Smoking Can Produce a Delicious, Flavorful Turkey
As with brining, there is a lot of debate about exactly how one should do the smoking of a turkey. While the smoky flavor most people associate with good barbecue is typically produced by a hardwood smoke like hickory or oak, many prefer a sweeter smoke like that produced by an apple or cherry wood for poultry. I prefer to mix hickory and apple to achieve that salty, smoky flavor, while adding the sweetness of the apple.
To help preserve some of the moisture in this prone-to-dry meat, make sure you smoke with a water bath between the coals and the bird. If your smoker didn’t come with a water reservoir, simply fill a fireproof metal bowl that you don’t mind giving up with water, then place it on a rack between the heat and the meat. You can add seasonings and even wood chips to the water to further infuse the flavor into the meat.
A further step I’ve taken, after chewing on a few slightly-dry smoked turkeys, is to coat the bird in rendered poultry fat. Again, you’re most likely to find this, in the form of duck fat, in high-end grocery stores. Pat the bird dry when you take it out of the brine solution, then rub the fat in a thin layer on the entire turkey. Some barbecue experts will recommend applying the fat both on top of and under the skin before it cooks, then just on top of it as the bird cooks and the skin tightens around it. To get under the skin, peel it away from the meat at the top of the breast, then gently slide your fingers between the meat and skin, breaking the membrane that holds the two together on the breast. Only do this for a portion of the breast to ensure you don’t lose the entire skin, then rub fat on the areas your fingers can reach. As you cook, continue to apply the fat by rubbing scoops of it over the bird. It will melt as you do, coating the skin and creating a beautiful brown bird.
While most sources agree it will likely take 30-40 minutes per pound, the real mark isn’t time. Rather, it’s the 165 degree internal temperature recommended by the USDA. That should be measured in the thickest part of the breast, as well as the innermost part of the thigh and wing. Position your probe away from any bones, as those will get hotter than the meat and could give you a false reading.
When the thermometer reaches that magic number, you’ll want to remove the bird from the smoker, place it in a baking dish, and cover it fully with aluminum foil. Let it sit like that for 20 minutes before carving. That allows time to ensure the entire bird reaches the necessary temperature for long enough to kill any bacteria and for the moisture in the meat to redistribute throughout the turkey.