Here are my tips for fixing the perfect bird for Thanksgiving, along with my Smoke & Roast Turkey recipe.
— If you have time, brine! Brining is easy to do (recipe below), but it does take a little extra time. Do not brine if your turkey is self-basted, flavor-enhanced or kosher.
— Turkey is done at 165 degrees Fahrenheit, not 180 degrees Fahrenheit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture changed the recommended safe internal temperature from 180 degrees to 165 degrees in 2006, but a lot of recipes still have the old 180 degrees. That 15 degrees is the difference between juicy and dry breast meat in most turkeys.
— Use an oven-proof thermometer to see when the turkey is done. I like pulling my bird at 160 degrees; the internal temperature will rise another 5 degrees as the turkey sits.
— For crispy skin, let your turkey air-dry before roasting. To do this you need to pat the turkey dry with paper towels and put in the refrigerator uncovered for at least four hours. Then rub a couple of tablespoons of canola oil over the bird before roasting.
— Use aluminum foil to protect the skin from burning. I keep a close eye on my turkey the last couple of hours of roasting to make sure the skin does not burn. Really, the best rule of thumb is that once any area of the skin is the color you want, cover it with foil so it stays that color and does not burn.
Smoke & Roast Turkey is a simple turkey recipe where you first smoke your bird for 1 to 2 hours for a little smoky flavor before roasting it. Don’t like smoky flavor? Then just skip the smoking step and go straight to roasting. Make sure you have aluminum foil, an oven-proof thermometer, a grill/smoker, and a plastic brining bag or a resealable plastic bag large enough for your turkey.
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Smoke & Roast Turkey
4 to 6 quarts of brine
1 natural turkey (thawed if previously frozen)
2 tablespoons of canola oil
Zest of one orange
FOR THE BRINE:
2 quarts of water
½ cup canning/table salt or 1 cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
Juice from 1 orange (optional)
Brining: Remove the giblets and neck from the body and neck cavity and then place turkey in brining bag.
Mix up 2 quarts of brine at a time by mixing water with brine ingredients.
Add brine to brining bag, 2 quarts at a time until the turkey is fully covered, and then seal bag.
Remove turkey from brine and rinse off in cold water. Pat dry with paper towel, and put back into refrigerator on roasting pan for 4 hours to air-dry the skin.
Smoking: Preheat smoker to 225 degrees. If you don’t have a smoker, you can set up your grill for indirect heat and put some wood chips in a foil pouch to add some smoke.
Take turkey out of the refrigerator and rub 2 tablespoons of canola oil on the skin, along with the zest of one orange (optional).
Place turkey breast side up in smoker directly on rack (no pan) and insert thermometer probe into the thickest part of the breast. Smoke for 1 or 2 hours, depending on how much smoke flavor you want. I suggest trying 1 hour the first time smoking a turkey and adjusting your smoke time to your taste the next time you fix a smoked turkey.
After smoking, raise the temperature in the smoker/grill to 325 degrees and roast until the temperature on the thermometer reaches 160 degrees. If your smoker cannot get to 325 degrees, use your oven.
Here are approximate roasting times to use after the bird has been smoked. Times can vary wildly, depending on all sorts of factors, so be sure to keep checking the temperature on the thermometer.
8 to 12 pounds, 1½ to 2 hours
12 to 14 pounds, 2 to 2½ hours
14 to 18 pounds, 2½ to 3 hours
18 to 24 pounds, 3 to 3½ hours
Pull turkey from oven/grill when the thermometer reaches 160 degrees, then let rest uncovered for 20 minutes before carving.