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First Turkey Smoke - 5 Quick Questions for the Experts

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Smoking my first whole turkey this weekend.  I've read quite a bit, but have a couple of questions before I get going.


1 - What is the best way to monitor internal temp?  Is it best to insert a meat thermometer probe before I start the smoke and leave it in the entire time so that can constantly watch temps, or is it best to use a thermopen type thermometer and periodically check temps?  Not sure if a probe will allow meat in that area to dry out.


2- Where is the best place to place the probe if a probe is recommended?  Thigh?  Breast?   A pick would be real helpful.


3- I plan on cooking at about 240ish degrees. The bird is small...only about 9.5lbs.  Is there an hours/lb calc out there to get me in the ballpark of how long it will take to hit 165?  I want to time it right so that it can rest before meal time.  I'm guessing it will take about 4.5-5 hours.  Also, it will help me gauge when to cut off the smoke.  See question 4.


4- Is there a recommended amount of time to apply smoke?  I was going to put smoke to the bird for about 1/2 the cook time (see q 3).  So if I expect to cook for 5 hours, I was going to apply smoke for 2.5-3 hours.


5 - Lastly, I was just going to brine in a new Coleman cooler I picked up (inside the fridge).  Is this safe, or should I use something like a brining bag instead.  I've never brined anything before.


Thanks for any help here!


post #2 of 12
Check out Jeff newsletter from today This will answer those questions
post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 
I forgot one question. Breast down or up? I was going to stuff butter between skin and breast. I was thinking about smoking breast down so that the butter will pool around he breast meat. Perhaps that's all wrong?
post #4 of 12

Hello JTucker.  Here is my opinion for what it is worth.  Others may have different advice.  This is only my opinion.


1.  Both methods will work well but if using a probe, insert the probe after about 3 hours.  That way you should not push any nasty bacteria from the skin into the meat.


2. Breast.  That is where the meat will be drier if overcooked.  With bone in the thigh should be cooked when the breast is done.


3. Always cook a bird like that to IT, not time.  I would float the temps between 250-275.  As a ballpark, I would think 5-6 hours.  If done early that bird will hold for an hour easy properly wrapped.  And you can start cooking the sides when you pull the bird.


4. This is a debate.  Some say the meat stops taking on smoke after reaching a certain IT.  Others say smoke for the whole cook.  I smoke the whole cook.  Here is where it becomes personal preference.  I may be in the minority here but I also believe it is possible to over smoke food.  I choose little and often depending on what wood I'm using.  Mesquite and hickory are pretty strong.  Oak is milder.  Pecan even milder, and then fruit woods milder still.  I LOVE and use all these woods but in different ways.  Being from Tx. I could eat Mesquite smoke on a slice of bread, or cardboard :icon_biggrin: but not to everyone's taste.  If you like the BIG smoke taste then go for it.  I think this one may be a trial and error method.


5. Hmm.  Now we are getting into that thing about food safe plastics.  I am not sure about that cooler.  I hope others can be of more help here.  Let's be safe.  Use a bag unless others know better.


Hope this helps.  Keep Smokin!


post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 

KC5TPY - I was most definitely going to cook to IT.  I ask about a way to estimate time is just so I can keep up with how long I want to apply smoke and at least know when I need to be really focusing in on IT.  I'll look a little more into the container.


BMUDD - I've read the newsletter many o time.  I just wasn't sure about a couple of the questions I listed after reading his letters, and doing some searching here.


Any suggestions on cooking with breast up versus down?  The latest newsletter uses the down method, but Jeff doesn't really go in to the results on that particular letter.  Didn't know if down was more heat exposure and thus causing a higher liklihood of drying out.


Also, I was considering letting the bird sit in a pan in the fridge after the brine/rinse to let the skin dry out for a couple of hours.  Does this reduce the impact of the brine or is it better to go brine/rinse right to heat.




post #6 of 12
ive done it both breast up and down with no big difference. The reason Jeff did breast down for a bit was to keep the butter on the breast as long as possible.
post #7 of 12

Hello JTucker.  My point about IT was that estimating time has SO many variables.  I understand your question and see why you are asking; but when talking about smoking meat, terms like "ballpark" and "estimate" are really just a guess.  I guessed 5-6 hrs..  This is where I can give you the BEST advice I have learned since joining SMF.  KEEP A SMOKING JOURNAL!  All sorts of things affect the time and the taste of the final product.  Record everything you can think of.  Wood, rub, brine,straight from fridge/room temp meat, outside temp, outside humidity, soaked/unsoaked chips, trimmed the fat/didn't trim, beer consumed during smoke. :icon_lol: ANYTHING you can think of that MIGHT affect the final product and cook time.  Breast up or down?  I have to agree with Brian in that it probably makes little difference.  I do mine breast up cause it probably lays better that way on the rack.  The most important thing is to find the way you and your family like it and stick with it. May I just add:  Sounds like you have done your homework.  Now take a minute to breathe and relax.  I am sure all will turn out fine.  Smoking meat is to be a relaxing hobby.  I know trying new things with folks expecting "greatness" from you is stressful but relax.  YOU GOT THIS!  It will turn out GREAT!  Got faith in ya Bud.  Good luck.  Keep Smokin!


post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 

Well, I made it through my first full turkey smoke.  All in all, it was a good experience...and I certainly learned a lot.  It was a worth while trial run ahead of Thanksgiving.



