Way to Cook a Turkey #2: Smoke

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Most of the time, it’s going to be a frozen bird which is perfectly ok as long as you know how to thaw it properly.

The safest way is to give yourself plenty of time and let it thaw slowly in the refrigerator. It takes several days to thaw a 12lb turkey, so you’ll need to plan your cook well in advance.

If you do get in a pinch and have to hurry the thaw, place the turkey in a large vessel and fill it with water. Never let a turkey sit out and thaw on the counter; it creates the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to grow.

Once you have the turkey thawed, remove the neck and giblets (most turkeys have these stuffed in the neck and cavity areas), and rinse the bird under cool water.Now it’s time for the brine.  

You don’t have to brine your bird, but it makes all the difference in the end.Brine the turkeys for 24 hours. This soak gives the turkey plenty of time to absorb flavor throughout the entire bird, and it makes for a juicier final product.

Turkey Brine Recipe:

  • 2 gallons of tap water
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 cup Molasses
  • 1 cup Honey
  • 1 ½ cup Salt
  • ¼ cup The BBQ Rub
  • 3-4 Bay Leaves
  • Fresh Thyme Bundle
  • 1 TBS Whole Peppercorns
In a large stock pot bring 1 gallon of water to a boil and add the brown sugar, molasses, honey, bbq rub, and bay leaves. Once the ingredients have dissolved turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Make this the night before and refrigerate until time to brine. One of the best ways is using a XL Ziplock bag inside a cooler. This way everything is contained and if there is any leakage it will be contained in the cooler.

Place the turkey inside the storage bag and pour in the brine. Toss in the thyme bundle and peppercorns (and you can use any herbs or aromatics you like here).

Top the turkey off with an additional gallon of water and the entire bird should be covered.  Close the bag and lay a bag of ice on top (this will help keep the turkey submerged). Let the turkey soak for 24 hours replacing the ice as needed.

The next day remove the turkey from the brine and rinse under cool water. Allow it to drain and pat off any excess water with paper towels.Cut a couple apples in half and stuff in the cavity. Also add onion and celery. This will add mass to the turkey helping it cook even and gives it some additional flavor.

To season the turkey skin, use a mixture of:

  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 cup Granulated Garlic
  • 1 TBS Poultry Seasoning
First spray the outside of the turkey with cooking spray to help the seasonings stick to the skin and keep the outside from getting to dark.  Apply the seasoning mix to the outside making sure to cover everything; then apply a light layer of The BBQ Rub.
The next step is to inject the turkey.  You can use a store bought injection like Tony’s Creole Butter, but here is another, homemade version:
Turkey Butter Injection
  • 1 stick real butter
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 TBS Hot Sauce
  • 1 tea Granulated Garlic
  • 1 tea Cajun Seasoning (Louisiana brand)
Melt the butter in a sauce pan and add the chicken broth, hot sauce, garlic, and Cajun seasoning. Whisk the ingredients together and remove from heat once incorporated.  It doesn’t need to come to a boil.
Let the injection cool and shoot it into the turkey. Hit the breast in 3-4 locations on each side and do the same for the legs and thighs.  Before placing the turkey on the smoker, use butcher twine to secure the legs and wings.
Now, after all of that comes the easy part… smoking the turkey. 

Smoke the turkey at temps between 275-300 degrees. Higher temps make for a better bird. The outer skin turns a beautiful mahogany color and is almost crispy.For smoke, use pecan or a fruit wood like cherry. And it’s pretty easy to over-smoke a turkey, so go easy on the wood.

Place the turkey on the smoker and set a timer for 1 ½ hours. As long as you maintain temps, there’s not much to do, just let it cook.

When the timer goes off, rotate the turkey on the rack to ensure it is cooking evenly on all sides. Never flip the turkey. It stays on the back, breast up, the entire cook.

It takes about 3 ½ hours to smoke a 10-12lb turkey but checking the internal temps is key.  It has to hit at least 165 in the breast and 175 in the thigh.

When you stick the turkey, juices should run out clear. There should be no trace of blood or pink colored liquid.

Start checking the internal about the 2 ½ hour mark just to see where it is.  At this point if the outside is starting to get dark,  lay a piece of aluminum foil over it.  The foil acts as a tent and will prevent the skin from browning any further.

Once you see a temp of 165 in the thickest part of the breast and the juices are running clear out of the thigh (175 internal), the turkey is done…. Almost… you want to let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.  If you go at it too soon with the knife, all of the juices will run out onto your cutting board and you’ll have dry turkey.  Be patient and let things cool off for a few minutes.
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