Sunday, September 15, 2013

Savage Boleks' Smoked Turkey

When people think of barbecue, thoughts turn to pork shoulders, ribs and beef brisket.  My thoughts turn to a wide range of meats when it comes to smoking.  Many of the more interesting barbecue projects have been done in collaboration with my father-in-law, Frank.  These projects include our smoked salmon fillets and smoked mullet spread.  

Recently, I collaborated with Frank on another BBQ project: smoked turkey.  My beautiful Angel eats turkey at Thanksgiving, and, more recently, has eaten some of my turkey dishes.  So, we decided to smoke a turkey so that everyone -- Clare's parents, Clare and myself -- could have something to eat.  

The meat was chosen, which then raised several questions.  First, do we smoke a whole turkey or just parts of a turkey (like a turkey breast, or turkey thighs)?  We seriously considered smoking an entire turkey.  This posed some serious issues, given the white meat and dark meat cook at different speeds and need to reach different temperatures.  There is also the secondary question of whether to cook the bird as is, or spatchcock the bird (that is, remove the backbone so the entire bird lays flat).  If we spatchcocked the turkey, we would have to cut it into two halves in order to fit into the smoker. All of these questions became moot, however, because I could not find a good sized, fresh turkey.  The best turkey was a whopping 21 pounds, which was way to big for our endeavor.

A couple of the smoked turkey thighs.
Thus, we decided to smoke a turkey breast and turkey thighs. The use of cut turkey parts would definitely shorten the cooking time, which would allow us to speed up the cooking time and allow us to enjoy the meat sooner rather than later.

Second, there is the question of using a brine.  A brine is a solution of water and salt.  Placing meat into this solution for a period of time helps to add moisture to the meat.  This added moisture is particularly helpful when it comes to cooking or smoking meats that have a low fat content, like turkey.  We decided to use a brine and, because we were using cut turkey parts, we decided to brine the turkey for about an hour.

The smoked turkey breast.
Third, there was the question of the rub and/or sauce.  We decided to do just a rub.  Frank searched for various turkey rubs, and, then he came across one that had a list of rather unusual ingredients ... at least for turkey.  Cardamom, ginger, turmeric, allspice, cloves, coriander and fenugreek.  All of those ingredients sounded like the perfect components of a rub.  After all, I have previously experimented with spices and turkey, making turkey thighs rubbed with an Egyptian Baharat spice mixture.  So, we decided to use the rather unusual combination of spices as the rub for the turkey.  This was perhaps the best decision we made in our preparations, because that spice mixture produced an amazingly, flavorful meat.

Finally, there was the question of the two additional flavor elements.  There are three elements to consider: wood, liquid and basting sauce.   When it comes to wood, the general rule calls for fruit woods, like apple or cherry.  So, we chose apple wood. When it came to the liquid bowl (that is, the bowl that is between the meat and the coals), we used a combination of apple juice and water, along with some keffir lime leaves.  The leaves were inspired by the ingredients in the rub.   The basting sauce also was very simple: just some apple juice.  We began the basting after the meat had been in the smoker for two hours.

In the end, the turkey turned out perfect.  The turkey thighs were delicious, with the rub providing an interesting array of flavors.  As for the turkey breast, the use of the brine ensured that the breast meat did not dry out during the cooking process and remained juicy with a lot of moisture notwithstanding the hours of smoking.   This barbecue project worked out so well that I have since smoked some more turkey thighs using the same brine and rub process.  The results were the same: delicious, flavorful and juicy turkey, which did not need any sauce.

A Chef Bolek Collaboration
Serves Many

Ingredients (for the Brine):
16 cups of water
1/2 cup of salt

Ingredients (for the Spice Rub):
3 tablespoons of ground cardamom
3 tablespoons of ground ginger
2 tablespoons of ground turmeric
2 tablespoons of ground coriander
1 tablespoon of ground allspice
3 tablespoons of ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of ground cloves
3 tablespoons of ground fenugreek

Ingredients (for the turkey):
8 pounds of turkey (1 four pound breast and 4 pounds of thighs)
Kaffir lime leaves
2 cups of apple juice
Chunks of apple wood

1.  Brine the turkey.  Add the water to a large pot.  Add the salt and stir until it dissolves.  Add the turkey breast and thighs.  Allow the meat to brine for one hour.  After an hour has passed, remove the meat, rinse well, and dry thoroughly.

2.  Prepare the rub for the turkey.   Add all of the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl.  Apply the rub to all surfaces of the turkey. 

3.  Prepare the smoker.  Get a fire going for the smoker.  Once the coals are ready, add the liquid bowl, which should be filled with water and kaffir lime leaves.  Add the grates.

4.  Smoke the turkey.  If you have two levels, place the breast on the lower level with the skin side up.  Place the thighs on the higher level with the skin side up.  Smoke until the white meat reaches 160 degrees Fahreneheit and the dark meat reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  It will take approximately one half hour for every pound of meat.  After about two hours, baste the turkey with some apple juice.  Once the meat reaches the desired temperature, wrap the meat in foil and allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes but preferably 30 minutes.  During that time, the meat should cook another 5 to 10 degrees and be ready for slicing or pulling.  Serve immediately.


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