Brined and Smoked Turkey

Smoked Turkey IMG_0616A man and his meat. It’s a beautiful thing. My husband Rich loves, loves, LOVES to grill, and with the recent addition of a Big Green Egg to his fleet of fiery furnaces, he’s learning a whole new way to barbecue. This brined turkey recipe from Weber Grill’s website has received rave reviews from the guests at our table, so I think it’s safe to say it’s a keeper. (He’s followed the recipe for the brine, but not tried the gravy yet, so that portion of the recipe is not included. The instructions below are for the Green Egg process which is charcoal, not a gas Weber grill.) Marinating in the brine takes 12-18 hours, and the smoking takes about 4-7, depending on the size of your bird. If it’s gorgeous out, it’s a great excuse for a guy to sit on the deck, soaking in the sunshine and enjoying the scent of smoked meat wafting through the air. If it’s cold and snowy (like this Christmas, when Rich smoked a bird for the extended family), it’s a labor of love. If he’s willing to labor, we’re willing to love it.

turkey on grillCouple tips. Rich found that the suggested 18-24 hours of brining made the bird far too salty, so he’s cut the brining time down considerably. He’s also found a handy chart on the Big Green Egg website with turkey tips. Rich slapped some slices of bacon on the big birds about halfway through smoking them. Why? Why not! He likes bacon.

In the photo at right, the two smaller birds are pheasants. Our son Brandon brought those pre-brined to a family party, and brushed reduced maple syrup on them as they smoked. Mmmmmmmmm. They were delicious.

Serves 8-12

For Brine

2 quarts apple juice
1 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

For Turkey

1 whole turkey, 10 to 12 pounds, fresh or defrosted
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cooper and ChesterIn a large pot combine the brine ingredients. Stir vigorously until the salt is dissolved. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey (and cook giblets for your dogs—our dog Cooper, and our granddog Chester love this part). Rinse the turkey inside and outside with cold water.

Partially fill a cooler with ice. Open a large, sturdy plastic bag in the cooler. Place the turkey, breast side down, in the bag. Carefully pour the brine over the turkey and then add 3 quarts of cold water. The turkey should be almost completely submerged. If some of the back is exposed above the brine, that’s fine. Press the air out of the bag, seal the bag tightly, close the lid of the cooler, and set aside for 12 to 18 hours.

Smoking Turkey

If using wood chips, soak in water for at least 1 hour (no need to soak wood chunks). For charcoal grill, fill a chimney starter to the rim with charcoal and burn the coals until they are lightly covered with ash. You will want to smoke turkey with indirect heat, so place coals to side of cooking area. Carefully place a large, disposable drip pan in the center of the charcoal grate and fill it about halfway with warm water. This will help to maintain the temperature of the fire. Put the cooking grate in place, close the lid, bring the heat up to 350° Fahrenheit with all vents open. Then set vents to almost closed to reduce to low heat (200°). (If using a gas grill, follow manufacturers instructions for smoking.)

Remove the turkey from the bag and rinse it, inside and outside, with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine. Lightly coat the turkey with some of the melted butter. Season with the pepper.

Add two wood chunks or two handfuls of wood chips (drained) to the charcoal, and close the lid. When the wood begins to smoke, place the turkey in the center of the cooking grate. Position the bird so the turkey legs face the charcoal. Cook the turkey over indirect low heat, with the lid closed, for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, turn turkey breast-side up, and add more wood chips. Close the lid, and watch until the temperature is back up to 200°. Continue to cook the turkey with the lid closed, for a second hour, maintaining that 200° temperature.

At the end of the second hour, baste the turkey all over with the remaining butter. If any parts are getting too dark, wrap them tightly with aluminum foil. Continue to cook the turkey. The total cooking time will be 4-6 hours. The turkey is done when the internal temperature reaches 160° to 165° in the thickest part of the thigh (not touching the bone).

Transfer the turkey to a cutting board, loosely cover with foil, and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving (the internal temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees during this time). Carve the turkey, and serve.