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Tale of Two Turkeys


Joined Nov 11, 2012
For the past 15 years or so, Cyndi and I do thanksgiving for all the family.  Used to be about 20 people, lately it’s grown to 25 or so.  We’d always do two turkeys, one roasted in the oven, one smoked in my old black, metal, upright smoker.  It’s a Char-Broiler, with a water pan above the charcoal pan.  The turkeys were always 12-13 lbs, because my company gave them to employees.  I’d put mine on sometime around midnight with some hickory or mesquite wood chunks in the charcoal, and stoke it with more of both every 3 or so hours in order to be ready by the 2:00 gathering, so it was usually on for a good 12 hours or more.

I never used a meat thermometer, didn’t brine it, just kept the smoke going.  Didn’t really know what temp I was at, smoker, or meat.  The smoker has a cheapo thermometer in the top, and it hardly ever even got to the warm reading. I was always a little worried that I might make us sick, since I didn’t really know what I was doing, but that never happened.  Most of the family at first chose the roasted, traditional turkey, because that’s what they were used to.  After the first coupla years, the smoked turkey was always picked clean, and the roasted one used for leftovers.  Totally different taste, the smoked one was much more flavorful, although the white meat had something of a red tinge to it compared to the roasted turkey.

So now I have one of those pellet grills, digital readout, total temp control, meat thermometer with a remote control, I can adjust the temp setting while in the house; it’s a great little smoker….but, after reading online about needing to get the temp from 40 to 140 in four hours or so, and this year trying a 17 lb turkey, I started out at 325 for an hour and a half, then turned it down to 250 til it got above 140, about 3.5 hrs, then down to 225,  and 200 as it was getting done a little quicker than I expected.  Finally took it off at internal temp of 175, wrapped in Alum foil and towels in a cooler for 2 hours before time to eat.

The result:  this year, my turkey tasted pretty much the same as Cyndi’s, roasted, not smoked.  It wasn’t dry, (we brined them both) and folks said they liked it, but we were disappointed; it had almost none of the smoked taste we had in the past. 

So, I need to ask some questions: 
  1. If I go back to my traditional method with a 13lb turkey, and monitor the internal temp, finding it takes longer than the 4 hours to get to 140, how concerned should I really be?  And knowing the final internal temp with my old smoker method seems like a useful bit of info too. 
  2. If I did the same longer, slower method using my pellet grill, (doesn’t put out quite as much smoke), do I stay at mebbe 250 the whole time?
 I’d like to be able to recreate the taste I had before, but I’d like to be a little smarter about how to do it safely.    Thanks for inputs,  Roy

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