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The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

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Smoked Turkey

First Image
For Easter Dinner I made a smoked turkey. I’ve made about a dozen of these now on the gas grill or the smoker, and they are consistently great. You owe it to yourself to try one this way. You may never use your oven again. Or even better the oven will be free to handle some of the side dishes.
 
The first trick to smoking a Turkey is to try to get a fresh natural turkey. A natural bird has not been injected with a salty water solution. Read the label carefully. The law requires that this info be disclosed somewhere on the label. If your bird has already been injected with a brine, you don’t want to add more salty ingredients into the mix. You’d want to use unsalted butter on this bird and may elect to skip the injector sauce.
 
The recipe I used was Cajun Smoked Turkey from How to Grill. It uses an injector sauce consisting of...  (
Continued below)
 

SIDEBAR: Be Prepared.

The Boy Scout motto and some other catch phrases should also apply to cooking. When you look at the finished product above you would have no idea that this wasn’t a paint by numbers cook. I will mention a couple things worth considering the next time that you cook out:


 

Be Prepared refers to making sure you have the necessary ingredients in before you light the grill. Seems like a no-brainer, but I fell victim to that while starting my turkey. “Make a List and Check it Twice” also comes to mind in relation to this. The injector sauce for the turkey used chicken broth. I  thought I had plenty of this in and didn’t verify it when making up my shopping list. When I lit the smoker at 6:00 AM, I returned to the Kitchen to find no Chicken Broth. You’ll agree that 6:00 AM on Easter Sunday morning is not the ideal time to find this out. So check inventory carefully when making your shopping list.


 

After a whirlwind trip to the local Quickie Mart I returned home and proceeded to compound my problems. You know the adage: “Measure Twice, Cut Once”? Well there should be on for the Kitchen: “Read Directions Twice, Measure Once”. In my haste I screwed up the the first batch of injector sauce. I put in a whole can of broth instead of 1/2. Thank goodness that be prepared motto caused me to buy a second can of Chicken Broth at the Quickie Mart. Definitely do not try any of this sidebar at  home.



(
Continued from above)... chicken broth, butter, lemon juice and some spices. The injector sauce is intended to help keep the bird moist during cooking. One of the reasons for using a natural bird is it will not already be injected with a salt water solution. If you use a bird that has been pre-injected, this step would not be necessary and would make your bird way too salty. For me I would rather control the content of what is injected into the bird. Also you aren’t paying for almost a pound of salt water when you buy a natural bird.


Second Image

The bird is injected with the injector sauce in 6 places.  You use a device that looks like an oversized syringe with holes in the lower portion of the needle. After that you brush melted butter on the skin and apply coarse salt and pepper. Next I fill the cavity with large chunks of apple and onion. I place the bird breast side down on a roasting rack and the roasting rack nests in a cast iron pan. These are both accessories from my gas grill. Lastly I insert the two meat temperature probes from my remote read meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. I usually end up paying a trip to the FAQ section of the Butterball web site to refresh my memory on best position for the thermometers. They also have a good movie on proper carving techniques.
 
While this is going on in the Kitchen, I had lit about 30 coals in my charcoal chimney. I ran back out after 15 minutes to add the coals to the side firebox of my smoker. The side fire box uses charcoal briquettes with several wood chunks mixed in. I usually use Apple, but this time I tried Cherry. For poultry I use a bit less wood to avoid overpowering the meat. Next I place two aluminum pans in the bottom of the grill chamber. These hold water and help act as a heat sink to stabilize the temperatures in the main chamber. For doing Turkey, I add Apple Juice to the pans instead of water. I set up the probe to measure the grate temperature of the smoker and it’s back to the Kitchen. The prep work for the Turkey can be done in the same time frame as the smoker warm up.
 
Once the smoker has hit 225 degrees (110 C), I add the bird. If the weather is cold you should have someone help you with the cover. A helper can lift the cover enough so you can slide the turkey in, and then close it right behind you. Even a quick pop in the Winter can cost you 100 degrees (55 C). At this point you have very little to do other than monitoring the temps for the next 3 hours or so.


“Third

For me a 13 pound (6 Kg) Turkey takes between 6 1/2 to 7 hours. At about the three hour mark the turkey is flipped from breast side down to breast side up. This helps even out the cooking because the temps are higher closer to grate level. It also evens out the birds exposure to smoke. In the cold weather, with the help of an assistant on lid duty, I bring the bird back inside. In theory this looses less temperature than doing everything out at the grill. Once inside the Kitchen I can flip it in a slow controlled fashion, because the grill lid is closed. After attempting many methods to grab the bird I have found that wadding up 3 or 4 paper towels allows me to grab the bird with my hands and flip it. The paper towels afford just enough protection from the heat. This last time where the air temps were in the 50’s, I tried flipping it right on the grill. My temps only dropped to 175 (79 C) and I was patting myself on the back. Then I noticed the temps dropping on one of the two meat probes. It seems in my haste to flip the bird, I’d dislodged the probe. I had to open up and reset the probe causing a big temperature drop. Moral of the story: I think I’ll stick to a more  leisurely flip in the Kitchen.
 
The turkey is taken to a temperature of 170 (77 C) in the thighs and then brought inside to rest in foil for 15 minutes before carving. I have found when cooking turkey, the temps rise very quickly, 10-12 degrees in one half hour, This linear rise continues until the temps hit 140 (60 C). The first couple times this happened I was prepared to call my guests to say come over NOW!!!. But the bird levels off and rises much more slowly after that. Above 140 (60 C) the rise drops to 5 degrees (3 C) every 30 minutes, and the last couple hours it is going only 1 to 2 degrees (1 C) in a half hour. Having time temperature logs of your cooks helps avoid panic attacks. On this bird I noticed that the temps were about 10 degrees (5.5 C) different in the two thighs. So at around 160 (71 C) I spun the pan around 180 degrees to expose the colder side of the bird to the warmer side of the smoker.


“Fourth

This particular bird took 7 hours to cook. Much of that was due to gusty winds which made steady temps difficult at times. I really do need to make a wind screen. The bird was excellent, with a nice smoke flavor and moist meat. This is defiantly several steps up from a bird done in the oven. You should really try this sometime.

 
“Fifth

Cooking Methods:
This bird was cooked indirectly on the smoker at 225 (110 C) degrees fro 6-7 hours. I’ve also done them indirect on the gas grill at about 350 degrees (177 C). What are the differences?

 

Smoker:
I definitely get more smoke flavor with the smoker and the dark meat seems to turn out better. The technical downside is the longer cooking time, and the temperatures are harder to control. The food related downside is the skin doesn’t get crispy due to the lower cooking temperature and the white meat seems to be a bit less moist than on the gas grill. The moistness is due to the longer cooking time I’d guess. If you don’t eat the skin, that becomes a non-issue.

Gas Grille:
Faster cooking time, easy temperature control, crispy skin and somewhat moister white meat are the plusses. The minus was somewhat less smoke flavor.
 
Possible Ultimate Solution?
: The next non-holiday turkey I make will be an experiment. It will be done indirectly in the main chamber of the smoker. Using charcoal baskets in the main chamber I can run up the temperature to 350 (177 C) to get crispy skin. Additionally I’ll have the extra smoke flavor plus a shorter cooking time.
 
Bottom Line:
Any of these methods will create a superior bird to what I get from the oven. So make a point to try a Turkey on the grill or smoker.


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