Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Orange and Bourbon Brined Turkey on the Grill

Since our daughter, her husband, and the grand baby are visiting from Florida, we decided to have Thanksgiving on Labor Day.   Brett and his girlfriend came over and we had the whole family back home at the same time for the first time in several years.  

For the turkey, I used an orange and bourbon brine to add flavor and moisture.  The brine worked because the turkey tasted great and my daughter said it was the juiciest turkey she's ever had.   The smoky flavor of the bourbon and the citrus tang is subtle but there, just the way I like it.

spatchcock turkey, BGE turkey, grilled turkey, smoked turkey

Note:  Not sure where we got this turkey platter but it is very close to this one:
HIC Porcelain Turkey Platter 17.5-inch
Two notes on brining.  First, if you can, get a bird that has not been pre-brined "packaged in a solution" but if you don't have a choice, cut the amount of salt in this brine in half.   Second, thaw the bird before brining.  I know it seems like a good idea to use the brining time as thaw time too, but the brine won't penetrate frozen meat particularly well.

I also spatchcocked the bird which means butterflying it in reverse, cutting out the backbone.   This technique helps the bird cook faster, more evenly, and I prefer the presentation of a laid out turkey.   I used the cooking times, temps, and technique that Pitmaster, Chris Lilly, used for his Charcoal-Grilled Turkey with Fresh Herb Butter at the Kingsford Invitational last year.  That bird was also spatchcocked. 

Orange and Bourbon Brined Turkey
Prep Time: 1 hour plus 12-24 hours for the brine
Cook Time: 3-4 hours
Ingredients (6 servings)
You'll Need
  • 1 turkey, thawed if frozen, giblets removed
  • 1/2 cup poultry rub but you probably won't use it all
  • 1/2 cup butter (one stick)
For The Brine
  •  2 gallon distilled water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flake
  • 1 Tbsp dried minced garlic
  • 1.5 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 2 cups Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon
  • 1-2 cara cara or blood oranges, cut into eighths.  
  1. Make The Brine.  Put 1 gallon of water and remaining brine ingredients except bourbon and oranges in a pot.  Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally for 5 minutes, then remove heat.  Add remaining gallon of water (or a mix of water and ice), oranges, and bourbon and chill the brine to 40f.  
  2. Brine the Turkey for at least 1 hour per pound or up to 24 hours.  You must keep the brine and turkey at or under 40f for the duration of the brining.
  3. Spatchcock and air dry the turkey.  You can rinse the turkey if you like.  I did not. Using a pair of poultry shears, cut up each side of the backbone and reserve that for making stock.  Remove the keel bone or break the breastbone so the turkey lies flat. (If your butcher has fresh turkeys, he/she may be willing to spatchcock it for you and in that case, you can just brine the bird already cut open.)  Put it on a sheet pan and air dry it in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.  This will help golden browning and crispy skin.
  4. Preheat a charcoal grill to 450f.  Season the top and bottom of the turkey liberally with the rub.  Work some up under the skin too.  Grill skin side down for 5 to 7 minutes.  
  5. Place the turkey skin side up in a large pan that fits the chicken.  Reduce the grill heat to 350 and grill skin side up until the breast internal temperature hits 155-160f and the thighs reach 175-180f.  This should take in the neighborhood of 2 1/2 to 3 hours.  About one hour into this portion of the cook, baste the turkey with melted butter.  I added some of the leftover rub to the melted butter.  
  6. Rest turkey for 15-20 minutes.

It is important to keep your brine at or below 40f for the whole time.  Otherwise it isn't a brine -  it is a bacteria and germ incubator.   The problem is that a turkey in brine takes up a LOT of room in a fridge and during holidays, fridge space is at a premium.  So I put my turkey and brine in a lidded stock pot that fits into a cooler and then surround and top the pot with ice.  If you pack it tight and keep the cooler closed, you should easily be able to keep the temps below 40f for 24 hours.
Lid off for demonstration.  Lid was then placed on and a bag of ice placed on top of that.

24 hours later after the pot was out of the cooler for 15 minutes or so, still under 40f.

I used Kingsford blue bag and for smoke, I mixed 6 of their Hickory Smokehouse briquetes in with the coal.  These are compressed briquetes of wood that give a burst of smoke.  They are made for grilling but I thought I'd try them in more of a smoking situation.  

My weapon of choice was the Pit Barrel Cooker that I have been testing out (review post upcoming). The Pit Barrel Cooker started off at 375f initially which was hot enough to sear my turkey skin side down.  Once I had flipped it, the PBC steadied out at 325f.  That couldn't have worked out better. It held that temp for the rest of the cook and even hours after I was done. 

Starting to look pretty.  It's like a tanning booth for turkeys!

It didn't stay this pretty for long, we tore it up!
This was one of the easiest turkeys I have ever cooked.  I think part of that is due to the no-fuss settings of the Pit Barrel Cooker and partly because the spatckcocked turkey is just easier to cook through.  Oh yeah, part of it is also my wicked good pitmaster skills and experience ;) 

If you haven't tried cooking a spatchcocked turkey, give it a shot this holiday season.  If you've never smoked a turkey before, the Pit Barrel Cooker would be a good and inexpensive way to start.  

UPDATE:  Noah and Amber Glanville, the founders of Pit Barrel Cooker Company, are still in the running for a Super Bowl commercial care of Intuit's Small Business/Big Game contest.  The contest runs through this weekend.  If you could VOTE FOR THEM it would be greatly appreciated.

My husband Noah and I started the Pit Barrel Cooker Co. at the end of 2010. He was in the Military doing several deployments overseas and I was working in advertising. In December 2010 we found out that we were going to be parents! What a blessing! It was at this point that we decided to start the Pit Barrel Cooker Co. It was a business that went from our neighbors garage (we didn't have one at the time) to where we are today selling just over 2500 units in 2 years. We are very proud to manufacture our product in the United States of America, the same country that my husband fought for.