Every year the horror stories abound with talk of last year’s or every year’s dry Thanksgiving turkey. When we should be giving thanks for a Beautiful, Brown, Moist, Juicy, and Succulent Thanksgiving Bird as the centerpiece of our Holiday table, often-big bird has us singing the dry and tasteless Thanksgiving Turkey blues.
Many methods and ideas are used each year to combat this problem: To Fry or not To Fry? To inject? To baste? To cook in a brown paper bag? Frying a turkey is delicious, but unless you fry several it is not a very good return on the investment and is messy. I do not like sticking holes in my food and squirting liquid in to it. When the meat starts to cook the injecting liquid is pushed out. I have never understood or had any desire to cook inside the bag that my turkey was brought home in.
There are a couple of methods that I use each year that always result in a moist, flavorful, and golden brown bird with crispy skin and juicy meat. The first is to create a flavorful brine to marinate the turkey in. A brine is nothing more than a saltwater bath in which the bird sits overnight. The brine will moisturize and flavor the meat. The second is to Smoke-Roast the bird rather than just smoking or just roasting in the oven. Smoking at low temperature can produce rubbery Turkey skin, so I roast my previously brined bird over charcoal at higher temperature than I would use for just smoking. I usually smoke-roast between 300 and 325 degrees. I prefer to use my large Big Green Egg with a V-Rack and drip pan to catch all those juices to baste with while cooking.
The brine recipe is easy and can be flavored with your favorite seasoning. The following is my basic poultry brine, which all ends up in a clean, sterilized 5 gallon bucket. As long as the temperature is below 43 degrees outside I will place the bucket – turkey and all outside on my deck to sit overnight on a cool Nashville, Tennessee night. A note on the size of your turkey, “Bigger is not Better”. I prefer a 12 to 15 pound bird to cook, rather than a 20 to 25 pound turkey. The smaller birds are more tender and easier to handle. If I am feeding a crowd I buy two smaller birds rather than one large one. Another advantage to this is twice as many Turkey Legs.
For the Brine:
1 Turkey (12 to 15 pounds) thawed and rinsed.
1 ½ cups salt, (kosher or sea salt is better than iodized)
1 Quart hot water
1 Cup brown sugar
5 Cloves of garlic, crushed
1 Onion, sliced
1 Tablespoon red chili flakes
6 Sprigs fresh rosemary, smashed a couple of times with the back of a knife
4 Oranges, juice and zest
2 Lemons, juice and zest
5 Bay leaves
4 Whole cloves
In a 2 quart sauce pan over medium high heat bring the hot water, salt, brown sugar, and chili flakes to a boil, then turn off and allow to cool to room temperature. Place the turkey in the 5-gallon bucket or large stockpot and pour in the salt-sugar water and add enough cold water to cover the bird. Add the remaining ingredients to the bucket and mix it around. Cover the opening with a 1-gallon resealable bag full of ice so the bird stays submerged and cover. If below 45 degrees outside, but not below freezing sit the entire bucket out side. Or place in the refrigerator and allow to brine over night. 12 to 16 hours is perfect.
To cook the Turkey:
1 Brined Turkey, patted dry
6 Tablespoons Butter, melted
The cooking time will be determined by the size of the bird. I usually allow about 3 hours cooking time and 30 minutes resting time before I carve the turkey. Preheat a charcoal grill or smoker to 325 degrees. Place the turkey on a rack and place a drip pan underneath it. I use my Big Green Egg with a V- Rack and a 9” x 11” disposable pan as my catch pan. Brush the outside of the turkey with melted butter. There is no need to season the bird, as it seasoned over night. Cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours, basting every 30 minutes with the pan drippings and butter. Check for doneness by inserting a probe thermometer in between the thigh and breast. Internal temperature should read 170 degrees to be done. Keep in mind that the turkey will continue to cook up a few degrees as it rest.
Remove the turkey from the grill or smoker and place on a warm platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before you begin to carve- keep in mind the larger the bird the longer it will need to rest.
The process is longer than what the average Thanksgiving turkey goes through, however the result will be worth all of the effort when you are enjoying a delicious Thanksgiving feast with your family and friends. As a bonus, you will never have to sing those Dry Thanksgiving Turkey Blues again.