Backyard Barbacoa Tacos (on the grill)

These backyard barbacoa tacos made on the grill are a big hit any day of the week (not just Taco Tuesday)!

Do you love tacos? Do you consider yourself a grillmaster (or aspire to)? Then this Backyard Barbacoa Tacos recipe is a must try! Using your braising skills on the grill, you’ll look like an expert and wow your friends over on your next taco night (which should be every night, am I right?)!

WHAT IS BARBACOA?

Barbacoa is a form of cooking meat that has its origins in the Caribbean, but the style we are most familiar with is the one from Mexico, which originates with meats steam cooked underground. Some recipes call for beef from the head of the cow (such as beef cheeks), others call for goat meat (aka- cabrito). Since this backyard barbacoa tacos recipe comes from a gringo and his grill, I’ll be using a chuck roast because this cut of meat is much easier to find in the US.

A PLETHORA OF INGREDIENTS

Adobo and beef together. The barbacoa tacos begin!
Adobo and beef together. The barbacoa tacos begin!

While I tend to post recipes that involve less than 10 ingredients, this one is worth the exception and you’ll taste why. For starters, I dice onion, jalapeño, and mince garlic then sauté in a cast iron skillet on the grill (you can also do this in a frying pan on your stove). Once those are done, I put them in a blender with apple cider vinegar, lime juice, chicken broth, cumin, oregano, black pepper, salt, and cloves. Blend until smooth, which shouldn’t take long since we are using a lot of liquid. This mix you just made is called an adobo, which is a special marinade that consists of peppers, vinegar, and spices.

NOTE: if you’re keeping track at home, that’s 11 ingredients so far.

…AND THEN THERE’S THE MEAT

Now that the above ingredients have formed your adobo, it’s time to take your chuck roast and cut it into sections. We are using a 3 lbs. cut of chuck roast for this recipe, so you’ll either want to cut it into six or eight pieces. I like to put a simple rub of salt and pepper on these pieces to add additional flavor to the meat.

Sear the chunks of chuck roast in a large cast iron skillet (preferably the one you already used to saute the onions, garlic, and jalapeno.
Sear the chunks of chuck roast in a large cast iron skillet (preferably the one you already used to saute the onions, garlic, and jalapeno.

Once you have divided the roast into chunks, place them in a heated cast iron skillet and sear each side for a minute or two. If you have seen other recipes on my website regarding steaks such as tri-tip or New York Strip, you’ll know how much I value the reverse sear. It does feel a little weird to sear first and then slow cook after, but with this recipe it is worth the exception. Make sure all pieces are browned on each side.

Now that the searing of the chunks of chuck roast has been done, place them in a foil pan. I recommend using an 8×8 pan or something a little bigger, depending on how big of a cut of chuck roast you have. Pour the adobo in the pan. I like to add a couple of bay leaves for flavor.

SMOKE AND BRAISE ON THE GRILL

With the meat and the adobo together in the foil pan, place on the grill at 275 degrees over indirect heat. I used my ceramic grill which came with deflector plates to put over the lit coals to create this indirect heat. I put a couple of chunks of hickory wood in there with the coals for some extra smokey flavored goodness. Cook like this for four to five hours or until the meat is shreddable with a fork. The wait for these backyard barbacoa tacos will be well worth it!

At least 200 degrees is a good temp for shredding beef.
The barbacoa reached 200 degrees after almost five hours on the grill. Reaching an internal temp of at least 200 degrees is good for shredding beef. Using my Thermapen Mk4 by Thermoworks.

Since every animal lives a different life and some cows use their muscles more than others, each cut of beef may cook differently. If the meat is still not shreddable after four to five hours, then cover the top of the pan with aluminum foil to help expedite the process.

It’s also worth noting that you may want to flip the chunks of beef over during the cook so the chunks of beef are easier to shred since they have been braising in the adobo.

SHRED IT UP!

barbacoa shredded and ready to eat.
Make sure to let the beef you just shredded sit in the adobo for a little while before serving. That way, the juices soak up into that barbacoa.

Once the beef has been removed from the grill and sat out for a moment, start shredding the chunks of beef. I used a couple of forks, but you can shred with your hands (wearing some insulated gloves) or even a hand mixer if you wish (but that can get messy, so beware). Let the shredded beef sit in that juicy goodness of the adobo for a little while before serving.

