I’m not a BBQ aficionado, or an expert – just an everyday guy from the Northern Beaches (Sydney, Australia) who likes to BBQ and live on the edge when it comes to trying things out. My two mates, Norman and Jeff, however, are Tong masters.
This year we decided to try and smoke an 8.6KG turkey for Thanksgiving. After all, we had 24 hungry guests rocking up. My friend Jeff had a great upright, Coolabah gas smoker, so why not give it a go!
Challenge #1 – Does it fit? Folks, this was a monster bird, so as soon as I picked it up from Penny’s Butcher I raced over to the smoker – only just!
After scouring the net for decent help on “how to”, mostly what I got was such a wide range of opinions that it was more confusing than helpful, more critical than useful. It could have driven me to drink, but I was already there. So we lapsed into logic.
What are the consistent principles? Well, apparently it takes 30 minutes per pound, or 60 minutes per KG to cook most meat. Second, start hot then wind it down after 30 to 45 minutes to seal the meat nicely. Third, try to cook at about 10 degrees higher than the ending temperature you want – cooking as close to that time as possible results in tender, moist meat. Fourth, toward the end of the process, the meat gets to the required temperature quickly, so use your observational skills, best judgement (aka gut feel) and know that the meat thermometer at that stage is a good guide, not a god – you’re not gonna die if you don’t follow its reading. Your death by wife is a much more imminent event if the bird is not juicy.
Our BBQ Preparation:
Hard wood. Jeff mixed a few types of hard wood chips – Cherry, Oak and Hickory. You might ask why not Mesquite? No particular reason, just wanted to try those. After filling the tray with the wood, I soaked them in about two cups of wine in the tray overnight, per Jeff’s instructions. In retrospect I could have used another cup of wine, but two turned out just fine. I left the residue wine in the tray during cooking. By the same terms, we knew we did not have to soak them at all. This was me, living on the edge J - woo hooo. We had another mix of dry wood ready, knowing we were going to change them at about the 70% time mark.
A full gas bottle – ‘nuff said.
A large drip tray. You’ll get great juices for the gravy.
A long basting/cooking syringe – to extract the juice in the tray and baste the bird periodically.
A good meat thermometer.
Oven gloves – with which to handle the turkey, if needed (don’t wanna pierce the skin with multiple fork holes).
A big pan and plenty of foil – to wrap the bird while resting.
Preparing the Turkey itself:
One of the few good pieces of advice on the net was from the “Cookin’ Cousins” on The-greatest-barbeque-recipes.com, so they are worth checking out.
We chose to do the stuffing separately for two reasons – one, we did not want the stuffing to adversely affect the cooking time, and two, we wanted to use the cavity for herbs and spices. I suspect my wife also figured that if the turkey was a disaster, at least we’ll have good stuffing!
We mixed a bunch of spices because we wanted more than just a smokey flavour, and it was worth it. We followed the Cookin Cousins advice here, and then added some poultry seasoning, rosemary and thyme.
I loosened the skin and applied the spices quite liberally beneath it (to your taste, really). I then also rubbed olive oil onto the skin and applied more spices on top of the skin. This was all done the day before the event.
Because Bridget (wife) knows these things, in the cavity itself we put a bunch of rosemary, some carrots, celery, some hazelnuts for roasting (I’m still wondering if this was a subliminal message), and a nice big, juicy apple (green). Not too much stuff, just enough to fill the cavity without cramming it.
BTW, I don’t think the turkey was ever frozen, and this helped a whole lot, plus may have also had some effect on (reducing) the cooking time.
Doing the Math:
First, a handy conversion metric – 1Kg = 2.2Lbs.
Ok, so we had an 8.6KG bird, and at an hour per KG the theory says we’ll need 8.6 hours – call it 8.5.
I’ll admit from the outset that it just sounded long to me (living on the edge, remember).
We were aiming for a 4PM dinner, 15 to 20 minutes resting time, so that meant a 3:30 take-it-off-the-barbie time. I figured, roughly, that if I cooked it for 7.5 hours I had an hour leeway, to be “traditionally late”. So I started at 8AM. This also means I actually started the smoker at 7:50 to get it to the right temperature before I put the bird in.
Truthfully, I was more worried about being too early, than too late.
I believe I made a small mistake at the beginning – I put the wood chips in when I started the smoker, and should have put them in just before I put the turkey in. I think this wasted 10 important minutes of smoking.
The Process – aka Crunch Time:
Knowing I had a huge amount of other chores to do while the smoking was a-happnin’ I kept notes on the cooking progress, because I’d probs forget what the temp was at important times. Mostly, I wanted to monitor progress (Yes, my daughter might point out that this is my OCD showing).
Nevertheless, for what they’re worth, I share the notes with you here:
All degrees are Fahrenheit.
Start = 8AM – smoker temp = 275 to 300 degrees F
At 8:45AM smoker temp turned down to 200 degrees
At 9:00AM smoker temp turned down to 160 degrees and held there.
Turkey temp first check was at 11:30AM – no practical use checking before that time.
Turkey temp = 144degrees at 11:30AM – 3.5 hrs elapsed
Basted the bird.
Turkey temp = 149 degrees at 1:30PM – 5.5 hrs
Basted the bird.
Turkey temp = 153.5 degrees at 2:30PM – 6.5 hrs
Basted the bird.
Quickly changed the wood chips.
Turkey temp = 158 degrees at 3:30 PM – 7.5 hrs
Basted the bird.
Time for a huddle and discussion between three wise men, Jeff, Norman and Chris …. aka monkeys.
“Geez Jeff it looks great; it looks ready”
“ Yeah, let’s take it off; it’s ready”.
So we did take it off. Did we really know it was ready? Naah we winged it (ouch).
There was plenty of juice for really great gravy by Jamie.
Turned out 99% perfect, judging by the moistness, taste, and feedback.
Why 99%? I think I could have taken it off a half hour sooner, and it would have been to-die-for.
It stood the test of time by being ab fab the next day, too.
If this account helps you, I’m very happy.