- I used a 9.5lb frozen Butterball.  No fresh turkey available.

- Brined 13 hours using Slaughterhouse recipe.

- Smoke time was about 4.5 hours at roughly 240-250 degrees with cherry wood.


The bird looked great, but the flavor was lacking a bit.  A few observations:


1 - I used Jeff's bacon butter recipe.  The garlic flavor was simply overpowering.  I could detect a slight smoke flavor through the thick wall of garlic/onion, which was encouraging.  I have a feeling it would have been perfectly smokey without the garlic bacon butter, which also left a orangeish residue between the skin and the meat.  I emphatically will not be repeating this recipe.  I'm looking for a more traditional tasting turkey meat, with just simple smoke flavor.  Between this recipe and the brine...just too many spices.  I'll probably just use basic butter next time.


3 - Wish I knew how much of the cajun spices in the brine alone can be tasted in the meat.  I wonder if the cajun seasoning contributed to point #1.


2 - Although the skin looked very nice and had a great color right out of the smoker, it was a flimsy and greasy by the time I carved it.  I'm not sure how to get a crispy skin, or what caused it not to be.  Not sure if the butter alone and/or the extra fat rendered from the bacon inside the butter caused this.  Temps not high enough to crisp?  The 40 minute rest time inside the foil tent?  Hmm.


3 - If I can help it, I will never use a frozen bird again.  It is such a headache.  I purposely bought a small bird to cut down on the thaw time.  It took 2.5 days in the fridge plus 3 hours in cold water to get fully thawed.  SMH.  Never again.


4 - I think I overcooked by about 5-7 degrees.  Didn't seem to impact the texture or juice too much.  


Next time, I think I will probably introduce some hickory wood to kick up the smoke intensity a bit. Maybe a 50/50 hickory and cherry.


Any suggestions you may have on the butter issue and/or skin crispness, I'm all ears.


Thanks for the help.


post #9 of 12

It will help the skin crisp if you can allow a 24 hour drying process in the reefer before cooking.  Dryer skin crisps easier. It doesn't dry the meat, just the skin and if you're lucky you'll see the formation of pellicle appearing. That means smoke will more easily absorb into the meat, while the dried skin, even if lightly oiled for cooking, will not have as much moisture to release to crisp.


Do not expect a perfect turkey. There is no such bird. There are so many possible modifiers, brining, curing, injecting, rubbing, compound butters, marinating, etc etc etc.... every time you think you have it figured out and adjust A, it changes the before perfect profile of D. Then there are the intangibles even though the same wood, its not exactly the same due to its life span. What you are looking for is not a perfect bird done exactly the same every year like in a Norman Rockwell painting, its about a pallet pleasing exciting new flavor profile that you have improved upon yearly until the family is excited each year to see what new ideas you have had the preceding year.


This is why I always recommend for a first smoke what I consider a nekkid bird. That way you can appreciate what the turkey truly tastes like and to set a good baseline to expand upon. If you keep notes in your smoker/sniper killbook you'll find yourself studying yearly looking for that perfect balance you'd like to achieve. Then you try again the different methods you hope will achieve it.


How luckily can you get to need to test year round on smoking turkeys? I have smoked my share of birds, I know I have done some most excellent fowl but I also know that only Norman Rockwell gets it exactly right in every painting. He missed a good painting there, the turkey that didn't make it.


Only you know what your holy grail is to be. Folks here only try to help with the achievement of the different modifiers and techniques by example.


You sound like a traditionalist, I would forget the butter, maybe at a latter day try an injection to get the same results. Start slow and build with a brine, let it then dry 24, a lite massage of "Kitchen Bouquet", then a splash of olive oil rubbed in, and a dusting of your favorite spices Salt and pepper? Tony's? Whatever you like. Stick some fruit or veggies in the dried and seasoned cavity. If you don't muddle it all by attempt to many type, you'll be able to notice that slight taste sneaking by your tastebuds, And smoke it. Its not like you need to be Julia Childes to master a turkey, but its like BBQ, you may never get a perfect one, but look at all the smiles you'll give trying.


Good luck with your quest, and remember to always enjoy the smoke.

Edited by Foamheart - 11/11/13 at 7:40am
post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 
Just literally let dry open air in the fridge? No fan or anything needed?
post #11 of 12

A pelcile (I never can spell this word and spell check can't either!), can be formed with a fan on a cooling rack, but with a fowl I tend to try and keep it as cold as possible for safety sake. Yes, just set it in the reefer uncovered. Depending upon how dry it gets, you use the oil rubdown as sun tan lotion so the skin doesn't crack and break just like yours does under the sun.


The "Kitchen Bouquet" is just a cheat/secret I use, because my Pop used it. Makes a smoother colored bird IMHO. But yours is a very pretty color that you did.


Personally I go for pecan smoke on my fowl, but thats because I have 'em on the property and have grown to like that smoke taste.


Oh and BTW, Danny gave you some really good suggestions, for a British cowboy he does pretty good.


Try it on a chicken and see what you like, its a good excuse to smoke a bird while getting first hand experience how much you'd need and even if you like it.

Edited by Foamheart - 11/11/13 at 8:04am
post #12 of 12

I'm smoking my bird on Sunday but not eating until Thursday, Thanksgiving. Going to reheat in oven.

Dangers? Bacteria?

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