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Thanksgiving Turkey Dry Run...what went wrong

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I wait for temp to hit about 155 then open the vents and let the heat crank up for the last 10 degrees,
that usually does it for me. Wife is finishing off my new Grill-House so the next big cook on it will be
the turkey - the grill house is bitchin-cool and will house my standard AND my junior .. pix and/or video
will be posted of the final product.

Today we cut to size, then planed the 1x6 boards that will serve as the 'top'... we'll glue them and cinch
them up and cut the holes ... once installed I'll re-sand the tops again before staining and inserting the
Kamado - also got a real cool light fixture for it.

We laid down some pavers first for the project - all-in-all this is taking us about a month of weekends
plus and hour or so every few nights to wrap it up - we're in our 60's so it takes us a while... but the wife
does good work...

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Basically the way we've done Turkey for a while.  I spatchcock it at minimum.  Other times I've quartered the Turkey into Breast/wing and Thigh/legs.


Barbecue Turkey And Grilled Turkey: The Ultimate Turkey Recipe. Easily Adapted To Cooking Indoors.

more than enough for 8 people


1 turkey, any size

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt per pound of meat only if the meat has not been pre-salted

4 ounces [113 gm] or so of hardwood or fruitwood

Ingredients for the gravy

This gravy is essentially a rich concentrated smoky turkey stock that will penetrate the meat, not just sit on top of it. Once you try it you will never go back to the thick floury wallpaper paste again. You will have more than you need when you are done, so you can use it in soups or pot pies or risotto. The recipe here has a lot of room for improvisation.

3 quarts [2.8 L] water

1 cup [237 ml] apple juice

2 onions, skin on, ends removed, cut into quarters

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch lengths

1 rib of celery, leaves and all, cut into 2 inch lengths

1 tablespoon [15 ml] dried sage leaves, crumbled (do not use powdered herbs, they can cloud the broth)

1 tablespoon [15 ml] dried thyme leaves

2 whole dried bay leaves

Ingredients for the wet rub

4 tablespoons of Simon & Garfunkel rub

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil or olive oil

About the liquids. You can substitute some of the water with chicken stock, vegetable stock, or a bottle of a white wine. I often get a white wine from the closeout bin of the local liquor store. Oxidized white wine is fine; in fact I think it adds depth. Just don't use anything that has turned to vinegar. And never use red wine unless you want purple turkey! I have occasionally added mushrooms and ancho chiles to the gravy, too. You can substitute a small handful of celery leaves for the celery rib. This is a good way to get rid of them.

About the onion skins. Onion skins contain a pigment that darkens the gravy. Using them in making stocks is an old chef trick. In fact they are sometimes used as fabric dyes. If the skins are musty, or the underlayer is mushy or rotten, discard them.

Add no salt. Drippings from the meat will have salt, so wait until you taste the final gravy and add salt at the end if you think it needs more.

About Simon & Garfunkel. If you don't want to bother making Simon & Garfunkel (you really should have a bottle on hand at all times), just use a simple blend of herbs, perhaps 1.5 tablespoons finely chopped or powdered sage (fresh or dried) and 1.5 tablespoons thyme leaves (fresh or dried).

Overview of the science of roasting turkey

The goal is moist tender turkey, with clean turkey flavor and delicate smoke and herb flavors in the background, and crispy skin. That simple.

Turkey poses several problems that we can solve by thinking scientifically. My methods differ drastically from tradition, but if you follow my guidelines you can make this flightless bird soar above the flock. Here is an overview from 30,000 feet. I will discuss each concept in detail, below.

1. Do not take risks with the Thanksgiving dinner. I know you want to show off, but please resist the temptation. Play within yourself. Keep it simple. Don't go crazy with powerful injections and rubs that hide the natural flavor of the bird. Don't try to do too much. Don't embarrass yourself trying to show off.

2. The single most important thing to turkey success is not overcooking or undercooking it even the slightest. Overcooking means cardboard and undercooking means tummy aches or worse. To be sure that we hit this bullseye, use a good digital instant read thermometer not the popup thermometer. And do not use inaccurate techniques like wiggling the legs or looking at the color of the juices or meat.

3. Do not stuff the bird or put anything in the cavity. When you stuff the bird it takes far longer for the heat to travel to the center of the stuffing and in the process the exterior gets way too hot and the meat gets overcooked. By leaving the cavity empty the heat and smoke flavors can enter the cavity, cooking the bird much faster and more evenly without overcooking. Onions and oranges in the cavity do very little to enhance flavor and they just block airflow. To bring flavor to the cavity, sprinkle the meat with spices and herbs.

