Can I Brine a Store-bough Turkey?
Some folks will tell you to not brine a store bought turkey but, for the life of me, I am not sure why not. I have been brining these turkeys for many years and some of them with as much as 12% solution added and it is NEVER too salty.
The process they do at the factory does not result in a salty turkey.. not even faintly so. The brining you do at home does a much better job and if you follow my instructions of using 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water for an overnight (10-12 hour) brine, it will be a more juicy, moist and tasty bird than it can ever be otherwise.
My recommendation is that you try to find a fresh, no solution added turkey if possible. If you can’t find that, then shoot for a turkey that has 8% or less solution added.
Once you do it one time, you will most likely never eat a non-brined turkey again.
Smoking a Turkey Larger than 14 lbs
I do not recommend smoking a turkey that is larger than 12 lbs.. 14 lbs is pushing it. This is due to the fact that the larger turkey takes too much time to reach a safe temperature at the low temperature. It is risky at best and in my opinion, is raising the chances that your family and guests could get a food borne illness.
To make it safe, keep the turkey on the small side (12 lbs is about right) and if you need more turkey, just smoke multiple turkeys figuring on about 2 lbs of raw weight per person.
You can figure a 12 lb turkey for every 6 people and it gives me plenty of turkey with a few leftovers.
Let me guess, you already purchased a big ol’ 22 pounder so what now? Well, you really only have a couple of options for smoking it safely.
Option 1: Smoke then Bake
Prepare the turkey as you desire, smoke it for about 2 hours at 225-240°F in the smoker then finish it in the oven at 325°F until it reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the breast and thigh. I expect this to take an additional 2.5 to 3 hours in the oven however, use the temperature as your guide rather than the time.
Option 2: Spatchcock (Butterfly) the Turkey
Using kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone of the turkey removing the backbone completely from the turkey.
You will then be able to lay the turkey open (the breastbone is the hinge).
Prepare the turkey as you normally would with seasoning under the skin, on the skin, etc.
Smoke the turkey with the skin side up until it reaches reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the breast and thigh.
By laying the turkey open in this way, it will cook must faster and more evenly and that’s a good thing with larger turkeys in the lower heat of the smoker.
Should I Stuff the Smoked Turkey?
ONLY after it’s done. Stuffing prevents the heat from flowing into the cavity as it needs to and causes it to take longer to cook, something you do not need at low smoking temperatures.
If you want the bird to be stuffed for presentation, make the stuffing in a separate container in the oven and stuff it into the turkey after the turkey is done cooking and just prior to placing it on the table.
It is fine to place a few pieces of onion, apple, butter,etc. in the cavity as long as the heat flow is not impeded in any way.
If you must travel with the turkey, it is probably best to make it a day ahead of time and just as soon as it reaches 165°F, place it into a roasting pan with the lid off and let it cool for about 25 minutes.
After cooling, cover the turkey with a large piece of foil, place the lid on the roasting pan and place it in the fridge.
Keep it cold (less than 40°F) while you travel.
Once you get to destination and about an hour before you are ready to eat, pour about ¼ cup of water down in the bottom of the roasting pan for humidity (prevents the meat from drying out) and if you have any extra maple/rub sauce from the smoking process, take it with you and baste the turkey again.
Place the entire roasting pan in an oven preheated to 350°F. It should take about 1 hour to reach a good eating temperature but if it gets done early, just turn the heat down to 170°F and hold it there until you are ready for it.
Keeping the lid closed and adding the extra moisture will revitalize it and it will be nearly as good as it was right out of the smoker.
How Long Does it Take to Thaw a Turkey?
I usually figure on about 4-5 lbs per 24 hour period.
If you are in a hurry, you can place the frozen turkey in the sink full of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes (very important) until the turkey is thawed. For a 12 lb turkey that is completely frozen, you are looking at about 6 hours.
Using an Electric, Charcoal or Gas Smoker, How Long to Apply Smoke?
My general rule of thumb for applying smoke is ½ of the estimated cook time. I expect a 12 lb turkey to take about 6-7 hours so I recommend applying smoke for about 3 to 3.5 hours.
As long as you have good airflow.. i.e. your vents are open enough to allow plenty of air to come into the smoker and the smoke is able to exit quickly, you can easily and safely apply smoke for the entire time, after all, that is what happens by default in a wood burning smoker and there is no better way to duplicate that real wood smoked flavor.
What to Do When you Run Into Problems
I suspect that some of you will run into issues with your smoker such as not being able to get your heat high enough, the heat will be too high, or any number of other smoker related problems.
I suggest that you first, do not panic.
Second, do the best you can to apply about 2 hours of smoke then, if you are still having issues that you cannot alleviate, consider moving the somewhat smoked turkey to the oven following the same temperature and process recommendations.
There is no shame in moving to the oven if that is what is needed to make sure the turkey gets done and ends up delicious.
A few things you can do ahead of time to lower the risk of problems:
• Make sure you have plenty of propane, wood chips/chunks, charcoal, etc..
• Do a test run or two in the weeks preceding the big day
• Make the rub, brine, sauce, etc. ahead of time
How Do I use the Various Recipes With a Bone-in Turkey Breast?
I would not change much..
I would still brine it overnight. It also may cook a little faster simply because the heat is able to get to all part of the breast unrestricted so you’ll want to monitor it with a digital probe meat thermometer to make sure you take it off when it reaches it’s optimum temperature.
If you plan to rest the turkey, as instructed in the newsletter, you can remove it at about 160°F since it will rise 5-7 degrees during the rest period.
Breast meat is perfectly done at 165°F.
Last Minute Smoker Tips
• Use the water pan if you have one for your smoker
• Almost all smoking is done with indirect heat. The turkey is also cooked with indirect heat
• Do NOT use wet, soaked wood. Dry wood is so much better.
• In charcoal and wood smokers, use lump charcoal for heat, and a little wood for smoke
• Set the turkey open in the fridge for a couple of hours after brining to dry the skin. This can help you end up with a more crispy skin.