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Best and Juiciest Smoked Turkey

Best and Juiciest Smoked Turkey

A properly smoked turkey starts with a properly thawed turkey. For an in-depth review, you can read all about how to safely thaw a whole turkey HERE. As a quick refresher, a whole frozen turkey is a giant meat ice cube. You need to have the space and time to thaw it slowly, preventing any cross-contamination, and keeping it out of the microbial danger zone (40-140°F) (4.5-60°C). We have found that it takes about 1 day per 4-5# of Turkey. This means that your standard 15-pound bird would take about 4 days to thaw in a refrigerated environment. Since the turkey is a giant ice cube, we use a cooler to maintain a safe temperature during the thawing process. Make sure to use your ChefsTemp Quad XPro food thermometer to monitor the ambient temperature to ensure you are staying within the safe range.

Turkey Plated

Preparing to Smoke your Turkey

When it comes to smoking a turkey there are three areas that will bring flavor to the party.

  • The dry brine
  • The stuffings
  • The glaze

When it comes to the brine, we want to bring a bright and powerful flavor to the party. We love the combination of citrus and smoke, the fresh bite plays well with the dark flavors of wood smoke and char. Our suggestion is to incorporate orange and lemon zest with salt, sugar, onion powder, minced or dried sage, and cracked black pepper.

Once you have completely thawed the turkey, pat the bird dry and run your fingers under the skin to loosen it from the meat. This separation will create a space between the two as they cook, allowing the fat to render and the skin to become crispy. Mix your dry brine seasonings together and sprinkle about 2 Tablespoons in the cavity. Spread the rest of the mixture evenly over the entire surface of the turkey. Wrap the turkey tightly in plastic wrap and place it back into your cooler with a bag of ice to maintain a temperature under 40°F (4.5°C). One day in the brine will work, but two days is best.

Ready to Season and Smoke

When it’s cooking day, you first need to prepare the turkey for the smoke and make the glaze. Bring the turkey out of the cooler 45-60 minutes before you plan to start smoking. It is also a clever idea to make sure your smoker is up and running during this time. Using the most accurate meat thermometers, we have found that 260°F (127°C) is the best temperature for juicy white meat and tender cooked dark meat. A

Tuck the wing tips behind the breast to protect them from burning and create a better-looking final bird. When it comes to stuffing, we are not talking about cornbread or sausage. You want to avoid filling the cavity with dense stuffing due to the lower temperatures in the smoker, you will never have safely cooked stuffing before the bird is completely overcooked. We prefer aromatics and fruit; apples, onions, lemons, oranges, sage, and garlic make wonderful additions, and they impart flavor over the long slow smoke. After stuffing, tie the legs together with butcher’s twine, this will create a better-looking cooked turkey and help slow the cooking of the white meat.

Finally, we need to make our glaze. We are using a mixture of bourbon, apricot jam, and butter. This will glaze the turkey during the last hour of the cooking process, creating a beautiful sheen, capturing the additional smoky flavor, and creating a unique sweet and smokey bite.

Smoking Turkey

At 260°F (127°C) we found that you need about 25 minutes per pound, meaning a 15# turkey will take about 6.5 hours to cook. Have your smoker preheated to 260°F (12°C), place a water pan underneath the turkey with 3 cups of chicken stock in it, then place your turkey on the grates above the pan. As the turkey cooks, the stock will evaporate, so you will need to replenish it from time to time. It will also catch all the turkey drippings and become an incredible base for the turkey gravy.

Insert your Quad XPro meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, making sure not to hit bone, and the thickest part of the thigh. It is also wise to have the ambient thermometer placed about the center of the base of the turkey to give you an accurate read on the heat.

Close the smoker and start working on your sides and desserts for the big day.

Image of a ChefsTemp Quad XPro Wireless Meat Thermometer measuring a thanksgiving turkey cooking temperature

Glazing and Finishing the Turkey

Once the turkey breast reaches 145°F (63°C) it is time to start basting with the glaze. Turkey tends to stall at 145-155°F (63-68°C) so do not be worried if the temperature is not moving. Use a pastry brush for a nice even coating, you will be doing this every 15 minutes until the turkey reaches a final temperature of 160°F (60°C) in the breast and 170°F (76°C) in the dark meat, always double-check your temperatures with the Finaltouch X10 meat thermometer for added safety. Remove the bird and let it rest for 20 minutes before removing the probes and carving.

Bring the drip pan inside and pour it into a tall vessel to separate the fat. You can use this fat, in combination with butter, to create a rich dark roux for your gravy.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1-15# Turkey
  • ¼ C Kosher Salt
  • 3T Minced Sage
  • 1 tsp Cracked Black Pepper
  • 1 orange zested
  • 1 lemon zested
  • 1 T onion powder
  • 1 T sugar

STUFFING

  • All ingredients quartered
  • 1 apple
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • Small bunch sage
  • 5 cloves of garlic smashed
preparing a thanksgiving turkey using a meat thermometer
Glaze

GLAZE

  • 1 Cup Apricot Jam
  • 1/3rdC Bourbon
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 quart chicken stock

INSTRUCTIONS

Dry Brine

Remove the giblets from the cavity and pat the turkey dry inside and out. Use your fingers to separate the skin from the meat by breaking the membrane between the two. Mix the dry brine ingredients together in a bowl.

Brined
Wrapped Turkey

Season the inside of the cavity with 2T of the dry brine. Use the rest of the brine across the entire rest of the bird making sure to get the legs and breast covered. Tightly wrap the turkey in plastic wrap and place in your cooler on a bag of ice. Use your Quad XPro food thermometer to monitor the ambient temperature and internal temperature of the turkey. Let this sit for 1-day, best results after 2.

Preheat your smoker to 260°F (127°C). Unwrap the turkey, tuck the wing tips back behind the bird, and stuff the aromatics into the cavity. Place the leg tips over each other and then tie them with butcher twine.

Place a foil pan under the smoker grates and add 3 cups of chicken stock. Place the grill grate back in place and then place the turkey on the grill. Insert the Quad XPro meat thermometer probes into the thickest part of the breast and thigh, also the ambient probe at the base of the turkey.

Smoke for about 25 minutes per pound, replacing the liquid in the drip pan if it is getting low.

Combine the jam, bourbon, and butter in a saucepan. Bring this to a simmer and mix till combined.

When the white meat temperature reaches 145°F (63°C) start brushing the glaze over the bird with the glaze using a pastry brush. Do this every 15 minutes until the white meat reaches an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) and the dark meat hits 170°F (76°C). Remove the turkey from the smoker and let rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Turkey Done

While you wait, pour the drippings from the pan into a tall vessel. To separate the fat from the liquid, you can add more stock to make 4 cups of liquid. Combine the fat with enough butter to make 2/3rd C. Add an equal amount of flour in a skillet till the flour becomes incorporated, and you have a smooth paste. Cook over low heat, stirring often, till the roux is nice and dark. Strain the liquid from the drip pan then, whisking constantly, add the liquid till incorporated. Simmer your gravy for 20-30 minutes, adjust seasonings and then serve.

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