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A few years ago on Thanksgiving, I brined a Turkey and have done so often since. The sweet and salty solution is a great way to add flavor to the turkey, which would otherwise be dry and bland (especially if it is overcooked). Brining allows some leeway to overcooking as it adds moisture and firmness to the meat.
This Thanksgiving, I am planning to cook three smaller birds (eight to ten pounds each): one smoked, one fried, and one traditional roasted. You can choose all three or just one, but its great to try all three together. The smoked turkey takes the longest and seems to draw the most attention, though you don’t necessarily need a smoker. The traditional is always a staple on Thanksgiving. The fried turkey is fastest (and the most dangerous!) to prepare, which always adds a level of “excitement” to the holidays.
Brining Your Turkey
For the brine, you will need some creativity and a container that will comfortably hold a whole turkey (you can use a cooler, large bucket or other container). Usually the problem with this is that containers the size of a turkey will not fit in the standard refrigerator. If you face the same issue, try storing it in the garage topped with ice and monitor it by adding ice as it melts. The water should hold between 33-42 degrees. Put the turkey in the container and fill it with water until it is fully submerged. Drain the water into a large pot, measure the amount of water, and heat it to a simmer. For every quart of water, add one-third cup of sugar and one-third cup of coarse salt. Dissolve it, let it cool and pour it over the bird in the container of choice. If you want to get creative, you can add different flavors. For example, instead of cane sugar, you can substitute brown sugar, maple syrup or any other very sweet product. You can also add things to flavor the water as it simmers like bay leaves, sage leaves, onions, carrots or anything else you want the turkey to absorb. Let the turkey brine for the two days before it is ready to be served. Take the bird out about a half-hour before it is ready to be cooked and let the skin dry up a bit; this will help it crisp.
Smoking Your Turkey
To smoke a turkey, you can use your smoker (which you probably already know how to use), or you can convert your gas grill into a smoker if it has two burner controls and a thermometer. Pull off one of the grates and place a piece of wood on one side and light the grill on that side. Pop the turkey on the other side and maintain the temperature at about 300 degrees. Do not check often as this will cause the log to burn high and hot. This indirect method will take a little longer than a convection oven. Cook the bird to 145 degrees and let rest about a half-hour.
Frying Your Turkey
To fry the turkey, you will need a turkey fryer. Be sure the bird is completely drained of water as this is the most dangerous part of frying a turkey. Put the turkey in the fry pot, cover with oil, and then take the turkey out (this will help to determine how much oil you will need). Heat the fryer to 375 degrees on high heat and dip in the turkey carefully. The temperature will drop rapidly by about 50 degrees. Turn the heat down and maintain this temperature. After about twenty minutes the temperature will begin to rise again as the turkey is no longer cold, but rather hot, and therefore the oil is able to heat again. Adjust the heat so it maintains between 300 to 325 degrees. A 10-12 pound fried turkey generally takes about 45 minutes.
Traditional Baked Turkey
For the traditional baked turkey, preheat the oven to 325 degrees, place the turkey on a roasting rack in a deep roasting pan, and roast in the oven. Do not open the door until it is close to being done. Trust me, if it is in a 325 degree oven, I promise it is cooking! During the last half -hour, switch to convection so it crisps. Cook to 145 degrees and let rest for a half hour.