Thanksgiving Day

So, we made it. And the results were better this time around.

For starters, I found a better brining bag. An actual zipper bag made for that. It was much sturdier and larger, so it held up to more abuse.

I left the ice packs on the breasts for about 30 minutes this time instead of 15 to 30. I also iced them prior to brushing on the olive oil, black pepper and garlic powder.

And last, I used a full load of coal. So no trouble maintaining the temperature for the duration of the cook.

The first pic is after about 2 hours. I went ahead and tented the bird with foil at that point. The second is after about 3 hours and 10 minutes, right before letting it rest. After the 15 minute rest, I carved it immediately.

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T minus 13 hours

Well, the Thanksgiving turkey has been brining for about 3 hours now. I’ve gone ahead and loaded the Egg with more coal than the last cook. The coal is well above the top of the fire bowl this time around.

Given the results of a 10 lb turkey taking about 2.5 hours, I’m expecting the 13.5 lb bird to cook for about 3.5 hours tomorrow. Maybe as much as 4 hours. I guess we’ll see.

I’ve been asked to carve up the bird before leaving the house tomorrow. So, the plan is for a pretty early morning tomorrow. Lunch is planned for 1 pm. To give myself time for the turkey to run long, I’ll probably start the fire by 7 am.

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Crash test turkey – Results

So, as most first tries go, the cook wasn’t perfect.

For starters, the 2 gallon Zip Loc bag leaked into the stock pot where I was brining. It never overflowed, but emptying the pot was a little messier than I planned for it to be.

Also, as it turns out, I didn’t pack the Egg with enough coal and my fire ended up almost out after about two hours. The embers were still burning, but there just wasn’t enough coal to maintain the 350F dome temperature. Luckily, this didn’t end up being a disaster and because I noticed the dome temperature was down to about 300F. Frankly, the turkey would have probably finished fine in the Egg (the ceramic retains heat for a ridiculously long period of time), so I wasn’t in any immediate danger of the grill going cold. It just would have taken longer than 2 1/2 hours. This also didn’t impact the smoke or the moisture of the meat. Meat only takes on smoke until it reaches a surface temperature of about 140F. Since we’re cooking to 165F/180F and it’s been two hours at 300F+ already, we’re already past that point. For Thursday’s turkey, I’ll definitely use more coal so that it finishes on the Egg and not in the oven.

I preheated the oven to 350F and moved the entire assembly, including the probe thermometer from my grill to the oven. My aluminum drip pan barely survived the trip.

About 20 minutes later (near the two and a half hour mark), the audible alarm on the probe thermometer went off. I grabbed my thermopen and checked. The breasts were just shy of 170F. The thighs were about 175. The magic trick with the bag of ice cubes worked, but perhaps I’ll give it 30 minutes next time.  I gave it another 10 minutes just to be safe. I tented the drip pan and V-Rack with aluminum foil and let the meat rest. While this is happening, the meat actually continues to cook.

Once I unwrapped everything, I saw the leg meat had retracted from the bone some and the drumstick pulled out of the leg meat with a little bit of effort. I carved up the meat and put it in gallon Zip Loc bags separated into white meat and dark meat. There are also two smaller bags. One for a family member and one for a chef friend who I promised to let try it.

The meat was lightly smoky. The skin was brown and crisp. The meat was not overly salty and not spicy at all. It was a good, balanced recipe. Although I might want to try a cajun turkey sooner or later, this is probably a relative crowd pleaser. Heads up… the house stank of turkey, garlic and onion until I took the trash out.

Bring on the in-laws! I’m ready for Thursday!

Cooking the crash test turkey

Staying with the official Big Green Egg recipe, here’s what happened for the practice turkey cook itself.

1. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well to remove the brining liquid, and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brining liquid and solids. Place turkey in the V-Rack, breast side up.

2. Stuff the turkey with the lemon wedges, the remaining halved garlic head and onion, thyme, sage, and potatoes.

3. Brush the turkey with olive oil and season with pepper and garlic powder.

4. Fill a 1 gallon zip log bag with ice. Lay this over the top of the breasts for 20 minutes or so. Your turkey is done when the thighs are 180F and the breasts are 165F. This acts to give the breasts a lower starting temperature. I’ll get into how this worked practically in another post, but, having done it, you shouldn’t skip this step. This is PFM.

