Well it looks like Fall is in full swing. Our weather has been cooler than usual for this time of year, but you won't hear me complain. I love smoking in cooler weather, especially on a clear night with a sky full of shining stars! As I write this we are in Focus mode for the National BBQ Festival in Douglas, GA. We are getting our gear organized and packed to leave Thursday after work. The National BBQ Festival is real special to us since it was the first contest we ever cooked back in '04. Man, that seems like such a long time ago with all of the cooking and improving we've done since that first event. But the memories of it are still fresh like it just happened. The Phelps family and all of the people in Douglas really know how to put on a first rate contest. Please, if any of you come to Douglas stop by and say hello. We'll share a chair, a Coke and talk barbeque!
Deciding what to write about in November is easy... Turkey! Smoked Turkey! If you've never smoked a turkey before, I urge you to try it. Oven roasted turkey is what most of us have eaten all our lives. Turkey and dressing with gravy is an American tradition and we wouldn't want to change that. Keep the dressing and gravy the same, but let's see if we can liven up that ole turkey!
I know this is a barbecue newsletter, but I have to share some of my mother-in law's recipes for the upcoming holidays. Being this is November and everybody is into Thanksgiving cooking, I thought we'd share her pumpkin pie recipe and flaky pie crust recipe. Both of these are out of this world. The recipes are below. And if you ever enter a pie contest, this could win you some money!
First step is buying a turkey. Buy a bird that is 13 lbs or less. A large smoked turkey will take too long to get out of the temperature danger zone (40 to 140 degrees F) when using lower smoking temperatures. We prefer Butterball turkey because the breast meat has been deep basted to increase moisture and flavor. Butterball turkeys that are Fresh, not Frozen, are not basted. So we prefer the frozen ones because of this. Also, a frozen turkey can be bought well ahead of the time needed to cook, not so with fresh turkey.
A frozen turkey needs to be thawed in the refrigerator, not the kitchen sink or counter top. Thawing a 10-13 pound turkey may take up to 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator. Check the temperature setting on your appliance and raise the temp setting if needed, but remember the turkey should always be kept well below 40 degrees to avoid spoiling.
Alright besides the turkey, you will need a sweet onion, an orange, two red apples, and three stalks of celery. We will also use extra virgin olive oil to help the skin brown and cook evenly. The oil will also act as a binder for the rub applied.
After removing the neck and giblets from the bird, wash with cold water. Then use paper towels to dry the turkey skin. Drying the skin will help the olive oil coat evenly and this will make the smoked turkey's skin more evenly colored when done. Now we can coat the turkey with the olive oil. Rub the olive oil into the skin and make sure to apply some inside the cavity of the bird.
Next we cut up the onion, apples, orange, and celery. Stuff the cavity with these ingredients with as much as you can fit into the turkey. This is not a stuffing that you would want to eat. The purpose of this stuffing is to help add moisture and flavor to the turkey. You could go a step further and pour a can of Coke into the cavity. This adds a unique flavor and can further help in the moisture level of the turkey.
Now it's time to rub the turkey. Just use your favorite rub. The rub is applied first under the skin on the breast. Work your fingers under the skin and then pull it back far enough to coat the breast meat well. Then cover the entire bird with the rub, gently rubbing it into the olive oil on the skin.
You could cook the smoked turkey directly on the smoker's cooking grate, but with any poultry cooked on a smoker or a grill, the fat rendering out can cause some mighty big flare ups. We used a wire rack inside of a large disposable aluminum pan. The pan catches all of the juices cooking from the turkey which can be used to baste the turkey. And the wire rack keeps the bird from sitting in the meat juices. The turkey is placed on the wire rack with the breast side facing up during the entire smoking process.
Most slow cooked barbeque is cooked at 250 degrees F or less. But for smoked turkey we jump the smoker temperature up to 325 degrees F. Cooking at higher temps will help to conserve moisture in the meat and also gets the turkey out of the danger zone more quickly. A 10-13 pound bird should take no more than 4 to 4.5 hours at 325 degrees F. The turkey will be done when the temp in the thigh reaches 180 degrees F. The temp probe should be placed in the thickest part of the thigh, making sure not to touch any bones. Another doneness test is to grab the drumstick and give it a wiggle. If it feels like it will pull loose easily from the body of the turkey, then the bird is probably done. Also check that the meat juices flow clear when piercing the thigh with a fork.
After about an hour of smoking the turkey with a combination of hickory and apple wood pellets, check to see how the skin looks. If any area appears to be getting too brown, covering that area loosely with foil will help to prevent burning. About the two hour mark of cooking, loosely cover the breasts to keep them from cooking faster than the leg and thigh meat. After the three hour mark you can baste the turkey with melted butter every half hour until done. This will help to keep the skin from drying out and make the turkey a more golden brown color.Now you may be asking why didn't you brine the turkey or at least inject the turkey? I just find with the Butterball turkey you don't have to do all of that to get a great finished product. The turkey will be moist and flavorful without injections and brines. It's real easy to get carried away with flavors on turkey. This recipe keeps it fairly simple and you don't have to start prepping the turkey days before cooking.
One last thing about carving turkey and this applies to all turkey no matter how it is cooked. A cold turkey carves much better than a hot turkey, so it is better to cook the turkey the day before you plan to serve it (this tip came from my wife's mother who is an outstanding cook). Refrigerate it overnight and slice away the next day. The slices can be easily warmed in a foiled pan in the oven.
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Thoroughly mix sugar, salt, and spices. Add pumpkin. Blend in eggs, milk, and evaporated milk. Pour into unbaked pastry shell. Crimp edges high, filling is generous. Bake in hot 400 degree oven for 50 minutes or until knife inserted halfway between center and edge of pie comes out clean. Cool before serving. (Note: If you wish to freeze this pie add ½ of a 3 ounce package of cream cheese softened to the pumpkin, egg, and milk mixture. Otherwise the pie will be runny after defrosting.)
Combine flour and salt in bowl. Cut in shortening with fork, knife, or dough cutter. Add water as needed or until the dough forms into a ball. It then can be halved for rolling dough out for the top and bottom of pie.