Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Preparing for Thanksgiving [Part 1]

The leaves have changed and the air has gotten colder. Fall has arrived and Thanksgiving is on its way (or past if you're in Canada). It's time to start thinking about giving the family the bird. Wait... that didn't sound right (like so many things in BBQ). Time to start thinking about cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving. I used to roast the bird in the oven, but no more. I now smoke it. Smoked turkey is great. I have had deep fried turkey, but it doesn't have that nice smokey flavor of a bird cooked over hickory and pecan wood. One day I would like to smoke the turkey then fry it to finish it of and get the best of both worlds. 

As Thanksgiving draws closer I start to cook the bird in my head. trying to figure out the best way get the best flavor for the family. I also start to plan my cook so on Thanksgiving Day I will have time to cook it and relax. I'll share a little of what I do to prepare. 

How am I going to prep the turkey?
This is an important question as it will let you know when you need to start preparing your bird. 
Are you going to wet brine, like I do? Are you going to dry brine, like my buddy "Big Wayner"? are you going to dry the bird in the fridge for couple days? What are you going to do to get the flavor you want? 

Whatever you do you need to pull your turkey out of the freezer at least three days, maybe more depending on size (Butterball recommends 1 day for every 4lbs of turkey),  ahead of time to thaw. If you plan to dry it in the fridge you need to pull it out at least a week before so it will thaw and then you can prep it to let it fridge dry. 
Brining the turkey.

How am I going to cook the turkey?
Will you cook it whole in a pan? or whole with out a pan? Will you spatchcock it (take out the breast bone and lay it flat)? Will you butcher it into different pieces and cook it like that? 

Cooking the turkey whole will take longer than a spatchcocked or turkey in pieces and will vary depending on the temperature your smoking at. I like to cook my turkeys at 300º-325º and have found a 19lb turkey will cook in about 4 hours at that temperature. Even though you are watching the time the more important thing is the temperature of the meat. You want it to reach 165º to be done. The Butterball site has great information on how long it will take to cook a turkey in the traditional method and I find the times hold fairly true for smoking them. 

Am I going to add veggies for flavor?
When I cook turkey I like to put onions and garlic into the cavity to add flavor to the cook and I use them in the gravy I make. I have also used apples and rosemary. If you are adding these you need to have time to chop them up. If you're cooking a spatchcocked bird you can place the veggies in a pan and put the bird on a rack above them to get the flavor. 
Ready for the cooker.

So what does my timeline look like?
This is how I plan my week before Thanksgiving. It is rough and can change depending on what is going on. If it is really cold out expect to use more fuel and possibly fight to maintain temperatures.


  • Turkey in fridge
  • Check fuel for cook. If I need more pick it up at the store
  • Check ingredients for brine and veggies. If I need more pick them up at the store
  • Prepare brine.
  • Put turkey in brine in cooler with ice. 
  • Chop veggies and store in ziplock bag
Thursday - Thanksgiving Day - Dinner at 1pm
  • 6:30 - Walk dog
  • 7:00 - get fire started and build up to 500º
    • Rub with rub and olive oil
    • Stuff with veggies and let sit out until fire is ready 
  • 8:00 - Put turkey on smoker reduce heat to 325º
  • 10:00 - Check turkey temperature. it should be in the 100º range.
    If too low increase heat a little.
  • 11:00 - Check turkey temp.
    It should be closing in on the 165º
  • 12:00 - Turkey should be at temp.
    If it isn't let it cook until it is.
    If its ready remove from cooker and foil so it can rest. 
  • 12:30 - Carve turkey and put into foil pan.
  • 12:50 - Go to my sisters for dinner with the turkey - They'll wait for the meat to eat. 

The rest of the day is relaxing and while the turkey is cooking I can relax and watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade with my family.

Hope this helps you get ready for smoking a turkey on Thanksgiving. if you do let me know in the comments below. If I plan to try something new, in the way I cook, I try to get in a practice cook so I can see how long it takes and if anything needs to be tweaked so on the day there are no surprises.
Ready to eat.

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