Every year I have cooked our family’s turkey for Thanksgiving. I have done the whole gamut, from oven roasting, deep fried, to obviously smoking them. Some years I have injected the bird where most recently I have switched to brining the bird. I recommend brining since turkey is so lean and will be in the smoker for about 4-5 hours and the extra moisture provided from brining will go a long way to producing a tender, juicy bird.
Brining is the process of soaking the turkey (or other meats and veggies) in a salt water solution that will be absorbed into your bird via osmosis. I prefer this method because I am able to also put in other herbs/spices to flavor the bird. With injections I have run into trouble with the spices clogging the actual injector because the needle you use to inject is not big enough for the spices to inject through. Brining has its downsides since it will have to be refrigerated for hours and it can be messy if you do not have the space. Here are a few tips to make this process easier:
First, we live in Michigan and if you have not noticed it’s pretty cold outside (below 42 degrees) and I usually brine my bird in a 5 gallon bucket that I put out in a remote corner of my garage. If you have trouble finding a 5 gallon bucket they sell them at your local home depot, just make sure that you get one that is food grade (someone from Home Depot will be glad to help you find one). I usually will make the brine on Monday so that its cold enough to not cook the bird while it’s brining. On Wednesday morning I will out the bird in the bucket with the bird before I leave for work that morning and pull it out Thursday morning an hour before I put it in the smoker. I set up a card table and I prep my bird out in the garage so clean up is a breeze. Plus I usually have the smoker in the garage since it’s so cold so transferring the bird is a snap.
I have used quite a few different recipes for brine over the years and they were all pretty successful. I have used a buttermilk brine, a cranberry juiced based one, plus a simple salt/sugar recipe that was a breeze. In the video I used a maple whiskey brine that turned out really well and I will include this at the end of the blog. This brine was a little on the sweet side so I used a rub of kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper and a little thyme. I liberally coated the bird with the salt and then I would add as much black pepper as you personally like (I love black pepper and I usually do a 50/50 blend of salt and pepper). For the thyme I would use about half as much as you did with the salt/pepper. This will add a savory flavor that will work well with the brine and you will be the talk of your Thanksgiving Day Feast.
I smoke my bird at 225 degrees for about 3 hours then I will up the temp to 275 degrees for the next hour or so I can crisp up the skin and limit the cooking time to ensure that I have a juicy bird. Obviously, the times will vary depending on the size of the bird, this is what I followed in the video with great results on an 11 lb. bird.
The white meat (breast) will cook slower than the dark meat (legs/thighs) and if that happens I will cover the legs with aluminum foil so that they are done about the same time. I am looking for 180 degrees for the dark meat and 165 for the white meat (take your temps in the deepest part of each trying to stay away from the bones (bones heat up faster than the meat giving you a false reading fi you are not careful).
If you have any questions about how long to smoke your bird, or recipe ideas to make your bird the hit of the party please leave comments on our Facebook page, we would love to hear what everyone is doing for this Holiday.
Maple Whiskey Brine
4 quarts water divided
1 cup Soy Sauce
1 cup Maple Syrup
¾ cup Sea Salt
8 cloves garlic
6 bay leaves
1 TBS Dried Thyme
2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 cup Sour Mash Whiskey
Place 2 quarts of water in a large pot over medium heat, and stir in brown sugar, soy sauce, maple syrup, sea salt, garlic cloves, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, peppercorns, and whiskey. Stir to dissolve brown sugar and salt; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and stir in remaining 2 quarts of water. Allow brine to cool completely before using