2011 Thanksgiving Bird Journal: Bourbon and Apple Butter Smoked Turkey. - Something Edible
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2011 Thanksgiving Bird Journal: Bourbon and Apple Butter Smoked Turkey.

2011 Thanksgiving Bird Journal: Bourbon and Apple Butter Smoked Turkey.


Every year, I do my Thanksgiving turkey a bit different. A good gobbler is high art as far as I'm concerned, I am a fool for smoked turkey. It may just be one of the world's most perfect foods. Now that I've indoctrinated myself into the cult of 'que, there was no way that I wasn't going to show my Thanksgiving turkey the smoke. This smoked turkey starts with brine that infuses said poultry with all the flavors of fall, and finishes its journey in my barbeque basted inside and out with a Bourbon whiskey apple butter mop.


Last year, I did a brief post as to what I did to my Thanksgiving Turkey. I figured I could do a bit better this year, so as the dust has indeed settled from the Thanksgiving Holiday, I went back to my notes (you do keep notes when you cook, right?) to see what I could share about this year's T-day experience. A friend of mine who smokes birds with the Wichita Wagonmasters had told me about rubbing down a turkey with apple butter before showing it the smoke, and almost a year later I was still obsessed with that notion. All the same, after sitting on that idea for so long, it's bound to evolve just a little bit. So, as I'm doing my recipe planning, I wanted to see if there was anyone else out there doing their turkey with apple butter; and of course there was. Butter? Bourbon? Apple Butter? Smoke? Up to this point, I'd never smoked a whole turkey, but given all the "enhancements" along with the smoke, I was almost sure there was no way I was gonna screw it up.

I know I'm not exactly known for my brevity, but given the length and complexity of this recipe, I'm gonna try to keep the intros short. This is Thanksgiving; we all know why we're here. Let's get to it!

Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -

The Bird (and friends)

  • 1 Turkey You'll want it completely thawed if frozen.
  • 1 yellow onion quartered
  • 1 apple quatered
  • 1 celery stick quartered (With the tops!)
  • 1 bunch fresh sage
  • 4-5 gallon food-safe plastic bucket
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp black pepper
  • The Brine

  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 1 cup Kosher salt (Yes, I said "cup.")
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 1/4 oz pickling spice (This happens to be one tin's worth.)
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 onion quartered
  • 1 apple quartered
  • 1 celery stalk quartered (Again, with the tops included.)
  • 9 lbs ice
  • The Mop

  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 1/2 cup Bourbon whiskey
  • 1/2 cup butter (That's a stick.)
  • 2 Tbsps demerara sugar

  • T-minus 2 days:
    Combine water, salt, brown sugar, pickling spice, black peppercorns, apple, onion, and celery in a 4 quart pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Pour the brine into your food-safe plastic bucket and stir in the ice. The solution should plummet to 35-40F. Anything hotter than that means you need to get it colder before adding the bird! Once the brine is ready to go, add the turkey (I went legs first, but what the hell do I know?), lid up the bucket, and move it to the refrigerator. Let brine 12 hours before flipping the bird over and brining for another 12 hours.

    T-minus 1 day:
    Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it thoroughly. Discard brine in a responsible manner, and move the turkey to a racked roasting pan. Place the bird-laden roaster in a fridge that's not storing anything open and let it all air out for 24 hours.

    Go Time!:
    Prep your smoking vessel for a indirect heat at a temperature of 225F, adding the smoke wood of your choice according to the manufacturer's directions (I used a 50/50 blend of mesquite and pecan).
    Stuff the turkey's cavity with a quartered onion, apple, celery, and the bundle of fresh sage.
    For the mop, whisk the apple butter, bourbon, butter, and demerara together in a saucepan over medium heat. When it's integrated, cool to room temperature before slathering under the breast skin and over every square centimeter of the turkey's outside. Season the outside with salt and pepper (you probably won't use it all) and move to the smoker. Cook until you hit a finished temperature of 160F (about 16 hours). Serve immediately, or refrigerate and reheat in a 325F oven in a roasting pan loosely tented with foil until the bird hits 140F.



    • The USDA does its level best to beat it into your head, so I won't dwell much on things like keeping things cool and keeping things clean. I will say that the highest potential for cross contamination probably comes from the stint in the fridge where that uncovered bird readjusts from the day-long dip in the brine. If you have a beer fridge or something similar where anything your bird's gotta share space with is sealed up, use it.
    • I love what mesquite smoke does for poultry. My Mrs. however absolutely abhors everything that is the sweet, rich, and spicy aroma of mesquite. As marriage is about compromise, I blend with pecan wood to mellow the mesquite.
    • You may have seen discussion here before re: the dreaded "stall" that happens when the water in your food amasses enough energy to reach the heat of evaporation and subsequently cools the whole system down. Apparently with a critter this big, the stall happens sooner than later; as I usually experience stall temperatures around 160F, this time it occurred 10 degrees lower. Good stuff to know if you plan on a larger bird.
    • I almost always pull that "done button" from the breast of so many supermarket birds; but if I do, I'm certainly gonna plug it back up with something so my turkey doesn't spout like a whale. Besides, I can't think of a more appropriate place to stick a probe thermometer.
    • There are two camps where Turkey skin is concerned: Those who want a crispy skin, and those who just don't care. If you insist on a crispy skin, you better start looking elsewhere. The skin tastes just fine, and it makes that turkey look great sitting on the table; but given the time it takes to smoke this bugger, most all the fat's long since been rendered out under slow and relatively moist heat. If a turkey's skin were any thicker, it'd probably have more in common with leather than good eatin'.



    Monday, we brine. Tuesday, we air-dry. Wednesday, we smoke. Thursday, we eat. It probably goes without saying that this is as slow as slow food gets; but while that Thanksgiving bird takes a little work, It's most certainly a labor of love. For those of you worried about the copious amounts of Bourbon here, don't sweat it; I doubt you'd know it was there until someone fixed the same recipe without; and anyway, you can't tell me that there's gonna be much actual hooch left after 16 hours of smoke.

    This Thanksgiving turkey was everything I hoped it would be. Moist, flavorful, and insanely good left-over. If I'm to be completely honest, the wings were my favorite. For me, it's that "middle meat" that's not too dark and not too white with a relatively large surface area that's able to take in and showcase all those hours spent under a fragrant smoke. It's gonna be tough to top this turkey next year!

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