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First try at a turkey - issues with time

splendorlex

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Joined Jun 18, 2013
I didn't like any of the Turkey I had this thanksgiving, so I figured it was time to try to smoke one. I'm relatively experienced with everything pork, and I've done quite a bit of chicken as well. It didn't go as planned.

I started with about a 13-14 pound frozen bird. I left it in the fridge for a few days to defrost. I rinsed it, dried it, applied some basic rub. Then I put it in my MES 40 that was preheated to 250. Given what I read on the forums and elsewhere, I expected it to take somewhere between 7 and 10 hours.

But that sucker took over 12, when I finally half gave up and pulled it at 160. My target to pull it out was 165, but my patience ran out.

What went wrong? It was in the thirties, but I had no issues holding temp. Just one of those bad luck things?

Also, I pulled it, covered with foil and put it right in the fridge, I didn't touch it. I'm considering whether I should just chuck the thing and try again. I'm a little worried about trying to eat it at all due to when I pulled it and how long it took.
 
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dirtsailor2003

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Are you using the stock therm on the mes to measure your pit temps? They are notorious for not being accurate. You may think your pit temp is 250 when in actuality it could have been lower than 250.

I smoke all poultry at higher temps. 325f pit temps. Which isn't possible with the mes. Next try crank your mes up as high as it will go. Spatchcock the bird.

For your cooked bird it's hard to determine if you should pitch it or not. If you'd probed the bird at the 4 hour mark and you were above 140 you'd be good to go.
 

forluvofsmoke

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I think there may have still been frozen portions of the bird inside the cavity, and that will really slow things down. I had a 14lb bird I smoked for turkey day as well, but mine was thawing in the fridge for 6 days. It had the giblets bag and neck in the cavity. Anyway, I was smoking on the WSM 18 and battling wind at my daughter's house. Temps wouldn't run over 170* for nearly an hour...stuck a torch into one of the intakes and kept rotating it between the 3 intakes until the coals were burning hotter. Then I had temp spikes around 270* and choked it down...too much...back to the torch. I knew I should have just used RO lump instead of briquettes, but wanted to see if it would work out or not. When the smoke cleared, my bird was done nearly 1-1/2 hours early...4.5hrs instead of the expected 6hrs...so I held it @ ~140-150* in the smoker on open grate instead of wrapping...wanted to preserve the skin texture...maybe it wasn't the best idea, as feel I lost some natural moisture in the bird as a result...still was moist and good eating, though.

You should have just rode it out for another 5* (maybe 30-40 minutes), or, preheated the oven to 325* and tossed it in there for a bit. Just don't give up...the regret later will probably hound you. But it's not a loss.

Once you start cooking it you don't want to stop until you reach minimum safe internal temps. If tossed into the fridge whole it would take several hours to chill to <40* I/T. Sounds spooky, however, there may not be any food safety issues after all. This just came up again recently...long read, but it explains a lot (after you let it soak into the brain for a bit)...if you have questions about that article it would probably be best to post them there, so others can find it and refer to it more easily:

http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/...key-food-safety-haccp-test-study#post_1488477

The way I interpret the above article is that the pathogens are killed and their toxins are destroyed well below 160*, which was your finished temp. Makes a guy wonder why 165* is the minimum recommended temp for poultry, doesn't it? In a round-about way, this article says the USDA has been recommending overkill finished temps. Remember back in the day when poultry was supposed to be cooked to 185*? Then they reduced that to 165*, after they realized you don't have cook a bird beyond recognition for it to be safe to eat...yeah, anyway...

A couple years ago I wouldn't have had the same advice. I won't say to chuck your bird because as I see it, it's still safe. Cut off and reheat what you want to eat and enjoy!!!

Chef Jimmy J may weigh in on this if he sees it. He and a few others know the ins and outs in situations as yours rather well.

Eric
 

splendorlex

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Joined Jun 18, 2013
Thanks guys. 

First, yes I was using the posted temp from the MES 40 itself. I've not had any issues with it in the past, but like I said it was fairly cold all day yesterday.

I wonder if there were still some frozen areas that threw the whole thing off. Because about an hour ago I took it out of the fridge and threw it in the oven just to warm it a little. I tried to cut out some of the breast and it was like sawing leather. It looked way overdone. The thing is, I was using the probe in the MES and checked it against an instant read I had. It looks like maybe the probe was reading low, but I'm not sure.

