A Turkey’s Day Off: Apple Cider Brined Hickory Smoked Turkey Breast
As I repair here in my den, with a bit of stereophonic music in play, and a hot cup of tea at hand, I listen also to the rain which drums with great exuberance over the brown-shingled roof above. The rain. A cold, autumn kind of rain. The sort that callously knocks the last of the colored leaves from their mama trees to the cold, dampened earth below. Leaves that which cling only by tender stems, quaking in the autumn wind, where their inherent will to hold on, and their remaining chlorophyll count, rank about as equal, I should say. Yup, it’s a tough day as days go, to be a leaf in Minnesota. Indeed, it’s the kind of all day rain that renders a chap a distinct chill in his bones, and moves a body hence for his or her patented grandma-knitted afghan. To curl up on the Davenport, with a good narrative, fire-place crackling, and while away the hours there, whilst the rain drops collect hither on the window pane.
I might just do that. But before I do, let me tell you about another sort of day. One just a few sunrises ago, in point of fact. One of blue skies, and darting tweeting birds, and gently curling plumes of hickory smoke. One of heightened leisure, and good eating. It’s about a turkey, don’t you know, and his day off, patron to the pit.
It started early on with this brine, you see. The day prior, to be exact. We’ve been on a brine kick here lately at the pit, and for this turkey, a good, cider-based brine seemed like the logical road to wander down. And so we did. Amid the morning sunbeams off the pond, so golden and resplendent, we stirred up a good pot of it over the pit stove, bringing it to a gentle boil, letting the flavors all meld together there in a harmonious liquid opus suitable for the fairest of fowl. Our brine consisted roughly of the following kitchen tatter:
Apple Cider Turkey Brine
1/2 Gallon apple cider
1 Cup Kosher Salt
1 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Oranges, quartered and squeezed
1 Lemon quartered and squeezed
6 Cloves Garlic
6 Slices of Ginger Root
Splash or two of apple cider vinegar
A few dashes of Miners Mix Poultry Perfection Rub
*Pretty much the same brine we used in our wild duck post last time around.
So we let the bird wallow in the brine for about twenty and fours hours, that, and give or take an episode of the Andy Griffith Show. Rinsed it thoroughly under cold tap water, to get as much salt off as we could, then transferred it to the Weber Smokey Mountain, which off-hand, was already up and running at 225 degrees. We were very efficient here at the pit today. We had a couple of fist-sized pieces of hickory wood on the coals too, the smokey plumes of which had already taken on that light-blue tint that every good pit jockey aspires for. Things were in place, and the day spun as it ought to. Nothing to do now save for to draw a lovely beverage and make the speedy acquaintanceship of your favorite lawn chair. And by golly, we certainly did that!
With my old reliable, the ET-73 Maverick Redi Chek digital probe at my side, well lets just say that such technology at the pit grants a man the boyish freedom to dally about his fancies with relative impunity towards over-cooking his meat. Because every schmuck knows, or ought to know anyways, never to over cook a turkey. Thus the Redi Chek, if properly set, will bleep and belch at you when your target temperature is reached. We set it to croak at 163 internal, because it was a small bird, half a bird really, weighing only 7 pounds. So 163 internal, I wagered, would garner enough thermal inertia to coast up to the 165 finish line even after the bird is removed from the heat, and tented in tinfoil to rest. Oh yes, we were on our game here at the pit today. In the zone you might say.
So it was, with an undeniable pleasure that I kicked my feet up on some low flying patio furniture, tipped my hat just so, and placed my chin on my chest, thus assuming the proper pit master posture for a quiet spot of turkey smoking. Oh how I do revel in these moments. These pit-side sorties by myself. They are like a mini vacation to me, by and by. The manly equivalent of a trip to the spa. For to tarry there in the good light of an afternoon sun, whilst the clouds idle against a blue sky, and the chickadees cavort in the spruce, hark, ’tis medicine for a haggard soul. It is. To feel the sun, warm still against my flannel, knowing full well that the first snow fall of the season is maybe only weeks away, well a man learns to take pause in his day to days, and to loiter long on such occasions, where the wood smoke also rises.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking…What did we use for rub? Well we didn’t. Don’t much recommend it either, where this brine is concerned. For there are plenty enough potent flavors to keep a taste bud busy here. Just the brine and the smoke itself, are fully capable of doing all the talking here, kind of like that one couple at a dinner party who never shut up. If you do want to season the turkey with something, go lightly, and by all means stay clear of using something salty. It doesn’t need any help in that department, courtesy of the brine.
Three days later…and back in the Den
Well, the sun has set, and the night scatters through-out the land. The rain it seems has let up a tad now, tho my music still plays softly. The tea is mostly gone too, save for that cold, amber-colored puddle residing at the bottom of the enameled cup. And you might be keen to know, that for a while at least, I don’t know, but a few minutes to be sure, the rains tapered to the first snow flurries of the season here in Minnesota. And it was beautiful. I rushed outside like a school boy. Tiny white flakes descending on a cold breeze from an ashen gray sky, melting against my face whilst I grinned into the tempest. Lovely. The first snow flurry also stirs something elemental in both critter and man alike. Our chilly queue perhaps, albeit sans subtle, that a shift in season is upon us on the 45th parallel. Indeed, winter’s first tendrils grapple for purchase. And I cannot help but to reminisce fondly because of it now, to just a few days ago, pit side, with wood smoke in curl, and how good it felt just to tarry there, and sit stalwart in the sun. Amen.
24 hour apple cider brined, hickory smoked turkey breast, moist as turkey can get, sided with homemade dressing and REAL garlic mashed potatoes. Man! Who can wait for Thanksgiving anyways!