The preparations for the Thanksgiving feast are well underway at my house. For many folks cooking this meal is stressful, hot, and no fun. Many years ago, I took some of the stress and heat out of cooking the Thanksgiving meal by chasing the turkey out of the house oven to a charcoal-fired smoker! The secret to a great smoked turkey, in my opinion, is in the smoking wood and green garden ingredients used in the preparation. Yummy turkey is all in the wood and brine.
It is thought wood serves three primary functions in plants; water is conducted from the roots to the leaves, physically supports the plant, and stores bio-chemicals made in the leaves. Wood is made from the products of photosynthesis. The rich blend of bio-chemicals from the wood structure and storage gives wood smoke its aroma when burned. In turn, the smoke imparts those complex flavors to food. Many a bar-b-que chef considers the selection of wood an integral part of the recipe.
For use with food, Choose hardwood such as oak, hickory, citrus, and maple. Soft, resinous woods such as pine, juniper, or other needled evergreens may contain tar which is not tasty and may be dangerous to ingest. Also, if harvesting instead of purchasing wood for the smoker, be sure the wood is free from harmful substances such as pesticides. Each wood conveys a different flavor; I use a mix of oak and citrus wood for a mellow but slightly fruity taste.
I smoked turkeys for years before I learned of the most essential step in producing a moist, succulent turkey – brine. My favorite TV chef Alton Brown recommended submerging a turkey in a brine solution that includes water, kosher salt, and honey before grilling. This recipe provides the basic how-to and ingredients. Check out the Butterball site How to smoke a turkey for the basic recipe for smoking on live fire or electric grill.
However, over the years, I have changed my methods and recipe. My brine recipe is now a dry rub-type concoction. It is mostly salt and includes the addition of garden-grown thyme, rosemary, sage, and a few powdered garlic and ginger. The dry brine is put on and in the turkey, generously inside and out. The brine is left to work its magic for about 24 hours before the turkey hits the smoker.
My family and friends claim a flavorful brine and long slow cooking with great wood in the smoker make the best Thanksgiving turkey ever. Yes, indeed, yummy turkey is all in the wood and brine.
This article first appeared in the Treasure Coast Newspapers.