Sunday, June 12, 2011

A very special bird.

I am happy. I had a very special bird to prepare and I feel like I did it justice.

Our son and daughter in law used to raise chickens and turkeys on their 6 acres out in the country. A job promotion has resulted in the need to move and the result is no more turkeys and chickens for the foreseeable future.

These birds were raised in chicken and turkey tractors. These are enclosures without floors that can be moved around the yard to allow the fowl to forage for whatever they can find to eat in addition to the feed they are provided. While not the same as free range, I think they come close. This 18 ½ pound turkey may be the last of these home raised birds. I think that my preparation did this excellent bird justice and I'd like to document the process here.

I started by brining the bird. I used a combination of two brines that I had found from different sources. The first was provided by Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass. It starts with two quarts of apple juice and a cup of pickling salt to which I added garlic and onion powder. That wasn't enough brine so I made an additional 2 quarts with 1 cup salt and ¾ cup dark brown sugar. I put the turkey in a plastic cooking bag, poured in the brine and sealed it up with as little air as possible. This went into a cooler with some ice. I turned the bird periodically to expose all of it to the brine which pooled at the bottom of the bag. The bird was in the brine from 4:00 PM one day until 1:00 PM the next.

I removed the bird from the brine and rinsed it and patted dry before applying an oil rub seasoned with crushed Garlic,  Sage, Cumin, Coriander, Marjoram, Thyme and Hungarian Paprika.

Smoking was done in an 18 ½" Weber Smoky Mountain (WSM.) This bird was a perfect size to fit the grate and it was not necessary to stand it on its head like I had to do with the 26 pounder I did last Thanksgiving. I chose to use "Best of the West" Mesquite lump charcoal with chunks of Box Elder, Oak, Cherry and a little Black Walnut. The fire was built using the Minion method with a full chimney full of lit lump distributed on top of the rest of the lump and smoking wood. Since fowl benefits less from low 'n slow I did not use water in the bowl but instead foiled it to catch drippings. After adding the lit coals and assembling the weber with all vents wide open, it took about ten minutes for the smoker to hit 300° F. At that time I closed two of three bottom vents fully and closed the third about half way.

Once the smoker hit 300° F I put the bird on the bottom grate and watched temperature. Ten minutes later the temperature had already recovered to 255° F. Fifteen minutes later it had  dropped to 245° F and then started climbing slowly. At three hours it was at 277° F and I adjusted air flow for the first and only time. I closed the one partially open bottom vent just a tiny bit. The result was that at four hours when the turkey hit 160° F, the smoker had dropped back to 254° F. One thing I really like about the WSM is temperature stability once you get the hang of getting it set right. When I finally opened the smoker, this is what greeted me:

Here it is fully rested and ready to carve:

I covered the bird with a foil tent and put it in a slightly warm oven to rest. (Just the pilot - about 110° F.) I had to run to the store for a few things so the turkey wound up resting nearly two hours before I carved it. There was certainly no harm done. That bird is delicious. I carved some breast meat and took some dark meat off one of the drumsticks and both were tender, juicy and had a wonderful smoky flavor.

The meat just under the skin is a little salty. Perhaps I need to use a little less salt in my next brine. In all other respects it is exquisite. I'll need to set some aside for the next time we get together with our son and his bride so I can show them how much we appreciate their efforts raising such an excellent bird.

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