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Wednesday, November 15, 2006


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


At 9:52 AM, Blogger brotheryam said...

I'm getting a heritage turkey this year, I'll let y'all know how it tastes.

Also, me darlin' Mrs. is making mole sauce out of one of favorite cookbooks.

Never a really traditional turkey dinner at our house, really. Oh well...

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Jenonymous said...


I won another turkey at work again, I am NOT springing for the organic heritage bird I long after, only because there's only so much turkey one can take. Maybe I'll get one over the winter after Xmas. In the meantime, I'll be hauling home about 12 lb. of rock-hard frozen fun on Friday.

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Theophylact said...


I had a heritage turkey last year (a Red Bourbon) and it was delicious, but it cost $105 for a 12-pounder. That's absurd, when brining a run-of-the-mill supermarket-type turkey will produce almost as good results. If you're feeling a bit guilty you can buy an organic turkey at Whole Foods for about half the price of a heritage bird.

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous VAdem said...

thophylact - For some reason the Whole Foods turkeys are really good - even if you don't brine them.

Anyway - I like the black turkey Gilly posted years ago - the stuffing is not necessary - but the turkey is really good

black turkey

At 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bit of food nut. I've brined, barded, high roasted, low roasted, basted in butter every hour...yadda yadda.

Best turkey recipie I've found is Alton Brown's Good Eats Roast Turkey recipie at the Food Network website. Follow it exactly. It turned me into a big brining fan.

Bake your stuffing alongside rather than in the bird - safer and a better result.

If you want to be fancy schmancy - make extra homemade cranberry sauce, blitz some smooth with a hand blender and freeze in an ice cream freezer for a cranberry sorbet palate cleanser between courses. I serve a teaspoonful in little soy sauce dishes from Pier One with tiny spoons.

At 8:04 PM, Anonymous erik said...

I brined and then deep fried one last christmas eve. the year before I bbq'd. Turkey is fucking awesome

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Jay Ackroyd said...

I need gravy advice. I've never made and want to do so this year. Can anybody give me some advice or direct me to a link?

At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brining is a must.

The second "must" for a good turkey is to cover it with a cloth soaked in melted butter and chicken broth. The cloth should be removed and "rewetted" every 30 minutes

Remove cloth during last 30-40 minutes of cooking to make sure top of turkey browns well.

Result--a juicy, delightful bird.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger julie beth said...

that cloth idea sounds like a good one - i always cover with foil until the very last half-hour or so, but i bet the butter/stock would help out with the moistness!

also, i've heard that you can bake a turkey as usual, but first cover with a pound or so of raw bacon. the bacon is discarded before serving the bird. i keep meaning to try that, but either just don't get around to it, or like this year, i'm not in charge of the turkey. anyone done this?

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Jay Ackroyd said...

I've used the tea towel method. Cheese cloth this year.

At 2:48 PM, Blogger Reba said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Reba said...

Jay, the key to good gravy is twofold. First, you have to have a decent roux. Second, cheating helps.

I make a basic roux by melting 2 tbl of butter, letting it cool down a bit, adding flour until I have a nice little paste, then cooking that up until browned. If it gets too thick/crumbly, you can add a bit more butter, but don't overdo it. What you're really trying to do is cook the flour so it doesn't clump. Once it turns light/golden brown, turn it off.

Slowly add 1 1/2 c. of the drippings from the turkey. I have also added broth from cooking the innards (which I give to my pets since I won't eat them).

Whisk the roux and liquid until blended smoothly. THEN turn the heat back on, with a low flame. Once the sauce begins to thicken, add more broth.

Okay, here's where the cheating comes in. If the gravy doesn't taste enough like bird to suit you, feel free to add a bit of chicken base or boullion. Just make sure you haven't already added salt to the gravy! You can also use veggie or mushroom base if you have it.

Making good gravy takes a little bit of patience, so don't leave it until the very last thing to do. At the very least, get the roux set up and your broth already separated in case you have to finish at the last minute (like everyone does...).

This is enough gravy for a family of 4. Enlarge the recipe as necessary. If you want, you can make way more than you need and use it as filler in turkey pot pie later in the week.

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Mr. Upright said...

I use a rotisserie on my Weber kettle. I sometimes brine but not if the bird is already infused with solution (mine this year is). I do inject with a mix of melted butter and apple juice (maybe with some light seasoning).

Last year I stuffed my bird with slices of apple (use the tart baking apples for most flavor). I'm going to do that again and also throw in a halved head of garlic and the same spices I rub the bird with.

The apples made it ridiculously moist inside. They came out mush, the turkey was downright wet inside (also partly due to the injection and self-basting nature of the rotisserie).

If you want to do the beer can method and you happen to have a rotisserie, use the rot. ring to give you the height you need. I don't think a charcoal kettle can fit an upright turkey (it can only fit a small upright chicken).

Hmmm...I think I might also fill the drip pan with beer or apple juice this year for flavored steam.

At 8:50 PM, Anonymous lectric lady said...

Have you ever tried Julia Child's "Deconstructed turkey?" We do this every year now. Basically, you cut the legs off the turkey and cut the backbone and wishbone off prior to cooking. You then debone the thighs, and stuff the interiors with stuffing, and close them off with turkey skewers and twine. Pile the bulk of your stuffing on a greased rimmed baking sheet and lay the breast over the mound. Lay the stuffed legs on the sheet and cook about 1 1/2 hrs, basting occasionally and monitoring with a thermometer. When it is done, you can "re-present" the turkey, if you wish, by moving the breast to a platter and leaning the legs next to it. Looks just like a whole turkey!

The neat thing about it is that the legs and breast are done at the same time, because the legs are cooking on their own. And the stuffing benefits by having the breast juices dripping into it, so it tastes like stuffing cooked in a whole bird, without the 'food police' problems.

Also, for those who love dark meat, you slice the thighs, and they have the stuffing within, and no bones.

The official recipe can be found in "Julia and Jaques Cooking At Home.

Everyone who has eaten the turkey fixed this way is amazed and impressed. I would, however, recommend that if you do this, you do the 'butchering' in private. My daughter was so appalled the first time she saw me do this, she started to cry. She is now a total convert. And my husband loves the ease of carving.

Brining it beforehand is also a great idea.

Give it a try!

Lectric Lady

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Jay Ackroyd said...

Thanks very much Reba. I've gotten off-line advice along much the same lines, but didn't get the don't wait to the last minute point, which is a good. The roux can be made in advance while the bird is roasting, which I hadn't thought of.

I'm also considering following a suggestion I saw in a Marian Burros column in the NYT to cut off the legs and roast them separately. The trouble I'm having with that is I don't where to put the meat thermometer, nor do I know of a good test for doneness having always used the thigh juice runs clear test for poultry. (The idea here, of course, is to solve the age-old problem of the breast getting done before the thigh, and drying out while the dark meat cooks through.)

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever encountered a Turducken? Are they even edible, or or they the culinary version of a jackalope?

Oh, and if anyone has a link to the classic fake Butterball radio commercials featuring "Wilford Brimley" stuffing the turkey with Quaker Oats and then having his way with it, would you post a link?

Thanks and Happy Holiday!

roxtar (Blogger won't let me in.....)

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At 5:13 PM, Anonymous js said...

Nice post! Thank you:) Here are also some tips on cooking a turkey to your debates:)

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