There are many ways to cook a turkey. You can bake it, broil it, grill it fry, put it on a rotisserie or my favorite – smoke it! My two favorite processes for turkey are; are brining and injecting. I use a combination of the two and my birds are juicy and tender every time! I can’t take credit for this technique I learned it from our TV buddy Ron Popiel. Thanks Ron! In fact I didn’t even like turkey until I bought his famous set it and forget it “Show Time Rotisserie.” They are fantastic! Perfect tender and juicy meats every time and the food injection process he talks about in his infomercial is something you really want to try – especially on poultry! If he invents a machine that combines smoking and the Show Time Rotisserie – I’m gonna be on it like white on rice!
Okay let’s get back to the bird!
Brining is simple technique of soaking the bird in water with salt and maybe sugar and a few spices added. It could be simply water and salt but hey while that birds sucking in the water don’t you want it to drag in all your favorite spices too? Brining requires that you soak the bird in the brining solution either over night up to 24 hours, or at least four to six hours before smoking.
Here is my favorite brining solution:
1-1/2 gallons ice cold water
1/2 cup salt ( sea or kosher)
2 teaspoons Garlic Power
2 teaspoons Onion Powder
2 teaspoons Cajun Spice
* 1/3 cup Dextrose or sugar - optional
* Sugar is optional. Some people say it helps balance the salt but most recipes will suggest you use as much as a full cup of salt – that would be salty for my taste and you would really need sugar to offset the saltiness. I choose to reduce the salt instead. Although Pure Vermont Maple Syrup is a nice flavor to add to that bird!
Take a few cups of water and boil it. You can throw it in a microwave for a few minutes to speed up the process. Place it in a heat resistant bowl and stir in your salt and sugar to dissolve them. The salt is the hardest to dissolve, so keep your eyes on it. Once they have dissolved add the rest of your spices stir them in then add a few ice cubes to cool it down or just wait. Now add you’re the mix to your ice water and stir it up well.
Throw the bird in the brine, tilting the cavity up so it fills with water and doesn’t try to float. Place something heavy on top to keep the turkey submerged and wait. I like to inject the bird at about 3 inch intervals with the brine water on shorter brines or 4 to 6 hours to sort of jump start it.
In the photo below I am just using a plastic food storage container filled with brine water to hold the bird down. A heavy plate will work as well.
NOTE: if you are brining in the summer you may want to add an ice cube tray full of ice once or twice during a 24 hour brine or if you have a container that will hold the bird and brine you can place in the refrigerator do it. You want to keep this bird below 40ºF to prevent bacterial growth!
Brining requires that you soak the bird in the brining solution either over night up to 24 hours, or four to six hours before smoking. After the brining is complete rinse the bird in clear fresh water to rinse off any extra salt that may be on the bird. Rinse for about 5 minutes changing the water a few times. Don’t soak the bird just rinse!
Flavor Injecting, injecting for short, is taking a solution of some kind of fluid and spices in a large syringe made for food, filling it, then injecting the fluid into the meat. It’s a way of spicing up the meat on the inside and making it tastier and juicier in the process.
The injector can be purchased at most department stores and cooking shops. One of my injectors looks like the one above. There are numerous injectors available at a full range of prices. I even bough one at Wal-Mart for like $4.
NOTE: When not using the injector, remove the needle, slide the piston in almost all the way with the cap off and slip the needle in the piston shaft, screw the cap down. The needle is a bit to long to snug the cap down but it will keep you from getting stuck by the needle or keep you from loosing it!
injection mixture and rub for poultry is below:
1 stick of margarine, butter or Butter Buds
3/4 teaspoon Garlic Power
3/4 teaspoon Onion Powder
** 3/4 teaspoon Cajun Spice **
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
** Download my free eBook of 70 Ethnic, International and Regional Spice Blends the eBook includes a recipe to mix your own Cajun Spice as well as many other popularly purchased spice blends!
Place you bird in a shallow pan or a clean sink this can get messy and it also allows you to collect and reuse the spilled injector fluids to rub the outer surface of the skin.
Inject the bird in several spots all over it. I use a spacing of about three inches. If you inject deeply into the meat at an angle you can flavor a lot of meat without poking a lot of holes. As to press the injector plunger in slowly pull the needle out at about the same rate of speed. Don’t forget the wings and legs! One or two injections in a wing or leg parallel to the bone will do it!
If your using butter as your base it will start to solidify once injected and the stuff that spills can be rubbed on the surface of the skin. I also sprinkle some of the same blend of spices on the outside of the bird. It will stick to the butter you just rubbed all over the bird. You can do this or add a bit of your favorite rub.
For more information about rubs download Deejay’s Book of Rubs from the Herbs and Spice Downloads page.
Smoking the Bird
Once the bird is brined, and injected you can begin your smoke. Now the general rule for smoking dictates a low and slow with light wispy smoke. This is not the best method for smoking poultry however. Unlike briskets, Boston butts and ribs poultry does not have tough connective tissues that need be to broken down. Poultry is naturally tender and fatty. The skin on poultry is full of fat compressed between the layers of the skin. In order to render this fat and get a nice crispy skin you need higher temperatures!
Smoke poultry at between 300º - 375º F for the best results.
NOTE: Some smokers will not consistently reach 350 o F let alone 375 o F - this is the reason I have given you a full range of temperatures to choose from. Whatever the highest temperature is in that range that your smokers is capable of – use that temperature!
Whatever temperature you to use smoke the poultry - smoke it until it reaches 168ºF in the thickest part of the thigh or breast. Poultry cooking time ends up being between 15 and 20 minutes per pound of meat between 300 and 375ºF, but it’s still the temperature is what you need to watch – not the time. The time is just a guideline for a guess of when to start cooking not when to finish cooking!
Woods like cherry, orange and tangerine will give your poultry a nice deep red/orange color with great flavor. Try mixing these in with your other favorite smoking woods! I like to mix theses woods with hickory or pecan.
Place the bird on the lowest grate you can manage with and a pan on the grate below to catch the juices .Place foil in the pan or you have a water pan, place foil on the pan suspended above the bottom. You don’t want the foil to touch the bottom because the heat from the pan will cause the juices to dry up. Add about a cup and a half of water to the pan to mix with the juices and to prevent drying.
Below is a picture of my water pan foiled to capture the juice for making gravy later. Notice how the foil is just a few inches below the top of the pan and all the juices are captured in the pan.
Once the bird reaches 165º F, let it rest with foil tented but not touching over the bird for 20 minutes or so before carving to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. The internal temperature will continue to rise by about 5º F after removing it from the smoker.
Can’t get any easier than that!
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