Thursday, December 29, 2011

Smoked Turkey

This post was heavily edited by the husband.

We were in beautiful San Diego over winter break visiting family. It was in the 70s during the day and we got our feet sandy on multiple occasions. Happiness. Prior to our arrival, my husband's step-mom had suggested we try smoking a turkey for Christmas dinner. It was something we hadn't done before and I love trying new things so we readily agreed.

This was the view from the patio that led us to outdoor cooking. How could we not?

Instead of a recipe, it started with a page of notes that my husband's step-mom had jotted down while talking to one of her brothers. She has four brothers and they all seem talented at smoking turkeys and more generally, any meat-meets-fire cooking venture.

Then a second brother was located and another long conversation took place. I'm not sure if it was the passed-down knowledge but that turkey was amazing, and my husband made it look so easy. He did admit it was a little stressful cooking something for the first time for such an important meal, but it was worth it; smoked turkey is fantastic!

The turkey was done on a regular Weber 22-inch kettle grill using indirect heat. It took three hours and my husband fed the fire 10 new coals (5 on each side) and handful of wet hickory chips every thirty minutes. The the skin was a beautiful dark golden color when it was done and the breast meat was still juicy and so flavorful, infused with hickory smoke.

It is definitely a different kind of turkey and I need to think more about the perfectly matched meal. We did a fairly traditional Thanksgiving-themed meal: apricot and sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, shallot gravy, green beans and chocolate pudding. My husband's step-mom added a delicious pumpkin pie. It came together well, but I am thinking you could really mix it up by pairing the smoked turkey with a spicy gravy and tangy cranberries as a starting point. If you love turkey, or even if you feel ambivalent about traditional turkey, you might give this a try.

Smoked Turkey

1 ~16 lb turkey
oil (canola or vegetable)

charcoal chimney
charcoal rails
charcoal briquettes
hickory chips
charcoal grill
drip pan
an oven safe thermometer (preferable) or an instant read thermometer
aluminum foil

Put the hickory chips in a bowl and let soak with water at least 30 minutes prior to use. You should have enough so that you can throw on a handful every 30 minutes while the turkey is cooking.

Put 2 sheets of newspaper loosely crumpled newspaper in the bottom of your charcoal chimney starter and fill the top with briquettes (my husband found inspiration from this video, if you've never done this before). Light the paper and let sit until the coals turn grey (this takes about 30 minutes). Make sure it starts to smoke, otherwise it means that it didn't take and you will need to add more paper to get it going. My husband had to add one more crumpled up piece of newspaper about 15 minutes into the process.

Rub oil all over the turkey and sprinkle (very) generously with salt and pepper. If you have leave-in thermometers, place them in the thickest section of the thigh. This explains the process very clearly. We had two thermometers so we did one on each side. It's helpful to have two so that you can be sure that both sides are cooking evenly.

When the coals are ready, make two even piles on either side of the charcoal grate (the lower one) with a large drip pan separating the piles (see the "indirect method" on Weber's page). It is helpful to have charcoal rails (make sure they're as close to the sides as will fit). Immediately add about 4 more coals to each side, as the chimney won't have had enough coals in it. Spread out the coals evenly with tongs. The pan will catch the fat drippings, hence the name. Feed a handful of hickory chips across both side. Now put in the cooking grate (the top grate). Place the turkey in the center and place the lid over the grill. Make sure the bottom and top vents are all open.

Every thirty minutes or so, add 10 coals the burning piles (5 to each side), and throw on a handful of hickory chips. Every hour, jiggle the bottom vent cover to get excess ash out.

Watch the thigh and legs, if they start to darken too much, cover them with aluminum foil.

Cook for approximately three hours or 10 minutes per pound. When the thigh temperature reads 180, remove from the grill. Let sit for 15 minutes and carve.

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