25 lbs turkey smoking advice

Discussion in 'Poultry' started by jeff smith, May 15, 2014.

  1. Howdy,

    I am smoking 20, 25 lbs turkeys for my local FFA program for the end of school. I have never smoked birds that big before. I already have my apple/sage brine good to go, but a couple of questions.
    1) any temp and time experience advice for big birds?
    2) any thoughts about splitting bird ahead of time for smoking, or will that dry it out?
    3) any additional advice?

    I have not planned on injecting.

  2. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Twenty 25 lb birds?    Just want to make sure what you're doing. 
  3. Yes, (20) 25 pound turkeys.
  4. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Unless you're gonna be able to dry out that skin i wouldn't brine for one thing.  Poultry skin absorbs moisture like a sponge and although the color can look pretty that thick wrinkly skin is terrible.     Turkey or chicken NEVER needs brine for it to be moist but if you want to inject that can add some good flavor.  Many brine and swear by it, I used to be a briner myself but my birds are as moist and flavorful with out doing it now.  I do kinda like the flavor of injecting creole butter but it's not a deal breaker by no means if i skip it. 

    With regards to cooking i don't know what you're cooking on.   Can you cook minimum of 325?   You need high heat to render the fats to produce the best product...they can be cooked lower but it's not going to be as good as it could be.  People that dont' have no idea of what they're missing out on by the higher heat cook.    I cook mine 350 and above. 

    You can definitely split them in half ahead of time, they'll be great.  

    Do you have room to spatchcock (butterfly) them?
    Last edited: May 16, 2014
  5. I'm running them on a Southerm Pride commercial rotisserie with 5 racks. I like the idea of butterflying them. Minimize the juice loss to the breast. Pit will hit 325 with a couple of sticks in it. I think I may split my cook in half, with a low temp smoke and a high temp smoke to see how they look. I have not had good luck with injecting in the past, personally like the natural taste without injection. My opinion would change if I injected properly, I'm sure.

    Thanks for the imput.

  6. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Just to give you an idea of rotisserie and heats affect on poultry.  This cook was Sunday and the average was about 400*.... the heat has been up to over 600* and it won't burn, plus this is with real flames occasionally touching it. 

    You couldn't pay be to do a lower temp cook on poultry.    Anyways here's that cook, birds over a real fire.  No injection and the wettest moistest birds i've had..  incredible flavor. 

    Last edited: May 16, 2014
    jeff smith likes this.
  7. mdboatbum

    mdboatbum Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    So that's what, 150-200 people who are going to be eating this turkey, right? That's a pretty hefty cook. In the interest of making it as simple, foolproof and SAFE as possible, I'd definitely spatchcock or split them, and I'd definitely brine them. Yes, you CAN cook a turkey to moist and tender perfection without brining it. So why brine? It's an insurance policy. You're gonna have a whole shed load of turkeys going at once, and nailing the perfect temperature so it's safely done and not dried out requires precise timing and temperature control. With a brined bird, the sweet spot between done and dry is a lot wider range. You'll be able to take them to 175˚ in the breast  (which you'll want to do. People will scream bloody murder if they see pink in poultry, even if it temps perfectly safe) and still have a moist, presentable product. The skin? This is a big operation with a lot of people, and it's going to require some compromise. Skin that's a little rubbery isn't the end of the world I'm guessing it's going to be sliced and held in chafers, so the skin won't really be an issue anyway. If it's too tough, chuck it.

    This isn't Thanksgiving with the family, this is a foodservice operation. There's a reason restaurant and institutional food is on one level, and home cooked food is on another. It's just not practical to go to the lengths we go to at home when preparing large quantities of food, and sometimes it's just not safe. I'm not saying you can't make really good food on a large scale, I'm just saying the approach has to be different.

    By the way, spatchcocking that many turkeys is gonna wear out your hands, your knife and/or your shears. Get a new $15 electric knife and a spare set of blades and it'll go a whole lot faster. The reason I say a new knife is you want the blades to be as sharp as possible, and going through that much bone will likely trash them by the end. A reciprocating saw will work too, just make sure it's clean and you're using an unpainted blade.
  8. mdboatbum

    mdboatbum Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    And skip the low temp smoke. As FWI said, high heat works great for poultry. Plus, it's a bit of a gamble cooking turkey over low heat, It hangs in the danger zone longer and that's never a good idea when cooking for this many people.
  9. foamheart

    foamheart Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Respectfully, I would maybe dare to differ. I mentioned a few months back after trying hot and fast on a mear 15# bird that IMHO it seemed that maybe the breast was a little tuff. It was juicy, delicious, but it just had a bite and it might have all been in my head too. BUT then after listening to others exploits also, seems the drum sticks, you know on turkeys they have all those hard leaders and tendons, are sort of hard to eat. The meat is fine its just the connective tissues have not had enough time to relax and/or break down.  I am not saying good or bad, but in my future large bird smokes I am going back to the old low and slow. You know where when the turkey is done you can pull all those tendons out with one pull with your finger and a thumb? I am just not good at speed smoking or I have not yet found a good way to do it.

