Harlan vs. Food Round One: The Thanksgiving Turkey
I’ve been on a bit of a cooking kick lately, as well as a “things a man should know how to do but I don’t” kick. On both of those lists for a while now has been the art of smoking meats. While I have been known to grill up a mean burger or chicken breast, I had until recently never dared to make a run at a brisket or bird. I have this fancy grill that I bought several months ago to replace my poor neglected grill, with the hopes that it would encourage me on the journey of meat. So far, it has.
In true Harlan fashion, I decided to test my skills on the culinary holiday known as Thanksgiving, because go big or go home, right? I was entrusted with the turkey (no pressure, it’s only Thanksgiving)…and to my delight, it worked out beautifully. Here’s the journey from bag o’ guts to table. This isn’t a recipe so much as a review of my experience. In the future, once I’ve got something tried and true down, I’ll update this to reflect my recipe. For now…take a look at The Domesticated Man, where I picked up this first attempt from.
I didn’t take nearly enough pictures of the process leading from the initial brining process to the aromatics that found their way in the turkey (but I’ll get to those).
The tool of the trade here is the Charbroil Gourmet Infrared 4-Burner Grill. While it’s not your traditional smoker, smoking on the pans of an infrared grill has had really positive reviews across the interwebs.
I purchased some Applewood chunks and chips to smoke with the turkey. Fruit wood chips are lighter in flavor than a Mesquite or Hickory wood, and don’t overpower poultry. The chunks were placed in a pan separately from the chips, which were given just a touch of water to delay their smoking over time.
These were placed on the grill with the turkey. One side of the grill, the side with the wood, was heated until the grill was 225, with the turkey side kept off. I also included beneath the grates a pan with about an inch of water, to collect the juices from the turkey for gravy (Mmmm.). This would allow the turkey to essentially bake while being infused with the aromatics and smoke from the heated side.
And on that note, we need to talk about aromatics. I used a mixture of onion, whole garlic, orange peel, sage, and rosemary, all placed inside the turkey to breathe into the turkey from the interior. This mix seemed to work well.
Once the turkey was on the grill and smoke was beginning to arise from the Applewood chunks, I set my timers. That’s pretty much all there was to it. Every hour or so, over the next three, I would turn the turkey 90 degrees. After three turns, all sides of the turkey had been exposed to heat.
As you can see, the turkey browned up quite consistently. But a good looking turkey and a good tasting turkey can be quite far from each other. I tested the temperature using a quick read meat thermometer.
Breaking through the slightly crusted skin of the turkey (which initially made me anxious that it was becoming dry), I discovered the meat to be sitting comfortably at 165 degrees at the breast, and 170 at the thigh. As this was the recommended temp to take the turkey off the grill, I decided to do so then, instead of risking drying out the turkey further.
The smoking didn’t quite go as expected, at least, I didn’t have the amount of smoke that I had hoped for. Despite this, there was a decent amount of smoked flavor coming from the most exterior cuts of the turkey. I did find that I got more smoke out of the chunks when they were placed directly in the pans or on the grates. The hard thing for me to balance was the difference between simply burning off the wood and actually achieving a good smoke from it. In addition, any attempts to put the chips directly on the grill resulted in instant coal, which I figured wasn’t desired.
Nonetheless, I’m happy I pulled the turkey off when I did, and as I began to carve into the turkey and take a few samples, I was delighted to discover a juicy turkey. Overall, it was a successful attempt that I couldn’t be much happier with.
Round Two: The Brisket. I’ll have a post soon.