There are a hundred debates about what makes a great Turkey, brining, frying, injecting.
Well, this is the place to debate the great turkey issues of the day.
Beer Can Turkey
Monday, October 24, 2005
Last year, I prepared a Classic Roast Turkey. This year I wanted to provide another variation on turkey and had decided on smoking the turkey. When I received my September 2005 issue of Cook's Country Magazine and found an article featuring Beer-Can Chicken, I decided to modify that recipe to work for a turkey.
The use of a beer can inserted into a chicken is an old barbeque trick to provide flavored steam to the inside of the chicken as it cooks. At the same time, the beer supposely adds flavor to the chicken. Problem is, I don't quite buy it. If the beer is giving off steam, then most of that steam is just going to be water... most of the beer flavor will just be concentrating in the can. However, it seems that it would be sacrilegeous if I used the beer can but left out the beer.
The first step is to brine the turkey. Find a non-reactive (polycarbonate plastic, glass, or stainless steel) container large enough to hold the turkey. Prepare a brining solution of 1 cup table salt to 1 gallon water and soak the turkey in the solution in the refrigerator for four to six hours. (If your turkey has been infused with a solution, then reduce the salt content in your brine or just soak it in a container filled with plain water.)
Pour out the brining solution and rinse the turkey. One convenient way to do this is to position a rack in the sink and place the turkey on the rack to rinse. After the turkey has been rinsed, let it dry by placing it on a rack on a sheet pan in the refrigerator overnight (or for eight hours). Alternatively, use a blow drier on cool setting (no heat) to blow over the skin of the turkey until dry.
In order to prepare beer can turkey, a beer can is necessary. However, a normal 12-oz. beer can, perfect for a chicken, is a bit too small for the large cavity of a turkey. At my local convenience store, I found this 24 oz. micro-keg shaped can of Heineken. It looked to be about the right size, so I bought it.
After pouring the beer into another container (a large measuring cup), remove the top of the can. I used an OXO Good Grips can opener to cleanly remove the top (it took only one pass). Removing the top provides enough surface area from which the steam can rise. The small opening made by the pop top just isn't enough of an opening to effectively provide moisture to the turkey.
Deposit six bay leaves (broken up) and two teaspoons dried thyme into the can. Unlike the beer, the herbs will provide noticeable flavor and aroma while the steam helps keep the turkey moist during it's long cooking process.
Soak a cup of hickory wood chips in some water.
Prepare a spice rub by combining two tablespoons brown sugar, two tablespoons paprika, one tablespoon kosher salt, one tablespoon black pepper, and one teaspoon cayenne pepper. Mix the spice rub well.
Rub the spice rub over the entire exterior of the turkey. Loosen the skin over the breasts and thighs and rub the spices under the skin. Finally, rub the remaining spice rub inside the cavity of the turkey.
Pour half the beer back into the open beer can (reserving half for your drinking pleasure). Not pouring all the beer back reduces the risk of spilling as you transport the turkey to and from the grill. Lift the turkey up and lower it onto the beer can.
Place the turkey on the grill. If using a gas grill, position the turkey over one burner, away from the other burners. Turn the burner under the turkey off and turn the other burners on low. If using a charcoal grill, start the charcoals (you'll need a couple batches of about 100 briquettes each over the course of the smoking). When they're ready, push them to the outer edges of the grill leaving the center available for the turkey. Make a container with aluminum foil (or use a metal wood chip tray) and fill it with the wood chips that were soaking in water. Place the container over the other burner or on the hot coals. My grill was not large enough to cover the turkey without the lid touching it, so I placed a V rack in the middle to prop up the lid. I also inserted a Polder Cooking Thermometer into a thigh to track the temperature of the turkey.
Close the lid of the grill. If the turkey is too tall for your grill lid, find a way to prop open the lid just enough (so the lid is mostly closed, but not touching the bird). Then use heavy duty aluminum foil to cover the gap that's left. The aluminum foil lets out a lot of heat, but will help keep the smoke in long enough to flavor the turkey.
The actual cooking of the turkey is a bit finicky and has a lot to do with your grill and how much cooling air is getting into the grill from the slightly open lid. If you didn't need to prop open the lid of your gas grill, keep the burners on low. However, if you did need to prop open the lid, you might need to turn up the heat to compensate for the heat loss? Don't turn on the burner underneath the turkey - we want to cook it with indirect heat. If using charcoal, after the first one and a half to two hours, you'll need to start a new batch of charcoal and replace the original coals as they lose heat.
Halfway through the cooking, about two hours, rotate the turkey to allow even cooking.
When the thigh meat reaches 160°F (71°C) (about 4-1/2 hours in my example), prepare a simple glaze with two tablespoons brown sugar, two tablespoons ketchup, two tablespoons distilled white vinegar, two tablespoons beer, and two teaspoons of hot sauce (I prefer Frank's RedHot Original Hot Sauce). Brush the glaze onto the turkey and cover. After five minutes, brush on another layer of glaze and allow it to cook until the thigh meat registers 170°F (77°C). If you don't have a thermometer, at least poke the turkey with a skewer to see if the juices run clear. If the fluid that comes out contains traces of blood, continue to cook the turkey