I know what many of you are probably saying right now. I already HAD turkey at Thanksgiving! Well, that might be true, but unless you had an expertly seasoned and marinated turkey that was slow smoked to perfection and literally melted in your mouth, then you just had a run-of-the-mill turkey. I’m going to tell you how to prepare the best turkey you’ve ever eaten, one that you can serve to your guests this Christmas that they’ll still be talking about after the holidays are over.
To make the best turkey you’ve ever eaten, you’ll need the following:
• 1 young turkey. I recommend fresh over frozen, but that’s up to you. Remember, a frozen turkey takes 24 hours per 5 pounds to thaw in your fridge, so allow enough thawing time. Also, try and find a turkey that has not been previously injected with a water solution. Turkeys without this solution are getting harder to find these days so don’t worry about it if you can’t find one. It will still work fine.
• Kosher salt
• Brown Sugar
• Your favorite barbecue rub
• Apple juice in a spray bottle
• Large aluminum foil roasting pan
• Aluminum foil
• A crowd of hungry people
First thing you are going to do is mix up a brine solution to soak your turkey. Brining poultry is an age old process that uses osmosis to pull moisture into the turkey and whatever flavorings you have added. This will result in a moister turkey that doesn’t taste flavorless down deep in the meat. The typical basic brine recipe calls for a gallon of water to one cup of salt. If your turkey has already been infused with a solution, I recommend using a little less salt, maybe ½ - ¾ cup per gallon of water. You will need to submerge the turkey completely under the solution, so use enough gallons of water to cover the turkey. Add enough salt for each gallon of water. The best way to dissolve your salt is to mix it with hot water first and stir it till it is dissolved. Then you can add it to the water. Do the same with a few cups of brown sugar and honey. Make sure you get all of this as dissolved as you can. Ice the water down until it’s very cold, remove the giblet bag and neck from your turkey and place it in the brine, making sure it is completely submerged. Let it soak overnight. Add some ice every six hours or so, to keep the water cold.
OK, 24 hours is up and you are ready to start smoking. Pull the turkey out of the brine, rinse the turkey completely in cold water to remove the brine, pat the turkey dry and put it in the refrigerator. It helps to let it air chill for a few hours to dry out the skin a bit. If you have time, do this. Build yourself a nice fire in the smoker and bring it up to 300 degrees. I like to use apple wood for turkey, but cherry and pecan work well too. While the smoker is coming up to temperature, start preparing your turkey. Tie the wings closely to the body with butchers twine to help keep them from getting too dark and drying out. Generously rub a good poultry dry rub all over your bird including inside the body cavity. I use a rub that is sold at barbecue specialty stores in Kansas City, called Plowboys Yardbird rub. Use whatever you like though.
Next place your turkey breast side DOWN in a large aluminum foil roasting pan. Starting it out this way will help ensure a juicier breast. Place the pan in your smoker and shut the lid. Check the turkey after about 1 ½ hours. If it is beginning to get a nice color on it, spray lightly with apple juice to flavor it and keep it moist. At around the 3 hour mark, flip the turkey over breast side up and leave it that way for the rest of the cook. When you flip it over, you’ll need to re-add BBQ rub to the breast. Don’t worry if the breast has flattened out a bit, it will pop back in to shape.
Try to keep your heat as close to 275 degrees as possible. Keep spraying the turkey with apple juice and as pan juices collect, you can baste it with these as well. When the breast reaches about 165 degrees, remove the turkey from the smoker, cover it with foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. Turkey is ready to eat at about 170 degrees but the temperature climbs a bit after you remove it from the smoker or oven. So pulling it at 165 is just about right. Enjoy and have a Merry Christmas!!!