Wednesday, November 27, 2013
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Special feature from LDN's Home for the Holidays magazine

Turkey with a twist: smoked

Talking turkey with Chris Graue

By Nila Smith

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[November 27, 2013]  This year, how about adding an interesting twist to your holiday meals with a nontraditional method of cooking your turkey? Why not try smoking a turkey?

Outdoor cooking offers the opportunity to share the workload and expands the space needed to prepare a large holiday meal.

Here is what you do: Set the smoker outside the garage. Inside the garage, set up a card table and chairs. Bring in a cooler of favorite beverages, or a big pot of coffee, and snacks. If it is really chilly, add a space heater, and with a small TV to keep watch on "the game," guests will enjoy their own little party space as they participate in preparing a successful holiday meal.

Chris Graue, who is known locally for his great abilities with smoking chicken and pork, says that smoking a turkey has become a big part of the holiday tradition for his family. He noted that he does this annually at his brother-in-law's house, and it makes for a very enjoyable time.

One of the perks, he noted, is that with the bird outside, the aroma reaches the guests as they pull in the driveway. He said they usually all come past the smoker and comment on the delicious smell it is emitting. He also noted that it is a nice place for the guys in the family who have to come out and keep an eye on the progress as time passes.

Fortunately, in spite of the potential distractions, Graue said that smoking a turkey really doesn't take a lot of careful watching. The important part is to get the right temperature inside the smoker, and then just let the fire do its thing.

In the case of turkey, Graue warns that the best motto to go by is "less is more." Don't "over-smoke" the bird. If you do, it will come out too dark and will lose its visual appeal. The best plan is to add a little smoke via wood chips or wood charcoal at the beginning, then just let the heat of the fire cook the bird to perfection.

Graue said that for cooking turkey, he likes to start with a fresh bird, not a frozen and thawed bird that has been injected. He noted that some of the name-brand turkeys on the market do have flavor injected into the meat, and that is not needed when smoking a bird.

What he does do is brine the bird before cooking. Simply put, brining is soaking the bird with a mixture of salt and seasoning suspended in water. Graue said he usually sets a 16-pound bird in the brine for about six hours.

The best way he has found to do this is to mix the brine, then put the turkey in a very large zip-lock bag inside a cooler. Fill the bag with the brine, press all the air out of the bag and seal it. Next, cover the bird with ice to keep it cold, and let the brine do its job.

Graue uses the following recipe for his brine:

1 turkey, 12-14 pounds
2 quarts apple juice
1 pound brown sugar
1 cup kosher salt
3 quarts water
3 oranges, quartered
4 ounces fresh ginger, sliced thin
15 whole cloves
6 bay leaves
6 large garlic cloves, crushed

To prepare the brine, combine all ingredients (except the turkey) in a large stock pot. Over medium-high heat, heat the brine until it is very hot, and stir it until all of the salt and sugar has completely dissolved. Place the brine in the refrigerator until it is cold. Once the brine has cooled down to 40 or 45 degrees in the refrigerator, it is time to add the turkey.

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Graue said that brining is an important step for cooking the bird. The purpose of the brine is that the liquid with its seasonings will infuse into the meat, making for a very nice, moist and flavorful slice when it comes to the table.

Once the brining stage is completed, pull the turkey out of the brine, rinse it well and let it stand at room temperature for about two hours. He said it is important not to place an ice-cold turkey on the smoker. The reason is that it will not cook evenly. The outside will get hot much sooner than the inside, which in the end will result in the turkey exterior being overcooked and the interior possibly undercooked.

To prepare the turkey for the smoker, Graue said, "again, a little is better." He rubs the outer skin with vegetable or olive oil. The chef can then add what he chooses: kosher salt, seasoned salt, cracked black pepper or some type of rub. Again, Graue cautioned that one would be wise to go light on such products because they, too, will make the outside of the turkey too dark.

To prepare the smoker, Graue said the chef can decide what type of smoke he wants. He added that apple wood and hickory are good ones to use, and mesquite might be a little too strong for poultry. There are also wood-based charcoal products that work well with poultry.

The key to making the turkey perfect, though, is to not get carried away with adding wood or "smoke" to the fire during the cooking process. The primary idea is to add a light smokiness to the meat and allow the turkey to cook thoroughly from the heat of the fire.

Graue said the main task after getting the turkey on the smoker is to monitor the temperature of the smoker. He said ideally the temperature inside should be about 275 degrees. He also said it is important not to spend too much time lifting the lid, as that allows the heat to escape. He uses a remote thermometer so he can monitor the cooking temperature from outside the smoker.

For a 16-pound turkey, the cooking time should run about three hours. Graue said that after two hours he adds a foil tent over the turkey to preserve a nice color while the inside finishes cooking. Pull the turkey off the smoker when the internal temperature reaches about 170 degrees. Allow the meat to "rest," and the temperature will continue to rise another 5 degrees or so.

Graue said that at their family meal, there is usually a second turkey in the oven, and that one produces the most drippings or broth for side dishes, but he added that one can get some drippings from the smoked turkey that can be added to side dishes such as gravy to add a hint of that smoky flavor.

He added that the smoked poultry goes well with traditional holiday dishes, so don't be afraid to serve it up beside the sweet potatoes and green bean casserole.


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