It all started with wanting to smoke the turkey.
I had stumbled onto a steal of a deal: a free-range turkey for $1.99 pound. What a great find! I’ll roast it, we’ll have meat for lunches, bones for stock, hurray for me! Once I got the bird home, the Hubby asked if he could smoke it, as he did with a pork shoulder the weekend before. Sure, why not? Sounds like a great idea, and keeps the cooking mess outside, thought I. I’ll even spatchcock the turkey so it cooks more quickly.
Spatchcocking is just another word for butterflying poultry. Removing the backbone and sternum from the bird allows it to lay flat & spread-eagle, reducing cooking times and ensuring more even cooking when using a grill or smoker. (Read: no more dry breast meat!)
Research on the Interwebs told us that to successfully smoke a turkey, it’s recommended that you brine it first. Awesome! I have always wanted to brine a turkey: I have heard and read that they are incredibly succulent and that the taste is vastly improved. (And I am all for improving the flavor: I have turned my nose up at roast turkey most, if not all, of my life. Seriously, can a meat be any more boring?)
Brining is just another age-old method of meat preservation that has gone by the wayside of everyday, modern cooking. Although it does require a little time, and a little effort, the gain far outweighs that initial, small investment. I recommend this site for excellent and thorough information on brining, including meat sizes & times, and suggested brine recipes. I also consulted Ye Olde Culinary Garde Manager textbook for brine recipes and guidance.
For the resulting brine I used:
1 gallon cold water
1/2 cup coarse sea salt, 1/4 cup organic raw sugar, 1 bay leaf, a handful of peppercorns, 4 cloves of garlic
I did not use any curing salts, as I didn’t have any on hand, and they are not necessary if you have refrigeration available. If it is unlikely that your brining bird will be kept below 40 degrees F, it would be wise to include a cure: the curing salts prevent the growth of bad bacteria.
All of the above was combined and brought to a boil, then removed from heat and allowed to rest until cool. It is very very important that the brine solution be cool, even cold. We are not poaching or boiling or cooking the turkey in this solution, so heat is not a part of the equation. The brine being cold also prevents the growth of unwelcome bacteria. Feel free to put the brine solution in the fridge or freezer to cool completely.
Finally, it was time for bird to meet brine. (Notice I didn’t remove the sternum? 😉 I’m so smart!)
Place the turkey in a large, nonmetal container, breast down if possible. (Please disregard the use of the metal container…) Add the brine.
Cover, and keep in a cool place for 24-48 hours. (notice the bird is now in a nonmetal container ;-))
Our turkey brined for a total of 28 hours. We removed the turkey from the fridge a few hours before we were going to smoke it; allowing it to come to room temperature is a good idea, as it makes the low heat of the smoker more efficient. Drain the turkey well before introducing it to your grill.
A side note: the brine solution, though used, can be saved & reused up to two or three times more, provided 1) the solution is still salty enough to truly brine, 2) it is kept under 40 degrees F, and 3) you only use it to brine the same meat, so no using this week’s turkey brine for next week’s pork shoulder – that is called cross-contamination, and it’s a bad idea.
The Hubby then prepared the charcoal, and soon we were in the home stretch. He used some cherry wood chips, as well as a bit of pecan wood, for flavor and additional smoke, and to keep the temperature in the 250-degree sweet spot. Keeping the temperature up was trickier than we had anticipated, but as the Hubby said, there is a learning curve to these things! (It’s only our second time using the smoker, and we’re totally winging this as we go along)
The leg quarters were done in four hours, maybe a little less; the breast took at least six. Even having spatchcocked the turkey, the cooking time was still lengthy, and we ended up removing the bird before it was fully finished cooking so that we could still get to bed at a decent hour. (Mornings come early for us!)
But it smelled and looked divine! I have never seen a prettier turkey; the skin browned gorgeously, and the flavor was unparalleled. My position of being a life-long turkey hater is now up for grabs – there is nothing tastier, more succulent or tender, than a brined, smoked turkey. Just incredible! Absolutely worth the efforts!
We are looking forward to taking on this endeavor again (there are nine pounds of boneless pork sirloin waiting its turn in our refrigerator), with the understanding that any future smoking adventures will take place during the weekend, with ample free time and mornings without alarm-clocks.