Perfecting a Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey

Yesterday’s smoked turkey

I hardly consider myself a poultry pro.

When I was growing up, I was a picky child. Every time I would go out to eat with my family, when the question of, “Where does everybody want to go eat?” arised, my suggestion was always, “Somewhere with good chicken wings.” When we would go on vacation, it surprised nobody in the family that I was going to order wings everywhere we’d go.

When I grew up, I wanted to learn how to master chicken breast. Not how to consistently produce moist chicken breasts, but how to flavor them in different ways so they wouldn’t become boring. The grocery stores where I live often feature family packs of chicken breasts on sale for $1.99/lb. or under quite often, so it is an easy source of protein to come about. (My favorite method: hot-smoked on the Barrel House Cooker for 20-25 minutes, using lump charcoal, with Caribeque Signature Series Chicken Rub on the breasts — my all-time favorite seasoning for chicken if we aren’t going into the topic of spicy grub).

Turkey is a different beast, though.

I like turkey, but it isn’t something that I crave often. I became so conditioned to having standard, oven roasted turkey for Thanksgiving all my life. Deep-fried turkey is fantastic, but once you get past the skin, turkey still tastes just like regular ol’ turkey.

Fast-forward to last year: my first time smoking a turkey for Thanksgiving. My first time ever hosting a Thanksgiving in my life, at age 27. My mother had a stroke two weeks before Thanksgiving, and it was an emotionally charged time for my family because she was still in the hospital during Thanksgiving. I had my heart set on one ultimate goal for turkey day: I was going to smoke that bird. My method? Hanging the turkey with the EZ-Load Turkey Plus Kit from Barrel House Cooker Co. For the sake of shortening this particular Thanksgiving day story, this method of smoking a bird produced the most flavorful turkey I can recall ever having.

This year, I wanted to outdo myself from last year. This was my preparation for the 15-lb. turkey I smoked for Thanksgiving dinner:

(One caveat: I did not brine this bird, because it was already pre-brined. Keep this in mind if you are planning on cooking a turkey that hasn’t already been pre-brined.)

The day before Thanksgiving, with the turkey being thawed out in the refrigerator for around three days, I sat it out in a pan, removed the giblet package and the neck, and patted it dry with multiple paper towels.

Afterwards, I used duck fat spray (I originally found duck fat spray at Cabela’s, but now many Wal-Mart locations are carrying it for a couple of bucks cheaper) to spray the skin of the turkey. Not only does this spray act as a binder for your rub, but you add an extra layer of fat, yielding more flavor.

Last year, I used the ‘Everything Rub’ by The Killer Cook, which is fantastic, but this year I went a different route: Slap Ya Mama. I wanted to throw down a Cajun smoked turkey. I seasoned the bird liberally with Slap Ya Mama. While it is quite a salty seasoning, I wanted to give the skin enough flavor to where enough would penetrate into the meat by the end of the cook. With the turkey ready to go, I let it sit in the fridge overnight to absorb the seasoning.

I started up my Barrel House Cooker 14D with about half of the charcoal basket with coals while filing a small charcoal chimney up before lighting. After letting the coals burn for 15 minutes, I added them on top of the charcoal basket, placed two chunks of applewood (I used cherrywood last year) onto two separate sides of the coals and placed the base of the Barrel House Cooker onto the bottom charcoal station and closed the lid.

At around 8 in the morning, I added the turkey, hanging it in the cooker using the EZ-Load Turkey Plus Kit. This was about ten minutes after I added the charcoal to the basket.

I let it roll until around 11:45, when the thigh and legs were reading 175-180 and the breasts were reading about 163-164. I removed it from the cooker and allowed it to rest in a foil pan for 20-25 minutes before tenting it with foil. The temperature gauge read 250-255 for the majority of the cook, so I imagine the turkey was cooking at around 300-325.

This was, hands down, the best turkey I’ve ever eaten, and not one complaint was uttered by the guests (maybe they were just being nice). I have no shame in calling this, ‘perfecting’ a smoked turkey. It was incredibly juicy and absolutely tender.

Some may describe the skin as being too dark, preferring more of a brown skin for their bird, but that also has much to do with what kind of rub you use. Again, I used a liberal amount of Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning, and I’m sure that is the reason for the darker skin, as it certainly was not burnt in the slightest.

Drum smokers like the Barrel House Cooker are perfect for poultry. I did not use a water pan. One of the reasons drum smokers are so formidable at producing flavorful grub is that the juices from the meat will hit the hot coals and the vapors resulting from that action will rise and baste the meat during the cooking process. I owe the juiciness of the turkey to that mechanism of the cooker.