    Again I am not saying fast and hot is bad, I know I am a contrary old fart and hate change, but I am thinking for my big birds its about the tender smokie goodness and not the crispy cracklie skin.

    But you see that's the great part of smoking, nobody is ever wrong, well of course unless they disagree with me,.......LOL. J/K  Seriously, We all respect each others opinions and we share 'em freely and we all suggest you try 'em all and make your own decisions.

    Not one of my turkeys, but I love this guys smoke!

  10. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Foam i wish you could eat my non brined, non injected  hot cooked birds, especially these fire roasted rotisserie ones.   

    This is a rotisserie bird

    My two larger turkeys last year were spatched ... one on the UDS and one on my jumbo mini aka Jimmy 350-400* and were fall apart wet mess.  
    Last edited: May 16, 2014
  11. foamheart

    foamheart Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Me too! You loss my address again?

    You know me, I am a simple minimalist myself. I like it all, a cured bird, injected, brined, breast up, butter breast, but for the everyday bird I still go for my "nekkid chicken" cooked at 275.

    But a 25# turkey a big bird! And I'd be using an electric normally. Whereas if I were doing 20 of those suckers I would be firing up one of the bigger firebreathers. My very best homemade smoke I had to retire. It was built out of industrial corrugated transite (Tm). Used it for 15 - 20 years, then we learned about asbestos and to be safe it was retired. I could do 50 large turkey and hams at the same time on it and was no back breaker. Was built a lot like the whole hog cinder block pits. The transite never touched the meats but........
  12. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Why, how do certain smokers tenderize and keep meat moist I have no idea....but they sure do.      We got Adam to convert from doing all his cooking on the MES to the UDS and mini.... Hmmm we  must have forget about foam? [​IMG]
  13. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    You guys are all correct...25 pound birds got that way from being Old. The older the meat the higher risk it will be tough and benefit from a longer cook in the 275-300° range. Birds up to 16-18 lbs are younger and Hot and Fast works great without fail. Like anything we put in these smokers there are Freaks and Exceptions. Giant birds can come out great hot and fast. However, on " Average " lower temps are better for any meat coming off a more mature animal. When doing big production of Birds that will be sliced, panned and held, there is no point in worrying about Skin. It will not hold well in the pans with gravy or broth, getting limp and chewy, and is too much of a PITA slicing quickly and trying to keep it on the slices. In high volume Food Service it is always removed. (The Cooks snack on it. [​IMG])...JJ
    jeff smith likes this.
  14. fwismoker

    fwismoker Master of the Pit

    Agree with allot of that JJ, more mature birds won't be as tender as the youngins.   I do think the cooker makes a HUGE difference regardless of the temp.   I don't know exactly why but UDS style cookers keep things moist and tenderize extremely well even the big birds.   It seems like the hotter temps in my cookers make the moisture that's in the meat do a braising effect where as if it's lower the moisture drys out more. 
    Last edited: May 16, 2014

  15. The first group I did with extra sticks of wood, came out darker. This group of 25# birds was one less stick and clean skin. Great taste of Apple, sage, and very moist. Thanks for all your wisdom and advice.
  16. oldschoolbbq

    oldschoolbbq Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Hmmm...interesting... he went ahead with his way and just look at that bird... Goes back to , it's not how you do it , it's the end result that counts... [​IMG]

    Keep the smoke rolling Guys , and as always . . .
  17. jaxrmrjmr

    jaxrmrjmr Smoking Fanatic

    I attempted a 24 lb bird last year that a neighbor gave me.  I spatchcocked it and injected it.  It turned out terrible - edible, but it was really lousy as smoked turkey goes.  I thought injecting would help with tenderness, but it gave it a weird texture.  I applaud your results for sure.

    Maybe, I just over thought it and cooked it too high at 300.

    Is your apple/sage brine a recipe you would care to share or is it commercial?
  18. I'm definitely going to try all the above on smaller birds. I really like what I'm seeing! I ended up having to cut them in half to cryovac them, with a Cip saw (crew new blade). They were way to big for any of my knives.

    The brine is commercial, about $10 box, 25lbs per box. I added additional fine cut sweet apples and I minced so dried cranberries. Also some extra apple juice instead of cider. It's a really great product for large breast meat. You can cut the mix for size of brine. I batch mix it and use clear tubs even though it comes with a big bag because I had so many turkeys. I also immediately reused the brine for my second batch after adding fruit chunks and a touch more sage. That was because of cost. We have a walkin cooler so temp was never an issue with the brine. Igloos also work well.

    Thanks for all the tips and sharing your knowledge. Jeff

  19. Great looking birds man! Nice job  [​IMG]

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