Speaking of serving, I recommend offering up this backyard barbacoa on some warm corn tortillas and topped with diced onion, cilantro, and some green tomatillo salsa. Even give a freshly cut lime a gentle squeeze over the top and you’ve got yourself some amazing backyard barbacoa tacos you cooked up on the grill!

barbacoa yes!
Warm up them corn tortillas before you paint a masterpiece with your backyard barbacoa (and toppings).

THE RECIPE!

Backyard Barbacoa Tacos

Backyard Barbacoa Tacos

Tired of having ground beef tacos? This barbacoa recipe will transform your taco night from average to extraordinary! And it can all be made on your grill (or oven/stove if you prefer).

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Total Time 5 hours 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 chuck roast (3lbs.)
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 C apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 3/4 C chicken broth
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • FOR TACOS:
  • 25-30 corn tortillas, warmed
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, diced
  • 1 jar green tomatillo salsa

Instructions

  1. Saute onion, jalapeno, and garlic in cast iron skillet. Set aside.
  2. Create adobo (marinade) by combining apple cider vinegar, lime juice, chicken broth, cumin, oregano, black pepper, salt, and cloves in a blender. Add sauteed onion, jalapeno, and garlic. Blend until smooth.
  3. Divide chuck roast into 6-8 pieces, season, and sear pieces in cast iron skillet for 1-2 minutes on each side
  4. Place meat in 8x8 foil pan and pour adobo in. Add bay leaves. Place on grill at 275 degrees over indirect heat for 4-5 hours, turn chunks of beef halfway through the cook. Done when beef at or above 200 degrees internal temp or when beef can be shredded with a fork.
  5. Shred beef and let rest in adobo before serving. Serve on corn tortillas warmed on a skillet, top with diced onion, cilantro, and green tomatilla salsa.

Notes

  1. Chuck roast was used for this recipe. To go more authentic, substitute beef cheek.
  2. To make more spicy, either add more jalapeno or substitute serrano pepper.

Nutrition Information:

Serving Size:

2 street tacos

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 251 Total Fat: 12g Saturated Fat: 5.9g Trans Fat: 0.5g Cholesterol: 76mg Sodium: 282mg Carbohydrates: 15g Fiber: 2.3g Sugar: 2g Protein: 22g

Smoked BBQ Brisket

Up close and personal with a slice of some smoked BBQ brisket.

Ah, brisket. The cut of beef I was so intimidated by when I first started BBQing. Gotta admit, I was working the smoker weekly when I started and it took me months to work up the courage to attempt it. After an experienced friend of mine smoked BBQ brisket with me for the first time, it didn’t seem so scary after all. If you are planning your first attempt at this beast of a cut, you’ve come to the right place. If you’ve smoked your share and are researching different methods, I applaud you for staying sharp in the craft.

I’ve cooked many of these smoked BBQ briskets over the last four years and done a variety of methods. I love brisket and it may be my favorite cut of beef to do on the smoker. The process will involve some work, patience, and attention to detail. But don’t be intimidated. It’s fun!

THE SUPER-CONDENSED VERSION

I’m about to dive into the specifics of each step of the brisket cooking process, but if you want to simply read the summary now and skip down to the recipe at the bottom, well you’re in luck because here it is!

I trim off the silver skin on the non fat side, trim some of the fat off of the skinny sides, especially where the point and flat overlap. I trim down to about a 1/2 inch on the fat side, which is a little more left on than others but I Smoke it fat side down because on the grills I use the indirect heat source comes from the bottom. That fat layer on the bottom helps protect the meat from burning. It’s like the fat is sacrificing itself for the meat. I rub with a S&P based rub, something simple for beef. I don’t go too generous, but cover it enough. I spritz a few times during the cook with Dr Pepper, which I think helps with the color more than the flavor. I measure temps where the point and flat overlap, pulling off when it hits 195-199F. I let it rest for 90 minutes to 2 hours before slicing. (NOTE: don’t forget you can make brisket burnt ends too!) If you want to read the breakdown, keep going!

TRIMMING THE BRISKET

Brisket diagram courtesy of eggheadforum.com

I have another blog post in which I review this in more detail and you are free to go check it out. For the sake of keeping this post from being a novel, I’ll go over the important points for you to know.

