Way up north where the sun is barely felt, we made our way, my bride and I. A little get-away from the cliché urban rat race, and the ever-whirling societal cog. A time together and alone, along the Lake Superior coast, in which to unwind, listen to the waves gently lap, and muse at length over what ever else struck our fancy that day. It was good to get out. We strolled along the arctic-like shoreline, in one of the shore’s little fishing hamlets, jackets zipped up tight, admiring the many ice formations there, and yet, courtesy of the lake’s massive thermal inertia, how it’s waters remained fluid and resplendent.
I am no Ansel Adams, not by any means, but I rather fancied how this photo turned out. It was by all accounts and stature, a cloudy, over-cast, cold-to-the-bone sort of day. But in a flip of shutter, lo, the sunbeams did fall from a gray sky, glittered across the bay, and illuminated the ice before my feet. It was beautiful people. Sights patron to a great lakes winter. And for a while at least, you didn’t even notice the cold, and furthermore, you felt sort of privileged just to be there. Seized in the moment. This is nice, I thought. We should eat!
I had brought along on the trip some smoked turkey I had done up the weekend last, and we had been nibbling on it through out our journey in the north. There is something about smoked meat on the shore of a cold lake, with icebergs drifting by, that just feels right. Something partial and abiding with the soul. And as we tarried there snacking on the turkey, eyes drawn to narrow slits in the bright, sparkling light, I was reminiscent of how it went and came to be, this bird back home. It was kind of a fun cook, tho all endeavors at the grill are. Let’s go back in a time just a little, shall we, and I’ll tell you more about it.
One Week Prior
Whilst the pit was coming up to speed, I first rubbed a 13 pound turkey with a little soy sauce. I find soy sauce tends to add a most agreeable flavor to the end game, least wise with poultry. Then I hit the bird over with a good smattering of Tasty Licks Traditional Turkey Rub. I’ve used it before over the years, and it’s fairly good stuff, designed specifically for turkey. Not sure how they do that, but they do.
So it was with a great, and unbridled enthusiasm I placed the gobbler breast-side up, on a roasting pan for to catch the drippings of course, and further, to elevate the turkey up higher into the path of the smoke. A nice little system should you have the appropriate roasting pan that you don’t mind donating to the smokey sciences. Or, simply do not tell your wife.
The enormous dome was thus plunked onto the Weber Smokey Mountain, and things were set in motion. I admired how the golden rays of the afternoon soon dropped slantwise from a cold, January sky, and the wood smoke gently spiraled aloft. The wood we used this time around was pecan. A wonderful, slightly nutty wood that which compliments dead birds with aplomb. If you are lucky enough to have a pecan tree in your back yard, and favor the BBQ arts, you already know this. For us mere mortals however, you might be lucky to find some pecan wood in the grilling section of your local hardware store. Or you could order some online, I suppose. Pecan wood is good mojo tho. Very good!
We let the turkey smoke approximately 4 hours, at 250 degrees. This is of no hardship, either, to a patron of the pit. 4 hours is just right, in point of fact. 4 hours gives you just enough time to watch one NFL playoff football game. Consume two or three lovely beverages, and partake in one glorious, hour-long nap in your man chair. It was perfect. And so was the turkey! You’re supposed to bring the bird to an average of 165 internal, and that’s what every one will tell you I guess. But we brought ours to 160 degrees in spite of it all, and then foiled it, and then put it in a cooler for another hour to rest. During the rest is where the magic happens, where the turkey continues to cook, and the juices redistribute at the same time. The end game – lets just say, is a pecan-scented, walk-off, culinary home run. Man! Get your bibs out people. Consume it accordingly, and wipe thy bidding’s clear of your chin! Even take some with you on your next excursion to the prettier places. It’s all good, and worth every minute, patron to the pit. Amen.
Dunking your brand new white mop into a fresh batch of homemade sauce goes against everything mother had taught you. OK all rules ascend out the window when you begin to baste a half-done smoky rack of ribs. The aromatic mix of spice, vinegar, and smoke waft into the air, and you can’t help but to apply more.
