Turkey can be a challenge. A well-cooked turkey is fabulous, but it can be difficult to choke down a dry, tough turkey. In my experience, the best way to do a turkey is in the smoker. Great flavor and it will be tender and juicy if you do it correctly.
I came to love smoked turkey eating Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws, Eugune and Loma Blackburn. Gene would always salt and smoke a turkey and Loma would finish it in the roaster and it was always fabulous. He had a very simple technique using Tender Quick curing salt. Sadly, Gene and Loma are both gone now. We miss them.
A few years ago I decided to tackle smoked turkey. I tried various techniques and brines and had mixed success. My wife, Carolyn, would often say, “Why don’t you just use Gene’s technique?” I guess I kept thinking that I needed to use a brine from Alton Brown or Serious Eats or something complicated to be successful. Finally, I said, “OK, this year I am going back to Gene’s method.” The results were off-the-charts good. I learned my lesson. Sometimes simple really is best. So here you go.
Curing time: 24 hrs.
Cook time: 5-6 hrs.
1. Start with a fully thawed turkey. I like to use one about 20 lbs in size, but any size will work.
2. Purchase a bag of Morton Tender Quick curing salt. You can get it online or at many grocery stores.
3. Measure out some curing salt into a bowl. It takes about 1 oz per 3 lbs. So for a 20-lb bird I used 7 oz.
4. Using your hands, rub the curing salt all over the bird. Work under the skin in areas where the skin is loose. Apply as evenly as you can.
5. Put the bird in a large covered bowl, plastic bucket, or large brining bag and refrigerate for 24 hrs. Rotate once or twice to evenly distribute the salt in solution.
6. Fire up the smoker to 225 degrees. I like to use apple wood. Gene used to always use wood from a “cottonless cottonwood” tree. Good luck finding that. Hickory also works well.
7. Cook for about 4 hrs or until the temp hits 130 degrees or so. If your smoker is large enough, put a pan of water under the turkey.
8. Crank the temp up to 300 degrees and pull the turkey from the smoker when the breasts hit 160 degrees. Do not go beyond this temp! The thighs should be a little hotter – maybe 170 or so.
9. Let it sit for 20-30 minutes or so. Get your carving knife ready.
10. Carve and enjoy.
Smoked turkey makes fantastic leftovers. The Tender Quick gives it a nice mild salt flavor to go along with smokiness and it seems to be extra moist. Enjoy.