Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Smokin Turkeys

Turkeys in the smokehouse (I forgot to tie the wings down making wrapping them a challenge.)
Mention to someone that your going to smoke turkeys and the inevitable joke arises,"How do you keep them lit?" Though they mean as in a cigarette, here in Northeastern Wyoming, keeping the smoke house pilot light lit is no laughing matter, or standing upright either. Our borrowed one is made of heavy metal and can hold the hams and bacons of two hogs so its no flimsy affair but it has to been anchored with wire to two metal posts so the wind, which on occasion reaches 60 mph or better, doesn't blow it over.

For you see in this part of Wyoming, the wind is quite enthusiastic about its job of bringing in nice weather and chasing it out. Wouldn't be such a big deal except the weathers always changing and that means the wind blows most of the time. That's why we check the forecast frequently on the internet to determine what we're going to do the next day. Do we need to fill up the coal and wood bin for the stove like I've got to get done this morning or is it a good day to clean sheds. Those don't come so often as I'm not fond of pitching manure into the back of the pickup to bring home for the garden when the wind is blasting it back into my face. Yum, yum, NOT!

Thanksgiving weekend looked like the last of the good weather for a while so we took the turkeys we'd bought on sale for 40 cents a pound and smoked them last weekend. I don't think Glen who introduced us to cranberry smoked turkey knew what he started, for it's become a family tradition to smoke those on sale turkeys the end of November or the beginning of December. We do enough to last the year as lots of other tasks are clambering for our attention, like butchering the beef and hogs.

So while the ham was roasting in the oven and the smoked turkey breast was slowly reheating in the crock pot for Thanksgiving, four whole turkeys and two turkey breasts were thawing in the garage.

Here's where the weather forecast plays another role as it can't be too warm or the turkeys need refrigeration and it can't be to cold or they'll freeze again setting in the garage. When they'd thawed Kirk placed them into a brine of cranberry black cherry juice, brown sugar, non-iodized salt, basil, and thyme.

The turkeys are suppose to be completely immersed but with so many to do, it doesn't work out that way so instead we have to flip them several times a day.

The following morning we inject them with the brine they've been soaking in.

Then that evening we hung them in the smokehouse, letting them drip a while. My husband then turned on the heat and the temperature slowly rose until 130 degrees F. where Kirk held it for an hour, then adjusted the damper, and put the dampened apple wood chips on the burner. Soon the smoke began billowing throughout the smokehouse and Kirk slowly increase the temperature in increments for the required period of time. Since we don't use curing salt, the turkeys had to be fully cooked to an internal temperature of 170 Fahrenheit.

(We use the book, Great Sausage recipes and Meat Curing by Rytek Kutas as a guide to smoking.)

I was asleep when Kirk turned off the burner to the smoker and went to bed, it was eleven o'clock. Good thing he'd had a long nap that afternoon as he had to leave for work before six the next day. Shortly after he left, he called giving me a heads up that another colorful sunrise was on its way. Yeah!, I had time to dress and chase down the highway, away from town, to the National Grasslands in order to photograph the sun rising over the plains. (Beware, my addiction for photographing sunflowers had changed to taking pictures of sunrises.)

When I got back I took the cooled turkeys out of the smokehouse and cursed myself for not tying the wings down since they insisted on remaining in the flight position. As I struggled to hold them at the turkeys sides and wrap butcher paper around the whole thing, I found myself using LOTS of masking tape. The packages looked liked they were covered in band aids. Luckily they aren't going to be a present. When I was done I realized it probably would have been smarter to cut the wings off and setting them in the package but my hind sight failed to speak up in time, maybe he was enjoying the comical scene.

I would have loved to share a picture of the lovely hint of pink that the smoking and cranberry juice gives the turkey meat, but I put them in the freezer. I was so distracted by all the recovery tasks ahead of me, like changing all the beds, umpteen loads of laundry to do, toys strewn all over etc. that is a natural thing when lots of people stay. I can't complain though because it was a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.

NOTE: If you are blessed to have apricot trees, blackberries, raspberries, or some other luscious fruit to make juice out of, then I'd use it instead of the cranberry black cherry juice. We tried apricot juice once time and it was yummy. We just don't have many options except the store since our weather is pretty tough on trees and berry bushes. Maybe somday we will move to another area of Wyoming where we have more choices.

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