I highly recommend giving this method a shot if you have a drum smoker. Your family, unless opposed to smoked grub, will thank you for it, especially on a day to be thankful.

Something to Consider Before Purchasing a Pit Barrel Cooker

When I make a decision on an investment in a product, the first thing I consider is the value of the product versus the price being asked for it. Secondly, and this coincides with ‘value’, I look into the quality of said product: is the brand reputable? Is it durable enough to last? With the time I’ll invest in using it, through enjoyment will I basically receive my return of investment through years of use?

My most viewed post is this one: Is Barrel House Cooker Going Out of Business?

When it comes to already-constructed, available-to-buy drum smokers, the two most talked about options are these two: number one, the most popular, is the Pit Barrel Cooker. Second, it is the Barrel House Cooker.

If you have been following my site, you will notice how often I have posted about Barrel House Cooker. I own both of their models, the 14D and the 18C. I have not held back from posting criticism when I’ve written about the cookers either, so while I’m an advocate, I’m no stranger to avoiding pulling punches in that side of things.

I don’t know what is going to happen with Barrel House Cooker. I am not knowledgeable enough about the legal side of things to comment abou what happened between them and Pit Barrel Cooker. All I know is that the legal conclusion to such matters resulted in portions of the proceeds of the sales of all Barrel House Cookers will fall into the pocket of Noah Glanville, creator of the Pit Barrel Cooker. Using Google, you can find more information about this that can expound on it better than I can.

For the majority of this year, I have noticed that Barrel House Cooker has not had their smokers on sale.

When I considered purchasing either the PBC or BHC, I went with the BHC because I felt it was a bigger bang for my buck. I have found it to be a superior piece of equipment for getting the job done as a drum smoker in comparison to the BHC. I listed my reasons why here.

I have stated in multiple occasions that, if my Barrel House Cookers ever fall apart, that I will likely go ahead and buy a Pit Barrel Cooker, because.. well.. I’m not sure if Barrel House will ever come back. Until they fall apart, I’m happier than a Texan surrounded by smoked beef brisket with using my two BHCs.

Pit Barrel Cooker has a much larger following than Barrel House Cooker. Asides from being available for a longer amount of time than BHC, one of the PBC’s main selling points is that it is a veteran owned operation.

As an American, I’ve been glad to support veteran owned businesses, but I can’t help but feel irked whenever certain companies try to over-emphasize that point when they are trying to gain business. It feels cheap to me. If your veteran-owned company is making a product that I feel is subpar compared to a competitor that isn’t veteran owned, I’m rolling with the the superior competitor. See the first paragraph of this post to consider why I say that. I am not interested in debating the moral compass guidelines behind these two companies, and neither should anybody else asides from those involved in the legal matters, yet if you Google the comparisons between the two cookers, you will find a horde of people stating their opinions while it is all hearsay.

Speaking of hearsay… onto the matters of the title of this post: Something to Consider Before Purchasing a Pit Barrel Cooker

If you take a look at the PBC website, while you will see the big, bold text in the site’s headlines, A VETERAN OWNED BUSINESS, this may mislead you to believe that the PBC is made in America while apparently the cookers and accessories themselves are made in China!

YIKES.


This information is allegedly only reported on tiny print on the packaging according to David H. from this site.

Others have confirmed. Consider what jfmorris from the Amazing Ribs forum said:


Interesting.

It is sheepish of consumers to lambaste Barrel House Cooker in one breath and place Pit Barrel Cooker on a pedestal in another. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but if you are a consumer who looks at a brand and pretends they can do no wrong, you are the problem. I am culpable, too, in a way, because I will choose the design of the BHC over the PBC any day of the week, but we should all aim to hold companies to higher standards and not give them a free pass just because its creator touts his military service history.

Chicken’n’Steak Stir Fry in a Carbon Steel Wok

The Killer Cook Chow Khan Pan-Asian seasoned chicken’n’steak stir fry in my carbon steel wok.

This could have been easily made on my Blackstone griddle, but I had an injury from an accident with electric hedge trimmers that required stitches from two deep lacerations and a fractured thumb that I’m still recovering from. After hearing a ton of hype about carbon steel pans, I found a 14″ carbon steel wok for a good price ($26 with a 20% off coupon) and decided to give it a trial run with some chicken’n’steak stir fry.

