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Sunday, August 29, 2010

How to Smoke Turkey

In our opinion, there is no possible way to make turkey that even comes close to being as good as smoked turkey.  When done right, it's one of the best meats ever.  When done wrong... it's probably still pretty good as long as it isn't still raw.

Your best bet for making smoked turkey is to use an upright water smoker.  In the past, you've read about how we hate using water pans, as they suck up a lot of heat and tend to impede a nice bark, or crust, on some barbecued meats.  However, they are optimal for smoking turkey, due to the long cooking time.

This is not exactly a recipe, but a tutorial.

First, obviously, purchase the right turkey.  Try to find one between 10 and 15 pounds, as it will otherwise be too heavy for your smoker (and take too long to cook).  Rinse your turkey under cold water, and remove gizzards.  Some merchants will stuff the gizzards in a pouch inside the turkey in case you wish to use them.  That's up to you, we don't have gizzard recipes.  Tie the ends of the turkey legs close together with butcher's string, in order to keep it compact so it doesn't dry out.

Next, season the bird.  Remember, most of the meat inside will be unseasoned, since turkey is so thick (unless you inject it with something, which we think is weird).  Feel free to be minimal - salt, pepper, garlic powder, maybe some paprika both on the outside of the bird and in the cavity.  If you'd like, slice up garlic cloves and stuff them under the skin, plus some bunched up sprigs of rosemary inside the cavity.

You will need a lot of coals to cook a turkey.  Either light two charcoal chimneys, or light your coals directly in the coal pan about 1.5 hours before you're ready to cook.  Put in a few chunks of your favorite soaked hard wood for smoke, and keep plenty extra aside.

Place the coal pan (carefully!) in the bottom of your water smoker, and fill the upper pan with water, about an inch below the brim.  Place your turkey in the top rack.  Open a beer.

This turkey will take about 8 hours to cook, and you'll probably need to light another batch of coals halfway through.  When adding more coals, get a friend to help you remove the water pan.  It really sucks when water pans spill over onto coals. As long as your smoker is open, it might be a nice time to brush the skin with some olive oil, butter, or both.  Also, add more wood whenever smoke diminishes.

The turkey will be done once the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  The skin should be noticeably browned, and if you did a great job, the meat will be fairly pink most of the way through.  This is not due to rawness, but this is the color that comes with an abundance of wood smoke.

Remember to let the turkey sit for a good ten minutes before carving it up.  Meat tenses up after cooking, so allowing it to relax helps it become more juicy once you serve it.  Enjoy smoked turkey with a malty German lager, or a rauchbier if you're into that kind of thing.

Buy yourself an upright water smoker before November.  Practicing barbecuing a for a couple months.  Make this for Thanksgiving.

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