Brine in Okies Holiday brine for 24-36 hours (I substituted 12oz of beer to make the gallon), had to use a double batch to cover a 13 lb bird. Heat the brine to dissolve and refrigerate overnight. I used a turkey cooking bag to brine in and it worked great.
After the brine, I injected the bird with a mixture of Tony Chacher’s seasoning and butter. Then lift the skin from the breast without tearing the skin and powder the meat with Tony’s, along with the outside. Then quartered a Granny Smith apple and put in the cavity. Next, soak enough cheese cloth to cover the bird in butter.
I then smoked it at 225-250 using hickory until the breast hit 160. Then remove the cheese cloth and take it to 165. As I recall it took about 5 ½ hours. Foil and let sit for about an 45 min or so and slice. AWESOME.
Smokin’ Okie’s Holiday Turkey Brine:
1 gal. water
1 c. coarse kosher salt
¾ c. soy sauce
½ c. white sugar
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. honey
½ c. apple cider vinegar
4 Tbsp. black pepper
3 - 4 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. Allspice
1 oz. Morton’s Tenderquick (optional)
The Purchase of a Bird
The process of smoking a turkey must begin in the supermarket or wherever you purchase meat. Ideally you will find a turkey of 12 pounds or less that is labeled "MINIMALLY PROCESSED" and is fresh (never frozen). This is quite difficult to find in some places and if you have to buy a bird that is less than ideal then don't stress over it. Just do the best you can and we'll work with it.
My local research revealed that all turkeys this early in the season were frozen and injected with at least 8% to 12 % of a solution.
Thawing the Bird
If the bird is frozen (very likely) then you will need to thaw it somehow or another. There are correct ways to do this and not so correct ways to do this so let me enlighten you on the subject.
There are three methods that will work but only two that work well for smoking so I am going to recommend against using the microwave as a thawing device.
**Best Option: Thaw the turkey in the fridge. Place it in a large pan and let it sit in the fridge and thaw away. Turkeys thaw at a rate of about 5 pounds per day using this method. My 12 pound bird took right at two days. If you plan ahead then this method can be the one that you use.
**The second best option is to thaw it in a pan of cold water. Submerge the turkey in a pan of cold water sitting on the counter. Change the water every thirty minutes. This method will thaw a turkey at a rate of about one pound every thirty minutes. Using this method, the turkey must be cooked immediately after thawing. I usually plan this so that the turkey is finished thawing about the same time I want to put it on the smoker.
If there is a little ice left in the cavity, I don't worry about it as it will dissipate quickly in the smoker.
Just in case you are wondering, a thawed turkey is safe for about two days in the fridge.
How and Why to Brine
I do not recommend brining a turkey that has been injected with solution however, I have done it and it turned out ok but it was not as good as a fresh, unprocessed turkey. If you decide to do this then I would cut the brine time down to about 8 hours instead of the normal 10-12 hours to reduce the saltiness.
If you are able to get a turkey that is labeled as "MINIMALLY PROCESSED" then I highly recommend brining the bird. This is a process by which you soak the bird in a salt water solution made up of 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of salt and about 1 cup of sugar along with other spices and flavors such as molasses, honey, pepper, thyme, rosemary, wine, juice, soy sauce, Worcestershire, etc..
Why brine? I am so glad you asked;-)
Poultry has a tendency to dry out when exposed to long cook times and while there is some moisture in the fibers of the meat that help, it dissipates quickly and you can be left with meat that is less than juicy.
Brining allows extra moisture to get into the fibers so that when it cooks and some of the moisture goes away, now you are able to retain some of the moisture and you end up with a very juicy, great tasting bird.
It is scientific but I don't care to go into that.. just know that it works very well and you should do it.
To brine you simply find a food safe plastic container that is large enough to hold a turkey, sterilize it and set it aside.
Place a gallon of water in a pitcher then pour about half of it into a large pot. The other half will be used later so set it aside.
With your pot on a burner on the stove and set to low to medium heat, pour one cup of kosher salt into the pot and stir it around until it dissolves.
Note: If some of the salt does not dissolve then you will need to add more water. X amount of water can only dissolve x amount of salt. I don't know what the magic formula is but I can tell you that adding more water will make the rest of the salt dissolve away.
Now add a cup of white granulated sugar and let it dissolve as well.
This is a basic brine solution. To this mixture you can add any number of things. I like to experiment with things like honey, juices, molasses, spices, etc. The heat will allow things like pepper to give off their oils into the brine so that the flavor will be carried up into the turkey even though the large grains will stay in the brine.
Once the brine is completely dissolved and it has simmered in a pot for 10 to 15 minutes, it can be poured into the brining container along with the other half of the water in the pitcher.
If this is not enough to cover the turkey, simply make another batch of brine. You may be able to use something like a large plastic oven bag or something similar which will allow you to brine with less liquid than in a hard container.
Add the rinsed turkey with all giblets, gravy packets and neck removed to the brining container and make sure it is completely submerged in the brine.
