Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A guide to smoking a Thanksgiving turkey: Part 1

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 11:15 AM

click to enlarge The smoked turkey is on the left, a roasted turkey is on the right.
  • The smoked turkey is on the left, a roasted turkey is on the right.

Fat City decided to take advantage of having an American Royal Grand Champion in our backyard and turned to Bob Denner -- who with his brother Don makes up the Boondoggle BBQ team -- and knows a thing or two about the process of smoking.

Denner agreed to walk us through the steps of preparing and smoking a turkey on Thanksgiving. It's the kind of conversation that leaves you hungry and glad that turkey day is only 48 hours away.

If you haven't bought your turkey yet, you'll be spending a bit more (the difference is likely about $1 a pound and the recommended serving size is a pound per guest) because a fresh turkey makes a lot more sense. You could thaw a frozen bird in cold water, but if you've slacked on picking out a turkey, you probably shouldn't pick a method of preparation that requires extra effort.  

"Safety is the first thing that comes to mind. Salmonella is not a fun thing to be thinking about," says Denner.

Once you've got the turkey at home, you'll want to brine it -- the key to having a moist turkey on the table. Denner uses a five-gallon cooler -- the jug that you might use for tea or lemonade -- and fills it with the brining solution (typically some combination of salt, sugar and spices), turkey, and ice. You may have to refill it with ice, but you want to keep the temperature under 40 degrees to prevent bacteria growth.

After the turkey is finished brining -- 12 to 15 hours -- rub the entire skin

with a light coat of olive oil. This will help tighten up the skin and

give it a nice red color when the bird is cooked. On top of the olive

oil, you can add a dry rub. Denner recommends Plowboys Yardbird -- the rub made by American Royal Invitational Grand Champion Todd Johns of Blue Springs, Missouri. Another trick for adding moisture is to place cut-up apples, oranges or lemons inside the cleaned-out cavity. 

As for what you'll need for the smoker, Denner advises you to stay away

from wood with strong aromas and flavor profiles like hickory or mesquite that can easily overpower

the taste of the turkey.

"You want to use a lighter wood, like apple, pear, or cherry. You don't

want to over-smoke the meat, especially if the people you're serving

are accustomed to smoked meats," says Denner.


If you start now, you should be ready to fire up your smoker or pit tomorrow. Because if turkeys are anything like the first pancake, you're going to want to have a spare.

Tomorrow, Fat City will will cover how to smoke a turkey and what to do if your turkey is ready too soon.

[Image via Flickr: ddaarryynn]

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