Smoking the Bird a Real Challenge to the Backyard Chef

One of the best Christmas presents that I ever got was a charcoal smoker. My two sons carried out the largest boxed gift that I had ever received. I had no idea what was in it. Was I ever surprised when I opened it up.

I have been cooking outside for a good 40 years but, I had never tried to smoke anything before. This opened my cooking experience to a whole new world.

The most important thing about smoking is patience. To do it right, it takes time and attention to detail. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, the first thing that I did was go to Borders and buy a good cook book. I bought the book “Smoke and Spice” by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.

The first item that I decided to try was a Turkey. This is my account of how to smoke your bird.

Preparing the Bird; Take your turkey and thaw it completely. Then wash it both inside and out. I then stuff it with orange, lemon, and lime quarters. Some have told me that they use apples, too but, I have never tried them. I then take a string and tie the legs together. This is to hold the fruit quarters in. A friend of mine doesn’t put anything in his bird. He claims that his way smokes the bird inside and out. I have never tried it that way. I like the idea of keeping the bird moist that is why I use fruits.

You now take your rub, and with clean hands rub your turkey all over the outside. Be sure to get under the wings and between the skin and meat of the turkey. This is easy to do. Just peal back the skin in the breast area and place your rub there. Then pull back the skin over the rub. You can even do this on the birds’ backside. if you are careful. There are many different types of rubs. You have to decide which one you want. You might even try inventing your own.

Now you place the bird on the rack. Do not place it in a pan of any type. Be sure your rack is the bar type not the sheet type. This helps to let the smoke get to the bird.

Preparing the Smoker; In the tray at the bottom of your smoker, put in your charcoal. This will be anywhere from 20 to 25 bricks depending on the size of your smoker and size of the bricks. Remember you are smoking not roasting. You may even want to start out with a smaller number of bricks to begin with. You can always add to it later.

Between the charcoal and your bird rack is a drippings catcher. It is a pan that you fill about two thirds with water. I like to line it good with aluminum foil. It makes it easier to clean afterward. It also keeps it from rusting out over time. The pan keeps the drippings from the bird from landing on the coals.

The night before, I place my wood chips in a bucket of water to let them soak. You can use Mesquite, Hickory, Oak, Apple, or Cherry work great. You can even buy compressed pellets of Black Walnut, Maple, Pecan, Alder, and Sassafras. Do not use Pine, Cedar, and Spruce they have too much sap. Do not use plywood or treated lumber wood chips. You have to study what you use here carefully. The chips are what makes the smoke flavor. I prefer Hickory or Oak. The hard woods are better than the soft.

Using the Smoker; Once you have the coals well lit, you are ready to add your chips. If you use lighter fluid, be sure the smell has burned off before you put your bird in. I always let my smoker get started good about 20 to 30 minutes before I add the bird. The wet chips to the coals is what makes the smoke. As the chips burn up on the coals replace them with more chips. Be careful not to over do it. The bird goes on the next to top rack above the drip pan. If I can, I always like to have an open rack above the bird. If you don’t have enough room, then it’s okay to not have one. I like the open rack above, because I put sausage on it. The sausage drippings add a little more flavor to the bird. Besides, I like a good sausage during the smoking process to eat.

Be sure that air can get to your coals on the side of the smoker. Open the top vent a bit. This helps to keep the smoke rising up around the bird. The temperature in your smoker should be about 180 to 200 degrees. However, you must know what is right for your particular meat. They are all different. That is why you need to do your homework ahead of time. Temperature is critical as is the time needed.

For my bird, I will smoke it 45 minutes for each pound that the bird weighs. Let me tell you though. This time will vary depending on outside weather, consistent cooking temperature, size of the bird, and amount of the rub. I said early in this article that is important to be patent and pay attention to detail. Smoking meat is a challenge. You will get better each time that do it. At the end of the cooking session, remove the entire rack that your bird is on and place it on a plain roasting pan. Be careful that you don’t let the bird breakup as you take it out. You are now ready to move inside and start carving the bird the way you want.

Cleaning up; Let the smoker cool down and then remove the coals from the charcoal holder and clean. The drippings pan is different. Some people will use it for gravy mix. I don’t. This is another skill altogether that I have never done but, it is used for other things. I suggest you read up on it and see if it is something you would like to try. Regardless, clean your drippings pan well. don’t leave it set a few days. The water will eventually rust it out. Be sure to clean up your racks for another day.

The good thing about smoking is that you can do it anytime of the year. With the right recipes (rubs) and chips, you can become a master at smoked foods.

sources, Cheryl and Bill Jamison, “Smoke and Spice”

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