Thawing Time – 72 – 96 Hours
Total Preparation Time – About 24 – 48 Hours
Total Time Spent Waiting: About 24 – 48 Hours
Cooking Time – About 3 – 4 Hours (Depending on Turkey Size)
For the last few years, I have smoked a turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner. Before this year, I have never really brined a turkey before smoking. The reason for not brining is that most frozen turkeys are packaged in a saline solution, which is essentially a brine itself. However, last year, I felt the turkey was a bit on the dry side and decided that this year I would take the extra step of brining the turkey.
As you can see with the Preparation Time, there is quite a bit of planning that needs to happen. If you get a frozen turkey, you need to thaw the turkey if it’s frozen. Thawing can take hours or days, depending on the method. You will want to leave the turkey in the brine for not less than 24 hours. So, when cooking a turkey, whether Roasting or Smoking, you should establish a plan/timeline.
There are a couple of methods for thawing a frozen turkey. Do not unwrap the turkey to thaw it. Do not thaw the turkey by leaving it on the countertop. I like to let the turkey thaw in the fridge. While this method of thawing takes 3 – 4 days, depending on the weight of the turkey (go to the Butterball turkey for timing recommendations for your turkey). Thawing this way limits the growth of microorganisms that could cause food poisoning. Another method is to put the turkey in a warm water bath, rotating every 30 minutes. This method takes a couple of hours but requires your attention. In either case, keep the turkey refrigerated until you are ready to brine.
The brine is prepared in a couple of steps. The first step is to boil 8 cups of water, 1 ½ cups of kosher salt, 1 cup of granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons of peppercorns, and 8 bay leaves. Bring to a full boil, making sure that the sugar and salt have completely dissolved. After boiling, remove from heat and let the mixture cool for about 45 minutes.
This is important. Make sure you have cleared a place in the fridge to hold the turkey, the brining bag, and a container. Also make sure that your fridge shelves have space and are capable of holding 20 – 30 pounds (Turkey weight and Brining Solution). I had to remove a shelf to make room. Alternatively, you can use a cooler and ice. The key here is to keep the turkey and brine under 45 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 – 48 hours.
While the mixture is cooling, remove the turkey from the fridge. Open the turkey packaging. Butterball turkeys have a neat method of opening. At the bottom of the turkey package is a strip of plastic with two holes. Place a finger in each hole and pull away from each other. The packaging splits open in the middle, exposing the turkey. BE SURE to remove the giblets from under the flap of skin around the turkey neck area. BE SURE to remove the turkey neck from inside the turkey cavity. Store the giblets and neck in a Ziploc bag in the fridge for later use. Once you remove the giblets and neck. You can place the turkey into the brining bag. Move the brining bag, with the turkey, to a bucket for the fridge or move to a cooler for icing.
When the mixture has cooled, pour the mixture into the brining bag. The, empty six 12-ounce bottles of your choice of Indian Pale Ales into the brining bag. I liked the Sweetwater 420 IPA, which is a mildly hoppy IPA with good flavor. Add enough water to completely cover the turkey (8 – 12 cups). Placing the bag in a bucket helps keeps the bag upright and forces the liquids up toward the top of the bag. It also helps make the bag manageable. Cut the oranges into quarters and add to the bag. Add basil, rosemary, and thyme to the brining bag. Seal the bag and refrigerate. You will need to keep the turkey and brine under 45 degrees until you are ready to cook the turkey (at least 24 hours but not more than 48 hours).
When it’s time to cook the turkey, preheat the smoker or oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Layout a couple of layers of paper towels across an area that will hold the turkey. Open the brining bag and place the turkey on the paper towels. Using more paper towels, completely dry off the turkey, both inside and out. Once the turkey is dried off, place the turkey on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Tuck or tie the turkey legs, like they were when you originally opened the turkey. Brush the exterior of turkey with olive oil. Be sure to lightly coat all areas of the turkey that has skin. In the cavity of the turkey, place 2 – 3 sprigs each of basil, rosemary, and thyme. Place the pan into the smoker or oven, then pour water into the roasting pan until it reaches the level of the roasting rack. The water is important for keeping the turkey moist and preventing the drippings from burning.
The timing of cooking the turkey is really based on the size of the turkey. I like to use the Butterball Turkey website for guidance on the timings. They have a calculator that allows you to select your turkey size and provides approximate times for thawing and cooking. My turkey was a little over 15 pounds, which meant it should cook for 3 – 3 ½ hours. While the turkey is cooking, you will want to brush the turkey with melted butter once every 30 – 45 minutes. Also, make sure that the water level doesn’t dry out completely.
So, the recommended cooking time is merely that, a recommendation. You will want to measure the temperature by inserting a meat thermometer or probe into the thickest part of the thigh. The temperature should be between 165 and 175 degrees Fahrenheit. When the turkey reaches this temperature, remove the turkey and wrap in foil until it’s ready to serve. The turkey will stay hot/warm for an hour or two, while wrapped in foil.
You can use the drippings in the bottom of the pan and the turkey neck to make gravy. I turned that responsibility over to someone else. But a gravy is pretty easy. Simmer the dripping and turkey neck for 30 – 40 minutes. Remove the neck bone. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a thickener like flour or cornstarch. In the case of cornstarch, in a small bowl, place the cornstarch then add cold water. Stir until dissolved before adding to the gravy. For flour, sprinkle over the top of the gravy and whisk in. Keep adding until the gravy reaches the desired thickness.
I hope that you found this helpful. I plan on using this method in the future. The turkey came out moist with a great flavor.
– 6 Quart Pot (or Larger)
– Wooden Spoon
– Measuring Cups
– Measuring Spoons
– Small Bowls
– Silicon Brush
– Roasting Pan (Disposable is OK)
– Roasting Rack
– Brining Bag
– Bucket or Cooler (Big enough to hold turkey and brine)
– Paper Towels
Whole Turkey (Fresh or Frozen)
Kosher Salt – 1 1/2 Cups
Granular Sugar – 1 Cup
Peppercorns – 2 Tablespoons
Bay Leaves – 8
Basil – 3 Sprigs
Rosemary – 3 Springs
Thyme – 3 Sprigs
Oranges – 2 Large
Beer – Six 12 Ounce Bottles of IPA (Sweetwater 420)
Olive Oil – 1/2 Cup
Butter – 1 Stick