Sage advice this week of Thanksgiving is be sure to brine before it’s time. Time to smoke or roast your holiday turkey, that is.
The proof has been in the tasting here at the shack-ri-la since we started brining a Thanksgiving or two ago. We always smoke our holiday turkeys, and they’ve all been dee-lish. Brining creates a smoked turkey that is over-the-top tasty.
Brining is simply soaking your turkey in salt water and some seasonings for several hours. A good brine is a cinch to make and only takes a few minutes. It helps a turkey or any poultry come out moist and loaded with flavor.
You’ll want to thaw your turkey before Thanksgiving so it has time to soak 16 to 24 hours in the brine.
I finally gave brining a try after some cajoling from my buddy Hog Ears, the best outdoor chef I know. The fabulous fare he whips up over a campfire or on the grill is haute cuisine.
Every Thanksgiving, Hog Ears smokes a turkey where he lives in Alaska, and I smoke one here at the shack-ri-la. That evening, we send each other pictures of our masterpiece turkeys.
Search around and you’ll find as many brine recipes as there are concoctions for chili. I took an idea here and another there to create my own brine. We’ve been tickled with the results, and it’s so easy. Here’s all you do.
Add about two gallons of water, a cup of salt and two cups of brown sugar to a large pot. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Pour in a pint or two of apple juice. Slice up an unpeeled orange and add it to the pot.
That’s good enough, but here at the shack we jazz it up with some seasoning. We add six bay leaves, three or four cloves of minced garlic, half a handful of dry rosemary or three sprigs of fresh. Shake in some pepper.
Substitute any seasonings you like to create your own recipe. Water, salt and brown sugar are the key ingredients. Bring everything to a boil, then let it cool.
Next you’ll need a bucket, pot or similar container large enough to hold your turkey. A small ice chest is perfect for soaking an 11-pound bird. Pour the brine over the turkey so the bird is submerged. Soak in the ‘fridge or other cool place for 16 to 24 hours. We soak our turkeys for about 20 hours with good results.
Take your turkey out of the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. Discard the brine and smoke or roast your turkey as you normally do.
Hog Ears and I both use a kettle-style charcoal grill to smoke our turkeys. Get a good sized pile of briquettes going. Be sure to use plenty of charcoal.
Soak some hickory chunks or whatever smoking wood you like in water for 15 or 20 minutes. When the coals are ready, divide the hot coals into two piles, one on each side of the grill. Place a hickory chunk on each pile. Now place your turkey in the center of the grill so it’s not directly over the coals. Put the lid on the grill and open the vents about half way.
How long to cook depends on how hot the fire is and the size of the bird. The 11-pound turkey we smoked last Thanksgiving was done in about 3 ½ hours with the temperature inside the grill around 350 degrees.
Most turkeys come with one of those pop-up things that tell you when it’s done. Our bird was done before the gadget popped up. An instant-read digital thermometer takes the guess work out of knowing when it’s thoroughly cooked. The minimum safe internal temperature of the breast is 165 degrees.
We took our turkey off the grill at 173 degrees, let it cool for 30 minutes and enjoyed the best turkey ever.
On Thursday we can’t wait to fire up the grill and smoke our Thanksgiving turkey. We’ll send Hog Ears a picture to keep our holiday tradition going.