Saturday, 1 January 2011

Smoked Turkey

Although we had turkey on Christmas day, we opted to make turkey again. But we didn't want a repeat of the same meal, but rather something different, and what better way than to smoke it. This  a no frills, straight up smoked turkey.  We didn't try spicing it or anything different so that we could compare it to roast turkey.  In the end I would have to say that if you are ever juggling items in an oven when roasting a turkey, this makes a perfect substitute for cooking the turkey without tying up your oven.

We've made smoked poultry before (chicken, duck), but never a turkey.  When I researched recipes there weren't a heck of a lot.  So I figured I'd wing it (pun intended) using my knowledge of birds of Christmas past.  For this round I have a 16 pound turkey. 

Step1 - thaw the bird (if not fresh).  I mention this step only because it's not your usual procedure when dealing with a large bird.  It's one of those times when the auto-microwave feature falls short.  The main trick with thawing a large bird is keeping it cool enough so that no bacteria forms.  The optimal way is to thaw it in the fridge, but that not only requires lots of pre-planning, but lots of fridge room (which particulary at Chrismtas, tends to be a premium entity).  Instead I went with the cold water method where you keep the bird in cold water.  My preferred way for this is to use a cooler.  I have a perfect coleman sized one for this task.  Note, you should be using a proper cooler and not a foam cooler as it will not keep the bird cold enough.  You put the bird in the cooler and fill with cold water, then cover with the cooler lid. Check the bird every few hours to make sure the water is very cold.  You can add ice to keep cold, however, if you have a good quality cooler you'll be surprised how cold it keeps the bird especially because the bird is frozen.  I didn't have to add any ice for this step.  Either way, keeping it very cold is imperative to ensuring no bacteria forms.

Step 2 - Brine the bird.  I only started brining turkies about a year ago and I am converted.  It really makes a difference in terms of flavour and a juicer texture. Again, I use a cooler for this step.  Again, you should be using a proper cooler and not a foam cooler as it will not keep the bird cold enough.    Place 2 cups of salt and 2 cups of brown sugar into a cooler.  Remove any wrapping and inside packets from the bird.  Add the bird to the cooler and fill with ice cold water (you can also add some ice cubes to ensure very cold) and cover with the lid.  Let the turkey soak in the brine for at least 12 hours.  Check the bird occasionally to make sure the water is very cold. You can add ice to keep cold, however, if you have a good quality cooler you'll be surprised how cold it keeps the bird. I added ice at the start with ice cold water and didn't have to add more ice for 12 hours.  Keeping it cold is imperative to ensuring no bacteria forms.  Note: if you have just thawed your turkey using the cold water method, do not use the same water for brining - start fresh.

Step 3 - Smoke the bird.   I decided to do a heat combination for smoking the bird - first some higher heat, followed by the traditional low and slow.  Here is my process:
  • Prepare the smoker with apple pellets.  I find anything heavier can overwhelm poultry and make it taste more like ham than turkey.  Then heat the smoker on high to 400F.  
  • Place the whole bird, breast side up, on the smoker.  Let smoke on high for 45 minutes.
  • Becaues we all know that poultry can easily dry out while smoking, employ extra resources in the form of a cheesecloth. Prepare a four-layer piece of cheesecloth, large enough to cover the breasts of the bird, by soaking it in 1/2 cup melted butter. 
  • After 45 minutes on high heat, cover the bird with the cheesecloth then turn to low or 250F (see picture below - it's not pretty, but it is efficient).  Finish the bird on this temperature.  3-4 hours. 
  • About an hour before the bird is ready remove the cheese cloth so that the top can brown.  The meat will be cooked, it just won't be the lovely brown.  If needed, turn the heat up higher, or even do a quick hit under the oven broiler - no one like an un-golden bird.
  • The turkey is ready when an thermometer stuck in the thickest part of thigh between the leg and body registers 170F.

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