Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turkey Gone Wild

I love to cook & every Thanksgiving have been given the task of cooking the turkey because I won't tolerate a dry turkey & everyone knows it. Now I have tried all the different ways of cooking the perfect turkey which includes, deep frying, ovens, smokers, roasters & boiling. I have used brine's, marinades, injections & all types of secret recipes from the food network, family, friends & even a few old wives tales.
I have however conjured up my own recipe & if the turkey is under 25 lbs, you will have a turkey as tender & moist as the very best chicken you have ever eaten. I have had chef's tell me that they wanted me to teach them what I do because they like it so much. Now I know that people give compliments all the time when they get free food & don't have to cook themselves but I am not really a big turkey fan & find that I really like the flavor of my turkeys along with how moist they are.
I have an interesting story recounting this years Thanksgiving turkey which weighed in at 36.7 lbs & no, this isn't a typo although I have plenty with my two fingered typing.

I take my turkey & do all the normal prep work, like start my defrosting a day or two in advance in the refrigerator because Heaven forbid you might get some bug from defrosting wrong. I then take everything out of turkey & rinse it in clean water. I pat it dry & let it stand for about an half hour while I prepare my cooking barrel. yes, I have an old 55 gallon barrel that I designed & built to be a smoker. I add 10 lbs of Kingsford briquettes in the bottom of barrel which sets on a rack that is a few inches off the bottom. I never used pre soaked briquettes because they have a oily residue on them. I then add my electric starter to the briquettes until they start to have some flame.
While waiting for the flames to appear, I get my turkey ready by taking melted butter & rubbing it with my own dry rub consisting of sage thyme, chili powder, garlic salt, Lawry's season salt, dry mustard, salt & pepper with a little brown sugar. I reach between the skin & the body of the turkey & do the same.
I place sliced apples, oranges, garlic, & onion under turkey in a roasting pan filled with chicken stock, mixed with more of my dry rub spices & some apple juice or orange juice. I place the lid on the roasting pan or cover with tin foil to keep the moisture in the pan & in the turkey. I then set the pan on a rack about 3/4 of the way up my barrel for 1.5 -- 2 hrs. make sure the lid is on the roasting pan & make sure the lid is on the barrel.
I check for my 165* at thigh joint, next to body. I then add 10 more lbs of briquettes while lid is on roasting pan. After a few minutes I take lid off roasting pan to let the turkey brown. If the bath the turkey is cooking in is getting dry, you can add more at this time & baste the turkey.
your 20lb turkey may be done at 2hours but don't take out of smoker until you reach 165 degrees. I know we are told to reach 170-180 degrees but this is way overkill. You now continue basting at half hour intervals & checking temperature. If it is taking longer to reach desired temperature, put the roasting pan lid back on to keep moisture in pan & turkey. If you do everything correctly you will cut down your cooking time in a conventional oven by 1 to 2 hours & this will be the most flavorful & moist turkey you have ever experienced.
My son called this year because he couldn't get home for Thanksgiving & said that he didn't realize how different my turkeys were from others until he had turkey at some friends house this year. he may have been just making dad feel good but "it did".
Now we get into this years monster turkey. We had a traditional 20 pounder but the neighbor shows up with a turkey just under 37 lbs that they were given as employees of a turkey farm. I didn't know turkeys could be so big but I can assure you, they do. I began to stress out because this monster didn't fit in anything I owned & outside of using a chainsaw to cut it in half, I didn't have a clue what to do but I knew that I couldn't serve dry turkey.
An advantage to living in a small town is you get to know a lot of people & I went to the Murphys Hotel to ask the owner if I could rob his kitchen for a giant roasting pan. He said yes & then gave me his ideas on what to do which included piecing out the turkey & cooking seperately which was considered. I still thought the pan was to small so I went to Ironstone Vineyards massive kitchen to find two pans that were big enough but I was concerned how I would get this monster in my barrel.
I found that my concerns proved to be valid as when I got home & began to place the pans into my barrel, they didn't fit. I was finding myself a little bit screwed if there is such a thing as being a little screwed? I racked my brain for a solution with less than 18 hours before the timer begins on this adventure & then it struck me to get 3 of those funky aluminum roasting pans from the store. they were flexible enough to mold to the turkey & if I added 2 or 3 inside each other, they would be sturdy enough.
I boiled 1 cup salt with a gallon of water along with sage, thyme, brown sugar, salt & pepper. I then added a couple gallons of cold water into a 5 gallon bucket. I added the turkey & let the brining process work overnight, hopefully breaking down the meat & tenderizing it with flavor. The next morning I rinsed turkey with fresh water & let sit.
I could just barely get my citrus, apples & chicken broth bath in the pan & knew I need more moisture in the barrel to keep the meat moist so I filled 2 small camp pans with broth mixture. I placed one on top rack next to turkey & one in the briquettes on the bottom. Now I just had to do what I have done every year & hopefully I would have the same results.
I checked my temperature at 2 hours like I always have done & added 10 more lbs of briquettes but the temperature of 140 to 150 of which I usually expected was at 70*. I gave myself 5 hours just in case but was beginning to sweat it when at 4 hrs & 10 more lbs of briquettes, I was only at 140*. I couldn't rush it but I knew that the chances of a moist turkey were fleeting by the moment & I was not very optimistic. My options were none, except to tell the guests to cover the turkey with gravy & cranberry sauce & that was my exit strategy.
We received a call about 4.5 hours into this from one guest, saying they would be an half hour late. I was greatly relived to have an extra half hour & at 5 hours & 165* I pulled the turkey out which needed a small crane. I then wrapped it in tin foil & placed it in an ice chest to continue cooking while becoming moist by sitting in its own steam bath.
At 2:30 I pulled the turkey out of the ice chest & set it on a cutting board to rest for half an hour. The juice was running everywhere & after I cut the first slice of breast meat of which I don't really like because the breast is always more dry, even though this process negates this normal problem. this meat had a beautiful pink smoke ring about a 1/2 inch deep into the meat & tasting incredible with the moisture of turkeys past.
I sighed a breath of relief & served the turkey which received rave reviews, with everyone taking large bags of turkey home for later.
After 20+ hours of worry & 5 hours of cooking, the entire eating experience was over in less than half an hour & I needed two aspirin to relax of which I finally did.
yes, there are 37 lb turkeys but my advice is not to get one, they will only cause you stress because by the way, it didn't fit into our oven either. Happy cooking & you now have my secret to the perfect turkey that you can add to the thousands of others you probably have.
Gobble Gobble

1 comment:

sage said...

I've smoked lots of turkeys, but never one that big! I did mine in the oven this year and it came out moist and there wasn't a lot left of a 22 pound bird! One of the best turkeys I've had was cooked (after a dry rub) inside several paper bags that were then encased in clay. A hole was dug in the ground and a fire built out of oak, when it had turned to good coals, the bird was placed among the coals, the ground placed back and the bird cooked overnight. I'd like to try that myself, but this here is sandhill country.