The Thanksgiving Turkey Project – Prep

I’m cooking a turkey on my smoker for Thanksgiving this year. This continuing blog post will track my practice. If you, like me, have wanted to cook a turkey on a grill, I invite you to follow along and learn from my successes and trials.

Lots of people I know have smoked or otherwise cooked turkeys on their grills for Thanksgiving. I never have; when I bought the Mak 2 Star General last winter I planned on changing that. So, I’ve been pondering and thinking about how to do it. We normally have a load of folks over for the day and I’m not a fan of cooking things for the first time for anyone, much less a big party on a big day where the primary symbol of the day is that big hunk ‘o bird.

I knew I’d want to practice and planning ahead last month, this was to be the weekend. Of course it turns out to be the hottest weekend of the year. But, I ordered the turkey earlier in the week and I’m going to go through with it.

The Plan
I’ve been a fan of Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn and his site. When I wanted to produce killer ribs, I used his Last Meal Ribs recipe to great effect. So, it was normal to use his turkey recipe for this meal. The basis for the cook can be found here. Refer to that recipe for details on  the measurements and what-not  I’m going to start from this and make adjustments from there.

His recipe calls for 3 main steps: Preparing a brine, preparing the gravy, cooking the bird. The brining, , prepping, and cooking takes a couple of days. Here is a quick chart of the plan.

This looks like a mini go-live plan for a project at work.
Given that the turkey needs to defrost for a few days, this will be a 5 day process.


Procuring a turkey
If I’m going to cook a turkey, I’d have to find a turkey. As you might suspect this is not an easy thing to do in late August, early September. On Tuesday morning I called my butcher at New Season’s Market and asked if they had a 15  – 16 lb bird. I want a pretty straightforward bird; not kosher, not injected, just plain turkey. The butcher said they had two turkeys in the freezer 17 1/2 lbs and 18 1/2 lbs. Bigger than I wanted, but a 15 pounder would be a special order that would take a week to deliver. I asked him to hold the smaller bird for me; he warned me that it was frozen solid. He took it out of the freezer and put it in the walk-in cooler for me and I came by to pick it up Wednesday evening after work.

He wasn’t lyin’; this was one big frozen bird. Leaving it in the wrapping I put the turkey in a tray in the bottom shelf of the garage refrigerator.

The frozen turkey Wednesday night

Thursday night it was still a big ball of ice, so I took it out of the fridge and put it under running cold water for an hour. Improvement.

Under cold running water for an hour

Friday night I got home and I could still feel firmness and ice crystals, so I  put it under running cold water for another hour and a half.

Using the pan in the bathtub is great; it gets to stay in cold water that way

Now it’s ready. It’s back in the refrigerator while I prepare the brine. Where am I going to brine a 17 pound turkey? I asked myself that very question a few years ago. I may have got the idea from Alton Brown, I’m not sure; but using a 5 gallon athletic drink container is perfect. It’s been sitting out in the shed for a few years so it needed some cleaning.

The brining receptacle. The turkey will fit perfectly in the bottom

Friday Night
Preparing the brine
This brine calls for dissolving 7 cups of pickling salt and 2 cups of brown sugar in a gallon of water. Later we’ll add more water and ice to dilute the brine. I looked at that “7 cups” and thought “Wow, that’s a lot of salt”, but didn’t think much of it.  We’ll add another gallon of water and 3 gallons of ice cubes for the brine, so we may be okay. Then I measured out 7 cups of salt. OMG, that is a LOT of salt. Meathead calls for using warm water with the salt and sugar get it all dissolved. Yeah, good luck. I even used my immersion blender to help the process along. I put the lid on the container and shook it to help the process along. That wasn’t happening; I added another 2 quarts of water and heated the solution up to just short of boiling, Still not complete dissolution.

The brine ingredients. Mark the water level.
After adding the salt and sugar. Look at the water and salt levels now.
Accidental picture, but I kind of like it.

I then went back to an older Alton Brown / Good Eats recipe that I used for brining a few years ago. That recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar in 2 gallons of liquid. Okay, I’m using way too much salt. I scooped out over a cup of salt from the bottom of the pan and reserved the rest of the liquid.

After simmering, still not dissolved
Most of the undissolved salt

I suspect tomorrow morning I’ll have more salt that precipitates out. That will be just fine; I’ll take what I get. We won’t know until the eating, but if this ends up too salty, I’ll revert to Alton Brown’s brine.

Preparing this brine took over an hour, not counting the time I had to go to the store because I forgot to check if I had 7 CUPS OF SALT!
Links to other pages of the project

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