Smoked Turkey with 3 Sauces

Summer in Vermont is the time to fire up the smoker. The process takes awhile, but that is an ideal timeframe for just about any social event. Luscious smoked turkey is served up with 3 sauces. Everybody likes a choice and it’s fun to mix and match.

One 12 to 16 lb Turkey
Turkeys in this weight range are a perfect size for smoking. They are large enough to feed a good size gathering, but not too large to fit in most home smokers. Birds larger than this also run into the problem of food contamination before they are cooked all the way through. Since the smoking is done at 225° to 250° this can be problematic. If you need to feed a larger crowd plan on cooking more than one bird, or as I like to do: garnish the turkey with a nice smoky ring of kielbasa.

The Sauces

These following sauces are a departure from the usual ketchup-based sweet barbecue sauces. I prefer sauces on the acidic side that accent the salty/fatty nature of smoked or barbecued meats. They require no cooking, and can be made in the same container in which you serve them. Mason jars are such handy vessels that can serve as anything from a wine glass to a table-ready serving container. Serve all of these sauces at room temperature.

Honey Mustard Sauce
This sauce leans more heavily on mustard than honey so that it retains some kick. Add more honey if you like it sweeter. This one is wonderful with kielbasa as well as smoked turkey.

½ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup whole grain mustard
¼ cup honey
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
¼ tsp ground cayenne

Place all ingredients in a 12-ounce Mason jar and shake well.

Cider Vinegar Maple Sauce
This is a Vermont version of the popular vinegar sauces found in North Carolina, and other points south. I recently enjoyed at great vinegar sauce on a rack of dry rubbed ribs at Central BBQ in Memphis. A few drops drizzled on the meat was all it needed. There is more here than you will need for one turkey, but it keeps indefinitely so it will be on hand when you need it next.

¾ cup cider vinegar
¾ cup white vinegar
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tsp pure *chile powder
1 tsp salt

Place all ingredients in a one-quart Mason jar and shake well. Shake this again before serving because the chile powder will settle to the bottom.

Spicy Peanut Sauce
This is a popular Asian dipping sauce that is great with dishes like Chicken Satay, Shrimp Spring Rolls, and grilled pork.

¾ cup all-natural peanut butter
¾ cup hot water
1 Tbsp raw sugar (or brown sugar)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp *chili garlic paste
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 inch ginger root, peeled, roughly chopped

Place all ingredients in a blender. Run until a smooth consistency is reached, and pour into a one-quart Mason jar. This sauce can also be made in a Mason jar; you just have to finely mince the garlic and ginger before adding it to the other ingredients. Screw the top on the jar tightly, and shake until combined.

*Time for a spell check. Chile with an “e” refers to the pepper and comes from the Spanish spelling of the word. Chili with an “i” refers to the meat dish. Pure chile powder consists of ground hot peppers rather than the mix typically found in supermarkets that contains oregano, dried garlic, and other additives. Chili-garlic paste is a product sold in Asian markets.

Brine for turkey
2 cups salt
2 gallons ice water
½ cup raw sugar (or brown sugar)
1 Tbsp pure *chile powder

Combine all ingredients in an insulated cooler—the kind you would bring on a picnic. Rinse the turkey well under cool running water; remove the giblets and reserve for another use.

Pull out the plastic or wire piece holding the legs together and discard.

Remove the plastic pop-up timer and discard. We will check the turkey’s internal temperature with a digital thermometer to ensure a perfectly cooked, juicy bird.

Submerge the turkey in the brine and add a couple of quart-size plastic containers filled with water and then frozen.

Alternately, you can add a bag of ice (leave the ice in the plastic bag so it doesn’t dilute the brine). Make sure you wash the outside of the bottles or bag of ice before adding them to the brine (you don’t know where they’ve been). Remember to leave some headspace in the bottles because the water will expand when it freezes.

10 volumes of water expand to 11 volumes when frozen (see photos).

Allow an hour per pound of brining time. This 14-pound turkey went into the brine at 8:00 p.m. and was removed the next day at 10:00 a.m. Rinse the turkey under cool running water, and dry it with paper towels. Let the turkey come to room temperature before putting in your smoker.

Rub the skin with some vegetable oil, and wrap the wing tips and ends of the drumsticks with foil.

Lower the rack in your smoker to accommodate the height of the turkey. If it doesn’t fit you can always butterfly it by cutting it down one side of the backbone and opening the turkey like a book. Place the turkey at a point away from the heat source. In my horizontal smoker it is at the point all the way at the end of the smoke chamber.

The fire in the smoker should maintain a fairly even temperature between 225° and 250°. Check your smoker periodically to make sure the charcoal/wood is maintaining a good even burn. I have a large supply of apple wood on hand as a result of snowstorms bringing down some grand old trees. I’d rather have the trees, but at least they are continuing to make a contribution. For fuel, use a good hardwood from a fruit or nut tree. Lump (not briquette) charcoal is also a great fuel. Never use starter fluid to start your fire; the smell and taste of the fluid linger in whatever food you put in your smoker or grill.

Cooking time averages about 30 minutes per pound. Be advised that there are a few variables to keep in mind. First, is whether the turkey is room temperature when you begin cooking it. If it is still cold from the brine, it could spend the first hour in the smoker just coming up to air temperature. The level at which you maintain the smoker is another factor that can generate significant differences in cooking times. The hotter the temperature: the shorter the cooking time. A range between 225° and 250° is a good target.

Insert a digital thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh joint periodically to test for doneness. When it reaches 165° remove the turkey to a platter and let it rest at least 30 minutes, uncovered, before carving into serving sized pieces. This rest will redistribute the juices throughout the meat that have been driven into the center of the meat due to heat convection. Covering the turkey will make the skin rubbery, and it doesn’t need to steam as it sits. There is plenty of mass in the breast to keep it warm.

I added a ring of kielbasa to the smoker 2 hours before the turkey was done. Kielbasa and turkey are natural friends and always enjoy each other’s company in the smoker. They play well together on a serving platter, and provide a nice contrast of flavors and textures.

To serve the turkey, remove the breasts from the carcass before slicing. You will be able to make nice even slices, and arrange them like a fanned out deck of cards on the platter. Remove the drumsticks and thighs, and slice them into serving-sized pieces. Pull the toothpick shaped sinews from the drumsticks and discard. Arrange all of the meat on a platter and serve with your favorite accompaniments.  Reserve the carcass to flavor a soup or stew. White bean soup made with a smoked turkey carcass is a treat.

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