Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Christmas Turkey

This 19 pounder waited patiently in the freezer for about three weeks for its turn. During that three weeks I worried and stewed about my promise to the family to "smoke a turkey" for them for Christmas. I knew I was in deep trouble when I learned my sister and her husband had spent more than a hour or two researching the "best" wine at a local winery, Fidelitas, where they are members. Trouble? The temperatures had dropped into the single digits, and it is no secret that the times needed for smoking meat in a Traeger escalate with lowering temps. I had no idea if it would take 4 hours, 8 hours, or 3 days to cook this sucker.

I researched the issue on google; at Traeger's website; with Konrad Haskins, my instructor at a recent class on smoking/bbqing; my buddy, Joe from Oly, who kinda got me started with the long, slow smoke style cooking and knows tons of stuff about cooking. No one could really answer my questions about whether or not to even give it a try. I even joined an online forum, "pelletheads," and found some pretty strange comments there.

On the morning of the smoke, out of desperation, I called the 800 number Traeger puts up on their website (I found it the night before, too late to call).

Bruce's first question was, "do you have either a 100% cotton, or 100% wool, blanket?" Fold the blanket and lay it over the lid of the smoker for insulation. (Note: Careful with this - that blanket ended up scorched like a fragile pair of laced silk panties smothered beneath a forgotten iron! But it worked.)

Then Bruce told me to get a remote thermometer ($17 at Target), stick it in the breast, put the bird on when the smoker's temp is 300 degrees. Keep it there until the breast hits 100 degrees on the remote, then turn the smoker down to "smoke" and keep it there until the breast hits 170 degrees when it will be done.

Three hours after setting the temp to "smoke" the breast temp, again, in single digit external temperatures, cotton blanket and all, had risen only 3 degrees; so I cranked it back up to 300 degrees and let'er rip until the breast measured 170. I figured it would more like rubber, or leather, or like Clark Griswold's turkey in the movie, "Christmas Vacation."

Once the temp hit 170, I took the bird inside and let it rest for about 15 minutes before carving it. Also brought in the drippings and made the gravy from them while the bird rested.

The turkey was delicious! Succulent, tender, moist, and smoked with cherry wood pellets, fabulously flavorful. The Gang raved about how good it was. Phew.

Turkey Preparation:

Brine for 12 - 24 hours, then wash thoroughly inside and out, pat dry with paper towels.

Separate skin from meat and spread the rub between these two layers.

Pour Italian Dressing over the exterior, mostly as an adherent for the rub, and spread the rub in all the nooks and crannies.


1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup Soy sauce
1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar

Equal parts of each of the following -

Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
White granulated cane sugar
Dark chili powder
Canadian, or Montreal Steak Seasoning
Pinch of Cayenne or Chipotle for heat, to taste (optional).


Put sliced yellow onions (about 2 to 3 cups) in roasting pan along with 4 or 5 tbls of olive oil. Put in oven at 425 degrees for one hour, or until the onions turn a nice golden brown.

Place the bird on a roasting rack and set it in the roasting pan with the onions. Place bird breast DOWN. Add 3 cups of chicken broth (not organic!), and put it in the smoker. Replenish liquid with chicken broth as needed throughout the smoke.

Once done, puree the collected juices, onions, and oil, in a blender and taste. At that point, as my friend Joe from Oly says, "you can begin praising God that he put Joe on earth to be your friend." It is THAT good!

* recipe provided by Konrad Haskins.
** recipe provided by Joe from Oly.

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