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

SUGAR MAPLE SMOKED TURKEY

  Date: November 24, 2016
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There were several big changes for Thanksgiving. First of all this was my first “low sodium” Thanksgiving Dinner. I knew I couldn’t do a brined turkey, but I used to do an injected bird when I first started making turkeys on the grill and they turned out excellently too. So the trick was to find a low sodium injected bird recipe. This recipe was exactly that out of the box and fit the bill nicely. For those interested in more info on this topic click on the “Low Sodium Diet Changes” tab below. The second trick was to start off with the right bird. For the second year in a row I bought an all natural bird from my butcher shop. It cost 4-5x as much as a supermarket bird. But it was worth every penny to me both with it’s great flavor and lack of sodium. Plus it was never injected with any kind of growth hormones or other unnatural things. The last big change was the cooking method. As I was exploring which recipe to use, I found one by Mad Max who is a legend on the BGE forums for his turkey and gravy recipe. There was a long detailed version of his last iteration of his recipe on the NAKED WIZ website. What caught my interest was one the setup methods he used for cooking the birds on a ceramic grill. These next two sections are of interest primarily to owners of kamado grills, so if you own another type of grill feel free to skip the next two paragraphs and go down to the third and fourth paragraphs after this one.

There were several setups shown for Mad Max’s recipe, but the one that caught my eye was where he used the Wok Spider legs up to suspend a BGE 13” pizza stone 1” over the coals, He then put a grill grid right on top of the fire ring, although he mentioned you could also use the Adjustable Rig with two crossbars on the lowest level to hold the pan. My version of this setup (shown in the pictures above) was to use the Spider and pizza stone with the AR on top. I had a an oval grill grid on Level 1.5 whose sole purpose in life was to serve as something to clip the grill temperature probe onto. This kept the probe close to the level of the food. Then I installed a second oval grill grid at Level 3 for the turkey roasting pan. This setup appeared to have several advantages going for it. I have had times where the legs and thighs were browning faster than the rest of the bird. The oval pizza stone for the AR is squared off and open on the two sides. While this makes adding wood a bit easier, I often wondered whether there was a convection current of some sort which was hitting the two sides of the bird because of the more open sides. Also having the bird on Level 3 vs. on Level 4.5 on the other setups I’ve used, might help the skin on top from browning too fast. I often wondered if the bird was a little too close to the dome at Level 4.5 and if this accelerated the skin’s browning.

This setup had two logistical disadvantages to it: That was lighting the coals to start and then later adding the smoking wood. The pizza stone on the Spider had only about an inch of clearance all around. This made placing the stone back on the Spider after the fire starters had the coals going a bit of a chore. As is my habit I preflighted this entire setup, including the turkey to make sure it worked. I discovered that when I was wearing welders gloves there was not sufficient room to get the fingers of each hand down next to the stone to safely lower it onto the Spider. The method I had to use was lower it by hand and tilt it so one side of the stone was resting on two of the legs of the Spider. Then I used the BGE Ash Tool and its hooked to end to lower the high side of the stone onto the spider legs. I then had to rotate the Ash Tool 90 degrees to just sneak the hook out the gap between the stone and the fire box. Adding the wood chips later was similar but more complex. First I again had to wear welders gloves and remove the Adjustable Rig from the Egg and land it on my Corian “trivet”. Then I dropped the hook of the Ash Tool in the gap, turned it 90 degrees and lifted one side of the stone up at an angle. This allowed me to grab the hot pizza stone and land it on top of the AR. I then closed the lid to let both the Egg and I recover for a minute or so while I measured out the Maple wood chips. Once this was done, it was a matter of adding the Maple wood chunks and adding the stone and AR back onto the Egg. Then I added the turkey, in it’s roast pan, onto the AR. One thing I was not able to discover in my preflight was the snootful of wood smoke I got when I reopened the lid to add the turkey. This dulled my sense of smell (and therefor taste) for the rest of that day. So it wasn’t until I tried the leftovers the next day that I was able to get an accurate taste of the final results. Next time I may wear a mask while adding the wood chips and the turkey.

Ok enough technical stuff and onto the cook. I made a few tweaks to the base recipe: First was the cooking temperature. I lit the Egg about 45 minutes before I wanted to use it. Instead of smoking it low and slow at 225, I decided to try to go for smoke roasting at 350 to get a crispy skin and shave some cooking time off. This is what I set the CyberQ WiFi pit controller for and I it take care of the warmup while I returned to the Kitchen to prep the bird. I was able to check on the warmup progress on my iPad. Another reason for using the pit controller was the brown sugar used on the skin. I didn’t want the temps to get too high and start burning the sugar. The CyberQ would take care of this and if the temps started to rise too high give me an audible alarm. The prep was relatively simple. Apple Juice and brown sugar were mixed together to make the injector sauce. This mixture was zapped in the microwave to help get the sugar to be fully dissolved. The injector sauce was cooled in an ice bath until ready for use. The bird was rubbed all over with olive oil, then dusted with garlic powder, followed by some Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb seasoning, then a light dusting with brown sugar followed by a second application of Mrs Dash. This wasn’t my substitution, the recipe was low sodium and called for this. Next the bird was injected all over with the injector sauce. I added apple chunks and sweet onion chunks to the two body cavities, with the leftover pieces going in the roast pan. I pinned the skin to close off the rear body cavity. The last step was something I have been seeing more and more of. That was to fill a one gallon freezer bag with ice cubes and lay it across the turkey breast for 30 minutes. This cools off the breast meat and allows the breasts to finish off at 165 and the thighs to reach 175 simultaneously. When the 30 minutes was up, the Egg was ready and I removed the ice bag. I redid the rub in several areas where the sweating ice bag had disturbed the rub and then inserted the 3 food probes for the CyberQ. I placed one probe in the breast and one probe in each of the two thighs. Getting good probe placement in the breast is fairly easy, the thighs not so much. So I figured putting a probe in each thigh would give me better odds of getting at least one of the two right.

