The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey (brined and hickory smoked)

Method: indirect grilling / smoking

Serves 12 to 14

Advanced preparation: 16 hours for brining the turkey

  • 1 12 pound turkey
For the brine:
  • 1-1/4 cups salt
  • 1 quart hot water
  • 4 quarts cold water
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a cleaver
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 4 strips lemon zest
  • 2 cloves

For the basting:

  • 4 to 6 tablespoons melted salted butter
  • Maple Red Eye Gravy (see below)
1. The night before, unwrap the turkey, remove the giblets from the main and front cavity, and wash the bird inside and out.

2. Make the brine. Place the salt and 1 quart hot water in a large deep pot and whisk until salt crystals are dissolved. Whisk in the cold water and maple syrup and add the onion, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, lemon zest, and cloves. The mixture should be no warmer than room temperature: if it's hot or warm, let cool. Add the turkey. Place a large zip top bag filled with cold water on top to keep the bird submerged. Place the turkey in the refrigerator and let marinate overnight.

3. Set up your grill for indirect grilling (see page 000 for charcoal or page 000 for gas) and preheat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in center and toss the wood chips on the coals. If using a gas grill, place the wood chips in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch (see page 000) and preheat on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium. If using a smoker, light and set it up according to the manufacturers instructions and preheat to 275 degrees.

4. Place the turkey on the grate over the drip pan away from the fire. Brush with melted butter. Indirect grill until cooked, 2-1/2 to 3 hours. (Use an instant read thermometer to test for doneness-the turkey is ready when the thigh meat is 180 degrees.) If using a charcoal grill, replenish the coals and wood chips every hour. Baste the turkey with melted butter every hour. If the skin starts to brown too much, tent the bird with foil. On a kettle grill, you'll probably need to tent the sides closest to the piles of coals. If using a smoker, you'll need to cook the bird about 3-1/2 to 4 hours.

5. Transfer the turkey to a cutting board and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving. Serve with the following gravy.

Maple Red Eye Gravy

Makes 3 cups

  • 2 cups turkey drippings
  • 1 to 2 cups chicken or turkey stock
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup Madeira wine
  • 1/4 cup coffee
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Strain the turkey drippings into a fat separating gravy boat. Wait a few minutes, then pour the drippings into a large measuring cup, stopping when the fat starts to come out. Add enough chicken stock to obtain 3 cups.

2. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook until a dark golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually whisk in the Madeira, coffee, cream, maple syrup, and the turkey drippings with stock. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil, whisking steadily. Simmer the sauce over medium heat until richly flavored and reduced to about 3 cups, 6 to 10 minutes. Correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.


© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort