Cooking, ultimately, is a science. After all, terms like maillard reaction, emulsion and denatured proteins don’t just show up in everyday conversations. And they have everything to do with cooking.
But cooking is also at least as much art as it is science, and I would argue that in the case of smoking it’s more art than science. Let’s face it: there are very few schools of thought on how to get the perfect steak. Ask 50 people how to get the perfect smoked meat, however, and you’ll get 50 answers.
As a friend of mine noted once upon a time, smoking is also a pretty good excuse to drink beer at 4:00 in the morning. After all, you can measure your checking of the wood with the time it takes to finish a beer, and you wouldn’t want to mess up your timer, no matter the hour…
What You Need
- 1 Turkey, 12 lbs. or so in weight
- 1 cup salt + a bit more
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3 rosemary sprigs
- 1/4 lb. butter, room temperature
- 2 tbsp. rubbed sage (ground will work, as well)
- 1 tsp. ground pepper
- 1 carrot
- 1 rib of celery
- 1 red onion
- 1/2 lemon
- roasting pan and something to cover it with (foil, or lid)
- A lot of wood and a little charcoal. I like hickory.
- 9 hours or so
What To Do with It
Thaw your turkey in the fridge. (By the way, a little science here of the health variety: 12 lb. birds (or less) are recommended because they’ll spend less time in the food danger temperature zone of 40-140 degrees). Remove the giblets, etc., and make a brine using the lemon juice, salt & rosemary, along with just enough water to cover the turkey. Let that sit 12-24 hours.
About 1 hour before you start smoking (if you plan on turkey for noonish, you’ll want to start this process at 2:00 a.m.), drain the turkey, pat it dry, and allow it to air dry in the refrigerator. Start your wood. Having a base of charcoal may be called cheating by some purists, but it makes keeping your wood going a bit easier, so I throw down some charcoal along with my wood to build up coals faster. Also, just in case you space out and let your fire die down too much, a couple briquettes can ease your pain.
Mix up the butter and spices with a little salt, and rub under the skin on the breast, then all over the turkey. Truss it, and place it in a roasting pan. Add the lemon to the cavity, and the veggies in the pan. Place it in the smoker.
NOW THIS IS IMPORTANT. You might think that the chimney on your smoker is one way to control the burn of your fire. And you would be right, except for the fact that, absent some sort of catastrophe, you never shut the chimney. Doing so allows the smoke to spend too much time on your turkey, and you end up developing too much creosote, which just tastes nasty.
Drink a beer for about an hour. Check your thermometer to ensure that your smoker is at about 250 degrees. Add a piece of wood, adjust the vent on your smoker. Keep this up for 3 hours or so. Check to see that your turkey has a nice dark brown color where the skin is exposed. Add about 1 cup of water to the roasting pan, cover the turkey tightly. Keep your temp at 250 for another 4-5 hours. Oh, have another few beers.
About 1 1/2 hours before you want to eat, uncover the turkey. Try to make certain that you have mostly coals: you don’t really want any more smoke at this point.
Ultimately, you want your turkey to be 165 degrees internal temperature. If you’re not there, keep going: sweet potatoes will keep, turkey jello is a real buzz-kill. Let the turkey rest 30 minutes before carving. Enjoy!
It’s probably time to stop drinking beer now, by the way.