Monday, July 8, 2013

Smoked Turkey

I still had a small turkey in the freezer that I had bought after Thanksgiving last year, and needed to use it up.  I got the idea to try smoking it - and it really turned out with such a delicious smoked flavor and was so moist.  I am already a HUGE fan of brining turkeys, so I combined the techniques of brining and smoking and we got a great meal (well, a few great meals). 

I started by brining the turkey for about 8 hours (I think more time in the brine wouldn't hurt at all, I just got it brining too late!  I usually brine turkeys overnight).  I used onions, the peel from two lemons, sugar, molasses, kosher salt and a head of garlic.

Then, the "stuffings"- a quartered onion, two whole lemons, a head of garlic, chopped potatoes, and fresh herbs from the garden: variegated thyme, oregano, sage, parsley and rosemary.  These stuffings were just for aromatics.

The stuffed turkey, with a brushing of olive oil and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper.

Using a digital probe thermometer is the only way I cook turkeys anymore.  Time to go on the big green egg!  We put hickory chips in our little smoke box. 

The finished turkey, about three hours later!  The skin browned beautifully, and left the meat protected and moist inside. 

Slices off the finished turkey - can you see how moist it is?  It tasted delicately smokey, with such a nice freshness from the lemon and garlic.  It was a big hit with Charlie too!

Smoked Turkey

For the brine:
  • 1 turkey, the one I used was about 10 pounds
  • 1 gallon water
  • peeled fresh rind off 2 lemons
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, with the top and bottom sliced off
  • a couple of trays of ice cubes
For the aromatics:
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 cup roughly chopped potatoes
  • 1 head garlic, top and bottom sliced off again
  • Several sprigs of fresh herbs; I used parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano
For the outside:
  • olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper

To smoke this turkey, we used our big green egg.  However, I looked it up and it looks like you can smoke turkeys in – of course – a smoker, on a Weber, a gas grill with a wood chip smoke box or with whatever you have.  The reason we like our big green egg so much is because it holds at a certain temperature so well (even for hours).  In this recipe, I will just share how we did it on the big green egg.  

For the brine, bring water to a just-over-lukewarm-temperature in a large pot (we just want to be able to dissolve the sugar and kosher salt, which is harder to do in cold water).  Add all of the brine ingredients: lemons, kosher salt, sugar, molasses, onions and garlic.  Heat and stir just until the salt and sugar is dissolved.  Immediately remove from heat.  Once it has cooled, add the rinsed turkey (remove the neck and giblets and save for another use) to the brine (making sure the turkey is completely covered).  You can either put the turkey and brine in a large 2 ½ gallon resealable plastic bag, or any container that is large enough to hold both turkey and brine, or leave it in the large pot.  I left mine in the large pot.  Lastly, sprinkle a couple dozen ice cubes in the pot.  Refrigerate at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.  

Preheat the big green egg to around 350, without the plate setter.   If using wood chips (recommended), soak them in water for about an hour.  

Remove turkey from the brine, rinse well and pat dry.  Discard the brining liquid and solids.  Stuff the turkey with the lemons, onions, potatoes, garlic and herbs.  I really jammed mine in there!  It’ll be ok if the ingredients are a little squished.  Brush the outside of the turkey with olive oil and season with desired amount of freshly ground black pepper.  I also folded the wings under the body so we didn’t have to worry about them burning.  Now, outside to the smoker!

You can either scatter about one cup of the hickory chips over the hot coals, or if you have a little wood-chip-smoke-box, put them in there and set the box right in the coals.  Then, place the plate setter (legs up) in the egg.  Put a drip pan on top of the plate setter (or make your own out of tin foil like we did!).  Put on the wire grate.  Place digital thermometer probe into deepest part of the breast (I know this sounds wrong – but keep reading!  We “accidentally” came up with this great technique!).   Once the turkey is settled on the wire rack, close the lid of the big green egg.  The temperature should level out to around 300ºF.  Cook for about 2 ½ hours, until the instant thermometer registers 165ºF.  During this time, feel free to add more wood chips based on how smokey you want your meat!

Remove the turkey from the smoker and let rest for a good 20 minutes. Carve the white meat and serve immediately.  The white meat with be perfect – but the dark meat will be a little bit underdone.  Just enjoy the white meat for this meal!  Here’s what we found out: if you carve all of the white meat off the turkey, leaving just the slightly underdone thighs and drumsticks – the next day you can place the whole rest of the bird on a cookie sheet, cover it with tin foil and roast it in the oven at 300ºF for about an hour and a half – the dark meat will now be perfectly cooked and melt in your mouth.  This way (even though it’s a little more work and you have to split up your meals) you can have perfectly cooked white and dark meat!

Note: if you aren't into this technique and want to eat the white and dark meat together, place the digital thermometer probe into the deepest part of the turkey thigh and cook until the meat registers 165ºF.

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