Butterfly & Smoke Your Thanksgiving Bird
This time of year the topic of conversation between my mom and I is always about how we are going to cook our Thanksgiving turkeys, we usually reminisce about the first time I took on cooking the turkey at age twelve. That year we stuck to the traditional stuffed turkey cooked in an oven bag, but since then we’ve stuffed them with herbs, coated in phyllo, brined, fried, smoked and roasted birds in a variety of ways. Thanksgiving is a great time to involve kids in the kitchen and we always enjoy trying something new to serve along with other seasonal favorites.
If you are looking for a fantastic way to cook up your holiday bird, smoking it is the way to go. Hands down, this method is my favorite preparation for whole turkey. Butterflying, or spatchcocking, the turkey speeds up the cooking process as well as exposing more of the bird to flavor; brining in tea gives it a unique taste while plumping it up to retain moisture; smoking it gives it that unmistakable savory intensity, and finishing it up in the oven in an oven bag speeds the cooking while retaining cooking juices.
The Big Chief Smoker works well for smoking a butterflied 10-12 pound turkey. Larger birds can be butterflied and cut in half for easier handling. Whole birds can also be brined, smoked and finished in the oven using this recipe but oven cooking time needs to be extended. Although it is instructed to finish cooking the turkey in an oven bag in the oven, smoked turkey can be finished without a bag in the oven (decrease cooking time) or finished on the grill at 350º. In any case, cook turkey until both the breast meat and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 160º-165º measured by an internal cooking thermometer. If you happen to have the insulation blanket for your Big Chief Smoker, this is a good time of the year to get it out and use it to help retain heat in colder climates.
1 10-12 pound turkey
1 oven-safe turkey bag
2 metal skewers
1 pound Smokehouse Wood Chips, any flavor
Container for brining*
1/4 cup butter or olive oil
Black Tea Brine
3 quarts cold water
1 quart hot water
10 black tea bags
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper
3 sprigs fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
10 fresh sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
Prepare brine by placing 3 quarts cold water in a deep pan or crock (make sure your butterflied turkey will fit). In another container steep tea bags in 1 quart hot water at least 30 minutes or until water is cool. Add salt, brown sugar and pepper to the cold water. Whisk until salt and sugar are dissolved and add herbs. When the tea is cool, add to the brine and mix thoroughly.
Remove any items from top and bottom cavities of the turkey and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Pat dry and move to a stable cutting surface. Butterfly (or spatchcock) turkey by cutting down both sides of the backbone. This can be done with a knife or a sturdy pair of kitchen shears. Use backbone for stock if desired. Open up the bird with the breast side down. Cut along each side of the breast bone (keel) allowing the turkey to lay flat. Remove the tail and any large areas of excess skin. These bits can also be added to the stock pot. The bird is ready to go into the pan or crock of brine. Brine turkey in the refrigerator 10-12 hours.
Remove turkey from brine, pat dry and place on a stable surface. Tuck wings under to secure. Run metal skewers through the bird from the legs, across the body to the wings on the opposite side, taking care to get a good grip through the breast meat. Using kitchen twine, tie bird so it can be suspended from smoking rack by the wings.
Line smoker drip pan with foil. Preheat smoker 10-15 minutes. Place rack in the smoker on the top shelf. Make sure the bird is suspended and not leaning or resting against the sides or bottom of the smoker. It’s fine if the tips of the legs touch the drip pan. Smoke turkey 2 hours, replacing the chips about every 40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350º. Remove turkey from the smoker and place in an oven-safe turkey bag. Place in a roasting dish or paella pan. Slather turkey with butter or olive oil. Secure the bag closed and poke 6 small holes in the top of the oven-safe bag. Cook turkey 50 minutes to 1 hour or until an internal thermometer reads 160º-165º. If desired, slice open the top of the oven-safe turkey bag during the last 10 minutes of cooking time for a crispier skin. Let turkey rest 10-15 minutes before carving. Reserve pan juices for stock or gravy.
For an amazing turkey soup, save all the bones and make stock. The smokey flavor will come through and you will be getting the most out of the bird.
*Turkey can be brined in any glass or plastic container, even a heavy duty plastic bag. Be sure bird is fully submerged. If brining turkey in a deep pan, more brine may be needed to fully cover turkey.
Article and photos by Tiffany Haugen. For a copy of Tiffany’s book, Grill It! Plank It! Wrap It! Smoke It!, go to www.tiffanyhaugen.com.