Thanksgiving & Christmas will be upon us soon! As far as Thanksgiving goes, the center-piece of most of our dinner tables will be the bird, a juicy Turkey. But, it is also customary for many households to prepare a turkey for Christmas instead of a Ham. Now, how about instead of super heating a turkey in your oven for that special occasion… you make a mouthwatering, smoked and slow cooked turkey? The low temperature cooking in a smokehouse will make your bird amazingly juicy, tender and succulent while the brine and butter glazing will give it the unforgettably delicious taste your guests will never expect or forget!
As always, sanitation and careful preparation of meats is vitally important to enjoying a safe final product. Clean ALL the equipment that will make contact with the Turkey (including hands). If the Turkey is frozen, let thaw overnight in container of cold water or until thawed. Remove the giblets from the cavity and wash the whole turkey with cold water.
Fill either a brining bucket, cleaned stainless steel pail or food grade container with enough ice-cold water to cover your turkey (Poland-Made Ceramic Brining Crock shown in picture above). For our brining bucket this turned out to be roughly 1/3 filled but it will be different for every bird and container. Now mix in the correct amount of Poultry Brine seasoning and Cure to match your bird’s thawed weight (usage amount on seasoning label), for us it was the 8oz cure packet and 1 lb Poultry Brine. Stir for a minute or two so that the brine mixture is effectively diluted. If you have a salometer handy, take a measurement, it should be in the 22-25 degree range, if higher then add 1 cup water, stir again and measure. Now we are going to spray-pump the bird with 10% of its weight, our gobbler is 12 lbs. So we pump in 1.2lbs. (or 18oz) of the brine in various areas, especially the thick breast and thigh areas (shown in pic below). This amounts to 4 ½ pumps of our 4 oz. capacity meat pump. Now plop the bird into the brine, if it’s a “floater”; place a cleaned, weighted object on top of it to submerge the entire turkey. Place in a cooler or refrigerator (36-40F) for 48 hours.
Pump the Thighs and Breasts
Submerge the bird in the Brine (aka 'Pickle')
Basic Poultry Brine for 15-20 Lb. Bird (if not using Poultry Brine Seasoning):
- 2.5 Gallons of Water (36-40F)
- 3/4 Lb. Powdered Dextrose OR 2/3 Lb. Table, Brown or Molasses Sugar
- 8 oz. Cure #1
- 1 Lb. Salt
- 2 Tbsp. Black Pepper (optional)
- Note: If using soy sauce, cider, wine or other liquid.. adjust water amount and beware of inherent saltiness/sweetness of those ingredients.
Basic Brine per 1 Gallon Water for Poultry
- 1 Gal Cold Water (36-40F)
- 1/2 cup non-iodized salt
- 3 oz. Cure #1
- 3 oz. Sugar (Molasses, Brown, Table...etc.)
After two full days of brining, the turkey is ready to be smoked. Remove it from the brine and wash off the excess salty brine from the exterior with cold running water. Put the bird aside, let it drain for an hour or so (until it is dry/tacky), meanwhile preheat your smoker to 130F. At this point you can snuggly insert the bird into a stockinette bag, which will keep the wings/legs from staying ‘open’ in the flying position...(like ours).
If you use a stockinette bag, it is preferred to hang it in the smoker on a dowel and stockinette-hook instead of laying flat on shelving. We wanted extra smoke absorption so we put our stockinette-free turkey right onto a shelf with a bit of cooking oil (to prevent sticking). You can of course simply truss the leg bones together with butcher’s twine too. Let the turkey warm and partially dry at 130F for approximately 1 ½ to 2 hours with dampers fully open. With a full pan of Hickory Sawdust or Apple Wood Chips smoke for 4-6 hours with dampers half-open at 150-160F.
When it has reached the smokiness you want, baste a little butter on the turkey’s skin and continue to cook in smoker at 180F until the internal temperature reaches 165F. Having a small pan of water underneath the turkey will help prevent excessive drying during this long process. We used a Remote Smoker Thermometer to monitor the temperature of the smoker and turkey from inside the house, setting the Meat Alarm to 165F and Smoker Alarm to 190F (to warn us if too high temperature). We hung the smoker probe about 2” away from the turkey and the meat probe we inserted into the thickest part of the breast.
It took us a total of about 14 hours to complete the turkey-marathon, but it was WORTH IT! Once cooked temperature is reached, you can remove the smoked bird to inside the kitchen for some instant munching and room temperature cooling (should be cooled to 100F before refrigerating), which can take anywhere from 1-3 hours.
The kitchen filled with the aroma of smoked delight in less than a minute, then the rest of the house soon followed. It is a wonderful smell, but it is permeating and will stick around for a day or two, also WORTH IT! The skin was lightly crispy, smoky and delicious. The breast was succulent and tasty, always an impressive feat for the breast portion of a turkey. Everyone enjoyed the hot-off-the-smoker warm bites but, if you are making this for a Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner… you may have to show some supernatural restraint.
Hope this tutorial was helpful and inspired you to rethink the usual oven cooking of your turkey and instead, going for an artisanal, low-n-slow, turkey smoking adventure! Regardless of which route you choose… we would like to wish you and yours the Happiest of Holidays and the warmest of Season’s Greetings, from everyone here at The Sausage Maker!!