You trim a brisket for multiple reasons: to enhance the smoke penetrating the meat, creating some tasty bark, and removing some thick portions of fat that don’t render. There is one side of the brisket that has a bunch of fat on it, this is called the fat cap. The other side will have some light sections of fat on it, but likely a bunch of silver skin.

If cooking the brisket fat side down (recommended if your indirect heat source comes from the bottom: pellet grills, ceramic grills, drum smokers), then I recommend trimming down to about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch. I’ve burned the bottom of many a brisket going fat side up because the indirect heat source came from underneath. The heat cooks hotter when its closer to the source. Having the fat on the bottom will act as a protective layer to keep the meat from possibly getting a thin, burnt layer.

If going fat side up, I recommend trimming down to 1/4 inch. The hard fats don’t render, but can add a little flavor to your slices.

Brisket all trimmed up (this view is fat side down).

Here are some bullet points to that I elaborate on in my brisket trimming post:

  • plan about 20-30 minutes for trimming
  • a boning knife is preferred for the trimming due to the skinny point and curve
  • trim fat side down 1/4 inch for cooking fat side up, 1/4 to 1/2 for fat side down
  • trim off the light fat and silver skin on other side of brisket. Silver skin will make for a tougher chew and keep smoke from penetrating meat as well.
  • don’t cut into the fat that separates the point and the flat
  • cut off any little flaps of meat on the brisket. These portions will burn to a crisp due to smoking for many hours
  • best to trim brisket straight out of the fridge. Fat will be harder thus easier to trim

RUB AND REST

Now that the trimming is out of the way, we can get to the applying the seasonings, or the rub as us BBQers call it. If using a bottle of rub, it is recommended to go with one that is more savory as compared to the sweet rubs which are great for pork. As for me, I like to go simple with brisket: 2 Tbsp kosher salt, 2 Tbsp ground pepper, and 1 Tbsp garlic powder.

While you may go generous on the rub when doing another meat such as pork shoulder, I like to go modest to medium on brisket to let the natural meat flavor stand out. Make sure to apply rub on all sides of the brisket, even the narrow thin ones. The crust will have good flavor and compliment the real star of the show, the beef.

Brisket trimmed, rubbed, and awaiting the smoke treatment.

You can let the beef sit at room temperature for a little while without the risk of contamination (unlike poultry and pork), so feel free to let the meat sit for about 20-30 minutes to let the rub soak in a little before hitting the grill. NOTE: before applying rub and letting meat rest would be a good time to get grill/smoker going.

TIME FOR THE LONG SMOKE SESSION

Get your heat source for your grill/smoker up to 250F using indirect heat. As far as smoking wood goes, I have a few that I like, such as hickory, pecan, and oak. To stick with traditional Texas-style brisket, let’s go with oak (post oak to be more specific).

Place the brisket on the grill either fat side up or fat side down (I prefer fat side down due to the types of grills I own: ceramic, pellet, and drum smoker. I explained this earlier in the trimming section). I like to put a water pan in the main chamber to help keep the meat from drying out (then again, I do live in a dry, desert climate).

I do like to spritz with Dr Pepper two or three times during the cook. To help the Dr Pepper spray better, open the can hours before spritzing. This helps the soda to go flat and spray better. I love the color it helps impart and the subtle flavor it gives the bark.

THE EFFIN’ STALL

During the first few hours of the cook, the meat temps will climb quick. Even at the 250F smoking temp, I’ve had briskets go from 50F to 130F internal in three hours. You would think with that type of start that you’re on pace to finish in two more hours. But the brisket will eventually hit a point that it’s internal temperature will stop climbing and level out. This is called “the stall”.

The stall usually happens around 160F. To get a deeper dive in the science of it, the folks over at Amazing Ribs have a great article on it. To summarize, the meat starts sweating and the moisture evaporates and cools the meat. With that said, this is about the time I stop spritzing. The internal meat temp will stay leveled out in this zone for hours.

The smoked BBQ brisket getting wrapped in pink butcher paper to help accelerate the cooking process.

There is a common method to push through this and it’s known as the “Texas crutch”. The Texas crutch is when you wrap the meat in either foil or pink butcher paper to accelerate the temperature the meat is cooking at and giving it no choice but to cook faster.

