Thanksgiving Birds on the Smoker

A couple of months ago, I promised that I would do turkey on the smoker for Thanksgiving. I had no idea it would be so easy! Last night, I stopped by the store and picked up two “self-basting” store brand turkeys, each 13.75 pounds. I partially thawed them in our kitchen sink, immersing them in running cold water for two hours. At the crack of dawn (6AM Central Time) I was out of bed to finish the job.

I had two hours to:

* finish thawing both birds
* prep each bird
* light the smoker and bring it to temperature

The turkeys needed to be on the smoker for a total of 4 hours so that meant “lid on” at 8AM (Central Time again) which made for an exciting ballet of prep work. First things first: get the water bath running again. Both turkeys went into the sink full of cold, running water. Next, I reassembled the smoker with only the bottom rack in place and the top rack set off to the side. I checked the fit and positioning of the center section and verified it was good so I separated the sections again. I lit one chimney of charcoal and went back inside, prepping some spices and oil that I’d need for the birds.

At 7AM I started to wrangle one of the still slightly frozen birds out of it’s packaging. Leaving the other to continue the thaw, I pulled the neck and giblet pack out of the center and started trimming neck fat, extra skin and “other” parts that needed to be out of the way. A through rinse was next, then draining, then drying with paper towels.

For the first turkey, I used Penzey’s Northwoods seasoning blend, a favorite of Tammy and I’s and something that’s rapidly becoming my trademark flavor. Northwoods went under the skin by the breast meat, and all over — inside and out. The final touch was an over-ripe pear, quartered, placed inside the cavity.

The second turkey was done thawing (it’s 7:30 at this point) so I stopped the water and went outside to assemble the smoker. I poured the fully lit charcoal in the ring and then filled it to the top with unlit briquets. This would allow the lit charcoal to slowly light the unlit charcoal over the four hour cooking time. The last step outside was to assemble the cooker and let it heat up. That gave me 45 minutes to finish the prep on the second turkey still thawing in the sink.

Turkey #2 was simple: oil on the skin and sprinkle with cracked pepper. This bird got two over-ripe apples inside the cavity, the idea that the apple flavor inside would combine with the apple-wood smoke during the cook.

By this time, it was 8AM and time to load the birds. I didn’t use a probe thermometer because I knew that I would need at least three hours to cook. Instead, I monitored the upper vent temperature and the temp at the access door. The cooker was 350?F when I loaded the turkeys and after one hour, it had only dropped to 310?F, a good sign but not right. At an hour and a half in to the cook, I propped the access door open by turning it upside down and using a branch of my backyard maple tree. That gave me about a 1/2″ inch gap at the bottom, just enough to boost the cooker temp to 375?F to finish the cook.

At the three hour point (11:15AM) I checked the dark meat at the thigh and drumstick and it had made it to 160?F so I knew we were close. Here’s a [picture of the turkey]( when I pulled it. Yum!

Right now, they are both wrapped in two layers of aluminum foil and towels to try to keep the temps up. I figure they will be fine until 1PM when we’re ready to carve.


Happy Thanksgiving!

2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Birds on the Smoker

  1. They were both delicious! It’s the first time I’ve really enjoyed dark meat from a turkey. The flavor of the plain bird with just the pepper was almost buttery. The Northwoods seasoned one had a light, spicy flavor to it. Thanks again for your hard work. The birds not only looked good, they tasted delicious!

Comments are closed.