The bird has been purchased, brined and brushed with olive oil. It has a healthy coat of rub. (If you need advice on any of these steps, see yesterday's Part One). You are finally ready to smoke your Thanksgiving turkey.
The traditional axiom of cooking something slow and low can go out the window when it comes to smoking your Thanksgiving turkey. Bob Denner of Boondoggle BBQ recommends heating up the smoker to 325 degrees, much higher than you might want for brisket or pork butt.
"Don't be afraid to get the temperature up high. Otherwise, you'll have a dark bird with skin that is all rubbery," says Denner.
A turkey will take about 25 minutes per pound (if you're cooking at 325 degrees), so a 10-pound bird would take approximately 4 hours and 10 minutes. When it comes to monitoring the temperature of the turkey, you want to make sure the thickest part of the thigh is between 170 and 175 degrees and the breast is at least 165 degrees. These temperatures, Denner says, will leave you with a tender bird that isn't dried out.
Here's where you might want to consider investing in a digital probe, which lets you monitor the turkey's temperature without opening your smoker, since you'll lose heat and moisture each time you peek inside.
After a few hours, Denner recommends that you put the turkey in a roasting pan and tent it with foil. This will help to keep some of the smoke out, while allowing you to keep the turkey moist by adding juice to the roasting pan while steam collects under the foil. That could also be the point where you consider your progress to date a success and retreat to the kitchen.
"There's nothing wrong with putting it on the smoker for a few hours and finishing it in the oven. I would advise that route for somebody who is not accustomed to smoking," says Denner.
That's the way to keep the turkey from being oversmoked while making sure it's cooked the whole way through.
"Because the turkey is the centerpiece of the meal, how it looks on the table is going to determine how everything else looks around it," he says. "When I picture a great turkey, it's reddish or mahogany. I don't think anybody wants a dark brown or black turkey."
If your turkey happens to get done early, you can put it in the roasting pan tented with foil. Place it inside a dry cooler you can seal and monitor the temperature. If you want to keep the cooler warm, Denner recommends a foil wrapped brick or rock heated in your pit and then rolled in a towel underneath the bird in the cooler. You can then put the turkey in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes in order to firm up the skin.
Good smoking and happy eating.
[Image via Flickr: Robert S. Donovan]