Over the years, NB & I have developed a fairly successful method to prep the hallowed Thanksgiving turkey, minus the grand reveal with the full, lacqued bird at the table. It starts with a brine of apple cider (3 qts), water (1 qt), salt (1c.) and jalepeno peppers (4, cut into quarters, vertically). I’m not sure exactly where we got this recipe, but I think it may have been from an issue of Southern Living. Honestly, I think a salt and water brine would probably work just as well. We mix up the brine in a 5-gallon Home Depot bucket and drop-in a 12-14 lbs. bird with its back removed (spatchcocked).
Due to some uncertainty on the number of guests and our love for leftovers, we did 2 birds this year, adding about 50% more brine so they were well covered. Covered with the bucket lid also purchased at Home Depot, the birds were set in the garage until we headed home to CO. This year we brined about 36 hours which was probably a little too long as some of the meat was a bit salty. I did read that you can brine for more than 24 hours with a lower ratio of salt. We may need to adjust next year if the timing is the same.
The unconventional bucket method allows us to travel back to Colorado on Wednesday with our brining birds in the back of the truck and have them ready for the smoker on Thursday morning. After drying them off and adding a version of this rub, they were ready for the smoker.
If you cut out the back of the turkey, they can lie flat on the grill racks of the smoker and reduce cooking time dramatically. NB uses a traditional wood-fired smoker, so cooking temps can vary depending on outdoor temperatures and any distractions that might keep you from attending the fire. But cooking time has generally been between 2 and 4 hours. Birds are then transported to the feast in an aluminum foil pan cradled in a cooler filled with old towels. This method keeps the meat surprisingly warm. NB will carve it up just before the meal is served. Smoking takes the turkey from mandatory-maindish to stand-out-star.
I added chopped cranberries to a grilled sweet onion relish recipe which provided a tangy counter-punch to the smoky meat. Adding olive oil to the some of that relish created a dressing for green beans that I had roasted in the oven. It wouldn’t be a celebration if I didn’t make a pie, and this year I added toasted pecans to the Cooks Country Maple Syrup pie (which I have in old fashioned paper form). I also tried this Natucket Cranberry Cake i.e. Cranberry Cobbler to take to dessert with my side of the family.
As I mentioned, we love leftovers. NB’s family has a very strong tradition of everyone showing back up at his folks the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas for leftovers. We also heard a great discussion about leftovers why leftovers taste better in this podcast (jump to 33:18) on our way back to the lake house on Sunday.
Here’s my take on them this year. After the traditional leftover dinner, tacos are always a go-to meal for leftover smoked turkey. This year turkey taco toppings included the grilled onion & cranberry relish, spiced up with chopped jalepeno & candied walnuts, avocado, and feta cheese–NB swapped sour cream for the feta.
Other re-purposed recipes included creamy wild rice turkey soup and a waldorf-type salad.
I also roasted the bones and made a dark and smoky broth which worked well with a venison braise, but might be a bit strong for a traditional poultry broth soup.
It’s all gone now. Thankfully there’s always next year, and that is something to be thankful for.