Brined Smoked Turkey

>> Monday, November 25, 2013

Just in time for Thanksgiving, this brine works great for smoking whole turkeys, turkey breasts, and chicken. Brines are great for smoking because they add lots of flavor and help ensure the meat doesn't dry out. I'm not sure of the original source for this recipe, but it's posted on quite a few different recipe sites. I found it a few years ago and it's definitely a crowd favorite. Smaller birds are easier to smoke in a reasonable amount of time, so I'd recommend going with something around 16 pounds or smaller.

2 gallons cold water (see directions below)
1.5 c canning salt *See update below
3 T minced garlic
1 T ground black pepper (preferably freshly ground)
1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
1/3 c dark brown sugar, packed

24 to 48 hours before smoking, mix all ingredients in a container large enough to hold your turkey. I usually start off with about a gallon of water, add the turkey, then top off with enough water to cover the bird. I tend to go for about 24 hours on mine. Too long in the brine can make the bird too salty. You want the bird to be completely submerged in the brine, so I usually weigh it down with a dinner plate. It probably goes without saying, but put it in the fridge for 24-48 hours.

About an hour before you plan to smoke it, remove the bird from the brine and rinse it with cold water. Pat dry and leave the bird on a wire rack and allow it to come to room temp. That's about all there is to it.  Sometimes I will add a dry rub, but it's not necessary as the bird will have plenty of flavor from the brine. Also, don't stuff it. Smoke with your favorite wood; I usually go with hickory but this year I'm trying a blend of hickory along with some oak from whiskey barrel staves. Smoke until done (breast temp of 160F).

Speaking of temp, in the past I've always smoked the turkey at 225F but this year I'm going to try 325F. That may seem really high, especially to those used to smoking brisket or pork shoulders, but keep in mind turkeys aren't chock full of collagen and connective tissues that benefit from low and slow cooking like some of those other cuts of meat. At a temp of 325F we should get some of the same maillard reactions that we get when brewing beer. It also allows the skin to crisp up which simply won't happen at 225F.

Update 11/29/2013
I used this recipe on a boneless turkey breast yesterday. I put the breast in the brine Tuesday evening and pulled it out Thursday around noon. This is the longest I've tried brining and it ended up being a bit too salty for me. Next time I will brine for a shorter period of time, or reduce the amount of salt, or a little of both. I like the idea of giving the other flavors more time to work their way into the meat, so I might just try cutting the salt in half. Cooking at 325F and removing when the breast hit 160F worked out great. The combination of hickory and oak also worked well.

Update 12/30/2013
I used this brine again a few days ago. I picked up a Cabela's meat slicer over the holidays to use for slicing homemade bacon as well as things like turkey breast for lunch meat. I made this brine again and used it on chicken and turkey breast. I was out of pickling salt so I went with kosher salt. I used about 3/4 cup and brined for 48 hours. This worked out great, so I'd suggest cutting the salt in half if you intend to brine it for more than 24 hours.
Before smoking
Mmmm, hickory and oak smoke