If going with this method, I prefer the pink (or peach) butcher paper as it allows air flow to go through while still retaining heat. Foil traps the heat and creates moisture inside the cocoon you’ve created and can cause the outside of the meat (aka-the bark) to get soggy and feel like roast beef. If you do go the foil route, I recommend unwrapping during the last hour or so of the cook to help the bark develop.

WHEN IS THE SMOKED BBQ BRISKET DONE?

Smoked BBQ brisket resting and begging to be sliced.

There’s some debate on how to tell when the brisket is done. Some go by time, others by temp, and those who prefer by feel. I don’t like going by time because every cut of brisket is different and cooks different. I recommend temp because it is easier to monitor throughout the process.

On a whole (or packer) brisket, make sure to put the meat probe in the section where the point and the flap overlap. Go halfway in. When the temps reach between 197-201F, pull off the grill and let the smoked BBQ brisket rest. At first, the temp will rise a few degrees while resting but then start to cool off. Let rest about 90 minutes to two hours before slicing. Speaking of…

SLICING IT UP

The flat portion of the smoked BBQ brisket sliced and ready to devour!

Whole briskets have two different sections of meat and the grains go different ways. I like to slice down the middle to separate where the point and the flat are, against the grain. Slicing against the grain makes for a more tender bite. Find the directions the grains go and slice the opposite way for the best meat experience.

Some say a good measure of a great brisket is the smoke ring and the color of the bark. While these features are aesthetically pleasing and quite photogenic, they don’t necessarily mean the brisket automatically tastes good. I’ve overcooked briskets that passed the eye test more than once. Also, I’ve had briskets with very little smoke ring and not as dark of bark but still tasted pretty good. Bottom line is, go off of flavor. If it tastes good to you, then you did it right!

As a reminder, you can use the point portion of the brisket to cube up and turn into mouthwatering burnt ends! Enjoy!

THE RECIPE

Smoked BBQ Brisket

Smoked BBQ Brisket

Brisket is the king of all barbecued meats. It can be intimidating to cook due to the time and cost, but this recipe will guide you and make you look like a natural to your friends and family!

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 12 hours
Additional Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 14 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 whole (or packer) brisket (11-14 lbs.)
  • 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 Tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
  • 3 oz. Dr Pepper (for spritzing)

Instructions

  1. Preheat grill/smoker to 250F using indirect heat and oak wood
  2. Remove brisket from packaging. Trim fat side of brisket down to 1/4 inch (boning knife preferred). Flip brisket over and trim off silver skin. Also trim off any random flaps of meat as they will burn during cooking.
  3. Mix kosher salt, pepper, and garlic powder together and apply on brisket. Apply more on the exposed meat and less on the fat.
  4. Place brisket on grill fat side down. Spritz with Dr Pepper a few times during cook. Wrap in pink butcher paper when meat reaches internal temp in the 160s to accelerate cooking process. Let cook for 12 hours or until internal meat temps reach between 197-201F.
  5. Remove brisket from grill, unwrap and let rest for 90 minutes before slicing. When slicing, pencil thin is the ideal width.

Notes

  1. It's best to trim the brisket straight out of the refrigerator while it's cold due to the fat being more solid and easier to cut off.
  2. After seasoning brisket, one option is to let the brisket rest for about 30 minutes before putting on grill. Some do this to let the meat sweat a little and let the seasonings blend in.
  3. If you don't have oak wood, other woods such as hickory or mesquite will work too (I like pecan with beef, as well)
  4. Measure internal meat temps by placing digital thermometer into the spot where the point and flap overlap. Push thermometer halfway in.
  5. If cutting sugar from your diet, spritz with beef stock or beef broth instead of Dr Pepper

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

20

Serving Size:

4 oz

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 330 Total Fat: 21g Saturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 120mg Sodium: 120mg Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 0g Protein: 32g

BBQ Essentials 2.0!

Another year, another BBQ essentials list! Not to say that the items I shared last time are completely obsolete, but I want to add to the previous list. Consider it an addendum to the previous BBQ Essentials list. Check out more products that I love to use when grilling and BBQing!

Thermapen Mk4

Don’t overcook food again!

