Crispy TURKEY skin, over-the-top attempt WITH PICS

Discussion in 'Poultry' started by johngalt, Nov 24, 2014.

  1. johngalt

    johngalt Newbie

    So after a half-dozen AMAZING turkey breast successes in my (not-so-new-anymore) GMG Daniel Boone Wifi Smoker, I finally decided I was ready for the big show. I bought a 100% natural, fresh whole turkey coming in around 14LB. I got a little crazy on this one and tried every suggestion I had read about since signing up for this forum; and tried them all at once.

    20:00 Saturday

    To start off, I brined it in a mixture of:
    • 1.5 gallons apple juice
    • .5 gallons of orange juice
    • 2 cups sprite
    • 1.5 cups salt
    • 1.5 cups diced celery
    • 2tbsp coriander
    • 8 bay leaves
    I didn't cook the brine together, I just mixed it all at room temperature until the salt was fully absorbed in the juices (not sure if this was wise), let sit in fridge 18 hours in brine.

    14:00 Sunday

    I spatchcocked it hoping to get a more fully smoked meat (usually I get 1 inch of pink meat on the outside and the rest white meat in the breast). I was hoping to get 1 inch of pink meat from both sides.

    Not having a great way to air-dry the bird in my cramped refridgerator, I decided to take drastic measures. I used paper towels to dry the bird both inside, outside, and inside the skin. Then I rubbed salt into the skin from outside and inside (around 1/4 cup total). Realizing that it was 50 degrees fahrenheit outside, I set the bird on the grill of my smoker and turned it away from the sun so that it would sit in the shadows in the open cold air to dry. I let it dry this way for four hours.

    18:00 Sunday

    After four hours, I closed the lid and started the smoker. Using GMG's "Premium Texas Blend" pellets, I smoked it 3 hours at 150F (lowest my smoker goes), and then turned up the heat to 325F until the breast meat hit 150F. (ignore the time on the picture, I took this picture today to demonstrate my automatic profile)

    21:45 Sunday

    My iPhone alarm sounded to tell me the meat was up to temp. I flipped the bird upside-down (breasts down) in the smoker. I turned the grill up to max-temp to try to cook the skin just to make sure it wasn't rubbery.The legs detached from the bird at the thighs since the skin was all that held them together.


    The smoker took max-temp a little far though and I think burned some pellets that had escaped the firebox previously. This created too much heat. (before/during pics).

    I turned off the smoker and removed the bird. The golden skin had changed to blackened. But that wouldn't have bothered me. Here were my results:

    In the end:
    • The skin was too salty, it was like pure salt-flavored, went into the garbage.
    • The outside of the meat was tougher than normal
    • The pink, smokey meat, only penetrated about .75 inches on the top, and hardly at all on the bottom
    • The white inner meat was dry and flavorless, much like an oven-roasted turkey
    • The wing meat was amazing once you worked around the overly-salty, burnt skin
    1. Juice-based brine may not work as well (or perhaps as quickly) as water-based brine
    2. Don't forget the onions in the brine!
    3. Salt on the skin to dry it maybe not a great idea
    4. Clean out the ash and extra pellets inside the smoker belly before starting something like this
    5. Allow enough time to air-dry the turkey, or use a blow dryer
    6. Try butter under the skin
    7. Instead of doing high temp at the end, try it at the beginning on the skin. Maybe not needed at all if dry enough
    • Does the meat retain moisture as well when it has been air dried for 12+ hours as suggested? My previous birds that went straight from the brine to the smoker were amazingly flavorful and juicy, but the skin was worthlessly rubbery
    • Does butter under the skin soak into the meat carrying the smoke? I seem to get more smokey meat when using butter this way? Again, the skin has been rubbery because of not drying it
    • Am I wrong about juice-based brines? Is there anyone who thinks they're they way to go? Is there something to know to get it right?
    • I'm spatchcocking a 27LB turkey this week, should cook like two 13-pound birds, right?
    1. Bird goes into a water-salt-sugar-onion-celery-coriander-pepper-bayleaf brine tomorrow morning once my bird is fully thawed.
    2. Planning 36 hours for brine,
    3. 12 hours air dry,
    4. 10min @400F breast-down skin BBQ, 
    5. 3 hours @150F smoke,
    6. 3 hours at 325 heat until 160 in the breast meat

    Thank you all. I'm having a lot of fun, and my smoked turkey lunch really was amazing even though I've had better. 
  2. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Seems like you done everything right

    Double check your brine ratio

    24 hours is more than enough time, for a large bird, many folks go 12 hours.