I’d like to share a recipe I found online and tweaked a little for my taste. It’s a Chocolate Infused BBQ Sauce. I know what you’re thinking, “What is he thinking?” Chocolate and BBQ? Chocolate and Smoke? Don’t get me wrong, it sounds weird, but tastes very good. Here’s how it’s done!
- 2 cups ketchup
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
- 3 tablespoons molasses
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper – See Note Below
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped – See Note Below
- Combine ketchup and next 9 ingredients (through pepper) in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring with a whisk. Reduce heat; simmer 8 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; add chocolate, stirring until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.
I decided to make a few notes for the interested reader.
- If you’re going to use Chocolate, go big! OK, I didn’t look too hard at the grocery store. I went with what cost more than Hershey’s or Nestle. I decided to go with Guittard’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips. I felt the flavor stood out more when I have baked with them in the past.
- Also, when a recipe calls for freshly ground pepper, then ground your pepper freshly! I have a mortar and pestle. I love going with a rainbow mix of Peppercorn.
- For those of you who have ever tasted chili infused chocolate, go ahead and throw in some chili powder to taste. The sweet of the chocolate and brown sugar really compliment the kick of pepper and chili powder.
It happens like this more than I’d probably care to admit. How do I tell them, so innocent and feathery, that it is not their kin they smell humbled under the lid. And why is it they always have to show up when it seems they have every right to. That’s not fair. And just a little awkward for everybody.
Nothing is quite so fine, on a cool Thanksgiving Day morning, than walking out onto your patio to see the wood smoke gently curling from your cooker, and the aroma of sizzling bird neath the dark, black, lid. Once you smoke your Thanksgiving turkey, your not likely ever to return to your old ways. Brethren of the smoke know, some things are just better that way. And this is one of them.
Here is how to give your family and friends the bird, or at least how I like to do it.
Ingredients for your mop:
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup salad oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon-1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
Whilst your pit is warming up, mix together this stuff, and brush it all over your bird. Then light dash it with a little salt and pepper. A little garlic salt is nice too.
Place gobbler on grill over indirect heat. If your doing a true smoke here, be expecting 6 to 8 hours for a 12 pound turkey at 225 degrees. Or until the internal temp is at a minimum of 165 degrees, less you be running for the little pit boys room all too frequently. If you don’t have a smoker, no worries, it can be done on a traditional grill almost as poetically, but even faster. For example, your standard back yard Weber is going run much hotter than a smoker, and your turkey will probably be done in about 3 hours. Simply bank the coals to either side of your grill, and put on the bird indirect . Indirect placement, people, is a signature move of a seasoned pit master. Never under estimate it, and do it often.
For smoke wood in this application, I am a big fan of pecan wood. It seems to have that subtle smokey taste that just works with poultry. The pecan smoke also blends magically with the soy sauce and pretty much rocks your turkey to a new level. I prefer the baseball sized chunks of pecan wood that you can pick up at some box stores, or find online. Or if your one of those lucky schmucks who actually has a pecan tree growing in your yard, you are at once my envy, and we should be friends. Many stores sell chips too, which work so long as you soak them good before the smoke. Anyways, place your wood directly on your coals, put the lid back on your grill, and go watch some football. Return to grill on occasion and mop the bird. Remove and rest the bird when internal temp exceeds 165. And don’t forget your drip pan to collect the drippings, as it makes a smokey gravy that will have your ancestors slobbering. Proceed to give your people the bird.
A Small Cut of Meat Poetry
The grill is doing most of the work here, thus freeing you up for the highly important business of loitering in your recliner, or if the day is adequate, your Adirondack chair out by the pit. Be encouraged to slow your day down, and repair quietly with your favorite beverage, pit-side, watching the smoke waft upwards into a beautiful, November sky. And know that for a while the world will spin without you, and that your OK with that. For grilling proper harbors no haste. Life ebbs by fast enough as it is, so let not our grills, nor our time there, know any such swiftness. Indeed, we seek to extend the moment for the moment’s sake, and in that alone, it is well with our soul.