No. 322: Best Ever Smoked Turkey

The McC Family hosted Christmas for the first time last week and it was a resounding success with eight adults, two babies (+ one on the way for my brother and sister-in-law!!!) and five dogs.

In addition to visits, rainy day walks, playing with kiddos and drinking wine (we drink a LOT of wine in this family), there were three amazing feasts.

Good eats

My sister-in-law fixed us an authentic Mexican meal for Christmas Eve which featured vegetable posole, pinto beans with ham hock, pork tamales, hibiscus tea, cabbage salad with pineapple and avocado smash. I mean, it was amazing. We all stuffed ourselves beyond recognition (and paid for it a bit). Since Mr. McC is an Arizona boy I can't tell you how happy he was - it was his own little heaven to eat fresh tamales for the holiday.

Christmas morning was all about the cinnamon rolls and mimosas, a tradition my husband and I started our second married Christmas together. The rolls were another killer recipe from my professional baker sister-in-law which I promise to bring to you soon.

Christmas dinner (or supper, or whatever you call a 3pm meal) was on the McCs. Mr. McC had long ago told me he wanted to smoke a turkey, our first attempt at such a feat. It was undoubtedly the star of the show.

Best Ever Smoked Turkey

Why is this turkey the "best ever," you ask? Because it has had EVERYTHING possible done to it by the time it comes out of the oven. It's been brined, air dried, stuffed with wine and herbs and then smoked on indirect heat to perfection.

And let me tell you, we think it's worth every single step.

So here you go. A step-by-step process to your own amazing 'best ever' turkey. But in true Resolved Cook fashion, make this your own. Feel free to play with it, omit or add things, as you see fit!

Step 1: Brine

The Pioneer Woman's favorite turkey brine was recommended by a couple different cooks I trust.

Ingredients

Enough for a 20 pound bird
3 cups high quality apple juice or cider
2 gallons cold water
4 tablespoons fresh rosemary
5 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 cups Kosher salt
2 cups brown sugar
3 tablespoons peppercorns
5 whole bay leaves
Peel of 3 large oranges

Note: I used 3/4 of the amounts above for a 14-pound bird.

To make

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and cover.

Allow to cool completely, then pour into a large brining bag or pot. Place uncooked turkey in brine solution, then refrigerate for 16 to 24 hours.

When ready to roast turkey, remove turkey from brine. Submerge turkey in a pot or sink of fresh, cold water. Allow to sit in clean water for 15 minutes to remove excess salt from the outside.

Discard brine. Remove turkey from clean water, pat dry, and cook according to your normal roasting method.

Step 2: Air Dry

The idea of air drying the bird in the fridge for 24 hours comes from Bobby Flay. I'm assuming it's to get a nice 'skin' on the bird to keep it juicy.

While this is totally optional, we did it because we trust Bobby in all things grilling:)

For our timeline, we put the turkey in the brine Wednesday afternoon and pulled it out around noon the following day. We then let the bird air dry in the fridge until mid-morning the next day (Christmas Day) when it was time to get to prep it for grilling.

Step 3: Prepare the bird

My uncle is a Big Green Egg aficionado and highly recommended Mad Max's Turkey recipe. We altered it a tad and used what's below.

Ingredients

Salt
Pepper
One small onion, halved
Lemon, quartered
Apple, quartered
Bouquet of herbs: rosemary, sage, thyme, whatever you like
3 cloves garlic
2 sticks butter, softened
1/4 cup chopped herbs: rosemary, sage, thyme, whatever you like
Half a bottle of white wine

Note: You may not have room for all of the ingredients in the cavity. Just put half of the onion, lemon and apple in if that is all that fits.

To make

Pat the turkey dry, then salt and pepper the cavity fairly liberally. Into the cavity stick the onion halves, apple and lemon quarters, garlic and the bouquet of herbs.

In a bowl, mix the chopped herbs into the softened butter until it forms a creamy paste. Liberally apply the paste all over the bird. Open a bottle of white wine (be sure it's a wine you would want to drink), and pour half the bottle all over the bird and in the cavity. Go fill up a glass and start drinking the rest.

Step 4: The grill

Soak your wood chips (we prefer apple, hickory or cherry) at least an hour before using. Set up indirect heat on your smoker or grill.

When the grill is hot, place the bird breast side up directly on the grill grates. Adjust the grill vents to get and maintain an internal temperature of 350 degrees. Roast the turkey for 2 hours to 2 hours and 15 minutes (this is the timing for a 12 pound bird), until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 165 degrees.

Remove from the grill, tent with foil and let rest for 30-60 minutes before carving.

Note: Cooking times for a larger bird will be longer.

The Results

I know I gushed a bit already, but this really was an amazing turkey. I wish I had taken a photo but please trust me when I say that it looked like it came straight out of a Martha Stewart magazine.

The best part was the depth of flavor. The meat formed lovely, pink smoke rings throughout and I swear you could taste hints of the herby buttery spread. While turkey usually ends up a tad dry and under flavored, this was moist and delectable (even a few days later when I was digging into some leftovers).

The biggest testament was how much we all raved about it for days afterward.

Thank you, Mr. McC. You did Christmas proud.

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