Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Things I Love: Papa Bill's Smoked Turkey

For as long as I can remember, my father has smoked a turkey for Christmas and Thanksgiving. His method is not precise, as he does not use time converters, measuring cups, or any strict recipe. In fact- he pretty much goes on intuition every year, occasionally coming up with a new brine and a new "spice medley." Several things stay the same- he always uses a fresh turkey, two Hefty aluminum roasters and his trusty Weber grill turned smoker. As the hours roll on, the backyard smells like a fireplace and roasted meat- charcoal and smokey goodness. Every year the turkey gets better and better. This year- it was no exception. His turkey tasted like candy- perfectly moist and full of flavor.

smoked turkey- by w.a. heisler

what you will need:

one brining bag (not a trash bag..come on, people!)
charcoal grill (tester approved: Weber 22.5 inch One-Touch Gold)
chimney (plus newspaper and matches)
2 large Hefty roasters
cedar chips- untreated and food safe
two small aluminum loaf pans

one fresh, non-brined, natural turkey
trussing string
1 cup kosher salt
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 tbs. black pepper
6-10 cups of water

olive oil
spice medley of your choice (paprika, herbs de Provence, etc.)
salt and pepper
fresh sage, thyme and rosemary

optional: cut apples

turkey baster

things you will not need:
lighter fluid. don't do it.

prep time: 12 hours + for brine, 1 hour bird prep
4-7 hours smoking time

start by making the brine:
add 1 cup of kosher salt, 2 cups of brown sugar, and one cup of orange juice to 6-10 cups of boiling water.
bring to a boil and turn off. you will want this to cool down.

rinse turkey out. set giblets, neck and other innards aside (save them for gravy, or freeze them for stock.) set the turkey into the brining bag and add the cooled brine. brine for 12 hours minimum in the fridge. this works best overnight.

the next day:

start the grill about 45 minutes prior to putting the bird in.


rinse the brine from the turkey- many do not understand the importance of this step, but trust me. It is necessary. 

dry turkey with paper towels and set breast up on a non-wooden cutting board (this one is clear, but it is there!)  
with a standard boning (or even steak) knife, gently separate the skin from the breast meat. this step takes patience- don't be surprised if you poke a few holes here and there, but do be careful to keep them to a minimum. here you are creating pockets to add fresh herbs.
 remove any extra neck skin

soak two to three handfuls of cedar chips in water. my father uses the small loaf pans to do this. let them soak while you prepare the bird.

add olive oil to the bottom of the pan and shake the pan back and forth to distribute it evenly
pour olive over the top rubbing it in as you go along. make sure to adequately cover the wings- you do not want these babies to dry out!

if you plan on stuffing your bird, go ahead and do so- I never recommend stuffing a bird, however my father has done it for years with his smoked turkeys and it is always pretty tasty.


truss and tuck accordingly. this turkey had a plastic "truss," so we didn't have to deal with twine

wing tucking is something my father is fairly skilled at. I am not so skilled...
Next, combine sage, rosemary, and thyme. tuck whole herbs under the breast skin

mix up seasoning
rub the spices onto the skin

fill a loaf pan half way with water (keep a bottle of water near just in case you need to refill) separate charcoal onto both sides.

add the cooking grate- if possible, purchase one that is hinged and can be opened on the sides

set the turkey so it rests right above the pan of water. Add some apple slices if you want..

use your second Hefty roaster to cover the turkey. spread the soaked cedar chips on two sides of the grill. two handfuls- a little at a time.  over the next few hours you will want to not only add new chips, but drip a little water over the existing chips. maintain a steady water level in the loaf pan

close the grill up
damper it down..you want this baby to roll slow and steady

several hours in- check on the bird and baste as you see necessary. do not over-baste as you will want to maintain a perfectly smoked skin. add more cedar chips

several more hours in- (notice the cedar chips are now charred.) keep adding more chips and baste here and there.

timer popped- always make sure to use a standard meat thermometer in addition to the pop-up timer. this ensures your meat is properly cooked.

ready to carve!
don't leave any behind. questions? post them below!

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