Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Near Perfection: Maple Brined Cherrywood Smoked Turkey

Since it's never too early to start thinking about what to prepare for the upcoming holidays, we've decided to share our perspectives on the infamous Thanksgiving bird -- the source of much hype, frustration, and experimentation.

When it comes to turkey, it seems everyone is looking for the same thing – a perfectly browned bird with a crisp exterior and a lusciously juicy interior. We want it to taste great and produce collective “ooohs” and “aaahhhs” when it’s taken from the oven. And I'm not sure any of us really want to spend days and days of effort to get those delicious results.  Especially when there are so many delicious side dishes to turn our attention to!

But, the fact remains that turkeys are notoriously easy to overcook and they often come out of the oven dry and tasteless (Admit it, this has happened to you! It's definitely happened to us!). In addition, your typical grocery store turkey is a mass-produced Broad Breasted White Turkey, factory-farmed and injected with a slew of chemical antibiotics and hormones. So, it’s not necessarily the most healthy or sustainable choice.

So, what's a food-loving, perfection-seeking blogger to do?   Well, we think we might have some suggestions.

First, we opt for a locally raised organic turkey. These birds might be more expensive than regular grocery store birds, but they're well worth the cost. Not only are they good for the environment (just an added bonus, in this case), they are more flavorful than your average bird.  To add to the magic, we like to brine our bird for about 24 hours before setting it up to cook in one of our favorite “kitchen” tools, our Orion Convection Cooker, an outdoor barbeque tool that uses indirect heat, generated by charcoal, to cook (and optionally hot smoke) foods.
I should probably clarify before I begin all my raving that we haven’t been paid to talk about this cool gadget. In fact, it was just dumb luck that got us hooked on backyard convection smoking. We got the Orion Cooker a few years back after spending some time reading the entries in the Orion Community forum while looking for a recipe for ribs. After drooling over entries about succulent smoked ribs, brisket, and chicken, we decided we needed one for our very own. So, we splurged on one for our 10th wedding anniversary. And gosh, we’re glad we made the leap.

Not only does the cooker produce stellar smoked ribs and absolutely fabulous smoked summer corn, but it’s an absolute wonder for cooking turkey. Moist, juicy, and delightfully smoky, we’ve never had a bad turkey come out of the Orion. The best part is, we can produce a full cooked, smoked 12lb Thanksgiving turkey in about an hour and a half.

The biggest time investment we now put into making turkey is tied up in the brining process – and even that is pretty minimal. Our favorite brine is made with maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, and freshly grated ginger. It provides the perfect subtle flavor for the turkey, and it ensures that even the breast meat of the bird is ultra-moist.

And, oh my, you should smell it while it’s cooking… To. Die. For.

This bird was smoked with cherrywood for an early Thanksgiving celebration with friends. And trust me when I say that everyone was scrambling for the leftovers. We’ll be blogging about an awesome sandwich we made with some of ours in the next few days.

Since we realize that not everyone has access to a smoker or convection cooker, we’d like to assure you that a maple brined turkey roasted conventionally in the oven is also pretty darned impressive. For crisp skin, be sure you start the bird off at a high temperature (and unplug your smoke detectors for a bit) to get the bird nicely browned. Then proceed for the remainder of the cooking time at 350F.

It will take about an hour, but once your kitchen fills up with the smell of that delicious maple turkey, you will wonder why you ever did it any other way.

Maple Brined Turkey – Smoked or Roasted

And be sure to pay a visit to our friends over at Haute Apple Pie.  They're doing a Thanksgiving recipe round-up that shouldn't be missed (including our turkey recipe!)

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  1. I must look into the Orion Cooker - sounds like a little bit of backyard magic! Have you heard of the Weber insert Kettlepizza?

  2. Outpost - We've seen the Weber pizza insert and are intrigued. Know anyone who has tried one?

  3. I'm so impressed with that turkey, it looks stellar! I'm also coveting that cooker... I rarely use my smoker because it's an all-day project. That gorgeous browned bird in an hour and half does sound magical. And now I'm wishing for one of those kettle pizza things.

  4. Oh that looks so good! And sounds delicious! Mmmmmm smoked turkey! I've started brineing my turkeys a few years ago and it made such a huge difference. We've also noticed a big difference in flavor and moistness in fresh turkeys versus frozen.

  5. I took a cheese class where they made a delicious smoked gouda--another potential use!


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