If it floats, you can use a heavy plate or even a brick inside of a large Ziploc bag to help hold it under.
Place the brining container in the fridge preferably on the bottom shelf and let it stay there for 10-12 hours or overnight.
Injecting with Marinade
For those who are experiencing a time crisis and just don't have the time to go through with a brining process, injecting is the next best thing and actually does a very good job of adding some extra flavor and juiciness to the turkey.
I like to use a stick of melted butter with a tablespoon of Cajun seasoning and maybe some honey and/or Worcestershire sauce for my poultry marinade.
While the butter is warm and melted, use an injector (sold at Amazon and other local cooking supply stores) to put 2 ounces in each side of the breast, 2 ounces in each leg and finally 2 ounces in each thigh.
Insert the injector needle at an angle and simple push in the plunger to inject the marinade into the meat right before placing it into the smoker.
Note: put a little oil (vegetable, olive, canola, doesn't matter) on the o-ring on the plunger for best results before using the injector.
You can also purchase pre-made marinades made especially for injecting in your local supermarket if you do not want to mix up your own. Just find one that looks good and that will work. I have yet to try one that I did not like.
Rubbing the Turkey
I like to rub the turkey with my rib rub but not just on the outside of the skin.. I like to get the rub down under the skin so that it can really influence the flavor of the meat.
Now if I have brined the turkey, I will generally leave most of the salt out of my rub since I do not want an over-salted turkey. I just want a turkey that is bursting with flavor.
I don't normally use mustard with turkey, just find anywhere you can lift the skin up and place a small pinch of rub up under there and massage it in the best you can. You want be able to get it everywhere but anything will make a huge difference in the finished product.
Note: don't cake it on just a light dusting gives the best results.
Stuffing the Turkey
Do not place stuffing in a turkey before it is smoked. The temperatures we are cooking at are low and the stuffing prevents the heat from getting into the turkey. This causes the turkey to stay in the danger zone (40-140 degrees F) for much too long and is an unsafe practice.
If you must stuff the turkey, make the stuffing in a separate container and place it into the turkey once the turkey is done smoking just right before you serve it to your guests.
This is not to say that you can't drop a couple of items such as pieces of apple, celery or onion into the cavity to influence the flavor. Just make sure there is room for the heat to get in and work on the turkey from the inside out.
Smoking the Turkey
Now for the fun part.. get the smoker ready and prepped for about 240 degrees if possible. Find a good robust wood to use such as mesquite, hickory, pecan or apple or a mixture of these.
Once the smoker is ready, place the turkey directly on the grate. I have said in times past to place it breast side down for the first hour then flip it to breast side up for the remaining cook time but I do this all different ways and I can't tell a huge difference regardless. As long as you are using indirect heating and you do not overcook the turkey, the orientation is not significant in my opinion.
If you are used to doing a certain way and it gives you good results then I recommend that you stick with what works for you.
Watch the smoker carefully and make sure it does not venture too far off course from your desired temperature setting. About 3 hours into the smoke, check the turkey and if the wings or other extremities are getting too brown you can wrap them with small pieces of foil to stop the browning process.
I prefer a nice dark mahogany look so I occasionally wrap the wings at about 4-1/2 to 5 hours into the smoke but usually not before that.
Absolutely use a digital probe meat thermometer. You don't have to but it takes all the guess work out of it and guarantees a perfectly cooked bird that is not dry. That in my opinion makes it worth it.
Be sure to put the probe of the thermometer into the turkey at the beginning of the cook time. The turkey will seal around the probe and juices will not escape. Leave the probe in the turkey.. i.e. do not remove AT ALL until the turkey is finished smoking and has rested for at least 20-30 minutes.
Failure to follow this and a geyser of juices will emit itself from the turkey when you remove the probe.. juices that would be better off in the turkey for the tasting.
Finishing in the Oven
It is not a crime to finish the turkey in the oven should you run into problems with your smoker or the weather or some other situation that warrants it.
This is best done after about 4 hours in the smoker if it must happen.
Simply set the oven on 240-250 and do not remove the turkey from the smoker until the oven is preheated and ready to minimize heat loss.
Using a Gas or Electric Smoker
The same rules apply to gas and electric smokers as with charcoal although some electric smokers will not allow you to set a specific temperature.
Keep adding wood chips or chunks for at least the first 3-4 hours then it can be finished the rest of the way with just heat.
Cooking the Turkey Prior to Thanksgiving
If you must cook the turkey ahead of time due to time constraints or to travel to grandma's house then simply smoke the turkey and once it is cooled, wrap in foil and place in the fridge.
To reheat, place in a 250 degree F oven for 2 - 2.5 hours or until it is hot enough for your liking. It will reach about 135-140 degrees at this temperature in about 2 hours.
If you need to re-crisp the skin, simply place it in a 375 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes once it is reheated within about 10-15 degrees of a good eating temperature.