Nothing beats a great smoky BBQ, and the same can be said for a delicious oven-roasted Thanksgiving turkey. So why not combine them?! That way you get the best of two worlds: those rich smoky flavors combined with the succulent taste of turkey. Smoking a turkey is something everyone should try at least once, and it is really not all that difficult! With a few basic guidelines, anyone can add new life to that Thanksgiving classic.
Almost every American is well acquainted with an oven-roasted Thanksgiving turkey, but smoking it adds a great new depth of flavor, such as sweet and smokey. Smoking is also a great way to keep the meat juicy. Here we provide some tips and tricks for smoking your own turkey.
Before you start there are a few basic things you’re going to need. The basic tools you need for smoking a turkey are a smoker (or grill), some wood chips with which to smoke, and a remote probe thermometer for measuring temperature. With some easy steps, you’ll be smoking a turkey in no time.
The purpose of brining is to enhance the flavor and to increase tenderness by making the turkey juicier. Combine some basic brine ingredients such as water, a medium tart apple (sliced into 1/4-inch-thick pieces), kosher salt, maple syrup, bay leaves, cider vinegar, and whole peppercorns in a pot and boil. Remove from the heat when the salt has dissolved and add ice cubes to cool the brine down.
Put the turkey into an oven roasting bag (or two, which will prevent leakage) and add the brine. After squeezing out the air, close the bags, put them in a roasting tin, and put this in the fridge for about 12 hours. You can add some empty glasses in the roasting tin to help push the liquid over the turkey so the whole bird is covered with the brine.
The wood chips shouldn’t burn, but should smolder instead. For this, first soak them in water for about 30 minutes prior to smoking. Preheat your grill or smoker to 275°F to 300°F. Once the desired temperature is reached, add the wood chips to your smoker by carefully following the manufacturer’s directions.
If you don’t prepare your turkey correctly, you won’t get the best results. Take out the turkey from the fridge and bags and rinse it with cold water, then dry. Add whatever ingredients you like inside the turkey and tie up the drumsticks. Coat the bird with your favorite dry rub.
The turkey should be placed breast-side up inside the grill. You can place it in between two foil roasting pans. Now smoke the turkey with indirect heat for about three and a half hours. When the thickest part of the turkey is 175°F, then it’s finished.
Once your turkey is done, take if off the grill and let it rest for about 15 minutes. This is crucial so that the juices don’t all run out. You can cover the turkey with foil to keep the heat in while it is resting.
As with all smoking, the idea is to do it over a low heat for a long time. The timing will vary depending on how big the turkey is, but a guideline is to smoke 15 to 20 minutes per pound of bird at a temperature of about 275°F to 300°F. Thus, you are looking at about 3 hours or so for your average sized bird.
A better, and easier, measure to determine when the turkey is done is to smoke until the internal temperature of the bird is a consistent 175°F or so. It is important that the bird reaches this temperature in the thickest parts to ensure that the whole thing is properly cooked.
To prevent your turkey from drying out, make sure that you smoke it at the correct temperature. Also, be sure not to overcook it, so remember to check the internal temperature! That way it will come out its best. It’s not necessary to wrap the whole turkey in foil, since this will prevent the smoke from properly curing it and will potentially deflect too much heat.
You can use pretty much any wood that you like, but apple wood chips are probably one of the best to try out, especially if it’s your first time smoking a turkey. Apple wood chips are not too expensive and add great flavor to the bird. Other winners are cherry, pecan or maple wood, but it’s best to avoid mesquite since it can have quite an overpowering flavor.
A pound of turkey is more than enough per person, so you will easily be able to make 12 servings from an average sized bird, which is about 11-pounds or so. But you can scale it up or down as you see fit: there is nothing wrong with having some leftovers for the next day!
As long as you keep in mind that turkey is the quintessential Thanksgiving ingredient, then it is easy to see that pretty much any traditional Thanksgiving side will go well with smoked turkey: green bean casserole, cornbread, stuffing, brussels sprouts, or even creamy mashed potato. The plus side of having smoked turkey is that you can also include traditional BBQ sides like grilled. That way you can easily just add them to the grill for even less effort.