Thanksgiving is my time for turkey experimentation, from roasting to smoking to frying, I've done it all with the comfort of knowing that no matter what comes out, it's pretty certain my family will eat it. I've come up with some excellent birds this way, but during the "off-season," I keep coming back to a recipe for an apple-brined, smoked turkey that continues to be my favorite of them all.
A 24-hour brine of salt, brown sugar, apple juice, oranges, ginger, cloves, bay leaves and garlic imparts a subtle, yet complex, flavor that's hard to put your finger on, but is insanely delicious. This comes out just fine-and-dandy in the oven, but take the bird to a 350°F smoker and add some applewood and you're talking a masterpiece. Not only are you rewarded with a picture-perfect mahogany skin, but the wood adds a smoky sweetness that will make you question why anyone would ever have turkey any other way.
Apple-Brined and Smoked Turkey
Adapted from The Virtual Weber Bullet.
- For the brine:
- 2 quarts apple juice
- 1 pound brown sugar
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 3 quarts cold water
- 3 oranges, quartered
- 4 ounces fresh ginger, unpeeled and thinly sliced
- 15 whole cloves
- 6 bay leaves
- 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 natural turkey
- 2 to 3 small chunks of apple wood
Combine the apple juice, brown sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve. Boil for one minute, remove from heat, let mixture come to room temperature, then refrigerate to 40°F.
In a large non-reactive container, combine the apple juice mixture with the remaining brine ingredients. When adding the oranges, squeeze each piece to release the juice into the container, then drop in the peel. Set the turkey in the brine, breast side down, placing a weight on top to keep the turkey submerged if necessary. Place in the refrigerator and let brine for 24 hours.
Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Place turkey on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet and allow to air-dry overnight in the refrigerator. (This step is optional, but will result in a crisper skin.)
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator, fold the wings under the body and tie the legs together. Allow the turkey to come to room temperature while you prepare the smoker.
Fire up your smoker to 350 degrees. Add the chunks of apple wood and when the wood is burning and producing smoke, place the turkey in the smoker. Smoke until an instant read thermometer reads 165°F in the thickest part of the breast, about 2 to 3 hours.
Remove the turkey from the smoker and allow to rest, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Carve and serve.