For those of you that follow me either here on this website or on Instagram, you’ll know how much I swear by using a digital thermometer. I like to cook by temp, not time. Every animal has lived a different life, meaning the meat off of one animal may be tougher than another, which can lead to the same cut of meat cooking longer than another. With that said, I use my Thermapen Mk4 from Thermoworks on every cook I do. I get fast, accurate temps and backlit, rotating display that changes with the various angles I use to probe. And with how frequent I have used it over the past couple of years, I haven’t even had to change the battery.

You can get your very own Thermapen at the Thermoworks website.

Gloveworks HD Nitrile Gloves

The unique texture on these nitrile gloves helps provide a better grip, even when handling greasy food.

I’m constantly asked what kind of gloves I use in my video posts on social media. In my previous BBQ Essentials post, I mentioned nitrile gloves as a must-have. I still believe this and I have found a brand I have grown to love in Gloveworks HD. They have a great grip and have had some great customer service from these folks, which goes a long way in my book. I love using the black gloves, but they also have other colors such as blue, orange, and neon green.

Check out these Gloveworks HD nitrile gloves on Amazon.

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet

Smoked tri-tip reverse seared in a cast iron skillet is my favorite way to cook this cut of beef.

I love to reverse sear steaks and roasts. While the flame-kissed sear you get directly on the grill grates makes for some beautiful culinary aesthetics, I prefer to sear in a cast iron skillet for two reasons:

  1. I get that seared crust over more of the meat surface in a skillet as compared to only where the grill grates touch
  2. I can add other ingredients such as butter, rosemary, and garlic for the meat to sear in and capture that extra flavor

My Lodge cast iron skillet has been used plenty over the flames and has gotten better with each cook. And for that, I give them my super-duper-important seal of approval! I recommend the 12″ skillet because it can accommodate my tri-tips and other big hunks of meat. I have other sizes of these skillets for cooking other dishes in and love them.

This is the best price I could find a cast iron skillet at online.

Chef Shamy Garlic Butter

That garlic butter from Chef Shamy making these NY Strip steaks more flavorful!

Remember how I talked about using ingredients to throw in the cast iron skillet when searing? I consolidate the butter, herbs, garlic, and parmesan all into one with the Chef Shamy Garlic Butter (wow, that sentence sounded like a paid endorsement. Don’t worry, it’s not). I have made my own compound butter and while it’s fun to do, I also like to how this blend is done and having it readily available at the last minute. The flavors lend themselves great to searing steaks, spreading on poultry, making garlic bread, and other good stuff.

Check out the Chef Shamy butter online at Amazon.

Anova Precision Cooker

Sous vide cooking your steaks before searing on the grill is an excellent way to make your steaks! (pic courtesy of PCmag.com)

One look at this device and you’re probably thinking to yourself: what on Earth does this indoor device have to do with BBQing outside? Well, the sous vide method of cooking is great for getting the food evenly cooked before searing on the grill. There. Tied it in. Seriously though, the Anova Precision Cooker with WiFi (there’s also a Bluetooth version available) will take you from a really good cook to a great one! Wondering what sous vide is? To summarize, its a method of cooking food in a tightly sealed bag submerged in temperature controlled water. The Anova Precision Cooker lets you control the temp of the water it cooks in, so you don’t overcook it.

A few months back I cooked a steak sous vide using the Anova and then seared on the grill afterward. Have you heard of “fork tender” steak before? Try “spoon tender” for this one! That’s right, I straight up cut this one with a spoon!

Check out the Anova Precision Cooker at a great price.

Bratwurst!

 

Bratwurst are a simple, yet very tasty, meat to smoke.
Bratwurst are a simple, yet very tasty, meat to smoke.

If you’re new to barbecuing like me, you may feel ambitious and want to try smoking some of the bigger meats right away. While that is a noble attempt of us padawans, it is sometimes best to don’t go chasing waterfalls, but to stick to the rivers and the lakes that we’re used to. With those wise words from TLC, a simple, yet tasty food to smoke is bratwurst. It’s as simple as throwing them on the smoker for two hours. That’s it. You can stop there. Seriously. But since this is a website dedicated to learning to smoke, I will provide you the dialogue:

Meat: Bratwurst

Wood: Apple

Smoke:  240° F (or 115.556° C for you readers outside the U.S.) for two hours

Grill: Medium-low heat for about five minutes, turning once

When going to the store to buy your brats, a beginner to the ways of smoking might look for the brats that come packaged like this:

"These aren't the brats you're looking for." -Obi-Wan Kenobi, probably
“These aren’t the brats you’re looking for.”
-Obi-Wan Kenobi, probably

These are pre-cooked. You can fire them up on the grill and still be satisfied. But since we are smoking, go for the uncooked bratwurst that come in a package like this:

These are the brats your looking for.
These are what the uncooked bratwurst will come packaged like.

