Last year, right before Thanksgiving I got a FREE 18.5 lb turkey. Yeah, you read that right…FREE! I hadn’t planned on it. I wasn’t expecting it. It was one of those promotional deals where you go to store and spend X amount of dollars and you get a free turkey. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of it till the checker informed the lady in front of me that she had spent over X amount of dollars and was entitled to one. No, I was just there to get some groceries, just a routine trip.
When it was time to ring up my groceries, I think I might have been short a bit of X, and might have had to throw in a pack of gum or a Coke or something to bring up the total. The checker lady told me I was also entitled to a 15 lb turkey. So I wander back to where they have the turkeys and I’m digging through the pile. Low and behold, there are no more 15lb turkeys. So I inform an employee and he tells me to just grab the smallest one I could find. And that is how I got an 18.5 lb turkey for FREE, and ever since then its been sitting in my freezer taking up a whole shelf all by itself.
Which is something Mrs. G has not been all that happy with. She kept asking me, “When are you going to cook that thing?” and “Can you get that thing out of the freezer? It’s taking up too much room.” To which my response had been, “We’re busy this weekend” or “Who are we going to invite over? We can’t eat that thing alone” or my favorite “It’s Friday night, there is no way we can thaw that by tomorrow.” At least, that’s how I remember it, I maybe wrong. Well, this past weekend, we finally had the time, the motivation and more importantly….I remembered to pull it out of the freezer early enough for it to thaw out by the weekend.
I’d like to take a moment and thank The Hunting Chef, a blog I just found in the last couple of weeks, for responding to my request for a recipe for a brine. He’s got a very interesting blog, and if you are interested in hunting or bbq, I’d highly recommend you check him out (even though he can’t figure out how to cook a brisket. We’ve had many comments back and forth about that one. ;) )
The Hunting Chef’s Brine
3 gallons of water
2 cups of sugar
2 cups of salt
1/2 cup soy sauce
5 dry bay leaves
1 onion, quartered
1 tbsp thyme
1 tbsp black pepper
3 chopped garlic cloves
an orange can be substituted/added in addition to the onion
Boil 1/2 gallon of water. Add ingredients and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the remaining water and allow to cool. Once cool, add your turkey (or chicken or other poultry) and allow to brine for 24 hours in a refrigerator or well iced down ice chest. A useful tip – fill a Zip-lock bag (I used a quart sized one) with water. Placing this on top of the turkey will prevent if from floating and will keep it submerged.
So why brine a turkey (or any kind of poultry. Or pork or seafood for that matter)? Brining is a process that adds moisture and flavor and helps it to keep it from drying out due to the processes of diffusion, osmosis and the denature of protein strands. Sounds complicated right? It’s not, as long as you remember your chemistry from school. You do remember those terms, right? No? OK, I could probably explain it better to you, but this is already going to be a long post, there are hundreds of sites out there that can do a better job of it and most of you probably don’t care about the how and why’s of it. You just want to know that it works. Let me tell you….it does. It is worth the extra steps taken to ensure that you get a moist, flavor-full and tender turkey.
After brining for 24 hours (or 10 to 12 if you are short on time, but I would recommend 24), remove your bird from the brine and wash it off completely. Now, we all know that breast meat has a tendency to dry out. There is one main reason for that. Breast meat needs to be cooked to a lower temperature than the dark meat (165 vs about 185). But I’ve got a trick up my sleeve for that. Take a large Zip-lock bag, fill it with ice and place it on top of the breast. Now allow your bird to begin to come to room temperature on the counter. 20 or thirty minutes should be good, but no more. The ice will keep the breast cool, while the legs and thighs begin to warm up a bit more thereby evening out the cooking time.
After about 20 minutes or so, it’s time to start injecting your bird. You did see this is a Cajun turkey right? So we went ahead and used a Cajun style injection to give it some of that flavor. For this bird, we used Tony Chachere’s Butter and Jalapeno injection. Don’t worry, it’s not hot, but you can also use their Creole Style Butter if you are worried.
You want to inject the bird all over, the breasts, legs, thighs and wings. I think we ended up using a bit more than one container, but this was a big bird. Make sure to move the injection needle around while simultaneously injecting and pulling the needle out to ensure that the injection is spread out and not left in one big pocket. When the injection starts to leak out, you’ve used enough in that area.
After injecting, liberally apply a Cajun seasoning to the whole bird. You may use one that you blend yourself, but for this bird we used Dizzy Pig’s Swamp Venom. If you don’t have that, Tony Chachere makes one that will work as well.
To cook this turkey, we set it up on a 350F Egg with the placesetter legs up, a drip pan to catch the drippings and the grid on top. Even though we are smoking this turkey, the traditional method of using 250 F as a temperature does not apply. Turkeys do not have the fat and collagen like a brisket or butt, and do not benefit from those low temperatures. Plus, the skin would be rubbery and nasty afterwards. No, 350F works great and will give you a crisper skin. For this cook, we choose to use cherry wood. Poultry readily absorbs smoke, so you do not want to use a stronger wood like hickory or mesquite. Any fruit wood would work nicely. (If using other types of grills/smokers, you want to make sure your turkey is not over coals or flames and that the smoker is heated to 350. You may need to rotate your bird halfway through the cook to ensure it cooks evenly).
When cooking a turkey at 350F, figure on about 15 minutes a pound. So using those numbers, I figured our turkey should take about 4 hours and 40 minutes. Figure in about a 20 minute rest period after pulling from the grill, determine when you want to eat dinner and do your math from there to figure out when you need to put it on. We started our as 2, and planned on cutting by 7 and eating by 7:30 latest (just in time for the Spurs game).
Awhile later, some of our guests showed up bringing with them some jalapeno cheese venison sausage, jalapeno venison sausage and some boudin. Those immediately joined the turkey on the Egg.
This is where things started to unravel a bit. The turkey was almost done, but the red beans and rice had not yet been started. Big Matt had volunteered to make the red beans and rice and was supposed to come over around 1ish to start them. Seems like somebody had to take a nap instead. (You knew I was gonna give you a hard time, Matt). So when the turkey was done, I wrapped it in aluminum foil and placed it inside a cooler lined with towels to keep it warm until we would be ready (also works well with brisket and butts, just so you know).
When beans and rice were done, we began to carve up the turkey. Look how moist and juicy it is.
The turkey looked so good, we couldn’t even wait to plate it up.
Unfortunately, we were so hungry or just plain forgot, but we didn’t get any plated up pictures with Mrs. G’s dressing, or Big Matt’s red beans and rice. For this being my 6th turkey (3 previously fried) and this only being the second one I have done on the Egg, I must say it was my best and I think a large portion of that is due to the brine. Or the injection. Or the Egg. Take your pic, either way this was some good eats. Moist, juicy, tender. No way an oven baked turkey could even come close.
And with only 5 of us eating on it, there are still plenty of leftovers. Check back later this week to see how Mrs. G cooked up some Turkey Tetrazini on the Egg all by herself Sunday night.
If you can’t find Dizzy Pig Swamp Venom locally, you can find it here on Amazon.