So since Christmas is just a week away, I thought it appropriate to share instructions for brining and smoking your bird outside.
Brining brings out the best in your bird and keeps the meat from drying out. Using a cooler, bucket, or whatever you have to hold the bird and totally cover it with your brine is what you need. If you can’t source anything, go to your favourite restaurant and see if they will sell you (give you is better, they just throw them out when they have too many piled up) a bucket that their fry oil comes in. Thoroughly clean and wash the bucket and make sure your bird fits. Best way, try it when it’s empty. That way you can fill it with water and see how much brine you’ll need to make.
The brine is easy and lets you embrace your creative side. Fill a stockpot with 2 gallons of water. Add your flavor profile. Or try this for a 12 to 25 pound turkey
2 pounds of kosher salt
2 cups of brown sugar
4 tbsp. black pepper
1 head garlic
1 coarse chopped onion
3 bay leaves
1 bunch of sage (dry is ok)
2 tbsp. oregano
1 quartered lemon (or orange)
Bring the water to a simmer to dissolve the sugar and salt but don’t bring it to a boil. When all the ingredients are combine, turn it off and let it cool.
Place your bird in the container and pour the cold brine over top. Add ice to keep it cool.
The bird will need at least 6 hours in the brine so this is your Christmas Eve project. After 6 hours, take Mr. Turkey out of the brine and wash your bird well under cold water. Place in the fridge overnight. Throw out the brine!
Make a flavoured butter. This is another creativity opportunity and should be done the day before.
½ lb. room temperature butter
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. oregano
¼ cup fresh sage (fine chopped or dry will suffice)
Smooth all the flavors together. Place in the fridge till you need it but bring to room temperature just before you need it. It has to be soft.
Turkey Day rules!
Know how big your bird is and how long the smoking (cooking) process is going to take!
Own a thermometer!
Know when dinner is being served!
Prep and know how long your accompaniments are going to take!
Get as much done ahead of time as possible!
Make sure you have enough fuel for the smoker or gas BBQ!
Have your wood chips soaked, pouched and ready to go!
Build a schedule and work it!
Prepping the bird.
Separate the skin from the meat by working your fingers gently between the breast and the skin starting at the cavity opening of the bird but being careful not to break the skin. Gently work the soft butter into the space you just created. This flavored butter will melt into the breast basting it in butter and all those flavors you added to it. Take the extra butter and rub it all over the outside of the bird. If you ran out of butter, massage it with olive oil. Season your bird with salt and pepper. Now stuff your bird with additional sage, quartered onions, garlic cloves and some lemon or orange slices.
Your stuffing should be done separately.
At this point your bird is brined, washed, dried, seasoned, and stuffed with aromatic. You’re ready to go.
Set-up your BBQ for offset cooking and smoking. Meaning if you have 2 burners, only light one of them, if you have 3, keep the center on off and light the outside ones. You want to set up a cooking environment that has no direct heat underneath the bird. Think about it. In your oven there is no direct heat source underneath the bird. Hot air circulates around it. This is what you’re doing outside. If you’re using charcoal, place the lit coal to one side so none will be under the bird. (Note. You’ll have to add more to keep the temperature constant so have a way to light more to add to the coals and minimize the open lid time.)
Pick a suitable wood for the smoke, like oak, pecan, or maple. If you use cherry or apple it is tasty but can create a pink ring under the surface and if you family doesn’t know smoke, they might think it’s undercooked. Soak your chips and make a smoke pack with one part soaked chips and one part dry. The dry will start early and the wet will smolder after the dry is done. Make two or three packs so you’re ready when one is done with a new one.
Place a pan on the unlit area to catch the drippings. Tin foil roast or baking pans are great for this. This gives you a drip pan. Add water, wine, and whatever else you would place around the bird in the oven. This gives you the base for your gravy.
Place your smoke pack on the heated element or on the coals.
Bring your grill to 400 degrees f. Smoke and roast for about 1 hour then turn the temperature down to 325 f. An 8 to 12lb unstuffed bird should take between 3 to 4 hours cooking time, subsequently an 18 to 20lb bird should take about 5 to 6/12 hours. Time can vary by 30 minutes so have a thermometer ready to check internal temperature (you want 165 degrees f) and always from the thickest part of the thigh. . Place the bird breast side down on your greased grill and over the drip pan.
Rotate your bird every 45 minutes or so to brown and cook evenly. Every grill and smoker will behave differently so pay attention and remember if you’re looking, you’re not cooking. Take some of the juices that have accumulated in the drip pan and baste. To minimize open lid time, you can create a secondary baste liquid of heated chicken stock with sautéed bacon, sage, and onions. Have it ready to go. So open the lid, turn the bird, baste the bird, and close the lid.
Pay attention and follow your bird’s path. Outdoor climate will affect the overall time but with patience you can create a Christmas turkey that will astound your family.
The classic French rules say that your cooked bird should stand as long as you cooked it for. I can’t do that but I will let my bird stand for at least 30 to 45 minutes after it’s out of the heat. Cover with tin foil and let the juices work their way back through the meat. If you do this and don’t turn off your grill you’ll have plenty of time to cook your veggies, stuffing, and make your gravy on the BBQ.
Remember planning is everything! Post a picture to my Facebook site of your wonderful accomplishment. But most importantly, have fun with it! I’ve been smoking our Turkeys for 10 years and I’ll never go back to the oven. It makes the difference.
Be well and eat well this Christmas and every day!
The Artisanal Grill