Whether it’s Thanksgiving or another special occasion, an apple spice smoked turkey is sure to be a hit. Not only is it going to be moist, this recipe focuses on infusing those delicious flavors. While you can smoke this bird on any grill that can provide sustainable indirect heat, a lot of the pros prefer to use a good pellet grill. It cooks more evenly, because it holds the temperature well, and there’s less of that acrid smoke.
You need a defrosted 10- to 15-pound turkey. Most cooks aim for about one pound of meat per person, so if you're expecting more, prepare a second turkey, rather than one larger one. This gives you more popular wings and legs to share around. You also need your favorite dry and fresh seasonings, red delicious apples, and butcher’s twine.
Most turkeys from the store are already injected with some sort of brine to plump them up. While you can brine the pre-brined turkey, there’s a strong chance that the apple brine’s flavors won’t fully penetrate the bird. Another option, which takes less time, is to just sprinkle your favorite dry rub all over the bird and throw it on.
Take out the giblets and neck from your fresh turkey. In a 10-quart pot, add 4 cups of water and 4 cups of apple juice. Add 1.5 cups of kosher salt, a half cup of brown sugar, 10 to 12 garlic cloves, and a tablespoon each of ginger, ground cinnamon, and whole peppercorns. From there, add some sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and sage. Bring this mixture to a boil, whisking regularly to ensure the salt and sugar dissolve.
Take the hot mixture from the stove and add about 6 cups of ice to bring the temperature down, plus another 4 cups of apple juice. Throw in a quartered apple and onion and let the mixture chill completely. In the meantime, remove the giblets, neck, and plastic binding from the turkey. If you have a separate pot that’s big enough to keep your turkey submerged, use this. If not, use oversized turkey bags. Put the turkey and giblets in, then pour the chilled brine over it. Close the bag tightly and brine overnight.
Carefully take the turkey out of the brine and place it on a baking sheet. Remove the herbs and peppercorns that are sticking to the skin. Take the quartered apples, onions, and herbs and stuff them inside the cavity. This keeps the turkey moist and flavorful. Remember to tuck the wing tips under the bird, so they don’t burn and tie the legs together with butcher’s twine.
Because of the apple brine, the turkey doesn’t need any additional seasoning, so just brush olive oil or melted butter on the skin. This helps the skin stay crispy and prevents it from becoming leathery, which is no fun to eat. Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit, planning for about 30 to 40 minutes per pound to make sure it’s fully cooked and hot enough for dinner time. Place the turkey and giblets in the smoker.
When it comes to checking the turkey's temperature, there are a couple of things to remember. First, the internal temperature varies depending on where you insert the thermometer. In the deepest part of the breast, you’re looking for about 165 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. In the thigh, it’s approximately 5 to 10 degrees lower. If the skin looks dry when you're doing this step, just add some more butter or oil.
Just like cooking ribs or any other meat, the smoked turkey needs to rest for at least 40 minutes. Take the turkey out of the smoker, place it in a tray and cover it with foil. The carry-over heat helps the juices to redistribute to the center of the turkey, making it more moist. When you cut into the bird, you may see some redness in the joints. It does not mean the bird is undercooked — this is the smoke ring.
About 2 hours in, remove the neck and giblets from the smoker. In a medium-sized pot, add a couple of carrots, celery, and a few sprigs of thyme. Sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and cover everything with water. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for an hour.
Add the cooked broth to the food processor, minus the turkey parts, and puree it. Strain the mixture over a roasting pan, mashing the remainder in the strainer with a spoon to get all of the liquid. On a medium-high fire, reduce the liquid to half, whisking periodically to prevent sticking. When reduced, turn off the fire and add salt and pepper to taste along with half a stick of diced butter. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and pour in a gravy boat.
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