I’ve said many times that Thanksgiving isn’t the best time to experiment with new recipes. Basically, your family and friends are looking forward to that stuffing they remember from childhood, traditional green bean casserole with those crispy onions and a nice piece of old-fashioned pumpkin pie.
Even down to the canned, sliced cranberry jelly, this is one meal of the year everyone seems to count on as being JUST as they’ve always remembered it.
Proceed with caution.
But while I’ll caution you one more time to put away (some) of those gourmet recipes using ingredients that are hard to pronounce and even harder to digest, there are a few worthy of your consideration.
When it comes to Thanksgiving’s star attraction, the turkey, there are numerous popular seasoning and cooking options. Among them are brining, sous vide cooking, deep fat frying and one that is gaining more and more attention.
Admittedly, smoking a whole turkey requires just a bit more dedication, and it’s something not well suited to doing (from start to finish) in your home oven (unless you don’t mind your kitchen smelling like a Northwood’s cabin and giving your oven a smoke hangover that will last well into its next use. Using your oven to finish the cooking process is, however, a savvy way to complete the process more expediently and evenly than using your outdoor grill alone, which is where you’ll start.
Here is, in my opinion, the most efficient, effective, expedient way to smoke your whole turkey this Thanksgiving.
STEP 1 Purchase a fresh turkey from Nino’s and then brine it for 12 to 24 hours. Nino’s sells a $9.99 brining kit to make this one of the easiest things to do. Everything you need is in the kit (besides, of course, the turkey).
STEP 2 Buy some wood chips for smoking (Hickory, Apple, Mesquite are popular choices). Soak the chips in warm water for 1 to 2 hours.
STEP 3 Set up your grill. A gas grill is the easiest setup. My recommendation is to ignite your burners only on one side. If you have 3, only use 2 on one side. If 4, use only 2 also. These burners will create the heat within the grill once you close the lid. They will also heat the chips to the point of smoking and create your smoke. Fire up your grill to 450 F.
STEP 4 Set your kitchen oven to 325 F.
STEP 5 Remove your turkey from the brine, pat it dry, rub it with oil or paint it with butter, and apply any seasonings. I also recommend placing a couple handfuls of chopped onion, celery and carrot in the bird’s cavity to promote a better flavor for the gravy. I do not recommend stuffing it. Place your turkey, breast side up, in a v-shaped wire rack and on top of a roasting pan.
STEP 6 Place a couple handfuls of drained wood chips in a disposable tin foil pan (a loaf pan works well).
STEP 7 Open the pre-heated grill. Place the pan of wood chips over the hot grill grates and your turkey pan on the non-heated side. Close the grill and seal up any large, gaping holes to allow the smoke to be captured within.
STEP 8 When the internal temperature of your closed grill reaches 350 F, turn down the burners to maintain that temperature throughout the cooking process.
NOTE: If you fail to see any smoke within the first 30 minutes, open the grill and place the pan of wood chips directly on top of the gas burners. You can also place the chips in aluminum foil pouches and poke holes in them to allow the smoke to escape.
STEP 9 Open the grill every 30 minutes and rotate the turkey pan to promote even heating. You should also add enough water to the bottom of the roasting pan to prevent any juices from burning. You’ll want them for your gravy afterwards.
STEP 10 You don’t want to OVER-smoke your bird. A full 60 to 90 minutes is just fine.
Depending on how well your smoking has gone and how efficiently it has been cooking within your grill, you can remove it from your grill and place it in your pre-heated oven to finish cooking.
- Use an insta-read thermometer to check your turkey’s doneness after the first 90 minutes and about every 30 minutes thereafter. You want it to read a minimum of 165 F as measured in the pocket of space between the thigh and breast.
- I recommend that you finish roasting the bird breast side down once it reaches about 125 F (or about half to two thirds the way though the cooking process). This will allow the juices to re-absorb into the breast, making it more moist and flavorful.
- Be sure to truss or tie the drumstick/legs together to prevent them from overcooking and drying out while the rest of the bird cooks.
- Tent your turkey with tin foil if (and only if) it has achieved a nice color but has not cooked through yet.
- Basting is fine but not absolutely necessary. You may consider apple cider as an additive to your basting liquid as it goes well with the smoke flavor. Keep in mind, however, that it will also become part of the flavor in your gravy if you use the drippings to make your gravy afterwards.
Finally, this same method can be used with a charcoal grill.
To do that, I recommend building the hot coals on one side and placing a tin can platform on the opposite side to rest the roasting rack on.
The tin of wood chips can then be placed directly on the coals. You might also consider having additional charcoal briquettes ready to add each time you open and adjust the roasting rack.
Smoking a turkey this Thanksgiving is not an outside-the-box idea but rather one people can readily accept, especially since many of the turkey deli meats we enjoy on sandwiches or in salads are smoked.
Try a smoked turkey this Thanksgiving, or consider roasting 2 smaller birds and offer both. You may find it to be one of your loved ones’ NEW best holiday memories.