The turkey went out to the Egg and the rest of the cook was a breeze from there. The CyberQ WiFi kept the Egg nice and stable. I went out once an hour for a visual check on the skin. After two hours I elected to put some foil over the bird. It wasn’t too browned yet, but I figured to keep it on for the third hour to keep the skin from browning much more and then I could remove the foil for the final hour to let the browning finish and the skin to crisp up. I was projecting about a 4 hour cooking time and the bird finished up in 4:07. I used my Thermapen to check the temps before pulling the bird. You aren’t going to do any better with a big piece of meat, so I was quite happy with it finishing within 7 minutes of target time. The bird rested uncovered for 30 minutes. Leaving it uncovered reflects the latest thinking that using the foil serves to steam the skin and make it less crisp. After 30 minutes it was time to carve the turkey and eat. I couldn’t wait!! I could tell from carving the bird it was very moist. The snootful of smoke I got earlier had dulled my taste buds and so I couldn’t taste some of the subtle qualities the others were describing. They all mentioned the subtle flavoring in the meat from the injector sauce and the kiss of smoke flavor from the Maple Wood. I had to wait for the first round of leftovers to experience this, but the others had it right. The meat was also very moist and tender. No one added salt, but I did notice a less salty flavor than I was used to. Not exactly bland, but turkey was one of the handful of things I typically salted on my plate at the table. Dipping the pieces in the Tart Cranberry Dipping Sauce I made for this meal, solved the seasoning problem nicely. So this bird was a great success as was my first Low Sodium Thanksgiving dinner overall. Beforehand when I began reverse engineering recipes to check for sodium, I didn’t know if I was going to be having a grilled turkey salad for my dinner. I was thrilled to be able to make something that met my dietary needs and still had great flavors for all of my guests.
Recipe Source:
Alt image
CI Summer Grilling Guide-2010
The Smoking’ Pit.com:

Sugar Maple Smoked Turkey Breast
Low Sodium Diet Changes:
As of July 2016 I need to be on a very low sodium diet. Six days a week I am limited to 1,000 mg. of sodium and on Saturdays I am allowed to have 1,500 mg. I have been learning how to adapt certain recipes to make them very low sodium. I also need to watch my intake of potassium chloride which is used in some salt substitutes to replace sodium chloride. I figured for anyone else trying to watch their sodium intake, I would describe some of the changes I made, together with any comments about the relative success or failure of the tweaks I made. Those of you who can handle more sodium can certainly make the recipe as originally written.
Big Picture: I did not know what to expect for my first low sodium Thanksgiving. Honestly before I started looking into things, I didn’t know if I would be having a salad while everyone else had a turkey dinner. It was a matter of reverse engineering all of the side dishes and then seeing if I had enough sodium count left to do a turkey. Brining, obviously was out. I had been doing injected turkeys with great results prior to starting to brine my turkeys, so perhaps I could find a low sodium injected bird. But before I started looking at injected turkey recipes I had to see where I stood. My mother’s stuffing recipe was a given, my dad specifically asked if I would be making it these last two years. To my great surprise the stuffing was doable. I was worried because there was 1 1/2 loaves of Italian bread used. But the sodium count per serving was about 375 mg with the bread and without the 1/2 teaspoon of salt. For the potatoes, squash and cranberry dipping sauce the only source of high sodium was the less than 1 tsp. of salt each used. I simply substituted 2x more Mrs. Dash Table Blend for the salt in each. With the stuffing and all of the veggies I was at around 450 mg of sodium. Then I found this low sodium injected smoked turkey recipe and I was golden. It already called for using Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb seasoning blend and really the only source of sodium was the turkey. For the second year in a row I ordered an locally raised all natural turkey with all on the trendy buzz words associated with it: No added liquid (with sodium), hormone free and anti-biotic free. The important thing for me was the fact it had never been injected with a salt water solution often used to create a moist turkey. I didn’t even have to use up my 1 weekly 1,500 mg day as this was all well under 1,000 mg.

Changes:

  • I used a double dose of Mrs. Dash Table Blend in lieu of table salt to season the potatoes, squash, stuffing and cranberry dipping sauce.
  • Used a low sodium injected turkey recipe.

Comments: This was a very tasty meal. I had regular salt out on the table when we ate, but it really didn’t get used. The turkey was excellent: moist tender and tasty with a nice hint of smoke flavor. The stuffing and cranberry dipping sauce were seasoned perfectly for my tastes. IT was only the potatoes and squash that I felt could have used some salt. Others disagreed, so I guess I hit the right make. Not too salty, not too bland and those who wanted to could add a little salt at the table.
Grill:
Alt image
Big Green Egg

Smoked Roasted:

Using the Big Green Egg Kamado Cooker
Gear:
  • CGS Wok Spider
  • BGE Pizza Stone
  • BGE Ash Tool
  • CGS Adjustable Rig
  • CGS AR Sliding Oval Grid (Level 1.5)
  • CGS AR Sliding Oval Grid (Level 3)
  • Kenmore Cast Iron Roast Pan
  • Kenmore S-S Roast Rack
  • BBG-Cyber Q WiFi Pit Controller
  • Leather Welder's Gloves
  • Thermapen Super-Fast Thermometer
  • Stump Chunks Fire Starter
  • Rockwood Lump Charcoal
  • Maple wood chips