2012 Thanksgiving Bird Journal: Garlic and Black Pepper Smoked Turkey. - Something Edible
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2012 Thanksgiving Bird Journal: Garlic and Black Pepper Smoked Turkey.

2012 Thanksgiving Bird Journal: Garlic and Black Pepper Smoked Turkey.


Every year, I do my Thanksgiving turkey a little different, and as long as I got this little patch of Interwebs here, I figure it'd be a crime for me to share my post-game report as far as what worked and what didn't for the greater good of all of us that work hard to put the biggest meal of the year on the table.

For Thanksgiving Turkey this year, I went with a recipe I'd been tinkering with since last Christmas: A fifteen pound bird brined in copious amounts of black pepper and garlic, rubbed down with even more black pepper and garlic, and finally slow-smoked over big ol' hunks of pecan wood on my barbeque. While there was a pretty significant charcoal malfunction, I was able to use the science behind smoking to take the problem in stride, and still be able o serve one of the most distinctly flavorful and gorgeously-browned turkeys I've ever laid out for a T-day spread.


Ok, honestly think I had this recipe picked out way back after I made it the first time for last year's Christmas dinner, and it's one of the happier accidents I've had in the kitchen. Y'see, I'm generally not one of those cooks that will go out and buy ingredients for the express purpose of a meal. I look in the the fridge, pantry, and freezer for what I got and roll with it; and last Christmas, that was the situation I was in.

It started with my being out of pickling spice. Up until this point, I've always kept a tin of pickling spice in the cabinet for the express purpose of cooking a turkey, and when it was decided that we were gonna have a bird for Christmas, I was plum out. "Get more at the store" you say? Well yeah I could have; but I buy that stuff when it's on sale, and the tight-ass that I am couldn't justify paying full price to make my garbage disposal smell of potpourri. However, the one spice that I had in abundance at that time was black peppercorn. So I figured, "Hell, I'll just go crazy with the black pepper on this one, and while I'm at it, I'll throw in an Emeril-sized fistful of garlic to go with."

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

For the Bird

  • 15 lbs whole turkey (You want it completely thawed if it was frozen).
  • 4-5 gallon food-safe plastic bucket With lid.
  • 4 celery stalks (Tops too!)
  • For the Brine

  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 1 cup Kosher salt (Yeah; I said a cup.)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup black peppercorns
  • 12 cloves garlic Smashed (about a bulb's worth).
  • 9 lbs ice
  • For the Rub

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • Kosher salt (For a-sprinklin')

  • T-minus 2 days
    Combine water, salt, brown sugar, black peppercorns, and garlic 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, lid up the bucket, and move it to the refrigerator. Let brine 12 hours, flip the bird over in the bucket and brine 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 the turkey air dry in the fridge for 24 hours.

    Go Time!
    Prep your smoking vessel for indirect heat at a temperature of 225F, adding the pecan smoke wood (or smoke wood of your choice) according to your cooker manufacturer's directions.
    Cut the celery stalks into 4 inch chunks, and stuff the turkey's cavity with the celery.
    For the rub, combine 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tbsp black peppercorns, and 6 cloves garlic in a mini-prep chopper. With the lid firmly in place, buzz it all into a thin paste. Slather the garlic peppercorn paste under the skin covering the breast and over every square centimeter of the turkey's outside. Season the outside with Kosher salt (You sont need a whole lot) and move the bird to the smoke. Cook for 12-14 hours or until you hit a finished temperature of 160F. Serve immediately, or let cool to room temperaure to refrigerate and reheat in a 325F oven in a roasting pan loosely tented with foil until the bird hits 140F.



    • Beyond the recipe itself, a lot of what you need to know about smoking a turkey can be had in my 2011 notes. I talk a little about safe poultry handling as well as a few pitfalls to avoid where smoking is concerned.
    • I've messed around with blending pecan wood with other woods for turkey and even ribs in the past, and truthfully, I've always fancied myself a mesquite-lovin' guy for turkey. However that was until I tried a 100% pecan smoke. That friends, is the way to go with poultry. It's a mellow smoke that enhances the flavor of a bird without being overwhelming.
    • You could add other aromatics beyond celery, but I don't think it's really necessary. Garlic not withstanding, If my Bloody Mary is to be believed, the big flavors of celery and black pepper would just mask out anything else that you shoved into that cavity.
    • I've learned quite a bit since I first acquired my steel-clad kamado cooker last year. Chief among those tidbits that have really helped my smoking technique personally is the fact that past about 150F, it's physically impossible for the meat to take any more smoke. Y'see, the proteins of which the meat is comprised love to bind to the carbon monoxide of the smoke until the meat hits that magic temperature. At that point, the organic building blocks reconfigure, and it's then that that smoke loses its place to bind to the protein (learned that while flipping thru the pages of McGee's On Food and Cooking. Great reference book!)
    • Incidentally, knowing what we now know about smoke, it's entirely ok to put the hurry-up on a turkey (or any other poultry for that matter) after smoke threshold is achieved. Those last 15 or 20 degrees of internal temperature are tough to hit as they also coincide with that dreaded "stall" point. So, if you're wanting to totally kick the stall's ass and get you bird done with the quickness, you could go as high as 300F or even 325F to finish once the smoke threshold is achieved. This time around, I was able to test this empirically, as a swift wind from the North killed my coals right as the bird stalled, and I had to power thru the last 15 degrees in a 300F oven. The bird finished after only one more hour, was still plenty smoky; and no one was the wiser of my BBQ blasphemy.



    There's definitely something a bit serendipitous about my charcoal fail here. At the end of the day, an oven is an oven, whether it runs on charcoal, gas or electricity; and having to finish this bird in the stove just goes to show that not treating barbeque and smoking as a bunch of voodoo by paying attention to the science is really the way to go.

    I've never met a smoked turkey I didn't like; but I will say that quite often it seems that it's tough to find a smoked turkey that tastes of something besides the smoke. If that's your thing, great; but I happen to think of smoke as seasoning, and half the fun of seasoning a dish is finding synergy between ingredients. In this case, we've dialed back to a milder, full-bodied smoke wood that does a fantastic job of complimenting those big flavors in the the black pepper and garlic.
    Think of it this way: In the context of home theatre, the smoke is our turkey's point one channel; and while you could use something like mesquite or fruit wood instead of pecan here (and it'd still be great), I'd say that using pecan wood here is akin to upgrading to dts.

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