at 225 degrees. The turkey is finished when it reaches an internal temperature of 167 degrees. Bring the turkey into the house and let it rest for about 15 minutes before carving. Please note that the turkey will normally continue to cook for a few minutes after taking it out of the smoker and should climb another couple of degrees to bring the meat up to a very safe 170 degrees.
That is the basics and now I am going to go over some tips on the particulars..
Stuffing the Turkey
Do not stuff the turkey with dressing! Due to the low smoking temperatures, the heat needs to flow smoothly inside of the cavity of the bird as well as on the outside. If you want delicious stuffing inside of the turkey when serving, just make the dressing in the oven and stuff it into the turkey after it is finished cooking.
Types of Wood
I have used Mesquite, Oak, Apple, Plum and various other fruit woods but I have to say that my favorite is plum. With that said, plum is usually hard to find and almost any fruit wood is absolutely delicious. Go really easy with mesquite and other strong flavored woods. I recommend only smoking the turkey for about 3 to 4 hours and then finishing it with just heat from the lump charcoal.
If you are using propane or electric, just don't add any more wood after about 3 to 4 hours of smoking.
Proper Airflow (Very Important!)
Most folks know this but for the new guys I am going to go over it again.. proper smoking requires good airflow into and out of the smoker. This means if you have a vent leading into your firebox or charcoal pan, it must remain open at least half way or so to allow air into the smoker. The smoke/air also needs a way to exit the smoker and this is why most higher end smokers will have a smoke stack or chimney with an adjustable cap.
Some of the smaller smokers such as the vertical water smokers are designed to allow smoke to escape up under the lid. These can be modified by drilling several holes in the top of the lid and affixing a small piece of metal* attached at one corner with a single screw to allow it to partially or fully cover/uncover the holes and allow better drafting.
*I have used something as simple as the metal lid from a large soup can for this purpose.
Your main heat control is from the fire you build.. did I hear someone say, Duh!? Well, you'd think this would be obvious but some folks try to build a fire and then use the vents to completely control the temperature when in actuality the vents are only for very minor control of the temperature.
Build a fire that will maintain very close to 225 degrees and then use the intake for fine control.
If you are using charcoal try to imagine that each chunk of charcoal puts out x amount of heat. If 30 pieces of charcoal are only producing 180 degrees then it stands to reason that I will need to add about 8-10 more pieces of lit charcoal to reach my goal of 225 to 240 degrees.
Don't try to get to scientific about it but each piece of charcoal does put out a certain amount of heat and depending on the size of your smoker and other factors such as weather, you will have to continue adding lumps by the scoop until you are holding a steady temperature within your target temperature range.
For best results use a Charcoal Chimney which can be found online or possibly at Wal-mart, Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware, etc. to add already lit charcoal to the firebox.
The easiest way to make smoke in a vertical water smoker such as the ECB is to wrap a handful of chips in foil and poke some holes in the top to allow the smoke to escape. Make a new one and place it on top of the coals every time it stops smoking for as long as you want to apply smoke.
For larger smokers with a firebox just place sticks of smoking wood on top of the coals or you can fill a large coffee can with wood chunks and lay it on top of the coals. To minimize the chance of the wood catching fire too quickly you can cover the top of the can with foil and poke a few holes in it to allow smoke to escape.
Mopping the Turkey
To keep the skin moist and help it to brown properly, mop the turkey every hour or so with melted butter or olive oil. Note: if the wings and or legs start to brown too much before the rest of the turkey is finished just wrap those single areas with small pieces of foil.
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