5. Put the V-Rack in the Drip Pan. Place the Drip Pan on the Plate Setter and close the lid of the EGG. After I took the picture, I inserted a probe thermometer  in the breast meat. It sounds an audible alarm when it reaches 165F. Cook for about 2½ hours. If the turkey starts to brown too quickly, carefully tent the turkey with aluminum foil.

6. The turkey is ready to remove when a pen thermometer reads 165F in the breasts and 180 in the thighs. Remove the entire apparatus from the grill and tent with aluminum foil. Letting the turkey rest for 15 – 20 minutes will let the juices redistribute properly. If you wrap the turkey tightly with aluminum foil and wrap it in a preheated towel, it will keep hot (HOT, not warm) in a cooler for hours. If you aren’t serving it immediately, it will keep in the refrigerator safely for a couple of days. It’s still easier to heat up later if you carve it while it’s hot.

You want me to cook a Thanksgiving turkey?! Part 2

Game on.

So, after last night, I’ve updated the blog with my progress. At this point, the turkey has been brining for about 20 hours or so. The grill has been cleaned out and is ready to light. And I picked up a Big Green Egg V-Rack.

Tonight, we’re going to cover:

1. Review of setting up the Big Green Egg for indirect heat (mostly because I’ll actually be lighting it this time and there are more photos to add).
2. Cooking the crash test turkey. And some more pictures.
3. Initial impressions once we have a chance to taste some turkey tonight. Also some notes about how things went and what I’ll do differently on Thursday.

Given the flurry of activity on the blog, I’ve had to promise to save some white meat for a buddy of mine. Another friend has asked if I’ll smoke her a turkey between now and Thursday. Also, my coworkers are going to give some feedback tomorrow. One of my coworkers even asked me to bring white bread and mayo.

Brining a turkey

So in sticking with the official Big Green Egg recipe, here’s the evidence from brining.

1. Pour the water into a large bowl.

2. Add the brown sugar, orange rind, rosemary, salt, two-thirds of the quartered onions, and 1 halved garlic head.

3. Mix until the sugar and salt dissolve.

4. Remove the giblets from inside the turkey and reserve for another use.

5. Rinse the turkey well.

6. Place the turkey in a 2½ gallon resealable plastic bag or any container that is large enough to hold the turkey and the liquid.

7. Pour the brine over the turkey, making sure it’s completely covered. Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.

8. Since Thanksgiving is coming up in a couple of days, go ahead and start thawing the next bird.

Smoked Turkey on the Big Green Egg

If you want the full experience of this, you probably actually want to start here.

If you’re just looking for the recipe, continue on.

This is almost word for word a repost of the official Big Green Egg Smoked Turkey recipe. I’ve made some minor edits. But this is basically identical to their recipe.

Ingredients
16 cups (1 gallon) water
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
Rind of 1 navel orange
3 sprigs rosemary
1 cup kosher salt
3 yellow onions, quartered
2 heads garlic, halved
1 (12-pound) turkey
2 lemons, quartered
10 sprigs thyme
10 sprigs sage
1 cup chopped potatoes
¼ cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Garlic powder

Preheat the EGG to 350ºF / 177ºC without the Plate Setter.

Pour the water into a large bowl. Add the brown sugar, orange rind, rosemary, salt, two-thirds of the quartered onions, and 1 halved garlic head. Mix until the sugar and salt dissolve. Remove the giblets from inside the turkey and reserve for another use. Rinse the turkey well. Place the turkey in a 2½ gallon resealable plastic bag or any container that is large enough to hold the turkey and the liquid. Pour the brine over the turkey, making sure it’s completely covered. Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.

Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well to remove the brining liquid, and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brining liquid and solids. Stuff the turkey with the lemon quarters, the remaining halved garlic head and onion, thyme, sage, and potatoes. Brush the turkey with olive oil and season with pepper and garlic powder.

Place the Plate Setter, legs up, in the EGG. Place the turkey on the V-Rack and put the V-Rack in the Drip Pan. Place the Drip Pan on the Plate Setter and close the lid of the EGG. Cook for 2½ hours. If the turkey starts to brown too quickly, carefully tent the turkey with aluminum foil. Continue cooking until the instant read thermometer registers 165ºF / 74ºC.

Remove the turkey from the EGG and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Carve and serve immediately. Serves 8

Setup the BGE for indirect cooking

So now that the Egg is cleaned out, I’m ready to start getting ready for TurkeyPalooza 2012.

