Last-minute Thanksgiving Turkey

    Smoked turkey is life!

As you’ve been browsing on social media, you’ve been seeing articles and posts from other people showing off their turkeys: talking about how excited they are for Thanksgiving, how they already bought their turkey, recipes they are trying, the intricate processes they plan on doing, etc. And then you find yourself thinking, “It’s the week of Thanksgiving and I still need to buy my turkey! It needs to be thawed out for days in advance! I’m not gonna make it in time! And I’ve got Christmas presents to buy! I need to find someone to spend Valentine’s Day with!” Well, stop sweating it because you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to guide you through this in a manner of minutes.

Thaw that turkey!

First things first: buy that turkey! Now! Turkeys come frozen at most grocery stores and they can take up to FIVE DAYS to thaw out in your fridge (depending on size of the bird).

Don’t have that kind of time? That’s right, you procrastinated. You’re not alone. Do what I do when in that situation and submerge the bird in cold water for 30 minutes per pound of turkey. For example, I recently thawed my 14 pound bird for seven hours and it was ready. Doesn’t that sound much better than two-to-three days for a bird of the same weight in the fridge?

For quicker thawing, make sure the turkey is submerged in cold water. Rotate as needed if bird isn’t completely submerged.

Just make sure the water is pretty cold and the turkey, still in its packaging, is completely submerged. The turkey has some buoyancy in the water, so if you can’t completely submerge it then it is okay to rotate it ever so often to ensure the whole bird gets thawed.

 

Turkey Tip: for faster thawing, submerge your packaged turkey in cold water for 30 minutes per pound.

 

Brine time

Once thawed, it is time to brine. Brining is the process in which you help meat become more juicy and flavorful by submerging it in a solution of water, kosher salt, and sugar. Some folks throw in more items to help add flavor to the meat, such as oranges, onions, bay leaves, etc. and there are plenty of brine recipes to be found here on the World Wide Web (that was originally lowercase, but autocorrect corrected me. Guess it must be capitalized).

I’ve heard folks say they brine between 24-48 hours in cold water. I do 12 hours (minimum) and have had no problems. The 12 hours go by much faster when you start the brine the afternoon/night before. That way, you can wake up, rinse off the turkey, and get to prepping.

Brine time!

 

Rubbin’ that bird

This next part is the least time consuming and will help with that flavor. I go simple and put butter and rub on the bird. My not so “secret” is to apply the butter and rub underneath the skin, that way the flavor is seeping into the meat itself, not just the layer of skin that may not get eaten in the first place.

I only apply to the turkey breast portion underneath the skin. The dark meat will keep juicy enough and will be more of a pain to get to. When done underneath the skin, put some butter and rub on top. While you are doing this, get your smoker up to temp and put your preferred flavor of wood in.

With the grill I smoke on, I prefer to smoke mine between 225-250F. I’ve seen others put in at 325F and that will be fine if you are in more of a rush. I like it a little lower and slower to help the meat absorb more of that pecan wood smoke flavor (NOTE: you don’t have to use pecan. It just happens to be my favorite wood right now. Go with whichever wood flavor you prefer).

Smoke times depend on the size of bird you will have on the grill. Rule of thumb is 20-30 minutes per pound of turkey (when smoked between 225-250F). So if you smoke a 14 lb bird, you’re looking at around seven hours. For example, I did a 14 lb bird recently and it took just over six. When smoking at 325F (more like roasting at that temp), it will take that same size bird just over two hours. Since this is a last-minute recipe, do what you gotta do.

Monitoring both meat and smoker temps from inside using my Thermoworks Smoke.

 

Checking temps

The best way to gauge the turkey temp is by placing your meat thermometer into the middle of the thickest part of the turkey breast, which is best to get to by sticking the probe into the top of the bird, about two inches away from the hole where the neck used to be. Look and feel for the thickest part and make sure you don’t hit the bone.

I love using the Smoke from Thermoworks to track temps in both the grill and the turkey. Using the wireless Bluetooth remote, I can watch the temps from inside and set alarms when temps get too high or too low. The USDA recommended finishing temp for a whole bird is 165F internal. The dark meat will cook about 10 degrees higher and that will be just fine. The dark meat doesn’t risk drying out as soon as the white.

This bird is about to be done! Right before I put butter on it and wrapped.

 

Make it extra tasty

Now that the bird is done cooking, I put the turkey in a giant foil pan and like to smear some butter on the skin then wrap with foil over the top. This way, the butter can melt all over the bird and give you both awesome color and flavor. Unwrap after about 15 minutes.

Turkey Tip: let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving.

 

Rest, then slice

Here comes the part that you should NOT skip (not that you should skip any of these steps, but this one is simple and can seem unworthy of your time): LET THE TURKEY REST! Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before slicing. The most important reason is to let the juices build inside the meat to provide that tender, juicy flavor you so desire come to fruition. The meat is muscle and after being exposed to higher heat for so long, the muscles need to relax. This is where the juices start coming. You slice too soon and you have a good tasting turkey when you could’ve had a great one.

From thawing to finish, this bird turned out pretty good!

I hope your turkey is out of this world good for Thanksgiving! And make sure you find time to get a date for Valentine’s.


last-minute smoked turkey

Quick thaw: submerge frozen turkey in cold water, 30 minutes per pound of bird. Swap out water and/or add ice cubes as needed. Also rotate bird if you cannot completely submerge to ensure even thaw.

Brine: at least 12 hours (NOTE: you may need double or triple this brine recipe to completely submerge turkey, depending on how large of a container you brine in)

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons rub
  • 1 Cup apple juice
  • 4 apples, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 clove garlic

Turkey prep: right before you put bird in the smoker (NOTE: if you haven’t already, now is a great time to get your smoker going)

  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons rub
  • Apply underneath skin on turkey breast, apply rest of mixture on top

Smoke:

  • 225-250F
  • pecan wood (or wood of your choice)
  • spritz with apple juice and/or apple cider vinegar as needed
  • 20-30 minutes per pound
  • finished when white meat hits 165F

Rest:

  • smear some more butter and rub on turkey, wrap in foil for 15 minutes
  • unwrap, let rest for 30 minutes before serving

 

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