I think it's a case where I'll chalk it up to a learning experience and try again soon - very soon. My first attempt at ribs wasn't too hot either! Maybe next time I'll give it more time to thaw and use a second, alternate probe to check the smoker temp. (I have a maverick, but the dang food probe keeps breaking on the thing.)

Smoke and learn, right?
 

forluvofsmoke

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Yeah, that does sound like overcooked. Well, like you said, smoke and learn. Next one should go much better. I'd do  boil-check on all of your probes to be sure they're reading somewhat accurately. Even if you can't calibrate the digital units, you'll know what the offset is and which direction to correct.

If your location is not close to sea-level, water boiling temps are a bit lower, so use this chart to find the appropriate boiling point...it's all about barometric pressure, so weather can effect it, as well:

Boiling Point / Atmospheric Pressure / Altitude

...or, this calculator:

Water Altitude Boiling Point Calculator

Eric
 

chef jimmyj

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Eric's post is accurate. The USDA 's guideline of 165 will Guarantee even a newbie, only ever boiled water for Tea, cook will make a safe Turkey. But 160 for a few seconds kills bacteria just as dead as 165. The turkey Breast is done and safe to eat. So are the legs although you may find some unappetizing pink near the bone. If you want to eat the Breast cold or hot, heated back to 150+, there will be no issue and reheating the leg meat until tender, some time above 160, will give a good result as well. I cook Turkey Breast and Leg Quarters separately. The Legs go to 170, personal preference, and the Breast, cooked at 325, I pull at 150. Carryover takes the Breast another 10 degrees or so. It is no longer pink but you get the juiciest tender Turkey you have even eaten. Plus when reheated for Hot Sammies, the meat is never over cooked because I just take it to 165.
The 40 to 140 in 4 is a good guideline but as studies have shown, an hour or so over is no cause for alarm. Once 140 is achieved, whether the bird takes 3 more hours or 24 more hours to get to 160-165 makes no difference at all...It will be safe to eat. Don't toss it. Even if overcooked, make Hot dishes that use moisture and shredded meat. Soup, Tacos, Turkey Croquettes, anything that you take the bird to an IT of 165 will do nicely and no wase...JJ
 
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ncgrillmaster

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Joined May 1, 2016
It does sound like a temp control issue.
I had an opposite, more pleasant exerience, although was also surprised.
Brined a 16lb fresh turkey for 24 hrs, then in fridge to dry for 24 hrs, applied a dry rub, then in OK Joe with briquets, oak, pecan & cherry woods. I ran the smoker a little high, averaging about 350. It was done in 2 hours!!! It threw off my entire planning, as it was done so early. It was incredible, can't wait to brine & smoke another one; much of which I learned from this site.
Happy Holidays to all! -r
 

marctrees

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I just wanna say - "13-14 lb bird in fridge"few days" to defrost.

"Few days" ??

NOT enough, still partially frozen.

Didn't you feel ice when you scooped out the interior?

I would figure 5 days "in fridge" , or longer, no harm, to equalize temp closer throughout.

It was still super cold down deep.

THAT was your problem.

No such thing as "Bad luck" when it comes to Physics, only facts.       Marc
 
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pm0084

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I recently did a 12 pound turkey, and it took just a tad over the 4 hour mark to reach 162.

The bird was thawed in the refrigerator 2 days and then submerged in the sink with water for over 24 hours. The bird was completely thawed when ready for cooking.

I would have to agree with other posters, that the turkey must not have been 100% thawed.

I know some do not agree with the sink & water defrost method, but it works well for me and we never have any issues....just change the water often.
 

marctrees

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My preference - Put frozen turkey in fridge,  factory packaging intact, leaving air space around it, for 4 days minimum to thaw, cook within 4 days of that.

That's my way, my opinion.

If needed quicker - (Thawed in as little as 12 hours, if you keep changing water, otherwise like 20-24)- 5 gallon bucket / water/ factory packaging intact method - Google that, observe temp safety precautions.

Again , my opinions.

Plenty of Google info available on this, food safety needing to be regarded.  

Marc
 
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