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

A Brine Time Was Had By All

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For the last few years I have been making a smoked turkey recipe from Steven Raichlen that was moistened via an injector sauce. I’d heard about brining, but I figured nothing could be moister than the recipe I had been doing. What changed my mind was when Steven Raichlen did a recipe on his show called The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey. It was a brined and smoked turkey. This got my attention. Now I wonder why in the world I waited so long, as this years Thanksgiving turkey was the best any of us have ever tried.

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Apple juice, brown sugar and salt start off the brine.

I had made two pastramis this year (see SMOKED PASTRAMI - PT.1 & SMOKED PASTRAMI - PT.2) so I was somewhat comfortable with brining. For the second brisket I just made, I used a new food safe plastic bin I bought at a restaurant supply house. When I was doing the second brisket a few weeks ago, I thought that the size of this container would be perfect for a turkey. So the seed was planted and this years turkey was to be brined. I chose a recipe called Whole Turkey - Apple Brine from the Virtual Weber Bullet web site. The brine sounded wonderful. It consisted of apple juice, brown sugar, salt, water, orange chunks, bay leaves, sliced ginger, crushed garlic and whole cloves.

The brine ingredients are boiled for a minute and cooled to 40 degrees

One variable was my container. While many people brine in a bag, something about the idea of a bag full of liquid in the fridge sounded scary. I wanted to use my plastic bin but wasn’t sure whether it would be bigger than the size the recipe used as a reference. As a backup I had some 2-1/2 gallon bags on hand just in case. I would put the bird and brine in the bag and place those in the bin. But my first choice would be the bin.

Te dry ingredients were cloves, orange chunks, sliced fresh ginger, bay leaves and crushed garlic

On Monday night I made up part of the brine. I boiled 2 quarts (2 L) of apple juice with 10 oz (296 C) of kosher salt and one pound of brown sugar. This brine and it’s need to measure several of the items by weight caused me to finally buy a kitchen scale. I’ve wanted one for a while and this moved it from wish to reality. The mixture was boiled for one minute and then I refrigerated it overnight to get it to 40 degrees (4 C). I also put 3 quarts (2.75 L) of cold water in the fridge for use Tuesday night.

The turkey is in the brine and will rest in the fridge for 24 hours

On Tuesday night it was time time start the brining process. I took the mixture from Monday night and poured it into the bin. I could tell right away it would be close in terms of covering the turkey. It would just make it if I smooshed it down in the bin. What I was unsure of is this: Would the turkey absorb the brine and lower the level in the bin? If so, by how much? I didn’t want to wake up the next morning and find out it was low tide in the brining bin. I stopped to think a moment. Would I switch to Plan B: the plastic bag method? I was a bit worried because the bird looked like a tight fit for the bag. I decide I would brew up another batch of the apple juice, brown sugar and salt. I would do a half batch the second time around. So while the brine was coming to a boil I chopped up the other ingredients and added then to the bin. I increased the quantities of all my other quantities by 50 percent. The newly boiled brine was put in the freezer for a 2 hour chill, before adding to the rest of the mixture.

The bird air dries overnight

Meanwhile I found the turkey, which had been placed breast side down, was trying to float in the brine, so I put in a couple glass bowls to hold it down. The lid pressed the bowls down, which in turn held the turkey down. Once the extra brine had cooled down in the freezer I pulled out the bin and added it to the mix. In retrospect I was glad I used the plastic bins. It was easy to get in and out of the fridge and there was zero chance of springing a leak. Plus now I know for future reference I should bump up the brine quantities by 50 percent.

Apple and orange chunks are placed in the cavities and the skin is brushed with unsalted butter

After 24 hours in the fridge it was now Wednesday night. I pulled the turkey out and removed it from the brine. The whole kitchen took on an incredible odor of citrus and cloves when I opened the lid. I rinsed off the turkey inside and out with cold water. After patting the bird dry I placed it on a wire rack set in a half-size sheet pan. Then is was back to the fridge for an overnight air dry. This supposedly helps you get a crispy skin, but where I was smoking my bird at 225 (110 C), this was a moot point. Cooking temperatures that low don’t result in crispy skin, but they do yield a moist bird. Since no one in my family likes the skin this was not a problem.

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At the three hour midway point the side facing up was browning nicely. The bottom side was a different story-see next picture below

I lit the smoker at 7:30 AM. I pulled the turkey out of the fridge and filled both cavities with chopped apples and onions. This was not part of this recipe. It was a tip from Paul Kirk’s Championship BBQ cookbook. I brushed the outside with melted unsalted butter and added some fresh ground black pepper. At this point the smoker was ready and it was time to add the bird. I placed the turkey on the smoker and added some apple chunks to start generating smoke.

I flipped the bird to breast side up and finished it that way to even out the cooking temps and smoke exposure

Another tip I had picked up from Paul Kirk’s book was the need to flip the bird midway through the cook. This evens out the cooking temperatures and results in an evenly browned skin at the end of the cook. You can see from the pictures above that at the midway point the skin that is facing downward is nowhere near as browned. From my previous cooking logs I knew this was about a 6 hour cook for a 14 pound (6.3 Kg) turkey. So at the three hour mark I ran the bird into the house and flipped it from breast side down to breast side up. I used some heavy duty rubber kitchen gloves to grab the hot turkey. In addition to flipping it top and bottom I also rotated it 180 degrees too. The side closest to the Side Firebox is always warmer, so this serves to even things out. The only other thing I had to do during this cook was add apple wood chunks every hour or so.

The turkey has rested 30 minutes and is ready to carve

At the end of 6 hours the bird was done. The alarms on my remote read thermometer alerted me that it was time to eat. The thigh temperature registered 165 degrees (74 C). As a side note one advantage to brining is said to be if you overcook the meat it will still be moist. This was not a problem here as I’d hit 165 (74 C) in the thigh just as I wanted. After a 30 minute rest under some foil it would be time to carve the turkey. With this brine being a 3 and one half day affair I could hardly contain myself during this last half hour. The bird carved very nicely, yielding large yet thin slices. I had to take a “Quality Control” sample and I was very encourage by my sample. Once it was time to sit down and eat, I found it was most definitely worth the effort. What I had in front of me was the best turkey I, or my guests, had ever tasted. The white meat was very very moist. There were no dry pieces of meat anywhere to be found.

The white meat was incredibly moist. Nobody could stop eating more.

Everyone ate way too much turkey and I can say unless something better comes along, I will be brining all my turkeys from this point forward. The only bad thing in this whole process is there were not as many leftovers because we all over ate. I will certainly try different turkey recipes, but they will all involve brining. If you haven’t tried brining your turkey, don’t wait any longer. Do it the very next time. You will not be disappointed. Excuse me now: I think I’ll go make a turkey sandwich.


More Pictures:

  APPLE BRINED TURKEY Poultry Picture Entry


Turkey Tips


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