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snowangel

Smoking a Turkey

198 posts in this topic

We have many smoking gurus here.

Saturday we shall have a party, and many folks are clamoring for a smoked turkey.

Although I've done them before (pre-eGullet), would appreciate words of wisdom from our goddesses, gods and gurus.

I will use a big Weber, and have smoked enough on said Weber to be able to control (as in keep it low) temperature.


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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I did it once. Thanksgiving dinner started at 11 PM instead of the anticipated 7 PM.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I did it once.  Thanksgiving dinner started at 11 PM instead of the anticipated 7 PM.

Ouch. :-(

Snowangel, know that there really is no set time for cooking a large piece of meat. There are too many things to consider. For a turkey at the end of May, I would guess you'll need 4-6 hours depending on the size of the bird, weather conditions etc.

Check out The Virtual Weber Web site. I don't know what your setup is, but this site should give you a few great tips.

Also, here's what I wrote for my family cookbook:

Smoking

First, follow your smoker's directions. You should get the basics from its documentation. (This is especially true if it is gas or electric; I accept no responsibility if you follow these directions and blow yourself up.) These instructions are for a water smoker, as the recipes are not designed to dry the food but rather slow cook it.

A 'cylinder-style' charcoal and wood blocks/chips water smoker is the most common smoker. It looks much like a capsule or a bullet about 1 yard tall and 18 inches wide. It is divided into 3 sections. The very bottom holds the charcoal or wood; the lower middle is a water basin used to keep the food moist and the upper 2/3s is where the food cooks. Water smokers can be found in hardware stores for about $30 but can go as high as $300 at specialty shops.

One of the main problems in smoking food is the inconsistency of temperature during the cooking process. This is where an electric or gas smoker clearly has the edge. However, you shouldn't use an electric smoker if it is raining or where the ground is wet or damp.

When using charcoal and wood, the secret is to start off hot. Each of the smoking recipes included here use a 250°F (120°C) as the target temperature. It is easier to start hot and maintain a high temperature than it is to boost up a low one three hours into cooking. Also keep in mind the usual variables, season, air circulation, moisture, weather temperature, wind, and quantity and proximity of coals used can hinder or vary cooking times. Where and when are you smoking? Christmas Eve in Chicago is significantly different than Christmas Eve in Sydney, expect different weather patterns to change your finishing time. A 12-pound turkey can take 4 hours in the summer, 7 or 8 in winter.

Water smokers usually have a thermometer built in. Unfortunately, the temperatures warm, ideal and hot are not very descriptive readings. To get an actual reading I drilled a hole in the cover of mine and inserted a meat thermometer.

The best way to maintain a high temperature is to use a smokestack charcoal starter. (Never use lighter fluid... yeech!) They sell for about $12. It's just a round metal cylinder with a wire screen inside to hold the charcoal. Fill it up with your coals, crumble up a newspaper underneath and light the newspaper. 10-15 minutes later your coals are red hot and ready to add to the smoker.

At first I thought it to be a little ridiculous to buy a gadget like this but it makes sense to use it. Without it, when you put coals in the smoker, the energy that is used to cook the food is transferred to getting the coals hot, not cooking the food. Putting coals in while they are reaching the red hot stage allows additional energy to cook your food and you don't have to wait 20 minutes for the coals to get ready and the temperature to get back to where it was. It works wonderfully.

Another aspect to achieving and maintaining the 250°F temperature concerns water. For the same reason you don't put charcoal in the smoker without firing it up first, boil the water in the microwave before pouring it into the basin. I use a long plastic funnel (designed for putting oil in a car) that works really well for funneling the water through the small opening at the bottom of the smoker. Try to keep the water at a reasonable level. Not too much, not too little. The more water you have, the more energy required to boil it; the less you have, the dryer your meat will be. I usually use between 1 quart (litre) for stuff like ribs to 6 cups (1-1/2 litres) for whole turkeys.

Another problem I have encountered is the charcoal smothers itself out after a few hours. I solved this by buying a good quality metal colander (the kind you use for draining pasta). Inside the smoker I put my coals in the colander. During the cooking grab the colander with a tong and shake it about every hour. The ashes fall through and the coals show their red-hot surface.

Using the right wood can add some nice flavor to your food. Soak the wood for about 15 minutes before adding it to the fire. You want the wood to smolder, not flame up. The listing below, SMOKING FOODS - A GUIDE TO USING THE RIGHT WOOD, should help guide you along. Don't add your wood to the smokestack charcoal starter. After adding the charcoal to the smoker place the wood blocks on top.

