Thanksgiving in the Upper Midwest can be summery or very much winter-ish, including snow and no-travel warnings. But whatever the weather, preparing the Thanksgiving turkey outdoors in a smoker, grill or deep fryer, is very doable - either you are out checking the turkey in shirtsleeves or in a down jacket. And it seems to taste just a little extra fantastic when you prepare it out in the fresh air.
If you don't already have one, an investment in a propane or charcoal smoker can start somewhere under $100 and run all the way to $300, $400, $500. Turkey deep fryers can start around $60 and run close to $200 for some models.
Brining a turkey before the smoking process infuses the bird with flavor and moisture. The following is courtesy of SmokeInDaEye competition barbecue team, based in Garden City, N.Y. (Twitter: @smokeindaeye; on the Web: SmokeInDaEye.com).
Brined Smoked Turkey
1 gallon vegetable broth
3/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue dry rub seasoning
12- to 14-pound turkey
1 cup yellow mustard
1 cup barbecue dry rub seasoning
Heat all brine ingredients over medium heat until dissolved and well blended. Cool in fridge until ready to use. In a large stock pot, place the raw turkey; cover with brine. Let soak in the fridge overnight, 8-12 hours.
Remove turkey, pat dry thoroughly. Rub turkey skin well with plain yellow mustard then coat well with any favorite barbecue rub. Allow to rest while preparing the smoker.*
Heat smoker with lump charcoal and 2 to 3 fist-sized pecan wood chunks or favorite fuel to approximately 350 degrees. Add turkey and cook until internal temperature in thickest part of the turkey reaches a minimum temperature of 165 degrees (approximately 2.5 hours). Remove and rest for approximately 30 minutes before carving.
*A charcoal grill can be substituted for a smoker by placing coals and wood chunks on either side of the grill, leaving the center cool. Coals can also be separated by a disposable aluminum pan filled partially with water and/or fruit juice, adding additional moisture to the cooker.
SmokeInDaEye also recommends these safety and taste tips for making a deep-fried turkey outdoors:
* Safety first. Place the fryer well away from the house and anything flammable like a wooden deck in case the hot oil spills.
* Test the oil levels. Adding 15-20 pounds of anything to liquid will make the level rise so your best bet is to test it in advance by putting the turkey in the pot then filling with water until the bird is fully immersed. Remove the turkey, noting the level of the water on the side of the pot with a permanent pen. Dump the water, dry the pot well (water and oil don't go well together).
* Don't go overboard with the seasonings. But if you must, inject the meatiest portions of the turkey using an injecting needle with a flavorful liquid such as white wine and turkey seasonings. Try to keep the injection light in color so the meat doesn't come out with dark streaks. Apply rubs the night before so the flavor can really absorb into the meat, otherwise most of it comes off.
* Oil it up. Once you're ready to get frying, fill the pot with oil (preferably peanut) to the line you made previously. Heat to approximately 325 degrees. When prepping the turkey, make sure it is fully defrosted and patted dry. Again, water and oil don't go well together and ice crystals can sputter out on the cook.
* Dress the part. Wear shoes, long pants, a long sleeved shirt and whatever else to protect yourself from spatters of flying grease or overflow.
* Be prepared. Keep mitts, a lid for the pot and a fire extinguisher on hand in case you have to remove the pot quickly from the open flame. Note, water will only make the situation worse if you have a grease fire. Suffocating it by putting the lid on the pot is your best bet.
* Once the oil is fully heated, place the turkey onto the rack provided, attach the hooked rod and slowly, slowly, lower it into the oil. You may want to wear a welder's glove to help with the heat, but the key is not to drop it in and cause a splash back.
* Bring the turkey to temperature. A good rule of thumb is three minutes per pound (for example, 45 minutes for a 15-pound bird). To be extra certain, check the internal temperature with a remote thermometer. Once it reaches 170 degrees, you're good to go.
* Rest it. Allow the cooked bird to rest 10-20 minutes before carving so the juices can redistribute.
And after you've consumed the day-of portions of turkey, SmokeInDaEye.com offers a savory soup to help use up the leftovers.
Southwestern Turkey Soup
One turkey carcass with most of the meat removed and set aside
1-2 gallons of water
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup canola oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 celery stalks, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 smoked ham hock
2 carrots, cut into slices
1/2 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Anaheim chile powder
1 cup roasted corn kernels
2 poblano peppers, roasted, deseeded and deskinned then sliced into matchsticks
Leftover turkey, chopped
1 (1-pound) bag of egg noodles
Heat large stockpot over medium adding oil and flour. Stir continuously to make a dark chocolate-colored roux. Add diced onion, celery, chopped carrot, garlic and saute approximately 10 minutes until fragrant.
Add turkey carcass and fill pot with water until carcass is submerged. Add ham hock, salt, pepper, bay leaves, chile powder and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer, add lid and let cook for approximately 4-5 hours. Remove lid, remove carcass, and add corn, poblanos, carrot slices, turkey and egg noodles. Simmer approximately another 30 minutes. Skim excess fat from top and discard. Serve warm or refrigerate immediately.
(Reach reporter Karen Herzog at 250-8267 or email@example.com.)