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The first thing having some cooks under your belt does for you, is take away a lot of the fear or anxiety. The first couple times you do anything, it can be frightening. I remember back 4 years ago when I was getting ready to grill my first turkey. It seemed like a very difficult task. I’d never made a turkey in the oven, let alone on a grill. How long will it take, where do I put my temperature probes, how do I carve it? And then there was the whole weather issue. This year the weather forecast changed during the last 24 hours to rainy and windy. Other than being annoyed I might get soaked, I wasn’t worried one bit about my ability to cook the turkey in that weather. I’d already done it in far worse weather, including 6” (15 cm) of snow and wind last Thanksgiving. But prior to smoking that turkey last Thanksgiving I had done some non-holiday practice cooks to make sure I had my act together for the main event. So if the weather looks crappy some weekend and you are thinking of canceling your cook, go for it. See what is possible and what is not. The next time the weather is bad for a cook it may be a Holiday and cancellation may not be an option. Based on other bad weather experience, I knew with 100 percent certainty that Thursday’s weather would be an inconvenience and no more. It was good to be able to relax going in.
The Time Temperature Log Helps Predict Cooking Times
The second thing that was relaxing was I was able to look up my past log files to see how long thing s might take and what to look out for. I am a big believer in keeping cooking logs (see previous blog entry). They pay big dividends later. My Cooking Logs tell me what special items I need to buy that I don’t normally keep around the house. I can print out a copy to take to the market. They also tell me what not to change and what I might want to do differently. If a long time has passed these little tweaks you wanted to make may have slipped your mind. Why make the same mistake twice? After all there are plenty of new ones you can find. My Time/ Temperature logs tell me how long the meat should take. I can look at the readings and tell early on whether I am on track to meet my schedules. I used to panic when I was cooking on the gas grill in my pre-cooking log days because my turkeys tended to have their temperatures shoot up in a linear fashion making it look like they would be done in half the time. I used to think I was going to have to call my guests to get them there sooner. The temps would then level off and the last 10 to 15 degrees (5.5-8.3 C) took several hours. This year based on the weight, I was able to call the time of this meal exactly. I was able to see all along the way that it was on schedule based on the other Turkeys. This sure beats hoping something will take X amount of time and not really knowing if you are on track or not.
The EZ-Up shelter kept things high & dry
Another thing that made this cook more relaxing was that I was able to set up my Ez-Up shelter and the rain didn’t really matter. The shelter made lighting the charcoal in the rain easy and opening the grill to flip the turkey midway through wasn’t a washout. The only tricky thing was whether the wind would be too strong to make using the Ez-Up dangerous. Eastern Massachusetts in general was slated to have 10-40 MPH (16-64 kph) winds. I was near the outer edge of the rain line so would my winds be closer to 10 MPH (16 kph) which the Ez-Up could handle? For this I was able to use the Hour-by-Hour detailed forecasts on AccuWeather.com. I’ve found they are usually pretty close to the mark, at least for the next 24 hours. The winds were predicted to be closer to 10 MPH (16 kph) not the 40 MPH (40 kph) they were hinting about on TV. I felt comfortable setting up the EZ-Up Wednesday night and fully expected it to still be in the backyard and not Oz the next morning. The forecast was pretty much right on and the Ez-Up made life much easier.
The bird is flipped at the midway point to even out the cook
As far as the cook went, having my cooking logs allowed me to pre-plan the entire cook. My cooking log told me what ingredients I needed to grab at the supermarket. I knew that the prep would take one hour; I knew the bird would take around 7 hours to cook. I had 3 real world examples of that sized bird cooked in this weather on my smoker. This was far more precise than my smoking cookbooks which give you a range of about 20-30 minutes a pound (0.5 Kg), I was able to take my previous times and work them backward to determine a pretty accurate start time. To eat at 3:00PM, I needed to put the turkey on the grill around 8:00AM. This meant start the prep by 7:00 and lighting the smoker at 7:15 so it would be good to go at 8:00. It pretty much went like clockwork too. Being familiar with the smoker and with the Ez-Up keeping the rain off the smoker, I was able to keep the temperatures within plus or minus 5 degrees (2.77 C) the whole time. The logs told me when I could expect to have to do a charcoal swap and it was pretty much right on. Using the longer lasting Duraflame charcoal meant I just had to add about a third of a basket of charcoal to help me finish. The Time/Temperature logs also told me about the wood chunks I’d used: The type of wood, how many chunks I used to start and how many to add along the way. The Cooking Log has an area where I comment on the smoke flavor so I know whether I got it right the last times.
The bird is done and needs to rest for ten minutes before carving
The cook went like clockwork. At 2:59 the temps hit 170 (77 C) so I couldn’t have asked for better. All the sides were ready at that time too because I’d been able to call it in advance. 10 minutes later I was slicing into a moist juicy smoked chicken. It was very moist and next year I plan to try brining a turkey to see if that improves on the moisture factor at all. My mother had not tried one of these smoked turkeys before. I made it for the first time last Thanksgiving when she was at my brother’s house. She said this was the best turkey she remembered eating. Her best turkey was my easiest turkey cook.
The turkey is carved sand ready to eat.
Bottom line: If you’re your just starting out smoking or grilling a turkey, or any other holiday roast, don’t let it overwhelm you. Don’t avoid doing it because it seems to hard. As shown above it does get easier. Do a test run a few weeks before Thanksgiving to build your confidence. I plan to test out the brined turkey before next Thanksgiving for the same reason. If you’ve been doing it a while, consider keeping a Cooking Log and a Time / Temperature Log. Having the logs really makes things easy the next time around. There are some downloadable PDF’s of my logs in my Cooking Log blog entry. They may give you some ideas for your own. Next holiday free up the oven and grill or smoke your turkey.