I have been asked for my recipe for what my family deems the best turkey they have ever eaten. After 33 years of preparing the turkey for Thanksgiving I think we have a winner. For many years I cooked the turkey without brining it; then about five years ago a friend of mine and I were talking about trying this additional step and I must say it brings the turkey to a whole new level.
Turkey Brine Recipe
2 gallons of water
3 cups of canning salt
3 Tbl minced garlic
½ c roasted vegetable stock
2 Tbl ground black pepper
½ cups Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cups brown sugar
2/3 cups apple cider
Combine ingredients in stock pot, stir and then heat up until salt is dissolved. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature.
Preparing the Turkey
I don’t buy expensive turkeys. In fact if the grocery store is giving away a turkey if we spend x amount on food, so much the better. We try to get two 15 pound turkeys so that there will be plenty of leftovers for everyone to take home. I start the thawing the turkeys in the fridge, 3 to 4 days before Thanksgiving to make sure it is completely thawed.
The morning before Thanksgiving I will remove the turkeys from the packaging. I remove the giblets and put them aside for gravy. I cut off the tail and toss it (my wife does not like it). I thoroughly rinse off the birds and then place them in 2 gallon food safe bags, place them in an ice chest and then fill them up with the brine solution. I always completely cover each bird. Seal the bags and cover with ice. (if you don’t have a good ice chest, make sure you have ice the entire time) You are now done until Thanksgiving morning.
Our family has dinner around 1:00 pm so the following ritual is what I do to eat around that time.
I get up at 5am and start the smoker. I want the temperature to be between 230 degrees and 240 degrees. I put 3 or 4 cups of wood chunks in a bowl of water to soak, to increase the smoke effect. If you have read any of my previous posts I use a propane smoker because it simplifies my life. I add hot water to water pan.
I will remove the turkeys from the brine and thoroughly rinse them off to remove excess salt and then pat them dry. Place the turkey breast side up. I take a ¼ pound of butter and put half of it inside the bird. I then take my hand and slide it between the skin and meat and then insert chunks of butter into the skin cavity. I liberally season the birds inside and out with seasoned salt and lemon pepper. Tie the legs together so that they won’t over cook. I have an instant read thermometer that I insert into the thickest part of the leg (don’t let it touch the bone).
By this time the smoker should be at temperature and I will put the birds as close to the middle of the smoker as possible. I drain the water from the soaking wood chunks and add them to the wood pan. The next step is very important. I set my alarm for 3 hours so that I can check the temperature and water level. I then I go back to bed. Remember nobody likes a grumpy cook.
If everything is going as planned I will need to add hot water. One thing to be aware of is depending on how fatty the bird is the water pan will fill up with grease. You don’t want to let the pan run out of water. Depending on my mood I will add a little more wood. Not really necessary but it can’t hurt. Avoid opening the smoker as much as possible because of heat loss.
Keep an eye on the temperature and the birds should be ready around 12:30. Flexibility is important. Smoking is not an exact science, it is an art.
I will pull the birds when they reach 160 degrees and cover them with foil, and then let them rest for 30 minutes before I carve. The birds will continue to cook and will reach the cooked temperature of 165 degrees.
The turkey will be one of the moistest bird you will ever eat. Some of your guest may comment that the turkey isn’t done because it is still pink. It is pink with a smoke ring. The temperature will tell you that it is done. The pink will tell you that you are fixin to go to taste heaven.
Giblet Gravy Recipe
3 or 4 cups of water
1 cup of diced celery
1 cup of diced onions
2 or 3 Tbl flour
Salt and pepper to taste
All of the giblets including the necks
Place in a sauce pan and cook on medium heat for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and everything except the necks (remove the necks and strip the meat off if so desired, discard the bone) and broth into the food processor. I will add about a cup of liquid to processor and chop it up to desired consistency. Return it back to the sauce pan and stir in 2 Tbl of flour and heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Thank you to Karen at the Graphic Fairy for our vintage image.