The concept of the Food Temperature Danger Zone was introduced some 50 years ago. The Danger Zone is 40 to 140*F. The temp where Bacteria multiple unchecked and reach levels that can themselves cause illness if improperly cooked or produce huge quantities of Toxins that may not be destroyed by heat and can cause incurable paralysis or death. So keeping food below 40* or getting it above 140* and keeping it there becomes critical. As a general guideline we stress getting any meat we smoke above 140*F in 4 hours or less. This is not usually an issue with Intact Muscle unless something goes wrong with the smoker or you are smoking a meat that has been Injected, Punctured, Boned, Rolled and Tied, Ground or Stuffed. With any of these meats the chances that the interior of the meat has been contaminated with bacteria is extremely high, and getting it hot ASAP becomes critical.
Now the issue with Turkey...It has been shown that most of the Poultry processed in the US is contaminated with Salmonella and/or other bacteria. Additionally the majority of Turkeys sold in Grocery store over the last several years is " Enhanced " aka Injected with a Salt, Phosphate and Broth solution to effectively Brine the bird to tenderize the meat and cause it to retain higher levels of moisture even after cooking. The typical conditions in a Smoker, low Oxygen and temps between 225 and 250*F can keep Turkeys over 12-14Lbs below the 140*F Internal Temp(IT) for longer than 4 hours increasing the risk of Food Poisoning. There are ways around this. Cut the bird in half, Spatchcock the bird, remove the backbone so it lays flat, or Smoke at temps above 300*F, 325*F being optimum. Now many of us are given free turkeys or already purchased the Giant Turkey then decided to smoke it. So just be aware of the following... If your 22Lb Turkey is Enhanced, or you injected anything and you plan to Smoke it below 300*F, your risk of Illness goes way up and is just not a good idea. You need to split or spatchcock that big boy. I know what you may say," Grandpa Smoked 22Lb Whole Turkeys all the time and no one ever died! " The bottom line is...Can you or have you gotten away with it before? Sure, you can certainly keep doing what you have been doing but the Odds are Not in your favor and will catch up with you eventually. BTW if you are STUFFING that 22lb Bird and smoking it at 225*F, you may want to have the local Hospital on Stand-By...That is the worst thing you can do!
The subject of Brining and Low Sodium Brines come up every year. Here some info on the subject...
Brining the bird just lets us do at home what many processors do to make the meat retain moisture and become more tender. The difference is with Brining we Soak the bird in a mix of Salt, Herbs, Spices and sometimes Sugar and/or Fruit Juices. The brining process, to much science to get into after all this typing, pulls all the flavor and liquid of the brine into the meat. Unfortunately for you Sodium sesitive folks, the process depends on Salt to get it going and do the bulk of the tenderizing and moisture retention. So while you can go Low Sodium, 1/4 to1/3C Kosher Salt per Gallon of Water there is no such thing as a No Sodium Brine. You can still Marinate for some added flavor but you will not get all the benefits of the Brine and if the marinade is too Acidic the texture of the meat can have a dry texture after Smoking because with time the Acid chemically cooks the meat before it goes in the Smoker...JJ
Here is detailed info on the Danger Zone...http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal...food-handling/danger-zone-40-f-140-f/ct_index
Some info on Safely Smoking Meat and Poultry...http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal...od-handling/smoking-meat-and-poultry/ct_index
Here is some more on the subject of Brining... http://www.finecooking.com/articles/why-brining-keeps-meat-moist.aspx
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