Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Smoked Turkey Breast

Sometimes simplicity is the recipe for perfection.  That was definitely the case recently when my beautiful Angel and I invited some friends over for a meal.  I billed it as "Giving Thanks for Friendship."  I prepared a whole turkey, but, expecting a larger crowd, I asked my Angel to buy a turkey breast.  She bought two 1/2 turkey breasts.  Given I did not have enough room in my oven for 1 turkey and a 2 half turkey breasts, I decided that I would cook those 1/2 turkey breasts in my smoker. 

So, I went through my cookbooks looking for a recipe for smoked turkey breasts.  I checked my Big Bob Gibson books, but the recipe called for a honey-maple glaze.  That glaze just did not interest either my Angel or myself.  I then checked some Myron Mixon cookbooks (which were graciously given to me by my neighbor ... and I am extremely thankful for the gifts).  I found a recipe that was closer to what I wanted to do.  But, I decided to also check my Aaron Franklin cookbook, Franklin Barbecue: a Meat-Smoking Manifesto.  Franklin is known for his brisket - and a trip to Austin is on my bucket list, solely to try that brisket - but he had a recipe for smoked turkey breast.  The one thing that caught my eye is that it embodied the simple style of Texas barbecue ... a rub of salt and pepper smoked slow and low over the wood of your choice.

I decided to go with Aaron Franklin's recipe, which applies the central Texas barbecue style to the turkey breast.  Although I am far from someone who could opine with any authority about the style, from what I have read, the hallmarks of central Texas barbecue are (1) beef; (2) a salt and pepper rub; and (3) slow smoking using oak wood.   The first hallmark is already thrown out the window,  because we are talking about a turkey breast, not a beef brisket.  The second hallmark stands.  I made a simple rub of freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt according to Franklin's specifications (2 parts pepper to 1 part salt).  The final hallmark had to fall as well, only because I did not have any oak wood for the smoker.  I could have used pecan, which finds its way into some central Texas barbecue.  However, I thought that a more appropriate wood would be apple.  The reason is simple.  Apples work very well with turkey, as shown by their use in stuffing recipes.  Apple wood also tends to provide a milder smoked flavor, which is good for the generally milder flavor of turkey.   

The last change I made was to the cooking times.  Given I was working with two half breasts, instead of one whole one, I relied upon the low end of the cooking times.  Where Aaron Franklin talks about 2 1/2 hours to 3 hours for the initial part of the cook, I went with 2 hours.  When he talked about 45 minutes for the finishing of the cook, I went with 40 minutes.  The reason is that 2 half breasts will cook in a slightly shorter timeframe than one whole one.  If you are using a whole breast, you should follow his timelines.  If you do what I do, round down when it comes to the time limits. 

In the end, Aaron Franklin's smoked turkey breast was the hit of the gathering.  Everyone liked it and consumed far more of it than the whole turkey. This is definitely on my short list of Thanksgiving recipes for the future and it should be on your list as well.  Who knows, I may even try to smoke a whole turkey using this recipe.  That will be the subject of a future blog post. 

 

SMOKED TURKEY BREAST
Recipe from Franklin Barbecue, pages 173-74
Serves many

Ingredients:
1 skin-on, non-solution turkey breast
1 cup butter
Heavy duty aluminum foil
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
Seasoned firewood (oak, apple)

Directions:
1.  Start the fire.  Prepare the fire and get the temperature to 265 degrees at grate level. 

2.  Prepare the breast.  If the skin is on the breast, remove it. We just tear off the skin and throw it away.  Mix the pepper and salt and rub it on the turkey breast.  

3.  Smoke the breast.  Place the turkey skin side up (meaning the side that formerly had the skin) in the smoker and cook until golden brown (typically 2 12/ to 3 hours.  Remove the turkey from the smoker, place the butter on top of the turkey and wrap tightly in aluminum foil, dull side out.  The turkey breast ends up braising quite a lot in the melted butter and its own juices and double layer of foil ensures against leakage.  Return the turkey to the cooker, this time flipping it so that its skin side is down. 

4.  Finish the cook.  Cook the turkey breast until the internal temperature registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  This should take about 1 additional hour. 

5.  Rest the turkey breast.  Let the turkey rest until the internal temperature drops to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, then slice thinly against the grain and enjoy.

ENJOY!

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