Recipe
— I had a 1-lb. sirloin steak and a 8oz. ribeye in the freezer that I defrosted and cut up into small, bite size pieces
— I found a couple a pack of chicken tenders at my local Food Lion grocery store that I also cut up into bite size pieces. About six tenders were used.
— Pre-cooked rice that I cooked the day prior
— One decided white onion
— Water chestnuts
— Sliced white button mushrooms
— Sliced red bell pepper
— Green beans
— Broccoli
— Diced green onions (I used about two)
— Refined coconut oil
— Soy sauce
— Oyster sauce
— Tablespoon of MSG
The Killer Cook Chow Khan Pan-Asian rub

Instructions
— Preheat the wok to medium high heat
— Dice up the steak and chicken. I added a light coating of kosher salt to both proteins in order to dry up some of the moisture on the outside of the meat.
— Add a heaping tablespoon of refined coconut oil to the wok and allow the oil to coat around the upper parts of the wok.
— Saute the vegetables, sprinkled with a generous dose of the Chow Khan Pan-Asian seasoning, until thoroughly cooked to your preference (I like ’em soft) and set aside in a plate or bowl.
— Add another heaping tablespoon of refined coconut oil before adding your meats; I cooked the steak first, removed and sat aside, before adding the chicken, cooking the poultry through. Once again, add a helping of the Chow Khan Pan-Asian seasoning.
— Re-add the steak, vegetables and then mix the rice into the wok with your other ingredients.
— Add some more Chow Khan Pan-Asian seasoning. Without taking exact measurements into account, I used it liberally because I love the flavor.
— Add soy sauce. You can wait until it is finished to add soy sauce, but I like adding it during the cooking process.
— Add the oyster sauce. You don’t need much. I made a little circle with it before mixing it into the stir fry.
— After thoroughly mixing and getting your rice brown from the sauce and seasoning, you are ready to plate up and eat!

The Chow Khan Pan-Asian rub from The Killer Cook is one of my favorite go-to seasonings. From stir fry to grilled/smoked chicken wings, it is fantastic. My family is always running back for second helpings every time I make some stir fry with it.

Carbon steel pans are gaining traction here in the United States because it is lighter than cast iron but it retains heat almost as well. One of the appeals to me, asides from being lighter than cast iron, is that it heats up faster and cools down faster when you remove it from the burner on the stovetop.

Give this one a go, if you’d like, and comment with your thoughts!

Beware of the Race for Followers on Instagram in the BBQ Community

Back in 2018, I was on fire for most of the year as I consistently posted my food photos, largely consisting of smoked meat, on Instagram. Then, as I was finishing my bachelor’s degree, life got busy. November 2018, my mother had a stroke. It wasn’t long after that I took a half-year hiatus. 2019 has been — to be unabashedly transparent — an absolute struggle. My aunt (my mother’s sister, who is like a second mother to me) experienced two extreme health events this year (a heart attack in March and, more recently, diverticulosis that led to an infection that caused sepsis). I took a complete break from all social media to assist in mitigating the ramifications of those tragic health events and attempt to take care of myself in the process.

In returning and leaving again (as it pertains to Instagram), I took notice of why I ever loved posting in the first place: the love of delicious grub and the desire to share it and the want to build genuine connections/friendships with other people who have similar interests. It is a community. The barbecue community.

After the first six months away, I was disheartened to find that many of my former followers had unfollowed me. I was perturbed and felt taken back, because while I had not warned any followers of a break from the ‘gram, I had posted about my mother having a stroke, so I was a little disheartened from losing many, but I can’t blame them for unfollowing, because as far as what they knew, I could have been done with Instagram forever, and they may have just wanted to prune who they are following when it comes to active vs. inactive accounts. Nonetheless, I’m not bitter about it.

I wrote in a post back over the summer about how there is a lot of selfishness embedded in the Instagram barbecue community. Many people will do whatever it takes in order to grow their follower count and expand their page. I appreciate those who do so organically, because that is what I’m trying to do; it is a slow grind, but more worthwhile, because you are doing it through the work of creating content and building relationships along the way vs. the snakes who buy followers and take shortcuts.

I can’t help but feel jaded at times when I see bogus accounts or whenever I receive a follow from a ‘big’ account that I know will unfollow a few days or a week later.

If you ever decide to delve deep into the cooking community on Instagram, I plead for you to do it for the right reasons. Sure, I think many people’s goals (I would be a sheep to say this isn’t mine) is to make a name for themselves and eventually earn some profit along the way, but taking a shortcut won’t lead to as much, because more people than you know recognize phonies. Yes, “there is a sucker born every minute,” but you can tell a jackass (donkey) from a stallion.

The title of this post is written that way, because creating content and watching your follower count increase is a trap. It can become an addiction. Sometimes you might see a spike because one post nets you a high multitude of followers, but then a few posts later you might experience a plateau with little growth, and that should never dissuade you, because your content will be found over a period of time as you grow your page. Patience and persistence, my friends.

