Turkey Tips

by zydecopaws on November 23, 2010

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We celebrated Thanksgiving a bit early this year as Oldest Daughter only has Thursday off and we were planning on being at the lake. For some reason she didn’t want to drive 3+ hours one way for a meal, then drive the 3+ hours back on a full stomach. Kids these days…

So the wife gave me permission to cook the turkey outdoors again this year, and with that in mind I figured I would not only share the cook but provide some timely tips for those of you out there that might be inclined to put a little live fire into your Thanksgiving celebration.

First off you’re going to need some live fire. This year the Mothership (Weber Ranch Kettle) got the call to duty; there is something about a 3-foot diameter grill that begs to cook large meals. And my first tip is to make sure you have more than one charcoal chimney on hand if you own more than one grill, or a monster one of this size. If nothing else, you can get cool pictures like this:

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In my experience, turkeys cook best when roasted in the 275-325°F range. Since we weren’t smoking it, I targeted 325°F for the dome temperature and set up for indirect cooking by lining both sides of the grill with hot coals over unlit coals and some nice wine-oak smoke wood. Tip number two: don’t leave the grill unattended for too long at the beginning of the cook or your coals get a bit too warm.

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Tip number three is don’t attempt to modify a hot grill while cooking a holiday meal, especially one the size of the Mothership. Lets just say that you don’t need the extra stress of visits to the hardware store when you can’t find your unibit, and that hot lids of that size are very unwieldy. But I will say that the Mothership now has a thermometer mounted in the center of the top vent and temperature control is much easier now. And that aluminum turkey tent kept any metal shavings from falling into the meal.

Tip four involves the use of aluminum foil (or a turkey tent) throughout the cook to keep the skin and wings from getting burnt. If you are using foil, make a loose-fitting tent that lets air in but covers most of the bird where it faces the coals. You won’t have to do this for the whole cook if you are doing this in a WSM or cooking at the lower temperatures, but I’ve always covered it once it started to brown just to be on the safe side.

Tip five involves owning and using a good meat thermometer. Never trust those silly plastic pop-up thingies that come with some turkeys; I’ve watched folks ruin many a meal and drying out their turkeys with those. Even if you can’t afford to spring for a nice red Thermapen like the one I have, go out and get a good meat thermometer and learn how to use it. Your family and guests will thank you for it, and it will more than pay for itself by insuring no one has to make visits to the urgent care center as a result of improperly cooked food.

Another reason for having the thermometer is that it gives you a real good idea of when to put on the rest of the food to cook. About an hour before the turkey was estimated to be done, the Mothership was loaded up with the rest of the stuffing that didn’t fit in the bird and the sweet potatoes. And even though you’ve seen it already, here is another shot of what that looked like when it was done.

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Tip six is to let the turkey rest for at least 15-20 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to set and not all run out when you carve it, and besides, you have gravy to make and the rest of the meal to get on the table.

Tip seven is to invest in one of those fat separators and put it to use when making the gravy. Or soup afterward, if you are so inclined. I always have plenty of nice juices in the bottom of the roasting pan; between the drippings from the turkey, the spices from the stuffing, and the beer that I baste the turkey with we get some real flavorful gravy, and I find that it tastes a lot better without all the grease in it.

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These are just a tips to help your turkey dinners turn out like ours did. And if you are wondering about the lack of cranberry sauce on the plate, it is only because I forgot to put in on there before taking the picture. We had leftover from the batch we made for the game hens, and it was just as tasty on Sunday as it was the week before when it was freshly cooked.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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