Brined, Smoked Turkey

We decided an office Thanksgiving celebration was in order. Several things helped us reach this conclusion… 1) it’s near Thanksgiving, 2) we like getting the whole office together for a meal, 3) we really like getting together for a Big Green Egg meal, and 4) we had never tried a turkey on the Egg. Case closed – it was time for a turkey on the Egg that would feed everyone and make us all happy! Crazy expectations, ho!

Having never smoked a turkey on the Egg, I did a bit of research on the interwebs and googletubes, and decided that I would brine the turkey first, then estimate about 20 minutes per pound at 300F, but pull it off early if we hit 160F internal. I decided not to use any flavored chips, because I didn’t want to overpower the brine or the aromatics I was going to add.

We got our turkey, a 24 pound Butterball, and set to work. First up was to just let the turkey sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days. It wasn’t quite enough… when we opened it up to prep for the brine dunk, the bird was still pretty well frozen. So, what’s a Mainer to do? I had my friend reach his hand into the frozen bird and wrestle out the giblets and neck! Of course, we were running cold water over it the whole time to aid in the extraction… It was quite the show of suction noises and gushing water. Hey, thanks, Derek!

The plan was to let the bird sit in the brine for about 36-48 hours, which we did do.

For the brine (4 gallons):
2 c kosher salt
2 c brown sugar
2 T dried rosemary (or 6-8 sprigs fresh rosemary)
2 sweet onions, quartered
Rind of 2 oranges
8 cloves garlic, smashed but otherwise whole

For the aromatics:
4 lemons, quartered
8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
8-10 sprigs fresh sage
2 sweet onions, quartered
8 cloves garlic, smashed
1 red potato, cubed

Mix all the brining ingredients in a large bowl. Add a gallon of water and dissolve as much as possible. Pour into large plastic bag (large enough to hold the turkey plus liquid… we used clear plastic liner bags and tied off the excess) or a plastic tub (if using this option, use one that is a tight fit for the turkey to ensure full coverage by the liquid). Pour another gallon of water into the bowl and dissolve any remaining salt & sugar, then add to the bag. Add remaining two gallons of water to bag, then lift the turkey into the bag. Tie it off so that the turkey is fully surrounded by liquid. Then, swish it around a bunch to finish mixing.

We then set the bag into a large plastic tub, filled the tub with clear water, covered it, and set it out in our un-heated entry way. Thanks to a vent, the entry way would not get below freezing (it’s November in Maine… so cold is an issue at night), and it also wouldn’t get too warm during the day. The bird thus sat for roughly 40 hours.

The day of the feast, I arrived at the office at 0200 (that’s 2 a.m. for you civilians) and prepared the aromatics, removed the turkey from the brine and rinsed it off, and got the Big Green Egg firebox started. I fashioned some grill handles out of heavy duty electric fence wire (donated from our horses… I did ask permission, but ignored all the nays), set the turkey on it, then stuffed that puppy with the aromatics. Stuffed both in the large cavity, and up front under the breasts. I also decided to cut up some extra potatoes, and put them in the drip pan along with apple juice.

Just for grins, I squeezed some lemon juice onto the turkey.

Once the Egg had stabilized (all vents open) at 350F, I put the bird on, at 0330. The temperature dipped to about 250, then slowly started to climb. At that point, I cut the vents to about 50% each, and monitored the temperature about every 30 minutes, keeping it between 250 and 350F. My plan was to let it smoke until about 1130, then let it rest 20 minutes before carving… serving at noon.

Eh, that’s sort of how it worked out!

Keep in mind, it’s November in Maine… the overnight temperature was under 20F… and that meant that the Egg had to consume more fuel to maintain its 300F average temperature. I should have known this, but when I filled the firebox I was a little groggy from lack of sleep… so at about 0930, we ran out of fuel! Fortunately, the aforementioned Derek was in the office, too, and as I lifted the turkey out of the Egg, he tossed in more charcoal onto the remaining embers. Also fortunately, we caught it in time for there to be embers, and they started the new charcoal up quickly. In the meantime, we had our turkey covered in foil in the kitchen… hoping for the best.

Even with the interruption in cook time, we hit our desired internal temperature (160 in the breast, 175 in the thigh) early, by 1115. So, off it came, and I just let it rest a full half hour before starting to carve.

All the while, the hustle and bustle of the rest of the office was going on as other folks brought in some fantastic sides and deserts! We also had a bit of a grill vs grill thing going… another friend had brought in her small Traeger smoker to put some smokey goodness into a ham (the ham was pre-cooked, so just needed some flavor). It was a great day!

For carving, I wanted everyone to get a bit of all the good parts, so I pulled it all apart and sliced up the breast so there was a bit of skin down to a bit of tenderloin in every serving. I left the drumsticks and wings whole, but sliced up the thighs for lovely dark meat.

Well, then the best part… the eating! I have never, ever had turkey that was this smooth, this moist, and this absolutely delicious! And I’ve eaten a lot of turkey in my days… but the brine and the Egg really just did a fabulous job.

In a way, I felt bad… lots of comments were of the form, “Well, thanks, now you’ve ruined my own Thanksgiving, because I know the turkey won’t be this good!” Sorry, guys! But my plan for my own turkey, since I don’t have an Egg at home, is to still use the brine process… I think that did the majority of the work, tenderizing and moisturizing the bird. So, we’ll still have an oven roasted (rather than smoked) turkey, but it will be brined, and I bet it will be almost as good as what we all got to experience the other day.


One response to “Brined, Smoked Turkey

  1. Mickey Paine December 27, 2012 at 5:23 am

    The only time I brined a turkey, I put it in one of Bec’s Home Depot 5 gallon buckets. The turkey fit perfectly, the lid fit tightly, and there was a convenient handle! And, the bucket is orange – always a plus!

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