Smoking Your Own Thanksgiving Turkey

This year some of us are in stressful economic straits, but some of the family is coming over for dinner. We can’t afford to set an extravagant table, our object is to do the best we can with what we can afford to get. Guess what, though, we are still going to have turkey, because turkey, especially around Thanksgiving, is one of the best meat values you can serve.

Most retail outlets will have them on sale, and some will even give them away with a minimum purchase! The “minimum purchase” requirement should be no problem, as you will have to buy a number of other things as well.

Pick yourself out about a ten-to-fourteen pound bird (that’s the maximum I recommend for a small grill), and let’s get started!

What You Will Need to Smoke Your Turkey

Not very many people smoke their turkeys, but I heartily recommend it. If you’ve never attempted smoking one before, be assured that it as easy, or easier than baking one in the oven and requires less clean up.

I like to use what is known as a water smoker in the world of barbeque; if you don’t have one of those, you can “make do” with another kind, though I highly recommend that you use one with a least two grills. The common water smoker has least two grills and a water pan. The grills and the water pan are interchangeable, and may be placed in a number of locations. The charcoal pan will be in the bottom, and there will be a door in the side for easy access to the pans. Having easy access to the pans is important, because you will be able to add charcoal and water without opening the grill up.

Fill the charcoal pan with charcoal and ignite it, preferably by using a fire chimney, so that you don’t use a petroleum based product to start your fire. I have yet to find a liquid fire starter that doesn’t leave some of it’s taste behind, so avoid them. While the fire is getting up to speed, fill your water pan with water, or wine, or fruit juices combined with the water. If you don’t have any of those things, just plain water will do just fine, the main object is to keep the turkey moist. The water creates a very humid environment for you turkey to cook it, and it therefore requires no basting. The turkey bastes it self as it cooks.

Preparing the turkey for roasting is a snap, mainly because you don’t need to do anything if you don’t want to. You can make a herb, spice, and butter rub-on if you wish, but you really don’t want to overdo it. Too much spice interferes with the smoke flavor, and you really don’t want to mess with that! When I do a bird, I just rub the outside with some butter or oil to help the skin crisp a little bit, and that’s all I do. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

Hopefully, your grill has a thermometer in the lid; if it doesn’t, perhaps you have a thermometer that you can place inside with the bird. As a last resort, you can use the dancing water technique; if you put a few drops of water on the lid and they start dancing immediately, your grill has reached cooking temperature. I highly recommend using a thermometer, however; it is the only accurate way to control your cooking heat. I you don’t have one, buy one, they are relatively inexpensive. The kind that goes through your lid is the best; if your smoker doesn’t have one, It most likely already has a hole to mount one. If it doesn’t have a pre-drilled hole, well heck, you’ve got a drill somewhere in the garage don’t you?

Let’s Get the Turkey Smoking

When the grill has reached the proper temperature, some place in the 220 F to 270 F range, place the turkey on the top shelf, close the lid, and forget about it for a while. The turkey will take roughly thirty minutes per pound, so for a ten to fourteen pound bird, it will take 5 to 7 hours.

A note of caution: every time you open the grill and let the heat escape, you will a add at least fifteen minutes to the cooking time, so keep the grill closed as much as possible. I recommend not even checking it for the first five hours. Keep your eyes on your temperature gauge, if it gets down toward the 220 F range, use the side doors to add more charcoal and/or wood chips. Also, check your water at the same time, it will occasionally need refilling as well. If you choose to add wood chips or chunks with the charcoal, just make sure you have soaked them for at least an hour previously.

What kind of wood? Heck, I don’t care, just as long as it is a good hardwood like oak, mesquite, apple, hickory, etc. My personal favorite is mesquite, but that’s up to you; use what you like. Do not use pine or any other soft wood, they have a tar in them that will not only blacken everything, but will make your turkey taste rank.

As the cooking time draws near to the end, check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. This is not optional! Insert the thermometer in two separate meaty areas away from the bone. When your bird reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, it is ready to be served. Any lower temperature will encourage bacterial growth, and must be avoided.

Enjoy Your Smoked Turkey

So there you have it, you’ve reached that magic internal temperature of 165 F, and you are almost ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Take your turkey off the grill and let it sit for about thirty minutes or so (I prefer forty-five minutes) before you carve it. Doing this lets the turkey firm up a little bit for easier slicing, and lets the juices soak in a little better.

It’s hard to make a mistake using this method; you and your guests will thoroughly enjoy the bird, especially if this is the first time you’ve ever had smoked turkey.

All of this, and you’ve also had time to enjoy the football game while it was cooking. Life just couldn’t get much better than this!

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