4. Treat the crowd to "muffings" by cooking the stuffing in muffin pans and serve everyone an individual muffin shaped stuffing serving, crunchy all over.

5. If your turkey is not labeled "basted", "self-basted", "enhanced", or "kosher", help the proteins hold onto liquid with a dry brine. We will not waste money making a wet brine loaded with apple juice, sugar, and spices that can't penetrate muscle. But the proper amount of salt is a game changer.

6. Even if it has been injected with a saline solution at the factory, and chances are that it has, you can still amp up boring birds by injecting them with butter. We will not go crazy and inject all manner of spices and other flavors that will only mask the flavor of the meat. All we want to do with the injection is keep the meat moist.

7. Because herbs and spices cannot get very far past the skin, we will use a rub of oil and aromatic herbs under the skin to baste and add more flavor to the skin and the surface of the meat.

8. Add oil and herbs to the outside of the skin to help make it crispy and boost flavor.

9. Do not place the bird inside a roasting pan. Instead place it above a roasting pan so air can flow all around it, cooking and browning it properly on the underside. On a grill or smoker, putting the pan under the grate is perfect.

10. Strongly consider butterflying (a.k.a. spatchcocking) the bird. I know this is radical and might give Aunt Matilda conniptions, but it guarantees a moister bird, more delicious brown surfaces, and cooks much faster (that's why it is moister). And it looks cool.

11. If you cook the bird the traditional way, whole, like the Normal Rockwell bird, do not truss or tie the bird. Let the entire surface brown, even the armpits and crotch, because nobody wants to eat rubbery skin. This will help the thighs and drumsticks cook faster because they need to be cooked to a higher temp than the breasts.

12. Roast the bird as close to 325°F as your grill/pit/smoker/oven will let you. It will cook in a humid, aromatic, smoky atmosphere to hold in moisture and add flavor. It will be done faster than you think.

13. Prevent the wing and drumstick ends from burning by covering them with foil for part of the time.

14. Do not cook breast side down as has become popular. It just doesn't help, and in fact it harms.

15. Do not baste during cooking. It just makes the skin soft. By oiling the skin at the start and by cooking at the right temp, you will still get a beautiful crisp brown skin.

16. Use a digital thermometer to monitor the bird's temperature to make sure it is not overcooked, and not the plastic popup that is inaccurate an often set 20°F too high, guaranteeing breast meat drier than week-old stuffing.

17. Remove the turkey from the heat at 160°F instead of 170°F to 180°F as most recipes recommend, and it still will be safe. Juicier too. The USDA revised its guidelines in 2006 so most cookbooks are out of date.

18. Do not tent it with foil when it is finished cooking because the steam trapped under the foil softens the skin. Resting does not redistribute juices and any that spill will not be wasted. See all that steam? It is moisture that you want in the meat! Serve it hot and moist. Don't let it sit around cooling and drying out.

19. Do not slice the breasts while they are still on the bird. That is cutting with the grain and makes the meat stringy when you chew. Instead, remove each breast lobe and slice it across the grain, making it more tender and making sure each slice has a strip of skin on it.

20. Instead of a gloppy starchy sauce, make a succulent thin gravy the way you would make a soup stock, with giblets and trimmings from the bird, onions, carrots, celery, and more. We will put them in a pan under the bird to catch its sexy smoky drippings. Let the gravy remain thin and potent so it can infiltrate between the muscle fibers rather than sit on top like a lump. Hot thin gravy will also warm the meat if it has cooled off too much. You will make enough gravy so we can still use it to make that thick flour-based goo if the traditionalists insist, and it will be better than ever because the base is so much tastier than just plain drippings. And there will still be enough gravy for leftovers.

Preparing the gravy

The ingredients list is at the top of the page. If you wish, you can do this a day in advance.

Whatever you do, don't skip the gravy. I know this whole approach may sound a little goofy, but trust me: This nectar is a show stopper. First time out of the gate, follow my recipe closely until you get the concept.

This gravy is not the thick and pasty stuff made with flour that sits on top of the meat and forms pudding skin. This gravy is a jus, thin, flavorful broth that penetrates the meat, making it incredibly moist and tasty. And if Granny insists on the thick glop, there is more than enough of my gravy to mix with flour to make her happy. I'll show you how, reluctantly, below.

There is almost always leftover gravy that you can freeze. It makes a killer soup base or stock for cooking rice, risotto, couscous, or whenever a recipe calls for stock. I use it to make the gravy for turkey pot pies with the leftovers.

The Turkey

1. Crank your oven/grill/pit up to 325°F or as close as possible as measured at the level of the cooking grate by a digital thermometer. Do not measure the temp using the cheap thermometer in the lid unless you plan to eat the lid. There can be a great difference between the grate temp and the lid temp.

