Six Steps to Smoking A Turkey – November 2008 Newsletter

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Hello friends! Welcome to the annual Thanksgiving edition of the Smoking Meat newsletter.

In this issue we always try to go over some tips on how to smoke the holiday bird and in doing so, I like to try and instill some "you can do it" confidence as well to help you along.

Turkey is not really that difficult to smoke and the good thing is that like most poultry, it is covered with a skin that if need be can cover a multitude of sins.

I will get into the smoking of the turkey in Special Thanksgiving article below.

Be sure to check out some of our other great articles at the websites..

Ribs

3-2-1 Ribs

Turkey

Chicken

Brisket

Meat Safety

Brining Meat

Smoking Corn (Yum!!)

Smoking-Meat.com – Smoking Meat Encyclopedia

Wyntk.us – What You Need To Know about almost everything (including smoked meat)

The SMF – Smoking Meat Forums with more than 47,000 members!

 

The Smoking of the Bird

Smoking turkey is one of those items that may seem a little daunting if you have never attempted it before but in reality it is rather easy.

The bird is pretty forgiving for the most part to heat dips and spikes as well as to smokiness.

The most important part of the process is in the preparation and in the removal of the bird from the smoker at the right time.

I am going to break this article up into several sections and try to cover each one thoroughly. The sections are as follows:

  • Choosing
  • Safety
  • Preparing
  • Brining (optional)
  • Smoking
  • Finishing

Choosing the Turkey

I recommend a fresh young bird that is labeled as "MINIMALLY PROCESSED" and not more than 12 pounds.

Sometimes it is hard to find exactly what you want and in that case, if you have to buy a hard frozen bird that has been injected with solution, it is not a deal breaker.. just not ideal.

Sometimes you can order fresh turkeys from meat packing houses and such ahead of time. This allows you to get exactly what you want and when you want it.

Safety First

As you probably already know.. poultry is one of the most bacteria prone meats on the market.

It is completely safe as long as you  keep a few things in mind and follow a few simple guidelines.

Bacteria  thrives between temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees F.

The ONLY way to be safe with poultry is to keep it outside of that range.. either cooler or warmer as much as possible. If it must be inside of the danger zone it must be limited to as little time as possible.

Now.. there is a time obviously inside the smoker when it will be within this range and this is part of the process but THIS is why you should not use a turkey that is larger than 12 pounds.

The time in this zone needs to be limited.. the larger the turkey the longer it stays in the zone. 12 pounds is considered to be safe when cooking at 225 degrees F or above.

I tend to cook the turkey a little hotter than this for several reasons.. poultry does great at higher temps and it helps to limit the time that the turkey is in the danger zone.

Do not stuff a turkey that is to be smoked. The stuffing keeps the heat out of the inside of the turkey and places the turkey at risk for food borne illness.

If you want a stuffed turkey.. make the stuffing in the house then stuff the turkey after the turkey is finished cooking for presentation purposes.

Tip: if you need more than 12 pounds of turkey, smoke a couple of smaller turkeys. For instance, instead of a 20 pounder, you could smoke (2) 10 pound turkeys.

2 turkeys will get done in about the same amount of time as 1 turkey.

Wash your hands often when working with all meat especially poultry.

Wash all utensils used in the preparation of the turkey with soap an hot water (a little bleach doesn't hurt either) before using them later in the process.

Preparing the Bird

This is a very important part of the process and has the potential to greatly influence the flavor and juiciness of the finished product.

Some folks like to inject the bird with marinades, butter, and other juices before smoking and this is all fine.

There is another process which I also recommend called brining. I will explain this in the next section.

When you get the bird home from the store and it has been thawed, you will want to unwrap it, remove all items from the cavity including the neck and anything else that may be stuck in there.

Wash the turkey really well with cool water making sure to rinse the inside of the cavity as well.

If you are not planning to brine the turkey, you can add some flavor by putting some rub, spices, etc. up under the skin.

This is not a highly scientific process.. you just pull the skin up anywhere you can and try to get some rub up under the skin trying not to tear the skin.

Some great spices are pepper, lemon pepper, cajun seasoning, thyme, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc.

I sometimes use my rib rub for this purpose and it does a great job of adding a huge punch to the flavor of the meat.

For some extra flavor you can also place some fruits and/or vegetables into the cavity. These items will start to cook and will provide flavored steam to help cook the inside of the turkey.

This year I am adding an apple, a handful of raisins, 1/4 cup of honey, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a medium onion and some carrots and celery to the inside of the turkey.

Pretty much whatever sounds good can be placed inside.. don't fill it up – just a few items that will still allow the heat to get in and do it's thing.

As far as general preparation, that is about it. I do recommend placing the turkey back in the fridge while you go out and get the smoker going if it will take more than 30 minutes or so.

When you are about 20 minutes from being ready to put the turkey on the smoker, you can set the turkey on the countertop to help it come up to temperature a little.

