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How to Smoke Your Holiday Turkey…or…Deck the Hawrs with Boughs of Hawry

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Last year, I gave you my recipe for how to cook your Thanksgiving Turkey. I went back and revisited that recipe, and I think I SHOULD give you a bit of an update on how we REALLY cooked our Thanksgiving Turkey last year. Because rather than grilling it, we smoked it.

And I feel like I might need a bit of a testimonial on the TASTE of the bird, from one of the guests, because if you SAW the actual bird, you might think I had lost my mind. Seriously.

Because, honestly? It looked a little…well…not like how I was expecting it to look.

Fiddle dee dee, you say? Do you remember that closing scene in A Christmas Story, when the Bumpesses’ Bloodhounds have eaten Ralphie’s Old Man’s Turkey, and so the whole family goes out for Chinese on Christmas Day? And the waiters bring the Peking Duck, charred to a faretheewell, and lay it out on the table in front of the family? And then they chop off its head, right in front of her? And the mother screams?

Well, when you smoke a turkey, apparently, it gets more than a little, um, smoky looking, and honestly, it’s not going to win any beauty contests. OK, I’ll just go ahead and say it out loud: it looks burnt.

But, it tastes great.

So, just so you’ll know, here’s how it looks.

ACK!!!!!!!!!!!!! Y’all ATE THAT THANG????????????

Maybe I should just stop here, out of respect for all y’all who know a burnt bird when you see one.

Well, I would…
I know better.
And anyone who’s ever smoked a turkey knows better. 
Smoking a turkey leads to the most delicious turkey I’ve ever tasted. But it ain’t going to win the “Miss Butterball” Beauty Pageant, either, and I thought I ought to get that fact right out on the holiday table, from the git-go, as it were.
So go ahead and SHRIEK like the Mom did in “A Christmas Story” when they whacked off the duck’s head, if you must.

But here’s another  HUGE ADVANTAGE to keep in mind when you are contemplating cooking your turkey outside (via smoking, grilling, or even deep frying): it opens up VALUABLE OVEN REAL ESTATE on the day of the holiday, that you can use for rolls, stuffing, and/or any other baked side dish or dessert that you might be serving. So bear that in mind as you plan your holiday meal.

And now, we’ll get on with our presentation on how to smoke a turkey.

I brine mine, and here’s the brine recipe I use:
8 qt. water
1 1/2 c. coarse kosher salt
1 c. honey
2 bunches fresh thyme
8 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 T. coarsely ground black pepper
Mix brine ingredients until salt and honey are dissolved. 
Rinse turkey. Line an extra large stockpot (I used an old popcorn tin) with a very large, heavy, food-grade plastic bag. (I use a Reynolds Oven Roasting bag.) Place turkey in plastic bag, and pour brine over top. Let turkey brine overnight.
If you want to know how to smoke the turkey, I acquired these instructions from the mouth of my dear husband, The Big Bison, who is our resident turkey smoker. (Enough with the “How does he get that whole thing in his mouth AND get it lit?” comments. Don’t think I don’t see them coming from a mile away, because, I do. Before I was initiated in the ways of smoking, I made them myself.)

First, you gotta have a smoker grill. The type we use is called a Char-Griller, but there are better models, and worse models, so I’m not necessarily promoting this product. I’m just saying this one works just fine,

Oh, Black Turkey, Bam-a-Lam, before she got blackened, and smoked.
The coals under the wood produce the smoke that works its magic on the flavor of the bird.
You cook a turkey over indirect heat, so, light up a chimney full of coals, and dump half of the coals to the left and half to the right of the grate where the turkey is going to sit.

The coals were for starting the fire, but the wood is added next, on top of the coals, and is the predominate heat source throughout the cooking. (We used hickory wood, because that’s what we have.) You want to bring the inside of the smoker temperature to somewhere between 400-500º, before you put the bird in to cook.

I wanted the drippings from the turkey, so that I could use them for gravy, so the BB put the turkey on a rack inside a foil pan. Then he put about a half of an inch of water in the bottom of the pan, to keep the turkey moist while it cooked. (There’s also another pan, down below that one, under the grate, where he poured some apple juice, to add more flavor.) Place the pan in between the two piles of coals/wood, close the lid, and our 10 lb. bird took about 3 hours to cook, but that was with opening the lid a lot, to check on things.

The turkey is done when the temperature of the meat at the innermost part of the thigh registers 165º.

To me, the only negative about smoking a turkey is the turkey’s skin: the color is unattractive (it looks burnt) and surprisingly, the texture is NOT crisp. It is, in fact, leathery.

But the FLAVOR and JUICINESS of a brined, smoked bird cannot be beaten, in my opinion.

Please, don’t hesitate to ask questions in regard to anything that is unclear.

Will you have a bird for Turkey Day? How will your “goose” be cooked? 😀