Smoked Turkey Theory Craft:
Note: This is from a friend of mine who smokes a lot of different meats, and he has experimented and researched a lot of different sources to refine this turkey recipe.
Plan to start the process about two days before you want to smoke it. The first day will be prepping the brine solution, prepping the turkey, and then brining the turkey overnight. The second day will be rinsing and drying the turkey, and then leaving it overnight in the refrigerator. The third day is the day of actually smoking the turkey, and then eating it that evening or over the next few days.
Get a fresh turkey. Freezing causes cells in the flesh to rupture. When thawed, some of the juices drain out and are lost. Tip: this is true for any turkey, or other poultry, so always go fresh no matter how you are cooking!
Try to find one that has not been processed. Try to find "unaltered", which means it hasn't been injected with tons of solutions that are also salty. Otherwise you'll have quite a salty bird after brining.
Use a smaller turkey so it doesn't take as long to cook, which also dries out some of the meat. Shoot for 15 pounds or less. You'll be cooking at a lower temperature, so a larger one will increase the risk of bacteria development and making people sick.
Brine the turkey to increase it's ability to retain moisture. Do this overnight (approx 12 hours) using a brining bag and/or large container. Get a new large bucket for this and your wife will thank you later. Mark it "FOOD" so you don't use it for household cleaning on another day, and now you have a large food container for future projects. You can place it in an ice chest, or since you are going with a smaller turkey, it should fit in a roasting pan in the refrigerator if you didn't get the bucket. Taking up a large area of the fridge will not earn you "wife points", especially if other food is being stored for the event. Get the bucket! A 3 to 5 gallon bucket or "new" medium sized (kitchen) plastic trashcan works good as well.
How to Prepare the Turkey:
Prep the turkey next. Remove the giblets and the neck from the body cavity and the neck cavity of the bird. Remove the excess fat from the edges of the skin. Leave as much of the skin on the bird as possible. It protects the meat from drying as it smokes. Rinse the turkey in cold, running water, making sure to clean the body cavity as well as the outside surfaces.
Another important step of preparation is to separate the skin from the breast. Be very careful that you don't tear the skin as you pull it free. Slowly work it loose with your fingers, from the rear to front, and then down the sides toward the legs. Doing this allows the brine to reach the breast meat.
5 lemons, halved
12 bay leaves
1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
1/2 cup clover honey
1 head garlic, halved through the equator
1/4 cup black peppercorns
2 cups (10 ounces) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
2 gallons water (adjust as needed depending on turkey size and container size)
Bring brine solution to a boil, then allow it to fully cool to room temp. Once at room temperature, place it in a brine bag and then put the bag into a container (the bucket!) that is filled with ice to chill the brine solution down to at least 40 degrees F.
Add the turkey to the brine bag and/or container large enough to hold the turkey and solution, and refrigerate for 12 hours (no longer, or it may become too salty). Make sure you have full immersion and no air pockets for 100% fluid contact. If you got the bucket or trashcan, then the turkey and solution in a brine bag tied should sit in the container filled with ice.
How to Brine Turkey:
Now it's time to plop the turkey into the brine. I place it into the brine "head first". If it goes in "feet first", air may become trapped in the body cavity. The brine has to contact every part of the turkey, inside and out. To keep the bird submerged, lay a heavy plate on top of the brine, inside the brining container.
Gently slosh the turkey in the brine every couple of hours while you're awake. You want that brine to do its magic. Depending on the size of the turkey, brining can take from eight to twelve hours. A ten pound turkey needs about eight hours in the brine. A fourteen pound bird will need about twelve hours.
Rinse and Dry:
Remove the turkey from the brine (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. After removing the bird from the brine, rinse it in cold, running water. Make sure you clean the body cavity in addition to the outside surface. Position the bird upright, as if it were dancing, in the kitchen sink to drain. You want most of the water to drain from the body cavity. After five to ten minutes, pat the turkey dry with a towel to ready it for seasoning. Be careful if you use paper towels…they can melt onto the turkey flesh, and the resulting mess can be difficult to remove.
For the best texture and flavor, let the turkey rest uncovered in the refrigerator twelve to twenty four hours. This gives the salt and brine flavorings time to distribute evenly throughout the turkey. It allows the salt time to modify the proteins, which will improve the texture and moisture retention.
1/2 Tsp vegetable oil
The brined turkey can be seasoned with a dry mix of spices and herbs, or with a wet rub. Use a dry mix in the cavity, but use a wet rub on the outside surfaces of the turkey. It adheres better, plus the oil in it improves the moistness and color of the smoked turkey. To make a wet rub, mix vegetable or olive oil into the dry ingredients until you have a thin paste.
The trick to seasoning a brined turkey is to get the flavors under the skin. Remember when you separated the skin from the breast before brining? You were preparing it for seasoning at the same time.
Again, carefully lift the skin and coat the meat with some of the wet rub. Try to completely cover the exposed flesh. Pull the skin back into place after you've seasoned the bird. Use a couple of toothpicks to hold the skin in place, since it shrinks as it cooks. You don’t want the meat uncovered as it smokes.
Season the outer surface of the turkey with the remaining wet rub. Get into all the nooks and crannies…under the wings and legs. Next, flavor up the inside of the turkey with dry spices. After seasoning, loosely truss the legs together with a length of butchers' string. Now it's ready for the smoker.
Get your smoker up to 225 degrees Fahrenheit before you put in the turkey. Oil the grate to prevent sticking. Maintain a temperature of 225 to 250 degrees throughout the smoking session. Oak and apple wood is great smoke for poultry, about half and half.
Smoke time is usually 30 minutes per pound. Baste the turkey with oil or melted butter a few times as it smokes.
When the thick part of the thigh reaches 170 degrees, and the breast about 160, it's time to remove the turkey. The temperature will rise about ten to fifteen degrees after removing it from the smoker. When the breast reaches 150F, cover it with foil to prevent it from being overcooked.
All that remains is to cover the smoked turkey with a foil tent, and let it rest for at least one-half hour, breast side down, before slicing. This allows the juices and smoke flavor to evenly disperse throughout the flesh as it firms up.