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Avoid the Food Danger Zone When Smoking a Turkey

Turkey Sizing Guide

For smoking, you’ll want a bird that is around 12-14 pounds. Anything bigger will not only not take in much of the flavor you’re working to achieve, it will also take too long to cook, compromising food safety. That could leave the interior portions of the bird in the food “danger zone” for too long, allowing for bacterial growth that could make people sick.

As a further step to avoid that food danger zone, keep the bird in the refrigerator as you create the brine, only bringing it out when you’re ready to put it in your mixture. Since even a “small” turkey is fairly large, you may want to brine in a cooler with a lid that seals completely to ensure you have enough room for the bird and the brine. Wash your cooler out well with a bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water before and after you brine to disinfect the cooler. Ensure that after each wash you rinse the cooler thoroughly to keep bleach out of your brine and other foods on future uses.

Turkey Stuffing Tip

You’ll likely create your brine by boiling it long enough to get all the flavor mixed together. In that case, you’ll need to cool it to 39 degrees F or below before you put your turkey in it. That cooling can be achieved by leaving the mixture to cool overnight in the refrigerator or by adding ice to it, which is the more common method. Either way, you want the mixture at or below 39 degrees before you put your bird into it. Anything between 41 and 140 degrees F is in the food danger zone, the temperature span when bacterial growth is most likely.

To protect food safety, add plenty of ice to your brine once it’s in the cooler. You’ll want the bird to be completely submerged in the solution. If necessary, place a clean casserole dish and/or a couple clean plates on top of the bird to weigh it down. You may need to add ice to the mixture several times during a typical 8- to 12-hour brining to keep it at or below that 39 degree mark. Remember to keep the lid tightly sealed between those additions to maintain the temperature inside and keep out contaminants and bacteria.

For the next step in the process, click here to read tips on enhancing flavor when smoking a turkey.