Being that my back patio is covered and there is 0% chance of rain. I can do this the night before too. If you recall, we started with a clean and empty Big Green Egg.

1. Insert the electric starter (if that’s what you’re using). Pour natural lump charcoal over the top. There are a bazillion different brands out there. I use the “official” stuff lately. Don’t be afraid to reach in there and move individual chunks of charcoal around. For indirect cooking, you want to build a stable, controlled fire.

2. (optional) Add a couple small chunks of wood for smoke. For the turkey, I’m going with Apple. For God’s sake, do not use mesquite for poultry or pork.

3. Add more natural lump charcoal. The idea is to get a full load of coal. At least to cover the holes in the fire bowl. And, for long cooks, you can go as high as near the top of the fire ring if you have to.


For the actual cook:

4. Plug in the electric starter. Open the bottom and top vents all the way for maximum air flow. For a high temp cook, I’ll leave this in for 6 or 7 minutes. for a low temperature cook, I may only leave it in for 3 or 4 minutes.

5. Close the lid. Let the grill pre-heat. Do not leave the grill unattended. You’ll want to start adjusting the vents when you get within 25 – 50 degrees of your intended temperature. For the Turkey, I’m looking for a “dome temp” of 350F, which means the cooking surface should be a slightly cooler 325F. Pro Tip: Be willing to spend time getting your fire right. Your brisket, chicken and pork (and hopefully my turkey) are worth getting this right. If I’m doing a cut of meat that people consider to have a high degree of difficulty (read: brisket), it is not uncommon for me to spend 45 minutes to an hour before I consider my fire to be “right.” One of my friends convinced me this was OK the day before my first brisket and I am glad that he did.

6. Once you’ve preheated and your fire is stable, add the ceramic platesetter. For turkey (for basically anything except pizza), I’m using it inverted with the feet facing up. This will leave room for me to insert a roasting pan to catch drippings. Close the lid and allow the temperature to normalize again. You may need to adjust your vents to permit more air flow.

7. Add the meat. In the case of the turkey, add the turkey, breast side up in a V Rack. I also have a probe thermometer in the turkey breast so that I get an audible alarm when the breast meat reaches 165F.

8. Stick with the grill for another 20 to 30 minutes to be sure the temperature holds steady. And then walk away. Sometimes I check the dome temperature every couple of hours. Sometimes I watch football. Sometimes I just sleep. Whatever you do, keep the lid closed.

Cleaning out the Big Green Egg

So I mention my Egg a lot on the blog. And I take lots of pictures of it in action. But I don’t spend a whole lot of time doing BGE tech support. I, too, once did not own a Big Green Egg. So I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It’s very minimalist, but there’s more to it than a piece of polished green ceramic. The interior components make all the magic happen.

Lately, I had noticed I was having trouble with high temperatures lately, so I knew that there was some ash somewhere inside clogging up something and impacting air flow. Since you always have a full load of coals (fuel), controlling your air flow makes oxygen the limiting reactant for the fire. That’s why learning to adjust the vents properly is so key to success on the Big Green Egg. Ash is just part of cooking in a charcoal cooker and it gets in the holes of the charcoal grate and between the fire bowl and the ceramic walls of the Egg. Cleaning requires that you take parts out of the Egg, so this gives an opportunity to a) take care of business and b) show you how the Egg works.

First, I removed the cooking grid, the ceramic fire ring, the vented ceramic fire bowl and used the ash tool to scrape any leftover ash out from what would have been between the inner workings of the Egg and the ceramic walls. The ash tool is the only tool that is the right shape and length to do this. If you own an Egg, you should plan to get one of these. It’s the perfect size and shape to get into most of the hard to reach spots and scrape out leftover ashes. I also have a little cheapy dust pan with a brush so that I can get ashes to the trash.

With all the parts removed, here’s the Egg with all the interior components removed.


Next, I start to re-assemble.

1. Add the fire bowl. Note that it’s whiter than the walls of the Egg. That’s because this is where the burning, lava hot charcoal lives. High temperatures clean the ceramic. If you use your Egg for mostly grilling the entire inside will stay whiter looking. I do some high temp cooks and some low temp cooks. Mine is ugly and I love it.

2. Add the fire ring. This sits on top of the fire bowl and gives you some extra height.

3. Add the charcoal grate. This keeps the charcoal off of the bottom of the Egg and lets air flow freely through the fire bowl and cooking chamber.

4. Setting up the Egg for indirect cooking.