2) When it is hot, clean the grate you will cook the bird on before you put the drip pan in. Week-old grease and gunk the cooking grates will not add the kind of complexity you want in your gravy. Now put the drip pan and all the gravy fixins onto the cooker at least 2 to 3" below the bird if possible.

3) If you have a leave-in digital thermometer with a probe on a wire, insert the probe into the breast so the tip is in the center of the thickest part of the breast, being careful not to touch the ribs. Digital thermometers have small sensors and they are very close to the tip, so they are by far the best. The sensitive areas of a dial thermometer are too big to be accurate.

4) Now add your smoke wood. Turkey loves smoke, but too much can ruin it in a hurry, and there is is a fine line. The first time you try this recipe I beg you to go easy on the smoke wood. Overdo it and the bird will taste like an ashtray.

I've had good luck with apple, alder, peach, cherry, and oak. Avoid mesquite, and hickory. They'll work, but I think they're a bit too strong for delicate lean meats like turkey.

On a charcoal grill or smoker, you may not need to add wood at all. The charcoal will probably give you all the smoke flavor you need. If you do add wood, you can toss it right on the coals. 2 to 4 ounces by weight should be enough. Smoke adheres to wet surfaces, so add the wood at the start of the cook.

On a gas grill you'll need 4 to 8 ounces of wood. You may decide after tasting it that you want more on your next cook, but don't ruin the first one with too much smoke.

On my gas grill I usually place one golf-ball sized chunk of wood right on a burner in the flame. Chunks smolder slowly, but if you do not have chunks, you can use chips or pellets.

To use chips or pellets, toss them in a disposable aluminum pan and put it as close to the flame as possible. Click here for more on The Science of Wood. There is no need to soak the wood. Wood does not absorb much water. That's why they make boats out of it. Let the wood catch on fire. Burning wood makes better tasting smoke than smoldering wood.

5) Place the bird on the cooking rack, breast side up, close the lid and don't open it for an hour. That means no basting. Not if you want crispy skin. Remember, basting just makes the skin wet and soft.

6) Check the progress and when the wing tips and drumstick tips look nice and brown, after 30 to 60 minutes, grab 4 pieces of aluminum foil, each about 8" square, and coat one side with vegetable oil so it won't stick. Cover the tops of the wings and drumsticks with the foil. You did lop off the wing tips and toss them in the gravy, didn't you? The foil will keep these skinny parts from burning.

If you don't have a thermometer on a wire already in the breast, spot check the temperature with a good digital instant read thermometer by inserting the probe into the deepest part of the breast. Push the tip past the center and pull it out slowly. The lowest temp is the one to watch for. You can do this occasionally as needed. You won't harm anything by peaking.

If necessary, add a quart of boiling water to the gravy pan. Don't add cold water or you can cool off the cooking chamber. Make sure there are at least 2 inches of liquid in the pan at all times. Do not let the onions and other solids in the pan burn! Let them get dark, but not black. 

Carefully remove the gravy pan from the cooker. Pour it through a strainer into a large pot or saucepan. I use the OXO Fat Separatorshown here. On the fat separator, when you remove the red plug, clear stock rises up the spout and when you pour, the fat gets left behind. If you don't have a fat separator, use a large spoon or basting bulb to remove most of the fat. You'll never get it all, so don't obsess. Discard the solids. They have given you their all. Let it sit for about 10 minutes. Now taste the juice under the fat. It should be rich and flavorful. If you find it too weak bring it to a boil and cook it down a bit. Taste again and add salt only at the last minute. If you add salt and then reduce it, it will be too salty.

How to make Granny's gravy

I think I have made a strong case for a thin gravy that actually penetrates meat, but if you absolutely must make traditional thick gravy, here's how:

1) Take about 4 tablespoons of the melted turkey fat and/or butter and put it in a saucepan over medium heat with 4 tablespoons of flour (the ratio is 1:1). Flour tastes better than cornstarch if you do this properly. Whisk the flour until the mixture is smooth, and keep whisking until it starts to turn pale amber, about 3 minutes. This is called a medium roux. The browning cooks the flour and kills the pasty flavor. You can make it richer by cooking it longer and letting it get darker, but don't let it turn brown.

2) Slowly pour 1 cup [237 ml] of the smoked pan drippings into the roux, whisking it over medium heat as you pour, and keep whisking until it thickens and all lumps are gone.

3) Taste it before you add anything. You will probably want to add another cup of the thin gravy. You should not need to add salt and pepper. This should make the traditionalists very happy because this smoky, enriched stock will make a better gravy than any they ever had.

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