Friday, November 6, 2009

How to SMOKE a PERFECT TURKEY - and tips for roasting too!

OK, it's finally time to give some of the details from My Wife's Boss is Coming to Dinner - Sucking Up for a Raise Menu - Thanksgiving Preview. Specifically,this bird. Like I said, I wanted to make this dinner special, worthy of serving under pressure...
So I am calling this my ...


(Or my Wife's Boss)

Yeap, a big name for a big turkey and lots to live up to... First, let me tell you a mistake I made, and why I was pulling out all the stops to make this bird edible. This monster is 20 pounds. Never buy a bird that big, unless you have no other choice, or it is on sale at a terrific price (this one was 99 cents a pound). Pretty obvious the reason, bigger the bird, the more difficult it is to cook to an even temperature, and maintain a moist finished product. Can't tell you how many dried out turkeys I have suffered through in my life. So, I knew going in, I was going to have to do a few extra steps to guarantee an extra special bird. Buy a smaller bird (10-15 pounds), it is much closer to just cooking a chicken.

Now, one more issue... The bird was a Butterball brand, which is already injected with a salt water solution. The bird is already brined, and there is no advantage to brining the bird. Read the label carefully, and if it does not say self basting, or talks about a self brining, take that extra step. Brining is one of the easiest ways to add moisture and flavor to your turkey. But, mine already had the solution "built-in", so I dealt with it...

Here's what I did...

First, I was going to prepare the flavored butter I was going to use to stuff the bird with. Long time readers may recall that on August 9th, I blogged about Steven Raichlen's recipe for CHICKEN STUFFED WITH FLAVORED BUTTER. You can check those details by clicking HERE. In his book, HOW TO GRILL, the recipe starts on page 207. There are 3 pages with detailed photo instructions prior to the recipe. I followed those instructions for the turkey...

Chopped up several garlic cloves, and some fresh parsley leaves...

Combined them with a pound of softened butter, whipped to a frenzy...

While that was whipping, I started preparing my Injectable Marinade...

OK, long time readers know of my plans to cook every recipe in the Steven Raichlen book, HOW TO GRILL... There is a recipe in the book for How to Smoke a Turkey. Once I added the butter, I will be following the steps in the book for an injectible Cajun Marinade, so I am counting this monster bird as finishing the turkey recipe in the book.

This recipe can be found on page 261 of Steven Raichlen's amazing grill guide, HOW TO GRILL. The book includes three pages of detailed instructions, including lots of photographs and a simple easy to follow recipe. Click HERE to go to and read other people's reviews or to order. I just found out they have discounted the price, new copies are available for less than $14 and

used copies for less than $3!

I altered the recipe slightly, and replaced the lemon juice recommended in the recipe with POM juice. I had recently received a care package of several bottles of this wonderful product. It has a great flavor, and I wanted to use this to flavor the internal marinade...

Here's what I did for making my own injection marinade (think Cajun Injector brand methods)...
One can of chicken broth (or 2 cups homemade stock)
1/2 pound (two sticks) butter
1/4 cup Cajun Spices (I used my homemade Cajun rub, but you can use any commercial Cajun spices)

I combined all the ingredients and set them to a slow simmer while I stuffed the bird with the whipped butter...

OK... back to the bird... gently, without splitting the skin, separate the skin around the breast meat from the meat. Be sure your nails are trimmed, as you want to get the butter in as deep as possible. Also separate the skin (as best you can) from the legs and thighs. Again, without splitting the skin. When the bird is finished, you will peal off the skin and the butter will flavor and moisten the meat (you will see).

Next, start working in the flavored butter into the space you created between the skin and the meat. Use it all, keep shoving and working it around as evenly as you can, including the legs and thighs.

And next, I started on the marinade. Injector needles are available at any quality foodie cooking supply store, or cheaper on AMAZON.COM. I always saved my old ones that I used from Cajun Injector... BTW, if you don't want to make your own, Cajun Injector makes and sells a jar of injector marinade along with a free injector. Especially this time of year you should be able to find these at a well stocked store. I know Wal-Mart carried these last year.

The technique reminds me of when I was a heroin addict and would load a syringe with a spoonful of cooked dope... Wait, that's not right, it reminds me of watching TV of heroin addicts loading a syringe.

Load it up and inject away... Put a third of a syringe full in one spot, pull out a bit, put another third in, pull out a bit more and the final third... Just keep injecting in as many spots as you can till all the goop is inside the bird. Adds moisture and flavoring (remember all that Cajun spice) INSIDE the bird. MUCH better than basting.

I added a cut lemon inside the cavity, and then trussed up the bird, ready for smoking. I used my handy dandy cooking bands (reusable, don't melt) to keep the legs in tight to the body as it cooks, preventing the legs from over cooking. If you don't have those convenient bands, you can use butcher's twine to truss the bird.

