I meant to send this post out to you all week but then Tuesday happened and it has just seemed ridiculous to talk about turkey in our current state. The disappointment is real as is the confusion, sadness, nausea.
I’ve tried sorting the whole thing out in my head and am trying to understand—clearly the majority—of America’s intentions. As someone who holds liberal values and who has recently moved from very conservative North Dakota back to very liberal California I think I can say with some certainty that there are good, kind people all over our country. I want to believe that these same people didn’t vote for Donald Trump because they agree with his disgraceful behavior but that they just wanted something different and they truly felt like he could change our system for the better. I guess we will see. I hope they are right.
I know eating your feelings is not the best coping mechanism but its the one I turn to the most and so if I’m going to get through the next four years it’s probably going to be with food. And margaritas. I also think a good way to temporarily lift your mood is to dive headfirst into an intensive project. So why not take 4 hours this Thanksgiving and make a smoked turkey?
Now smoking a turkey is not like popping it in the oven, walking away, and coming back a few hours later to the perfectly roasted bird. It does take some finesse, some timing, a certain comfort level with your grill, but it’s not rocket science either.
The first step to a smoked Thanksgiving turkey is the brine
The turkey starts the same as you would if roasting, which is to say, with a dry brine. A dry brine is just a fancy way of saying rub the turkey all over with salt (plus I also used minced dried Morita chiles and garlic). Then letting it sit overnight uncovered in your refrigerator.
Make an aromatic broth for the smoked Thanksgiving turkey to cook in
You then place it in a disposable aluminum pan with some stuff that will make it taste really good and will give you the base for your gravy, so we’re talking onions, carrots, celery, herbs, and chicken broth.
You also want to soak two large handfuls of hickory chips for at least 30 minutes. Soaking them will keep them from burning up too quickly on the hot charcoals and infusing the turkey with delicious, hickory flavor. Side note: you can use other types of wood chips for slightly different flavor; apple wood, mesquite, cherry are all good.
The trickiest part is maintaining an even temperature on your grill. This is pretty easy to do if you are using a gas grill but with charcoal you will have to keep monitoring the temperature with a grill thermometer (you can go fancy or cheap) and adding more charcoal so it stays hot enough. Once you light the coals, let them get good and hot and covered with gray ash. Arrange them on one half of the grill and put a medium disposable aluminum pan in the middle filled with water. This will help keep the bird moist, maintain the temperature, and be a drip pan.
Start with the turkey breast-side down so it doesn’t dry out the breast meat then, halfway through, flip it breast-side up and cook the rest of the way until the internal temperature reads 170°F.
The gravy is made from the smoky juices of the smoked Thanksgiving turkey plus extra minced dried Morita chiles, fresh thyme leaves, and white wine. I use the fatty pan drippings and make up for any necessary fat with olive oil so it is a dairy-free gravy, feel free to substitute butter if you’d like.
What more would you like to know about cooking a turkey? I want you to give it a try so if you need help I am here for you. I have cooked so many turkeys in so many ways so shoot….what you got? Here are a few other ideas to mull over:
The ins and outs of how to smoke your Thanksgiving turkey using your grill, some charcoal, and a few handfuls of hickory chips, plus a spicy, smokey dried morita chile gravy. This is the way to do Thanksgiving.
If using a frozen turkey, give yourself plenty of time for it to thaw. A completely frozen 12-pound turkey could take 4-5 days to thaw in the refrigerator.
- 12 pound turkey, fresh or thawed completely if frozen
- 3 dried morita chiles
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 dried morita chile
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme leaves
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 handfuls hickory chips, soaked for 30 minutes
- 1 large bag charcoal
- 1 medium-sized aluminum roasting pan
- grill thermometer and meat thermometer
- 2 large aluminum roasting pans
- Remove giblets and neck from the turkey and save for another use, or discard. Rinse turkey inside and out with cold water and shake dry. Place on a large baking sheet.
- Remove stem from chiles and mince them with a sharp knife into very small pieces, removing as many seeds as you'd like to make it less spicy. Combine chiles with garlic and salt in a small bowl.
- Season turkey inside and out on all sides with the chile mixture then refrigerate turkey, uncovered, for at least 12 hours.
- Remove turkey from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Don't rinse, brush breast, legs, and thighs with oil.
- For a charcoal grill, light charcoal and wait until the briquets are all lit and well ashened then arrange in a half circle on one side of the grill. Fill the medium-sized pan with warm water and place in the middle of the coals as a drip pan. You want to maintain a grill temperature of between 350°F-400°F, attaching a grill thermometer to the vent holes is helpful.
- Place one large foil pan inside another then combine celery, onion, and carrot, marjoram, and bay leaves in the top pan. Add 2 cups of broth. Place turkey, breast-side down in the pan.
- Sprinkle one handful of the drained, soaked chips directly over the hot coals or to the smoker box of a gas grill. Place the cooking grate one the coals and place the pan with the turkey directly over the pan of water on the bottom with the legs facing the hottest part of the grill.
- Cover grill and monitor the temperature, adding more charcoal as needed.
- Smoke turkey 1 hour, then flip so it is breast-side up. Add 12-15 briquettes to the coals and sprinkle remaining wood chips over charcoal. Continue smoke-roasting until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170°F.
- To fully cook the turkey can take anywhere from 2-4 hours depending on the size of the bird and how hot you maintain the grill, figure roughly about 15-20 minutes per pound if the grill stays between 350°F-400°F. After 1 1/2 hours check to see if any parts are getting to dark, like the wing tips or the ends of the drumsticks, if so, cover them with foil.
- Once completely cooked, remove roasting pans with turkey from the grill. Transfer turkey to a cutting board and let rest 30 minutes. Save pan with veggies and drippings for the gravy.
- Strain contents of the pan into a bowl, pressing on the veggies to extract as much juice as possible. Pour the drippings into a fat-separator if you have one, if not just leave it in the bowl and let it sit a few minutes to allow the fat to rise to the top.
- Spoon fat into a measuring cup, you should have 1/2 cup; add olive oil, or melted butter to make up the difference if you don't have enough. Measure remaining liquid, you should have 3 cups, add more chicken broth as needed. Remove stem from chile and mince as you did above.
- Pour fat into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat. Whisk in flour and let cook, whisking constantly until toasted and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Whisk in minced chile and thyme and let toast 1 minute more.
- Slowly whisk in wine then measured broth, pouring in a little at a time, whisking continuously, until all is added. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and let cook a couple minutes, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Carve turkey and serve immediately with hot gravy.