Also, if you are smoking for more than two hours, you will need to add additional water and charcoal/wood. I alternate every half hour between adding wood or water. For example, if the food goes on at 2 p.m., I’ll add more charcoal/wood at 2:30, 3:30, 4:30, 5:30 and so forth. I’ll add additional water at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 and so on. This method helps make that 250°F (120°C) goal as close to being a constant as you can.

So basically, the steps for a good smoke are:

1. Take the weather into consideration when smoking or barbecuing. Is it windy, raining and cold?

2. Bring meat to room temperature before starting

3. Start off with a lot of charcoal in a smokestack charcoal starter (the goal is to get to 250°F (120°C)

4. Soak your wood for about 15 minutes

5. Place a metal colander inside the smoker

6. Boil about 1 quart of water in the microwave

7. Place charcoal and wood in the smoker

8. Insert basin and pour water in

9. Place food on wire racks above the water basin

10. Keep smoker covered because it takes about 30 minutes to recover the heat after opening

11. If you are cooking more than 2 hours, keep an eye on the thermostat and add charcoal/wood and water; alternating every half-hour or when necessary

12. Don't open the cover except to check the temperature of the food (if you inserted a thermometer into the meat) or to remove it. No peeking!

Other things to do

I also experiment with adding things to the water. Sometimes adding 1 cup of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot wine in the water basin along with some fresh herbs, whole peppercorns, mustard seeds, or liquid hickory smoke can add nice flavors.

Stove Top Smoking

I have also smoked foods on my kitchen stove. I use a fish steamer and wood chips. Soak the chips for about 15 minutes and place them in the steamer, no additional water is necessary. Place the tray above the wood, add your food and cook over medium heat. Cooking times are about the same as a barbecue. I've tried this with chicken and fish and have had favorable results.

SMOKING FOODS - A GUIDE TO USING THE RIGHT WOOD

Sorted by wood

Alder - A medium, tart smoke taste goes well with beef, fish and game.

Apple - A light, sweet flavor goes well with game, pork and poultry.

Cherry - Distinctive and delicious goes well with beef and game.

Grapevine - A strong smoke flavor goes well with beef and poultry.

Hickory - Heavy smoke flavor goes well with bacon wrapped roasts, fish and lamb.

Maple - Sweet, hearty smoke flavor goes well with bacon wrapped roasts, fish and lamb.

Mesquite - A light smoke flavor goes well with bacon wrapped roasts, beef and pork.

Oak - Heavy smoke flavor goes well with bacon wrapped roasts, jerky and pork.

Pecan - A rich, sweet flavor Goes well with everything!

Sorted by food type

Bacon Wrapped Roasts - Hickory, Maple, Mesquite, Oak and Pecan

Beef - Alder, Cherry, Grapevine, Mesquite and Pecan

Fish - Alder, Hickory, Maple and Pecan

Game - Alder, Apple, Cherry and Pecan

Jerky - Oak and Pecan

Lamb - Hickory, Maple and Pecan

Pork - Apple, Mesquite, Oak and Pecan

Poultry - Apple, Grapevine and Pecan

Use about 4-6 wood blocks to start with charcoal barbecues and smokers. Use wood chips with gas or electric barbecues and smokers, or, if you want to smoke over the stove in the kitchen. Soak wood or chips in water for 15 minutes for best results. This prevents the chips from burning too rapidly which gives a bad charred flavor.


Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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Nice post Really Nice.

Make sure to have a digital probe thermometer, pull the turkey out when the breast reaches 165. To make sure the inside of the legs cook sufficiently, cut the skin between the breast and the leg and let lay open.

If you brine the bird first, it will be done in about 2 1/2 hours given a 225 - 250 F temp inside the smoker (no shit! I've probably smoked at least a dozen). Since you're smoking the bird I wouldn't add anything fancy to the brine, just brown sugar and Kosher salt -- a cup each per gallon, you'll probably need two.

I highly recommend brining.

Very highly.

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Really Nice and Klink. Thanks for the advice. Makes me wonder, once again, why, under the cooking heading, there isn't a "smoking" section in addition to baking and cooking (listing, FG and JP?).

I just assumed that brining was what one does. Sort of like heating up a pan to fry and egg.

This all makes so much sense. And, yes, I remember to watch weather, and that it is easier to let the Turkey rest rather than have it not done until 11:00 pm, by which time the little kids will have gone balistic and we'll be too hammered to whatever.

And, both of you forgot the most essential part of smoking -- BEER!


Edited by snowangel (log)

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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I highly recommend brining.

Very highly.

Yes, listen to the Klink man.

