Brining keeps Thanksgiving turkey moist

Brining adds flavor to a Thanksgiving smoked turkey or one cooked in the oven. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file/Flip Putthoff)

Wise Thanksgiving chefs know brine is key to a smoked turkey that tastes divine.

We always smoke our holiday bird here at the shackri-la. When the smoke clears and the carving begins, our turkey is moist and ever so tasty. A brine is easy to make and brings out the best in a holiday bird whether it’s smoked or cooked in the oven.

Brining is simply soaking a turkey in salt water and some seasoning for several hours. Stirring up a good brine only takes a few minutes. These few extra steps help a turkey, chicken or farm-raised duck cook up moist and full of flavor.

Search around and you’ll see lots of recipes for a suitable brine. Here at the shack we’ve taken a basic brine recipe and jazzed it up with some extra seasonings to create a brine that we’ve been pleased with for years. Thanksgiving is more than a week away, which is good because it takes time to go from frozen bird to hot and ready for holiday feasting.

You want to start early to allow your turkey to thaw. We slide our frozen turkey in the refrigerator and let it thaw for three or four days. Now it’s time to whip up a brine and soak your turkey for 16 to 24 hours. Here’s all you do:

Fill a large pot with two gallons of water. Add a cup of salt and two cups of brown sugar. Pour in a pint or two of apple juice. Slice an unpeeled orange and add the slices to the pot. Bring the brine to a boil while stirring until the salt and sugar dissolves. Then let the brine cool.

Here you’ve got a brine that’s mighty fine, but now it’s time to get creative. Before boiling, we spice up our brine with optional ingredients. Five or six bay leaves go into the pot, along with three or four cloves of minced garlic, half a handful of dry rosemary and a tablespoon of black pepper.

Add or subtract whatever options sound good to you. The main ingredients are water, salt and brown sugar.

Round up a container that’s big enough to hold the thawed turkey, such as an ice chest, 5-gallon bucket or big pot. Add the turkey, then pour in the brine making sure the bird is totally submerged. If a little of the top of the turkey is sticking out, that’s OK.

Place the container with the turkey and brine in the refrigerator or any cool place for 16 to 24 hours. We generally soak our bird 20 hours with good results.

Take the turkey out of the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. Now you’re ready to smoke your turkey or pop it into the oven.

No need for a fancy smoker to smoke that Thanksgiving turkey. Any grill with a lid that’s large enough to cover the turkey will work. We use a kettle-style charcoal grill and it works great.

Get a good sized pile of charcoal briquettes going. Be sure to use plenty of charcoal. Soak some hickory chunks in water for 15 to 20 minutes or use whatever smoking wood you like. When the coals get white hot, divide them into two equal sized piles, one pile on each side of the grill. Place a hickory chunk or two on each pile. We like to put a pan of water between the two piles to make some steam, but that’s optional.

Place the turkey on the grill grate between the two charcoal piles so it’s not directly over the coals. Open any vents on the lid about half way, then close the lid and watch that lovely, sweet-smelling smoke rise from the lid.

How long until it’s done depends on the temperature inside the grill and the size of the bird. The 11-pound turkey we smoked last Thanksgiving took 3 ½ hours with a 350-degree temperature inside the grill.

Most turkeys have that little pop-up gadget that tells when the turkey is done. Our bird was done before the thing popped. When we stuck an instant-read digital thermometer into the breast, the temperature was 173 degrees. We took our turkey off the coals, let it cool for 30 minutes and enjoyed some mighty fine shack-ri-la dining.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at [email protected]