Once your smoking device is at 240° F, put the brats in the smoker for two hours. As far as the wood is concerned, that is a matter of your preference. I’m a sucker for apple wood and I love to use it on pork products. Whatever your preference, knock yourself out. With that said, you may be tempted during the smoke to lift the lid to turn the brats with your tongs, but there’s no need. They will smoke evenly. Also, you don’t want any of that smoky heat to escape, for keeping the chamber door open too long will throw off the temperature and you will lose some of that trapped smoke that is flavoring your food.

Right before the two hours is up, turn on your grill/light up your BBQ pit/heat up the stovetop to a medium-low heat. My grill is right next to the smoker, so I use that. I put them on the grill for a few minutes so they can get those grill marks and cook a little more on the inside just to be safe. Be careful not to keep them on too long or the skins of the brats will break and the juices will pour out. You DO NOT want to lose these juices because this is where the they get their flavor. The purpose of smoking them in the first place is to trap the juices and let the smoke seep into the sausages. With that said, a couple of my brats started to sputter on the grill. I noticed this because the juices dripped down unto the flame and made them burn higher. If you see this, it’s not too late. Pull them off and then you are ready to serve!

In the world of smoking, the end result we all covet is the smoke ring. I’ve smoked brats on a few occasions, but I’ve never noticed a smoke ring until this time. It might be a coincidence, but these are the best bratwurst I’ve ever had!  Each bite was bursting with those flavorful juices with a hint of apple smoke. I try to keep myself to a one-brat limit, but these were too good to eat just one. (Note: the bratwurst may have a crispy outer skin to them, which is caused by the slow smoking process. The insides will be just fine, so don’t worry.)

Ah, that coveted smoke ring.
Ah, that coveted smoke ring.

I hope you try to smoke bratwurst and see how simple and rewarding it can be. This can provide a confidence boost to beginners and fuel your ambition to tackle bigger meat (I hope that last part didn’t sound weird).

 

Smoked Turkey

Note: this smoke originally took place on 11/26/2015 

Smoked Turkeys.
Smoked Turkeys.

I’ve only been smoking for a few months, but foolishly decided to tell my mother-in-law that I will take on making the turkey for Thanksgiving this year. No pressure, just smoke something you’ve never tried for the main dish of the biggest meal of the year. A lot of people have turkey for Christmas as well, so this recipe isn’t just for one day a year. Here’s the recipe I used:

Meat: Two Turkeys  (8.5 lbs. and 14 lbs., respectively)

Brine: 3.5 gallons of water, 2 C kosher salt, 2 C sugar, 2 C apple juice, 1 Jonagold apple (sliced), 2 T rub, 1 T lemon juice; brined in cooler for 24 hours

Wood: Pecan, with a little apple mixed in

Smoke: 260° F for five hours, then had to put in oven at 325° F for 60-90 minutes to reach right internal temp of 165° F.

Since I had never made a turkey before, I learned some things in the prep that you all who are also new to this should know:

1: When shopping for a turkey, look for one with a label that says, “minimally processed” and/or “low solution added”. When talking about low solution, the rule of thumb that experts look for is 8% or less. You get a better quality turkey this way, which means better meat to flavor. If you can’t obtain one of these types of turkeys, it’s not the end of the world. I used one without these labels and it still tasted pretty dang good.

2: The turkey will come frozen from the store, unless you found a fresh one somehow. These things can take a couple of days to thaw out in the fridge (24 hours for each 4-5 lbs.) so be prepared. If you are impatient pressed for time like me, put it in a bucket or sink full of cold water breast side down. Average thawing time is 30 min. per lb. Note: make sure turkey is still in the package while doing this.

3: When opening the package, you may want to do so over a kitchen sink. That way, all the juices/solution/blood don’t end up all over your counter/floor/self.

