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Every Thanksgiving my husband smokes a turkey. It’s become a tradition. And it’s the best tasting tradition ever! I want to share the recipe and tutorial with you today so it can become a tradition at your house too!
The best way to ensure that your turkey is moist and flavorful whether or not you are smoking it is to brine it. What’s a brine? It’s kind of like a soup that you marinade the turkey in for at least 24 hours before smoking or baking it.
Turkey Brine Recipe:
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 gallon chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorn
- 1 1/2 teaspoon all spice berries
- 1 gallon iced water
- 1 clean (never used for chemicals) 5 gallon bucket with lid
Thaw the turkey 2-3 days ahead of time in the refrigerator. Combine all brine ingredients EXCEPT ICE WATER in a large stockpot. Cook over medium high heat until boiling. Stir occasionally. Once boiling, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. You can put it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
The night before cooking the turkey, pour the brine and gallon of heavily iced water into the bucket and add the turkey breast side down to the bucket (with all innards removed). Add the lid to keep the turkey down in the brine. Set in a cool area for 8-16 hours, turning the bird halfway through.
How to Smoke a Turkey
Smoking a turkey can take 4-7 hours to cook through. So be sure to start well ahead of time. Even if the turkey is done early, you can cover it tightly with foil and it will still be hot when you cut into it hours later!
First things first. Get a good thermometer. The dial thermometer on your smoker can not be trusted. Don’t trust the pop up thermometer on the bird either. Just take that right out of the bird. The best combination thermometer is the Maverick Et-732 Remote Bbq Smoker Thermometer. This thermometer helps you monitor internal temperature of meat from 300 feet away. A wireless receiver with lcd beeps and flashes when meat temperature goes above your programmed temperature. It has two probes, one that goes into the turkey breast and one that can be clipped inside the smoker to monitor the inside temperature.
Next get a good smoker. We have the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Charcoal Smoker and really love it. The turkey fits perfectly on the top under the lid. And it stays insulated enough during the cold Thanksgiving Eve night during cooking. Be sure to place the smoker somewhere where there is shelter from wind. Wind will wick away the heat and take the turkey longer to cook. My husband uses large pieces of cardboard and bamboo to create a shelter for our smoker.
We use Hickory Wood Chunks for our smoked turkey. You soak them in water for about 15 minutes prior to using so they last longer. We also use plain old Charcoal Briquets and a Rapidfire Chimney Starter. Fill the chimney starter full with briquets, add crumbled up newspaper spritzed with vegetable oil on the bottom and light the newspaper. Then wait until the briquets are all turning grey then pour them into the charcoal pan in the bottom of the smoker. Take the wood chunks out of the water and wrap them in tin foil. Place them directly on top of the charcoal briquets.
Crank your smoker up to 325°F or as close as possible as measured at the level of the cooking grate by a digital thermometer. Do not measure the temp using the cheap thermometer in the lid unless you plan to eat the lid. There can be a great difference between the grate temp and the lid temp.
When it is hot, clean the grate you will cook the bird on before you put the drip pan in. Add the drip pan and fill it with water. DO NOT add stuffing to your bird and make sure the innards are taken out. You can make gravy with the innards later. And you could make “Stuffins” instead of stuffing the bird with stuffing 🙂
If you have a leave-in digital thermometer with a probe on a wire, insert the probe into the breast so the tip is in the center of the thickest part of the breast, being careful not to touch the ribs. Digital thermometers have small sensors and they are very close to the tip, so they are by far the best.
Place the bird on the cooking rack, breast side up, close the lid and don’t open it for an hour. No basting.
Every 3 hours add more charcoal and wood chunks as they cook away. Cook the turkey until the breast reads 180 Degrees. Trust me, we’ve tried stopping at 160 degrees like most thermometers say and there were many raw parts of the bird.
If you fear that the bird is progressing too slowly and you are having trouble keeping the temp up to 325°F, preheat your indoor oven to 325°F and move the bird inside. Check temps all over the bird. The meat will be pinkish when cut because of the process of smoking it.
Be sure to let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes covered tightly with foil. Serve with all the Thanksgiving trimmings!