It is our favorite time of year, Fall! Which means football and a very underrated holiday, Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a national holiday with very simple origins. It was on this day that people recognized the harvest they had been blessed with and gave thanks for it. What a simple, yet beautiful day to celebrate. Nowadays, we may not gather together to give thanks for the harvest but we certainly gather and give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. During this gathering we eat, none other than, turkey. But, why?
Other than people writing about how colonists hunted turkeys, another reason turkeys are so popular for Thanksgiving is because they are uniquely American bird.As time went on the holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, portrayed turkey as a delicacy and something to be had on special occasions. Later President Abraham Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving as a holiday and the tradition of the turkey stuck. Today, not everyone has turkey but most people still stick to this long time tradition. However, the way people prepare their turkey can be very different. Some roast while others fry and, of course, our personal favorite is smoked! Here’s how to prepare and smoke your bird for the holiday!
Smoking Your Turkey
Like with any smoked meat, you have to decide what type of firewood you are going to use. White any of our choices would be a great fit, the favorite for turkey seems to be a favorite as it has a hint of sweet and is more mild in smoke flavor. Although, you can achieve great flavor with Post Oak, Hickory or Mesquite as well! Taste is subjective and it is all up to you and your preference. Next you will need to decide if you are using direct heat or indirect heat. If you need help choosing, check out this blog post (insert link once created). Once these two things are decided, it’s time to prep your bird and start cooking!
Like with any meat, you will have to opportunity to buy it fresh or frozen. One benefit of buying a turkey fresh from your local butcher is that you will not have to add thawing time to your prep time. Some do not mind waiting for the large bird to thaw, others prefer not to as it does take a long time. Once the turkey is thawed, you have the option to brine or season. Do not do both! Brining and seasoning will make the turkey too salty. While brining helps season the meat as well as tenderize it, it does add time to your prep which you may want to take into consideration. A turkey will need to brine for sixteen to twenty-four hours. After you brine the turkey, and before you put it on the grill or smoker, you will want to put olive oil or butter all over the skin. If you are seasoning the turkey, add this before your favorite seasonings. This will help crisp the skin, which is everyone’s favorite part! The last thing you need to do to prep your turkey is tuck the wings so the tips don’t burn and use butcher’s twine to keep the legs together. Now you’re ready to cook!
Your grill or smoker will need to be heated to 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow about thirty minutes per pound in cook time and try not to exceed fifteen pounds. The reason for this is the cook time would be too long allowing the chance for bacteria to make an appearance. You can always cook multiple birds or spatchcock a larger one which we will touch on later. How will you know what size turkey you should buy? If you figure about one and half pounds per guest, that should be enough. This accounts for the bones, skin and meat to insure everyone gets enough to eat! Also, make sure you place a drip pan under your turkey! You will want those delicious drippings as a base for a homemade gravy which is a Thanksgiving staple!
We all know it is best to let the meat be in the smoker so it can cook properly an soak in all of the delicious flavor. How will you know if it’s done if you are not supposed to check on it frequently? If you allow thirty minutes of cook time per pound, at the end of that time use a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. The temperature should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the safe temperature for a fully cooked turkey. Remove the cooked turkey from the grill or smoker and cover with foil. Allow it to rest for about fifteen minutes. During this time, you can make that delicious drippings gravy! After the turkey has rested, it is time to carve and serve. One benefit of smoking a turkey, aside from the amazing flavor, is that it keeps the meat tender and juicy. You won’t have any “Christmas Vacation” moments of a turkey so dry it explodes.
Now, if you have a larger turkey, or just simply prefer spatchcocking, you are going to do a few things differently. First, you will remove the backbone as to butterfly the whole turkey. You can find how to videos, like the one below, on YouTube. Once you butterfly your turkey, it is time to brine or season. Then you are going to want to heat your grill or smoker to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Let the bird cook for about 45 minutes or until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees fahrenheit with a drip pan underneath. You can still have delicious dripping based gravy! Let the turkey rest for about twenty minutes and then carve and serve.
No matter which cooking style you choose, you will end up with a delicious, tender and juicy Thanksgiving turkey. Your guests will thankful for your amazing pitmaster skills. Enjoy the holiday and Happy Thanksgiving from the Woodchuck fam!