4: There’s more to the turkey than meets the eye. It’s what’s on the inside. They shoved the turkey neck and a gravy packet up its butt, so you’ll need to get up in there and pull it out. Also, you will want to get into the north end and find the skin flap that opens to a cavity. Dig your hand in there and you’ll find a hidden packet full of giblets, which is a fancy way of saying liver, heart, and other “edible” innards. Don’t worry, you don’t need these and can throw the packet away. That is, unless, you desire these things. We don’t judge here on this website, so do your thing.

5: Brine the turkey, for goodness sake. I’m not fully sure why, but everywhere I’ve read online and folks I’ve talked to with experience say to do it.

A simple, effective brine is made up of 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of kosher salt, and 1 cup of sugar. In hopes to give it more of an apple flavor, I decided to improvise a little and added apple juice, a sliced Jonagold apple, some lemon juice, and some rub I planned on putting on the turkey afterward.

Brine ingredients (sans lemon juice)
Brine ingredients (sans lemon juice)

 Since I didn’t have room in my fridge, nor do I own a second one with extra space, I went the cooler route for the brining. This meant that I needed to add more water to make sure the birds were fully submerged, which also meant that I needed to add more of the ingredients. To keep the water temp cool, I threw in a bunch of ice cubes and put it outside in the cooler weather (which varied from low 40s to upper 20s over the course of 24 hours). The ice cubes stayed frozen and the water didn’t freeze, which I was happy about.

Time to brine.
Time to brine.

After taking the birds out of the brine, I patted them dry with a paper towel. I poured some olive oil on the turkeys and then generously applied Loot N’ Booty BBQ brand Gold Star Chicken Rub. I let them rest for around 30-45 minutes before putting them in the smoker.

Resting birds about 30-45 minutes before smoking.
Resting birds for 30-45 minutes before smoking.

You can tell it’s cold outside when the temperature gauge on the smoker has a little ice on it, even though it was under a tarp the night before.

Frosty smoker.
Frosty smoker.

After adding a bunch of coals, pecan wood, and apple wood, the smoker reached my desired temperature of 260° F and I placed the turkeys inside, breast side up, and left them untouched for the first two hours. Turkey, like most meats, can dry out during the smoking process. You will want to put a bowl of water inside the smoker to help retain the moisture inside the chamber (you will want to find a small, metal bowl that can withstand the higher temperatures). Since white meat can especially get dry, I put a mixture of apple juice and apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle and spray the birds about once an hour for the next three hours. Otherwise, you will want to keep the lid closed as much as possible.

After five hours, my turkeys hadn’t reached the desired internal temp of  165° F. In fact, they were down around 120° F. Most recipes I’ve seen show it to be almost done by this time. Maybe my temperature gauge on the smoker is lying to me, maybe it’s the 5,000 ft. elevation I’m at, or maybe a little of both. To get the turkeys to their necessary temperature quicker, I took them off the smoker, placed them in a foil pan, double wrapped with heavy duty aluminum foil, and put them in my oven at 325° F. This isn’t what I had originally planned, but desperate times call for desperate temperatures measures.

In the process of wrapping the poultry, I cut up a couple of pounds of butter and distributed one pound over each of the turkeys. I witnessed Aaron Franklin do this in a YouTube video and he explained that since turkey can be bland, adding butter helps keep it juicy and flavorful.

Butter, baby!
Butter, baby!

Now THAT is what I call a butter ball turkey!
Now THAT is what I call a butter ball turkey!

In baseball terms, my oven is "the closer" when it comes to finishing smoking some of the bigger meats. A Mariano Rivera, if you will.
In baseball terms, my oven is “the closer” when it comes to finishing smoking some of the bigger meats. A Mariano Rivera, if you will.

After spending just over an hour in the oven at 325° F, the birds finally reach the internal temperature of 165° F. I unwrapped it, let it rest for about 30 minutes, and then start carving away! I have come to learn that I love cutting the white meat way more than the dark meat. Dark meat has is very sinuous and full of bones and can be difficult to cut and pull the meat off of. Whereas the white meat cuts very well and you don’t have to worry about those extra surprises inside. I think I’d much rather eat the turkey legs and wings off the bone itself instead of having to carve them.

The turkeys were a huge hit and I received tons of compliments from the family members who showed up to devour it! Keep the leftovers (if any remain), because it also makes for a very good chicken noodle soup, substituting smoked turkey for the chicken, of course.

I am welcome to any questions or feedback you may have on this, so feel free to post something in the comments!