Simplistic in preparation. Elementary in execution. Perfection on the plate. This peppercorn-encrusted and smoked heritage turkey is among my favorite main courses to serve for a crowd. And, furthermore, what all Pit Masters know to be true – turkey is best served to guests on any special occasion, not just Thanksgiving!
See below for 5 backyard chef’s secrets and fool-proof step-by-step instructional to smoked turkey perfection. Cheers!
1. Plan ahead – Consider the time table from soup to nuts. Not only should you call the butcher or meat market at least 2 weeks in advance to reserve your bird, but plan to pick up that fine featherless beast no later than 3 days before the big cook out.
- Total timetable: 1-5 days defrost + 1-2 days brine + 1 hour preparation + 3-4 hours roast + 30 minutes rest = Up to 2 days, 5 hours and 30 minutes!
2. Size of bird: Purchase 1.5 pounds per guest – This includes total turkey weight, not just the meat – And, at this volume, you’ll certainly have enough to feed all parties! Example: If you’re feeding 10 guests, purchase a 15 pound turkey.
3. Never smoke a cold bird: Prior to placing the turkey in the smoker, wrap it tightly in plastic, then rest it safely until the internal temperature has neared room temperature. Plan approximately 3 hours. By allowing the bird to rest in advance of smoking, you’ll enjoy a more evenly smoked bird. By wrapping in plastic, you’ll mitigate potential for food borne illness risks.
4. Set it, forget, sit back and relax. Let your smoker do it’s job! Every time the smoker chamber is opened cook times are increased by 15-20 minutes, or longer. If basting, do so quickly then close the smoking chamber. Longer cook times will result with dried-out, flavorless turkey.
5. Wait. Just a minute longer. Before carving, allow the bird to rest for a full 20-30 minutes before carving. I know you’re emaciated and starving – But, you’ve spent nearly 2 days meticulously preparing for this feast – the last half hour before carving may be among the most critical. During this time period, the turkey’s denatured proteins are relaxing and re-absorbing the juices which have been pushed to the exterior layers of muscle through the cooking process. If you carve too soon, all those juices and flavor will be lost on the cutting board!
- 1 15-20 pound fresh turkey, rinsed & patted dry with paper towel, giblets removed
- Simple Sweet & Savory Brine, see recipe below
- Blackened Peppercorn Rub, see recipe below
- Turkey Cavity Aromatics, see recipe below
- Turkey Stock Beer Basting Spray, see recipe below
- 4 cups hardwood, half apple wood, half hickory wood
- -2 gallons water
- -1 gallon chicken stock, low or no-sodium
- -1 1/2 cup kosher salt
- -1 cup brown sugar
- -1/2 head of garlic cloves smashed
- -1 handful of fresh basil, rosemary and thyme sprigs
- -1 handful of whole peppercorns
- Up to two days in advance of turkey smoking, in a large stock pot, bring all ingredients to a raging boil. Stir intermittently until salt and sugars dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, until room temperature. Submerge whole, uncooked turkey. Cover with lid and place pot in refrigerator for 24-48 hours. 3 hours prior to smoking the bird, thoroughly rinse exterior and cavity of the bird, washing away excess salt. Pat the turkey entirely dry with paper towel. Discard brine. Prepare to season, stuff and smoke.
- -1/2 cup olive oil
- -1 cup black peppercorn
- -1/4 cup kosher salt
- -2 tablespoons garlic powder
- -1 tablespoon chili powder
- -1 tablespoon paprika
- -1 tablespoon onion powder
- -1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Combine all ingredients into food processor and pulse until combined. Set aside.
- -1 small red onion, quartered
- -1 firm apple, chopped
- -4-6 cloves garlic, smashed
- -1 piece of ginger root, peeled and chopped
- -1 orange, peel and zest only
- -Sprigs of rosemary, thyme and basil
- Prepare as directed. Set aside.
- -2 cups turkey stock, or chicken stock
- -1 12 ounce lager beer
- -1/2 cup olive oil
- Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle and swirl around to mix. Also, giving a good swirl prior to each basting spray throughout the cooking process.
- Thaw, brine, and remove turkey from refrigeration, per recommendations above.
- 3 hours prior to smoking wrap bird tightly in plastic wrap & rest at room temperature. 20 minutes before smoking, remove wrap, pat bird entirely dry with paper towel, then apply a liberal degree of Thanksgiving Fresh Herb Rub to exterior skin & interior cavity of the turkey. Stuff the turkey cavity with prepared produce & herbs. Tie together rear legs of the turkey with kitchen string & tuck wings under the bird’s thighs.
- Meanwhile, fill the woodchip chamber with 1/2 applewood and 1/2 hickory wood, then preheat the smoker to 275F, allowing 15-20 minutes for the smoker to warm before cooking. Set turkey in the smoker, basting intermittently with the beer basting spray. Remove turkey from smoker when internal temperature of thickest, inner most portion of the thigh reads 160F. Then immediately remove from the smoker, place the turkey over a cutting board and loosely tent with tin foil, allowing the bird’s denatured proteins to relax and reabsorb their juices.
- The turkey should rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. Discard cavity aromatics. Carve the bird. Serve. Eat. Drink. Be merry.