Low and slow is the general rule for smoking. But for this monster, I wanted it finished in 10 hours. I fired up my smoker to 275 degrees, and planned on 30 minutes per pound to get er done!
I prepared a spray bottle with more of the POM WONDERFUL juice. Whenever you open the smoker chamber, you want to add a little moisture. Best way to do that is either with a mop or a spray bottle.

During this cook, at different times, I smoked an eggplant for dip, and sweet potato boats for my potato dish. So I opened the lid about every two hours.

Take a close look at the leg bone at the joint where it joins the thigh bone in the photo above (this was after 7 hours)...

Now compare it to the photo above, if you look close, you can see that the leg bone has pulled out of the socket from the thigh bone (no need to sing the song, as they are no longer connected). This was after 9 hours, and the bird was done! That was an old fashioned way to tell when the bird is cooked, if the leg bone moves freely from around the joint, you are set! When I double checked the old wives tale with a modern instant read thermometer, I was right at 170 degrees internal temp at the thickest part of the thigh, and 175 at the breast. A little bit over done, but certainly within the guidelines. I was still an hour away from serving, so I brought it inside and wrapped in foil. Stayed plenty hot till serving time!

The skin was very rubbery, and not really something you would want to serve. BUT, it separated from the meat very easily. The thighs and leg pieces also separated at the joints easily...

But once the skin was removed, MY MY MY did it look pretty, and better yet, tasted amazing. The breast meat was plenty moist, and had a little tang from the POM and Cajun spices that were injected. The dark meat was especially full of flavor (shhh, don't spread this around too far, but even though the white meat is more popular, the dark meat has more flavor).

Absolutely, considering the size of the bird, this turned out wonderful. Lots of layers of flavors, from the smoke, to the injected POM and Cajun spices, to the butter seeping in from the outside, everything combined to make a wonderful finished product, one I was proud to serve to my wife's boss, and anyone would be very happy to serve to their Mother-In-Law.

BTW, you may notice that I did not waste time with stuffing. Stuffing makes cooking the bird more difficult, and potentially you risk poisoning your Mother-in-Law with undercooked dressing. Instead, I made a pork savory stuffed buttermilk BREAD PUDDING. I will blog all about that tomorrow!

And now a couple bits of advertising/reminders. I have had terrific response to yesterday's contest announcement. (for me) a record number of people commented, and my second most popular post ever (that "post that must never be mentioned again" was my most popular... But you can go to by clicking HERE)). The Good folks at O Olive Oil are allowing me to give away 3 SETS (not three bottles, but three sets of bottles) of their gourmet top quality oils and vinegars. Each set is worth over $30, and $100 plus worth of oil will be given to the winners. Stop over at this post (CLICK HERE to get there), if you haven't yet, leave a comment, if you haven't yet, leave a recipe link. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO POST AN ORIGINAL RECIPE ON THE COMMENT PAGE, POST a LINK to your site, with the page you think the judges would like. right now, I only have a handful of recipes, best odds to win go for recipe posters and that is the BEST prize (one of their seasonal collections, YOUR choice). TOP TOP TOP quality, and a terrific opportunity to try their products FREE!

I mentioned several gadgets during this post, as well as books... Pus, I am including links for Julie & Julia pre-release (and even a link for a free JULIE & JULIA shopping bag with your pre-order). Take a look at the discounts offers (have I mentioned I am cheap, save a little here and there and you can live and eat like a king!


  1. Gorgeous turkey, absolutely, drooling!

  2. What a great post. It's obvious that you're passionate about what you do, and brother, it shows. Awesome stuff!

  3. An amazing bird!!! But the butter and garlic pictures are what have me most interested.

  4. That turkey looks amazing! Smoking a turkey is one of the first things I'm going to do when I get a place with a yard.

  5. This turkey looks SO flavorful and delicious. How can I convince my parents that this is how they need to make our turkey on Thanksgiving?

  6. Your turkey is a stunner. I can imagine how good this must have tasted. Nicely done.

  7. This looks incredible! I don't have words for how amazing this looks, Dave!

  8. That looks soooo good! ::wiping drool off keyboard again::

    I don't stuff my birds either - although it has nothing to do with not wanting to poisoning my mother in law - I better leave it at that.

    I can't believe I wasn't invited and I even offered to bring the beer! :-P

  9. Woweeee! Excellent job, great presentation and photos, and beautiful bird! Love the Cajun Injector and that bread pudding looks sinful!!

  10. Wow, it sounds awesome! Thanks for all the tips , you are a true pro :)

  11. Oh yummy! That bird looks awesome. My mouth is drooling and it's 11pm at night!

  12. Dave, what a show stopper. Your turkey is definitely drool worthy.

  13. I've got to do a bird soon. I hate getting prebrined ones but like you said, you take what you can get.

    Damn, 20 lbs?

    What wood did you use?