Brining for Maximum Flavor (optional)

I have written a page about this at the website at http://www.smoking-meat.com/ brining-meat so I will not reinvent the wheel but I will tell you that it is basically soaking the meat in a mixture of water, salt and sugar which through the process of osmosis, allows water droplets to attach to the protein strands creating a much juicier and more flavorful turkey.

The basic recipe is:

  • 1 gallon of Water
  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 cup Sugar

A 10-12 pound turkey should soak overnight (10-12 hours) for best results.

You can also add other flavors such as honey, molasses, tobasco, maple syrup, zatarains liquid crab boil, etc. to add a ton of flavor to the turkey.

I like to add about 1/4 bottle of Zatarains crab boil to the mix and I am telling you.. you can taste that flavor in every bite of the turkey from start to finish.

To make the brine, you will want to heat about a quart of the water and add the salt, sugar and other ingredients to the liquid while it simmers. This will help dissolve the salt and sugar and once it cools you can add it to the rest of the water in the bucket.

Tip: I use a 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot specifically for this purpose.

The bottom shelf of the fridge comes out and allows the bucket to sit nice and tidy in there all night keeping the turkey cold while it brines.

Smoking The Turkey

This is the easy part if you are pretty good at controlling the temperature in your smoker. Even if you are not or it is a windy, cold day and you have to fight it every step of the way, it will most likely still be ok.

Charcoal, electric, propane, wood.. does not matter in the real scheme of things and you can still turn out a great tasting turkey as long as you have adequate heat and some good hardwood smoke flowing with decent airflow into and out of the smoker.

My favorite wood for smoking turkey is plum! Pecan, mesquite and most other fruit woods are also great.

I am using the old ECB to smoke the turkey this year.. I like the challenge and it really takes me back to my roots;-)

At any rate, if there is a high wind, I will most likely make a windbreak to keep things in check and try to place the smoker in as idea of a location as possible but ultimately, I plan to be out there with it the whole time.

For thanksgiving day.. I recommend planning your day around the smoker.. no TV or other distractions just you, the meat and the fire becoming one.

You can always watch the games after the smoking is done.. that is what DVR's are for.

For charcoal, electric, and propane users, I recommend maintaining about 250 degrees and adding about 6 to 8 chunks of wood at a time for best smoking action. When the smoke stops, add more and continue this for about the first 4 hours or 2/3 of the total cook time. After that point, it can finish with heat only.

You can also use wood chips.. a handful of semi-wet wood chips in the middle of a 12×12 sheet of heavy duty foil. Wrap the foil loosely around the chips and poke 10-15 holes in the foil all over for the smoke to be able to escape.

I like to make 4 or 5 of these ahead of time so as to be able to quickly add a new one as soon as the smoke stops.

Remember to set the vent(s), door, chimney, etc. so that air is getting into the smoker and exiting with a bit of velocity.

Smoke that stands still will cause creosote and while that may not ruin the turkey, it is not ideal by any means.

Some of you may drop over at this statement so brace yourselves… if you are fighting the wind, the cold, etc. and you cannot get your heat up to at least 225 or so, there is nothing wrong with finishing the turkey in the oven once it is has smoked for 3-4 hours.

This is, once again, not ideal but it is a stress buster if you are having a hard time with it.

A 12 pound turkey will require about 6 to 6.5 hours to complete if 225 to 250 degrees F is maintained. You can crank up the heat a little with little or no consequence to get it done a bit quicker.

Above all else, the temperature of the meat is extremely vital to the quality of the finished product.. the turkey must be taken out of the smoker when the center of the leg/breast is no more than 165 degrees F or you risk drying out the meat.

Brining tends to help compensate for this however, with a good meat thermometer there is no reason to not get this part near perfect.

Places like Amazon.com online as well as real brick and mortar stores like Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hardware and maybe even Wal-mart should have some type of digital probe meat thermometer to help you monitor the temperature of the turkey while it cooks.

Finishing Up

Last but certainly not least, allow the turkey to sit and rest for about 15 minutes of so before carving it.

This allows those displaced juices to redistribute throughout the turkey before cuts are made in the meat.

My best wishes go out to you and yours on this wonderful holiday season that is upon us.

 

The Recipes

Are my recipes really as good as I say? Well obviously I think so but considering the huge amount of emails I receive on any given day telling me how great the rub is or how everyone is sticking their fingers in the pot over and over while the sauce was simmering, it seems as though most folks agree that they are awesome.

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"I purchased your sauce and rub recipe and used it several times now. By far, the best I have ever tasted and I always get rave reviews from guests!!!" Sean

The recipes are easy to make and the taste will knock your socks off!

Furthermore, if they are not the best you have ever eaten, I will happily refund every cent you paid.

This is a way for you to support the site and get something great at the same time.

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About Jeff Phillips

Long time Industrial Engineer turned self-proclaimed fire poker, pitmaster and smoke whisperer and loving every minute of it!

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