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Thomas The Accidental Gourmet

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Smoked Turkey--Your oven will miss you

I know. The latest thing in turkeys is fried. Or turducken. Or carpaccio. (Just kidding about that one). The latest fad, if the amount of ads I receive is indication, is smoked turkey.

Fads come and go. Good taste: that's enduring. Somewhere around 45 years ago, my parents were on a hunting trip at Thanksgiving. Having no oven, they used a charcoal grill to cook their turkey. They've never used an oven since. And about five years ago, I cooked a turkey on an old beat-up weber for my mother in-law. That's her favorite way now, as well.

A couple years ago, my wife and parents bought me a smoker for my birthday. As much as I like turkey cooked on a Weber...a smoked turkey is even better. The last one I cooked, when I tried to pull off a drum stick, I got just a bone. The meat was that tender.

What you need:

A turkey. Preferably fresh, and without injected solution. That stuff just tastes awful. I'm assuming a turkey that's 16-20 pounds.
2 sticks of butter
1/2 to 3/4 cup of rubbed sage leaf
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

What to do with it:

Let your butter soften. Once it's to room temperature, mix in your spices.

Next, if you've never cooked a turkey, pull out the bag from the inside with the neck, giblets, etc. Trust me. You don't want to cook that in there.

Cut some of the excess skin from the back end of the turkey, close to the meat. Now, separate the skin from the meat. You're not cutting it away, just pulling it. Once you've got some separation, make a fist and continue separating skin from meat. Concentrate on the breast, but separate all the way around (don't separate the drum sticks). You're not going to skin the turkey--you're just making space for butter.

Once you've got most of the skin separated from the breast, put about 1/3 of your butter under the skin. You don't want one big clump--spread it around. Put another 1/3 of the butter under the skin in other places (the back, for instance).

Using paper towels, dry the outside of the turkey. Massage in the remaining butter on the outside of the skin. Place the turkey in an aluminum pan, breast side up, throw in 1/4 white onion, a couple stalks of celery, about 12 ounces of water, cover with aluminum foil and set aside.
If you've only got a grill, get a good bed of coals going. Move the coals to the outside rim, close down all the air intakes, and put on the turkey. You'll cook about 20 minutes per pound. About every 2 hours, add fresh coals. Baste at the same time. The key is to keep the coals on the outside: you don't want direct heat.

If you've got a smoker, get your fire going at least an hour before you put on your turkey--you don't want it flaring up. Once your temperature is steady, put your turkey on, covered in foil. Your turkey will take 20-30 minutes per pound, with a temperature between 200 and 220 degrees. You're going to want to check the fire box about every two hours: baste the bird at that time. I like to use pecan wood for the first 4 to 5 hours, then switch to something more mellow, like fruit wood.

In either method, once you're done let the turkey rest for about 20 minutes prior to carving. It may be pink in places. That's OK. It doesn't mean it's raw, only smoked.

Remember that bag o' parts? About two hours before your turkey is due to come up, place them, along with some celery, onion, and a tiny bit of carrots into a pot with 16 ounces of chicken broth, and cook on medium-high. Check occasionally to be certain that you haven't cooked away the liquid. When your turkey comes off the grill, pull out the parts and add some of the juice to this broth along with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of milk, and then add flour or corn starch (in incremental, small amounts) to thicken to your preference. Chop up some of the liver and throw it in. Now you've got gravy for your turkey. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a good pinot noir.


catherine said...

Hi Thomas,
This is my favorite post yet! I'm so glad you wrote the instructions down for this family favorite.

Much love,

catherine said...

Oh! I want to add my CSA (community supported agriculture) plug! Last year's turkey was exceptionally good with the all natural-grass fed heritage breed turkey that we had.


Thomas said...

My cousin, the hippie :)

Amber said...

We are headed to Kentucky for Thanksgiving- maybe I should take our smoker (that we have owned for the past year and never used) and smoke a turkey out there! Now I know where to find the recipe when I need it.