I smoked a turkey a few weeks ago. I cut it in to pieces (breast, thigh, leg) so it was easier to deal with and brined it 24 hours. It took about 3 to 3.5 hours at an average temp of 200 F. This was a 14 lb. turkey.

Maggie, Lady T, and Aurora were eating it faster than I could cut it,


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Dean what do you use for your brine?


Edited by awbrig (log)

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Dean what do you use for your brine?

Klinks brine - water, brown sugar, salt (I think he has a recipe in the Egra).


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I highly recommend brining.

Very highly.

Yes, listen to the Klink man.

I smoked a turkey a few weeks ago. I cut it in to pieces (breast, thigh, leg) so it was easier to deal with and brined it 24 hours. It took about 3 to 3.5 hours at an average temp of 200 F. This was a 14 lb. turkey.

Maggie, Lady T, and Aurora were eating it faster than I could cut it,

Did you put all of the different types of pieces on at the same time?

What kind of beer did you drink?


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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I highly recommend brining.

Very highly.

Oh, I thought that was a given. :laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh:


Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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Really Nice and Klink.  Thanks for the advice.  Makes me wonder, once again, why, under the cooking heading, there isn't a "smoking" section in addition to baking and cooking (listing, FG and JP?).

Actually, that's why they made me a coordinator, that's my job. :wacko:

I have the power (beware of the thunderbolts! :laugh: ), but haven't had the time.

And, both of you forgot the most essential part of smoking -- BEER!

Actually, any alcoholic beverage will suffice, personally I'm a big fan of bourban laced with PCP. :raz:

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I highly recommend brining.

Very highly.

Yes, listen to the Klink man.

I smoked a turkey a few weeks ago. I cut it in to pieces (breast, thigh, leg) so it was easier to deal with and brined it 24 hours. It took about 3 to 3.5 hours at an average temp of 200 F. This was a 14 lb. turkey.

Maggie, Lady T, and Aurora were eating it faster than I could cut it,

Did you put all of the different types of pieces on at the same time?

What kind of beer did you drink?

I put the thighs on 30 minutes before the breasts (another good reason to cut the turkey up - I also used the back and wings to make stock for the mole verde).

I was drinking Negra Modelos and Pisco Sours and Sangria and Alsatian White wine :wacko:


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Whole turkey breasts can be more convenient, just don't overcook. 165F internal seems perfect. I smoked one yesterday, not brined, but injected with a Thai style marinade. It took about 2 and a half hours at 250F.

Jim

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The turkey was great; thanks for all for advice. The party was even better. Rule of thumb. Don't drink so much beer while grilling that you don't recognize the guests.

All sides from the recipe archive (ok, so one of them was contributed by me).

We had such a good time that a few of our guests are asleep in the family room. :biggrin::biggrin::biggrin: Guest of honor, Heidi, now 9, passed out one someone's lap at midnight. Carried to bed without moving a muscle. Good thing she only weighs 43 lbs.

As a side note, I got a fresh turkey from my local butcher. When I wondered how in the hell I was going to brine the thing (I had a pot big enough, but not enough fridge space, my butcher offered some cooler space for the brining bird, which I picked up early this morning. Full service butcher. All I did was bring the sugar, salt and pot with instructions as to amount of water and what time to start brining. It's a good thing when one is on a first name basis with the butcher, and it sure doesn't hurt when 2 of his kids went to high school with your husband.)


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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The turkey was great; thanks for all for advice.  The party was even better.  Rule of thumb.  Don't drink so much beer while grilling that you don't recognize the guests.

Smoked turkey and alcohol. :biggrin:

I want to party with you!


Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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I make my brine a little strong, then add ice cubes and put it and the turkey in a cooler in the coolest part of the house - usually the garage.(unless it's summer!!!) Works great.


Stop Family Violence

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I received my offset smoker from Char-Griller, so after I put it on the rest of the grill and burn it for a couple hours, I will be able to smoke without having the coals pushed to one side. My dad asked me to do a smoked turkey breast for his birthday, so I am bumping around the internet looking for ideas. You all were very helpful with my pork butts, so I figured I'd throw it out there.

Obviously I will want to brine it. Maybe a rub? Over or under the skin? I figure to smoke it at 220 or so until the meat is 165. Does smoking just the breast take less time than smoking a whole turkey (I would think so)? Any guesses on a time frame? Any words of wisdom?

Also, what will I notice the most going from coals on the side of the Char-Griller, to using the offset firebox on it? Any pearls for that too? Sorry to be so greedy!

Thanks!

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I received my offset smoker from Char-Griller,

What is this? Do you have a Web site reference?

Obviously I will want to brine it.

