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As Thanksgiving approaches, I know that many of you may still have questions about smoking the turkey and ham so I have compiled a few of the most asked questions and answers to hopefully help you out a little before the big day.
Send in any questions you have and I will do my best to update this FAQ with anything new.
With that in mind, I do get so many questions this time of year, that I just cannot answer all of them. If you send in a question and it does not get an answer, try posting it at the forum.
140k+ members and more than 2.4 million posts on smoking meat and it's absolutely free.. enough said!
Some folks will tell you to not brine a store bought turkey but, for the life of me, I am not sure why not. I have been brining store purchased turkeys for many years and some of them with as much as 12% solution added and it is NEVER too salty. I am not a big “salt” guy so I would not like it or recommend it if it wasn't good.
The process they do at the factory does not result in a salty turkey.. not even faintly so. The brining you do at home does a much better job and if you follow my instructions of using 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water for an overnight (10-12 hour) brine, it will be a more juicy, moist and tasty bird than it can ever be otherwise.
My recommendation is that you try to find a fresh, no solution added turkey if possible. If you can't find that, then shoot for a turkey that has 8% or less solution added.
Once you brine the thanksgiving turkey one time, you will most likely never want to eat a non-brined turkey again.
As most of you know, I do not recommend smoking a turkey that is larger than 12 lbs.. 14 lbs is pushing it. This is due to the fact that the larger turkey takes too much time to reach a safe temperature at the low temperature. It is risky at best and in my opinion, is raising the chances that your family and guests could get a food borne illness.
To make it safe, keep the turkey on the small side (12 lbs is about right) and if you need more turkey, just smoke multiple turkeys figuring on about 2 lbs of raw weight per person.
I just usually figure a 12 lb turkey for every 6 people and it gives me plenty of turkey with a few leftovers.
So you've already purchased a big ol' 22 pounder so what now? Well, you really only have a few options to smoke it up safely.
- Cook it low and slow with smoke for only a couple of hours then crank up the heat or move it to the oven at 325 °F to finish.
- Spatchcock (butterfly) the turkey to speed up the cooking process – here's instructions for this
ONLY after it's done. Stuffing prevents the heat from flowing into the cavity as it needs to and causes it to take longer to cook, something you do not need at low smoking temperatures.
If you want the bird to be stuffed for presentation, make the dressing/stuffing in a separate container in the oven and stuff it into the turkey after the turkey is done cooking and just prior to placing it on the table.
It is fine to place a few pieces of onion, apple, butter,etc. in the cavity as long as the heat flow is not impeded in any way.
If you must travel with the turkey, it is probably best to make it a day ahead of time and just as soon as it reaches 165°F, place it into a roasting pan with the lid off and let it cool for about 25 minutes.
After cooling, cover the turkey with a large piece of foil, place the lid on the roasting pan and place it in the fridge.
Keep it cold (less than 40°F) while you travel.
Once you get to grandma's house and about an hour before you are ready to eat, pour about ¼ cup of water down in the bottom of the roasting pan for humidity (prevents the meat from drying out) and if you have any extra maple/rub sauce from the smoking process, take it with you and baste the turkey again.
Place the entire roasting pan in an oven preheated to 350°F. It should take about 1 hour to reach a good eating temperature but if it gets done early, just turn the heat down to 170°F and hold it there until you are ready for it.
Keeping the lid closed, adding the extra moisture and basting again with the maple sauce will revitalize it and it will be nearly as good as it was right out of the smoker.
I usually figure on about 4-5 lbs per 24 hour period.
If you are in a hurry, you can place the frozen turkey in a sink full of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes (very important) until the turkey is thawed. For a 12 lb turkey that is completely frozen, you are looking at about 6 hours.
My general rule of thumb for applying smoke is ½ of the estimated cook time. I expect a 12 lb turkey to take about 6-7 hours so I recommend applying smoke for about 3 to 3.5 hours.
As long as you have good airflow.. i.e. your vents are open enough to allow plenty of air to come into the smoker and the smoke is able to exit quickly, you can easily and safely apply smoke for the entire time, after all, that is what happens by default in a wood burning smoker and there is no better way to duplicate that real wood smoked flavor.
Smoking a Turkey on a Pellet Smoker
All pellet smokers share a common trait, the lower the temperature, the more smoke you get, the higher the temperature, the less smoke you get.
It's just how a pellet smoker works and if you smoke too high, you'll be wondering why you bothering smoking it since there won't be any flavor.
The trick to this is to start the cook at the lowest possible temperature.. usually around 180°F (82°C). Leave it here for about an hour then turn it up to 225°F (107°C) – 240°F (116°C) to finish.
You can also use a smoke tube filled with pellets to create smoke. This means your pellet grill is only responsible for heat and the smoke tube is only responsible for the smoke. By separating these two, they are both able to do a much better job.
I suspect that some of you will run into issues with your smoker such as not being able to get your heat high enough, the heat will be too high, or any number of other smoker related problems.
I suggest that you, first, do not panic.
Second, do the best you can to apply about 2 hours of smoke then, if you are still having issues that you cannot alleviate, consider moving the somewhat smoked turkey to the oven following the same temperature and process recommendations.
There is no shame in moving to the oven if that is what is needed to make sure the turkey gets done and ends up delicious.
A few things you can do ahead of time to lower the risk of problems:
- Make sure you have plenty of propane, wood chips/chunks, pellets, charcoal, etc..
- Do a test run or two in the weeks preceding the big day
- Make the rub, brine, sauce, etc. ahead of time
I would not change much.. make sure it is a bone-in (better in my opinion).
I would still brine it overnight and apply the maple syrup and rub as before. It may cook a little faster simply because the heat is able to get to all part of the breast unrestricted so you'll want to monitor it with a digital probe meat thermometer to make sure you take it off when it reaches it's optimum temperature.
If you plan to rest it as instructed in the newsletter, you can remove it at about 160 degrees since it will rise 5-7 degrees during the rest period.
Breast meat is perfectly done at 165°F (74°C).
- Use the water pan if you have one for your smoker
- Almost all smoking is done with indirect heat. The turkey is also cooked with indirect heat
- Do NOT use wet, soaked wood. Dry wood is so much better.
- In charcoal and wood smokers, use lump charcoal for heat, and a little wood for smoke
- Set the turkey open in the fridge for a couple of hours after brining to dry the skin. This can help you end up with a more crispy skin.