11/28/13 - My wife triple-dog-dared me to smoke the Turkey on the new Lyfe Tyme pit this year for Thanksgiving. Of course I accepted the challenge. Now all the pressure was on me or we would be eating Peking Duck with Ralfy.
I researched a few recipes and went back to my tried, true and most trusted source: Amazingribs.com. This website is my go-to for all things barbecue. The website manager refers to himself as Meathead. On the site one can find The Ultimate Turkey Recipe. Well, with a name like that how can I possibly fail? Go to the website for specific ingredients and recipes.
First, we need a bird. My first preference was to brine a fresh organic bird. Most turkeys are injected at processing with a saline solution and then flash frozen. I found a one at a Whole Foods for around $75!. After recovering from sticker shock, I thought a $10 frozen 16 pound bird with 8% solution injection sounded just mouth watering.
Next we have to thaw the bird. The website suggested putting the frozen bird in the refrigerator on Friday morning before Thanksgiving. My wife thought that was way too long but Meathead said so. Who to trust? Wife or Meathead? I compromised and started thawing Saturday morning. Wednesday night there were still ice crystals in the bird, so I pulled it out for several hours before going to bed. Meathead was right, but don't tell the wife.
Its Thanksgiving morning. Game On! The first thing to do was to prepare the "Gravy" and the bird. I put Gravy in quotations because its not your typical grease and flour concoction. This Gravy serves two purposes. First, it provides a steamy bath inside the pit to help keep the bird from drying out. Second, it provides a thin flavor power packed broth that will penetrate the sliced turkey.
Before Turkeyday, find a disposable aluminum roasting pan that will fit underneath the grates of your pit. I have a 16in barrel with bars 16 inches apart that support the grate. I got a 13"W by 15 1/2"L pan. It also needs a volume of 3 quarts or more. This pan was almost 3 inches deep. The length was a little too long. I had to warp and bend the pan to get it out of the pit. Some precious broth was sacrificed for this costly error.
Prepare thawed bird. Place thawed bird in bag in pan. Remove bag and keep every last drop of the melted juices. Remove pop out thermometer and throw in trash. This is not amateur hour. I am a backyard professional!.....aided by digital remote thermometer technology. Remove red ice and neck from cavity and place in pan. Trim loose fatty skin from craw and butt and place in pan. You want a nice open cavity for smoke and heat to flow through. Find that nasty bag inside the butt. Pull out heart and gizzards and place in pan. Throw liver and nasty bag in the trash. Next cut the wing tips off at the joint. Now, remove the bird from pan. These turkey parts, juice and red ice are the stock of our "Gravy". Amen.
Next add 3 quarts of water, apple juice, onions, carrots, celery, sage, thyme and bay leaves to the "gravy" pan. These items are for flavor only. They will not be consumed.
Next prepare bird for pit. First, remove the steel/plastic thingamajig that holds the tops of the drumsticks together. We smoke our turkey spread eagle! This helps the dark meat cook evenly with the white meat. I bet some prude came up with this contraption. How could you possibly raise your Southern Debutantes to keep their knees together and feet crossed and then present a trashy immoral bird on the Thanksgiving Day table?
Second, prepare the wet rub. This is an herb rub mixed with oil. The herb rub consists of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaf, black pepper and sugar. The oil helps dissolves the flavor of the herbs and it crisps the skin. I chose olive oil. Spread this oily herb wet rub first underneath the skin of the breast and then over the top of the whole bird.
Injection. You would never think of frying a turkey without injecting it with some magic marinade. Why skip this step for smoking a turkey. A buttery injection will give this bird a flavor boost and add must needed moistness. I chose a creole butter injection.
Next prepare the aromatic ingredients for the cavity. No stuffing for this bird. Stuffing means just more mass in the center that has to be cooked. We want an open cavity for smoke, aroma, and heat to cook and swirl flavor from the inside out. Place inside cavity onion, garlic cloves, fresh thyme, orange peel and fruit wood chips. None of this will be consumed. I don't know if it works or not but I can testify that my backyard was filled with an intoxicating perfume. My pit smelt so good I placed my nose over the smoke stack to enjoy the aroma. Unfortunately that aroma was super heated to 300F! Ouch!
The target temp is 160F deep in the heart of the breast. Stick the remote digital thermometer probe into the middle of the thickest part of the breast. With the bird spread eagle, the dark meat of the thighs and drum sticks can reach a temp of 175F while deep breast meat reaches 160F. Place the bird with drumsticks facing the heat source. The large open cavity also faces the heat and smoke.
Wife wanted to serve dinner at 1:00pm. A 16 pound bird at 325F should cook in 3 hours. I have yet to get my pit to hold a temp as high as 325F. I told the wife it will take 4 hours to cook bird. She was unaware that I didn't have a clue how long it would take. Fired up the pit and bird at 9:00am. Pit struggled first hour to get up near 300F. I figured that was because the cold large bird and cool gravy pan were absorbing the heat. At 10:30 pit finally reached the 300 mark but stayed underneath it most of the cook time. My average pit temp was 271F, well beneath the suggested 325F. However, the internal temp of the bird steady rose the entire cook time. It never stalled or retreated so my anxiety over cooking at a lower temp subsided but my anxiety over finishing too soon rose. This bird was cooking fast! It was rising 40 per hour. At that rate I would be done an hour ahead of schedule. Bird hit target temp of 160F 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Not to fear, stuck bird in a dry beer cooler. By carving time 2:00pm (Ha! Wife was late for once) it was still too hot to touch.
Recipe recommended going light on the smoke. Use oak or fruit woods but not mesquite and hickory. I chose Pecan. I added chunks throughout the process.
Results: The turkey was very very moist and tender. After I finished carving the turkey, there was a large puddle of juice. This was much more juicy and tender than frying and so much better than dry-as-bone oven roast. I was disappointed in the the smoke flavor. It was very faint and undetectable. I will go a lot heavier next time. I imagine the gravy steam bath prevented what little smoke there was from ever reaching the bird. The "Gravy" was another disappointment. After I strained all the solids I was left with a water drowned turkey broth with very little flavor. I'll substitute chicken stock for water next time for more flavor. The wet herb rub was a big success. It was a dominant flavor that you could taste in every bite. The aromatics produced a wonderful perfume for the backyard but did very little in flavor. I could not detect anything. The creole butter injection added to the juiciness but I cant testify for its flavor. Probably skip this step next time.
When you get the nod of approval from the Mother-in-law who secrectly prepared and smuggled in a second turkey (just in case I failed), you know you have a new Thanksgiving day tradition.