    However, It appears overcooked

    Air dry for 24 hours does help with dryer skin.

    How deep do you want the smoke flavor?

    a hint is all that is needed

    This statement has me miffed.

    The white inner meat was dry and flavorless, much like an oven-roasted turkey.

    I have been fortunate with the flavor of the meat.

    Don't confuse rendered skin with crispy skin (clean bite thru), If you want a crisp skin, Oven Roast or Deep fry, don't get hung up on the skin at the risk of ruining the meat.
  3. johngalt

    johngalt Newbie

    WOW SQWIB! You're very perceptive and maybe have helped me see some flaws. You wrote: 
    I ran the numbers (with a calculator this time). Two gallons of fluid is 64 cups. To achieve 6% salt solution, that would require almost 4 cups of salt. No wonder I didn't get as much effect from the brine as expected! DOH! I got cocky and tried running numbers on-the-fly in my head.

    **EDIT** Two gallons of fluid is only 32 cups. I had just over that, so to get 6% I should have used 2 cups salt. I under-salted it. As for the other part of the brine, I've now heard that acidic brines begin cooking the meat chemically, not sure if this is true, but it would help explain why it was overcooked. The massive heat in my last cycle was probably mostly to blame **/EDIT**

    It is overcooked for sure. That smoker got too hot too fast when I turned it up, that was a huge mistake. If the skin started dry, it should have rendered fine without that char-broiling. In fact, when I flipped it the legs literally fell off. The skin was holding them to the rest because the backbone had been cut out. For them to separate like that should have indicated to me that the skin was no longer tough and rubbery.

    I am planning plenty of time to air-dry this time.

    As for the smoke flavor depth, what I'm looking for is that smoker-pink color to the meat from the outside-in. I want that as far through as possible. It's juicy and flavorful. It's made me the talk of the town the last few months. That's the brine taking effect properly, perhaps. I just read a post about how the perfect salt concentration in the brine enables better moisture retention and flavor. I'll get it right next time, won't do so many new things at once ever again.

    Thank you for your response. Wish you were nearby so I could let you try it. It is pretty good, but I aim for perfection! Thanks again.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2014
  4. welshrarebit

    welshrarebit Master of the Pit

    I agree if you get crisp skin that's great but I mainly focus on the meat.
  5. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I've never really had much color change but I use a different method and cook my
    Poultry hot and fast. You may want to try a brine like Pops that uses cure. You will definitely get a color change, but it won't be from the smoke. Which if you're trying to replicate what's served at fairs and Disneyland that's the route to go, a brine with cure.

    As for using juice, my families favorite brine is made with apple juice. I brine for 12-24 hours. I bring the brine to a summer as it does help meld and bring out all the spices added. Of course cool the brine completely before dunking the bird. One important step is to thoroughly rinse the bird once it's out if the brine. Then dry. I do 8-12 hours in the fridge, or if in a hurry use the hair dryer.

    The wood you use will also make a difference in the color if the meat/skin. I prefer a mix of cherry and pecan. The flavors are good together and the cherry imparts a deep mahogany color to the skin and bird.

    I don't do the butter or oil only birds. Simple seasoning containing. No sugar.

    When cranking up the temp to crisp the skin I prefer to leave the bird breast up.
  6. jckdanls 07

    jckdanls 07 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    As mentioned... I wouldn't lose sleep over the skin... Turkey skin is MUCH thicker than chicken skin therefor making it tougher to get it good and crispy in the smoker....

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