Very obviously! :biggrin: For every gallon of water add:

1 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup sweetner (sugar, mollases, maple syrup, corn syrup etc.)

2 tablespoons poultry seasoning (or make your own with thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, black pepper, and nutmeg)

1 cup milk

To identify how much water you'll need to make your recipe, place the breast in a pot large enough to cover the breast by four inches of water. Fill the pot with water up to the top of the breast and remove it from the pot. Make your calculations for the other ingredients based on the quantity of water in the pot and add your brining ingredients. Remove the wrapping from the breast, rinse under cold running water and place in the pot. Let it brine overnight.

I figure to smoke it at 220 or so until the meat is 165. Does smoking just the breast take less time than smoking a whole turkey (I would think so)? Any guesses on a time frame? Any words of wisdom?

220°F is good. I would smoke it to about 158°F and let carry-over cooking take it to 165°F. If you smoke it to 165°F, carry-over cooking will take it to 172 - 175°F and it'll be dry.

Yes, smoking a breast takes less time than a whole turkey, BUT, take the following into consideration. Outside temperature, wind, rain or sun, high pressure/low pressure... What is the temperature of the meat when you start? What is the temperature of the coals when you put the meat in the smoker? Hopefully you get the idea.

All these variables determine the time frame, so there is no straight answer. With practice, you'll learn through your habits and traits and will be able to identify how much time it takes.

Also, what will I notice the most going from coals on the side of the Char-Griller, to using the offset firebox on it?

I have no idea what you're asking. :sad:


Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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Thanks for the tips!!

Here is the website for the smoker: http://www.chargriller.com

I bought the "Super Pro" model at Lowes, and then bought the offset smoker box from the company to make it the "Smokin' Pro". My first couple smokes, I was putting my "fuel" on one side of the grill and then the meat on the other. Now I will be putting the wood/charcol in the firebox, and the meat in the main compartment.

Thanks again for the tips, I am looking forward to trying them out.

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It is the same unit that Klink has. You can build a real fire in it, which is cool, but it takes more attention to keep in the temp range you want.


Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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At Thanksgiving I smoked a whole turkey. I ground up some bacon, onion, garlic, thyme, and parsley in a food processor and stuffed it under the skin.

I would try to get a whole turkey, cut it into pieces (breasts and legs/thighs). It would be cheaper, and the thighs are much more tasty. When I smoked a 15 pound turkey earlier this summer, the thighs took about 2.5 hours and the breasts 2 hours at about 225.


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When I smoked a 15 pound turkey earlier this summer, the thighs took about 2.5 hours and the breasts 2 hours at about 225.

I was lucky enough to partake of this turkey, so I can vouch for guajolote's advice. Aurora, Lady T. and I attacked it before it even hit the platter.

That mole was damn good too!


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Just to update.....

Thanks for all the suggestions. I brined it overnight. I rinsed it, patted it dry, and put a paste of garlic, onion, kosher salt, cracked pepper, fresh parsley, and bacon. I then cheated a bit and injected it with a mix of beer, butter and honey. I smoked it with seasoned cherry wood in the offset box. It really ended up great. Thanks again for the tips, I kind of used a mix of all of them.

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I'm having a party on Saturday. The guest of honor has requested smoked turkey.

I've done me a mess of butts, and a lot of briskets lately.

Should I do whole turkeys? Just breasts?

It's been a long time since I smoked a turkey. I think the last time I did one was when Diana was 1, and she's almost 15.


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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Ah . . . me dear . . . smoking is about the only other use of turkey that yields an edible bird. (Frying, of course, is the other.) I have done them gazillions of times when nothing but turkey will do for fanatical tradition reasons.

First order of business is to brine the damn things. Don't waste any money on putting anything in the brine but salt. If you add sugar to the solution you get something more like ham in the end.

Before I continue with a brining strategy, you need to decide what to do with the bird. Yes, that whole bird is a thing of beauty on the platter. But . . . I gave that up for the practical reason of being able to pull the breast meat off the smoker before it gets dry. (Brining helps with dryness but a turkey needs all the help it can get.) I usually cut it up like white and dark meat quarters of a chicken. That makes it easier to set up for brining as well. Get an ax.

Back to brining . . . I don't usually have fridge space for the stupid birds so I use a cooler. Yes, you have to mix up a lot of brine but salt is cheap. I use frozen bottles of water to keep it chilled. We are never cold enough to just sit it on the porch. I usually brine "overnight" meaning at least 12 hours.

Then just apply the rub as you wish. I keep the smoker at about 225-250 like I do for pork. Then, I just watch the internal temperature.

Don't forget the The Virtual Bullet site for more tips and techniques.


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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