Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Brined and Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey

About two months prior to Thanksgiving I was assigned the task of bringing the turkeys. Okay, I might have volunteered. Sous Chefs Sam & Jesse know that when I volunteer, it means all three of us.

I took some time pondering what would be best. Smoking the turkey was definitely a must as I had done this last summer. I heard of brining but never had done this. As I studied more about it, I was getting very excited. There are so many ways to take it, the only question was which one?

Brining is a process where you marinate the meat in a salt solution allowing it to retain more moisture. Basically, salt water and many variations of spices are used. We went with a simple brine.

Simple Turkey Brine

1 turkey, up to 16 pounds
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
2 large sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds

Bring salt, sugar and 4 cups water to a boil in a very large pot, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Turn off heat, add remaining ingredients to brine base. Refrigerate uncovered, until cold. Adds 6 quarts water cold water to pot or bucket. Add turkey. Use plate, if needed, to fully submerge turkey. Cover, chill up to 72 hours (The turkey will be more moist and flavorful if allowed to brine the full 72 hours).

Smoking the turkey. Having smoked a turkey this past summer, I had a few key points regarding the process. We mixed rosemary with unsalted butter and rubbed the turkey inside, outside and under the skin. To stuff the turkey, we added sliced apples, oranges and red onion to the cavity, tied the legs and placed in the smoker for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Every 30 minutes we would spray the turkeys with apple cider for a tasty glaze. Last month, I did this with a pork shoulder and it was delicious.

It was a large family gathering so there would be 31 judges of our cooking. Prior to dinner I huddled with Sous Chefs Sam & Jesse to get our story straight. If the turkey was delicious, we all participate in the glory. If it was not good, then Jesse would take the fall. He reluctantly volunteered.

The verdict was unanimous, it was wonderful. I had never experienced such moist, flavorful turkey. The hickory smoke, apple, brine and all other ingredients was a menagerie of taste.

Sous Chef Sam wasted no time gorging himself

This was quite a process. One week prior to Thanksgiving we purchased the turkeys. After 4 days, they were adequately thawed. We then placed the turkeys in the brine from 8:30pm Monday to 7:30am on Thursday. At 8:30am, they were on the smoker. It was a tiring but beautiful experience. Food is an adventure, not a routine.

Happy Eating


  1. Awesome, Jeff! I've smoked turkey legs and turkey breast, but never a whole turkey. It's on my list. I'm glad you went with a brine. It takes some forethought, but it is sooo worth it. Nice job!


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