CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thanksgiving is in a short 2 weeks so now is the time to plan on making your best turkey ever. Today we will discuss how to make it like they did in 1621, exactly 400 years ago. Back then the Pilgrims and Native Americans didn’t have beautiful kitchens with double ovens, they either cooked on an open fire or in a hearth, otherwise known as barbeque. You can make that same delicious turkey like they did at home on a gas or charcoal grill, pellet smoker, or traditional smoker.
First you have to prep and brine your turkey and you’ll start that 2 days before Thanksgiving. For this recipe I combine many of your favorite fall flavors for the brine. When you brine any type of meat or poultry you are infusing liquid flavors into the product by immersing it in seasoned liquid and tenderizing it. Heat up some apple cider or juice, add in some brown sugar, Kosher salt, orange juice, cloves, ginger, garlic, and bay leaves. Set aside and let cool. Prep your turkey by taking out the neck and gizzards in the little pouch, and pulling away any clumps of fat. Then place the turkey in a container large enough then pour the brine in over the turkey. To speed up the cooling process I add ice and water, then pour over the turkey. Cover and put in the refrigerator for 24 hours but no longer than that but you can also brine for as little as 12 hours and get great results. The night before remove the brined turkey from container and place in a roasting rack in a pan and put back in the refrigerator uncovered. That will help dry out the skin a little so it’ll be crispier.
You will cook this the same on the grill or smoker as you do in the oven, 325 degrees for about 15 minutes for every pound of turkey. Take the turkey in the pan out of the refrigerator and let sit on the counter for about 30 minutes rubbing the surface with olive oil and adding enough broth to cover the bottom of the pan. Preheat your grill/smoker to 325, put wood chips or pellets in a smoker box, when you see smoke coming out put the turkey on the grill. I like to start breast side down for one hour then flip over. Poultry will absorb a lot of smoke so I suggest only smoking for about an hour so you get a hint of smoke but it won’t overpower the seasonings.
Check the temperature in the thickest part every 30-45 minutes and the turkey is done and food safe to eat when it reaches 165 degrees. Do not rely on the pop up thermometer, use an instant read digital one. The turkey will darken up due to the smoke and brine, and if you want to keep it lighter just gently foil it over when it’s dark enough for you. When done let it rest for 20 minutes covered lightly in foil, then slice. The best way to slice is to first cut off both legs, then turn over and take off the wings, then trim down the breast bone slowly cutting down and around until the breast comes off which you can then cut into nice even slices, then cut off the thighs and dig in!
If you want to add some potatoes, carrots, and onions to the pan just cut up and add in the last estimate 90 minutes. To make amazing gravy from the drippings just pour into a fat separator, then pour into a pot on medium heat, add in some additional seasoning and broth, then whisk in some corn flour until its thick enough for your taste.