Back to the Stick Burner for BBQ: Humble Beginnings and a Labor of Love

As I’ve referenced a few times on this site, the first smoker I ever used — the one I learned how to barbecue with — was an vertical Brinkmann Trailmaster offset smoker. It was adopted by myself, as the folks who were kind enough to give it to me had moved on to a horizontal style offset pit while this one was sitting out, experiencing the effects of weathering and the lack of use. It was a tough one to use, because anyone who has ever cooked grub in an offset smoker understands that you must tend to the fire virtually at all times, making sure that your pit isn’t oversmoking with billowing white smoke, chasing the thin, blue smoke perfection of proper cooking that won’t result in your food tasting like bitter, creosote-laden meats.

Nowadays, so many people have switched over to electric smokers or pellet grills, which are as close to set it’n’forget it as one can be, and I can understand why: less hassle. With an electric smoker, you use a smoker tube filled with wood chips to achieve a light smoke flavor. With a pellet grill, you use.. well.. pellets. I’m embarrassed to say this, but I’ve never tasted any food that has been cooked on a pellet grill, despite my curiosity, but I’ve read countless posts on both Instagram and BBQ-dedicated forums where users express a lack of smoke in their grub as it pertains to food made on pellet grills. I can’t speak to that, though, due to my tastebud’s devastating void when it comes to tasting meat smoked on a pellet grill. However, pellet grills must be doing something right, given the popularity of brands like Traeger (which has a huge social following, as the brand appears to pump a ton of money into its marketing endeavors by anointing a myriad of Traeger users as ‘brand ambassadors’), REC TEC, Green Mountain Grills, Pit Boss, etc. I have spent a great deal of time debating on whether or not to save my money for a future pellet grill purchase, but if the rumors are true in regards to the food from them only featuring a light smoke flavor, I’m conflicted as I am a man who enjoys the taste of heavy smoke-infused meats when barbecue is on the brain.

You would think that with the popularity of pellet grills, stick burners would fall to the wayside, but stick burners will never exit the spotlight when it comes to barbecue, because it is tried and true barbecue. It is a labor of love tha hardcore barbecue fanatics delve into, not in an elitist way that denounces the efficacy of other smokers, but because it is a classic, proven method to — when done right — produce incredible barbecue. While there are detractors of pellet grills out there who call ’em ‘pellet poopers’ or ‘outdoor easy bake ovens with a weak hint of wood smoke,’ stick burner faithfuls are in the game due to their love of traditional barbecue, and I don’t fault anybody for that.

The only reason I stopped using my Brinkmann Trailmaster is because it rusted so badly that holes were formed. I’m not a welder, and I might as well be the least craftiest man on the planet, so that ended my run with it. I subsequently bought a 22.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain and eventually purchased my Barrel House Cookers, all the while occasionally barbecuing with my Weber kettle, but I never spent a day without missing my stick burner.

Yesterday, I added a new member of my grill/smoker family. A long-time family friend upgraded to an electric smoker long ago, and he had placed his old horizontal offset stick burner in his garage. It was wasting away, as it was being unused, and for him (as he stated) it was in the way, and he offered it to me. I could only utter an emphatic, “YES.”

After impatiently waiting, he delivered it. It had rust on it, and the grates were filthy, but I fired it up with some cheap Kingsford match light charcoal and some wood I had lying around, to see how it would run, with the intake and damper vents wide open, and it reached 700 degrees. I tossed the grates into the scorching hot fire that I built in my fire pit before scrubbing them down and ensuingly rubbing them with cooking oil. The additional reason I fired the pit up to 700 degrees, asides from seeing how it would run, was to sanitize the inside of the cooker. It leaked smoke from the lid, but that’s alright. I’ll roll with it that way for a while, but eventually I will invest in a gasket kit to line the lid to prevent smoke from leaking so heavily. After the fire cooled and I removed some ash, I used a can of Rustoleum to rid the smoker of the rust that had been built up.

It’s all ready for its first Grizzly BBQ smoke session, which I plan on throwing down some ribs soon enough. As for bigger cuts like pork butts and brisket, I’ll stick with my WSM and Barrel House Cookers for the time being, but I can’t wait to finally get back to tasting the amazing flavor that a stick burner provides, starting with the ribs, and then I’ll move onto other favorites like chicken wings and thighs, as well as bacon-wrapped cheese stuffed jalapenos (or, er, poppers).

Are you a stick burner fan, or do you find that tending to the fire is tedious and aggravating, preferring the set it’n’forget it route? Let me know in the comments!