Its that time of the year folks, where the age old question comes up to slow smoke the turkey into tender deliciousness, or to fast cook it with a deep fryer into juicy fried heaven?
Well folks, honestly I think it all depends on the kind of person you are. Smoked or fried, they can both turn out juicy and tender and flavorful. I think it is all about the preparation and thought that goes into it, and what methods you have at your disposal. The more you plan out your meal and allow for time, the better it turns out.
Turkeys take a long time to prepare to bake, smoke or fry. You have to allow for them to thaw first off, and that depends on how big the bird is. Butterball says that if you are going to thaw it in the refrigerator to allow 1 day for every four pounds. Or if you prefer the quick thaw method, soak(still in the wrapper) in a bucket of cold water changing out the water every 30 minutes to keep the water temperature correct, and allow 30 minutes per pound.
Brining a turkey is a great way to ensure the turkey stays moist while cooking while adding a bit of flavor, kind of like marinating, but it is used more for keeping the meat moist. There are all sorts of recipes where you can use orange juice concentrate, soy sauce, brown sugar and many other ingredients, most importantly salt, which also tenderizes the meat. Many cookbooks for smoking and frying have great brine recipes as well as the internet. A lot of people also use injection as a way to flavor the turkey as well after brining. The extra attention lends a lot of flavor to the bird and in my family we do one flavor on one side and different flavor on the other side for some variety.
Smoking a turkey can be a long, intensive process that, depending on the size of the turkey, can take a day or so, depending on the directions. I found in many cookbooks that the easiest way is to prep the smoker to 250 degrees and for every 5 to 6 pounds let it cook for 4 hours, checking it to make sure the meat has reached 165 degrees internally in the middle of the biggest muscle area. The longest, most involved recipe called for the smoker to be at 200 to 220 degrees, wrapped in cheese cloth to moisten every half an hour for 6 hours, then to cut the cloth off and doing a total cooking time of 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 and a half hours for every one pound of turkey, basting every hour for the rest of the cooking time. The best wood I have found to use is a fruit type such as apple, peach or orange. It complements the meat quite well. There are many directions out there but it really depends on what recipe sounds the most appealing and tasty to you.
While smoking there can be a few safety issues. make sure if it is on a deck that the smoker is off the ground as the bottom of the smoker can become very hot and cause a fire. Some electric smoker brands sell stands just for that reason. Make sure all smoking is done outside, not only will all the smoke blacken your walls and ceiling, but a room full of smoke causes severe breathing problems and can be very dangerous. Make sure the smoker is not near any walls outside. Not only can your smoker blacken the walls but the heat coming off it can melt siding and can catch the wood on fire.
Frying a turkey can be a wonderfully fast way of cooking it after thawing, brining, and seasoning it. You just need to make sure you have enough oil and the right temperature. to make sure you have enough oil, before brining and seasoning it, place it in the empty fryer you will be using and pour in enough water to cover it. pull the turkey out and measure how much water you used. This is how you will know how much oil to use. make sure you dry out the pot before adding any oil to it later.
Most fryers have a timer on it so you usually need two people to watch it to make sure if someone needs to run inside to grab something the other can keep an eye on it and turn it before time runs out to keep the burner on. This is a safety feature that can keep a lot of accidents from happening. I always have a second person with me to help put the turkey in and pull it out to prevent splattering and accidental burns. Make sure the oil is up to 350 degrees for optimal frying. if the temperature is below 340 it will start to seep into the meat and make it taste and feel greasy.
Fryers do need a lot of watching and require extra attention to prevent accidents. First off, make sure you have a bucket of sand and not water. Oil floats on water so this cannot put out a fire, sand will soak up and cover the oil so it can easily put out oil fires before they get out of hand. Make sure you have a large flat surface away from any buildings, decks, trees, shrubs, garages, kids, or pets. Otherwise keep it away from anything that can melt, catch on fire or anything that can cause chaos and accidentally knock over the fryer. Also, make sure the propane tank is upwind of the fryer, if it is positioned downwind the heat from the fryer can melt the hose or cause the thank to get too hot and either situation can be dangerous.
Well folks, no matter how you decide to cook your turkey this season, I hope it turns out perfect for you. Thank you for reading and have a safe and happy holiday season!