BBQ121/17: Thanksgiving Turkey

BBQ121/17: Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving Turkey: Back in 2014 I was sick of cooking turkey at Christmas that was dry and tasteless even when buying expensive free-range or organic turkeys. They also took up a lot of room in the oven making it hard to fit everything else in at the same time. We decided to give turkey one more go but we would cook it on the BBQ instead of in the oven. There is a lot of pressure on getting the meal right at Christmas so we decided to cook one for Thanksgiving and use it as a test run for Christmas!

That turkey came out really well, it was so tasty and really juicy so we repeated the cook for Christmas 2015, again for Thanksgiving 2016 and then Christmas 2016. Friends and family think it’s hilarious that we cook the turkey on the BBQ but I think it’s great! You get a cracking tasting turkey, free up space in the oven and it is quite amusing to be stood outside on Christmas Day with your festive jumper on firing up the grill and sipping a whisky! It was a bit harder last year as the weather was pretty bad but the BBQ hut should protect me this year!

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This was the turkey cook from last Christmas:

Christmas Turkey

The Meat:

Apologies if this is a bit preachy, I saw the Chicken Fight programme by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall years ago and it set me off on a journey to understand meat, how it’s raised and what happens to it on it’s way to the shops. That process led me to stop buying meat from the supermarkets for almost 10 years now. I prefer to buy from local farmers or trusted online butchers so I know exactly what the animal is, how it was raised, fed and cared for.

Last year the turkey was from Herb Fed via Turner and George. This year I ordered the Thanksgiving Turkey and Christmas Turkey direct from Herb Fed. These are Free Range Bronze Turkeys which grow slowly and forage on herbs outside. They are taken to a minimum of 20 weeks then dry plucked and hung for 10 days. I ordered the smallest Turkey: 4-5kg for £57.25. It’s £62.10 at T&G if you want to order other stuff at the same time.

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Appreciate that is a fair whack of cash but it is for Christmas after all! What do you get for your money?

Cheaper Turkeys:

  • 90% of Turkeys raised in the UK are intensively reared in barns holding up to 25,000 birds at a time. The barns are kept dark to reduce aggression and damage to the birds.
  • The floor is covered in wood shavings and chippings to absorb the faeces and this isn’t changed during the life of the Turkeys so they end up living in their own filth. 5 to 15% of the birds will die in the barn due to the conditions they are raised in. 
  • At a few days old the birds have their beaks partially removed with a red hot wire or clippers. Turkeys aren’t naturally aggressive but the conditions they are kept in alters their behaviour.
  • The birds are fast growing breeds and have access to rapid weight gain (high protein) feed all day long so can reach weight and be slaughtered from 9 weeks onwards. They reach weight in half the time it took in the 1970’s.
  • The turkeys, once killed are dipped into scalding water to loosen the feathers before a machine with revolving rubber fingers removes the feathers. They are then sprayed with cold water.
  • If it’s a frozen bird it could be many months old by the time you get it.
  • It might have been “basted” which is usually an injection of a water and salt solution. You are paying for that water too! I had a look at some supermarket turkeys which don’t mention being basted but they have a high salt content which you wouldn’t expect to occur naturally.

Herb Fed Turkey’s:

  • Kept in small groups with light, fresh air and access to outdoor space.
  • The bedding is changed 3 times a week with fresh straw.
  • Beaks are left intact.
  • Slow growing birds that build up fat and plumper breasts for moist meat and more flavour.
  • The birds are fed on cereal, oats and 10 types of herbs.
  • Killed on site then dry plucked, waxed, hand finished then game hung. When you touch these turkeys you feel the difference straight away, the skin is dry and not slimy. You can smell the bird from where it’s been hung too.

Once you take all this into consideration it’s no wonder really that intensively reared meat doesn’t taste as good as traditionally reared meats. 

Other smaller producers/Turkey farmers will produce a quality product similar to the Herb Fed birds, probably just without the herbs in their diet. See your local butcher or do a Google search for local Turkey farmers. Farmers markets usually have Poultry farmers selling quality Turkeys.

The Prep:

There is a lot of pressure on getting your turkey just right, it’s probably one of the most stressful things at Christmas especially if you are cooking for loads of folk. I have tried wet brine and I have tried dry brine. Kenji has written some interesting articles about brining and states the “wet brine waters down the natural taste of your turkey” and he prefers a dry brine. I did a wet brine in 2014 (before BBQ) and it was better but the Turkey was pretty tasteless, this was an expensive bird from M&S if I remember correctly too. The next year we did a dry brine using Meathead’s method and last year was a dry brine using Kenji’s methods. Both were great tasting, juicy turkeys but they tasted a bit salty. With that in mind and based on experience of cooking the Herb Fed Chickens I just sprinkled some salt on the bird and patted it in before I put it on the rotisserie. No brine (wet or dry)!

I fired up a full chimney of Oxford Charcoal Hardwood Blend and once fully lit I poured it into charcoal baskets either side of the rotisserie bar space. 

The Cook:

I slotted the rotisserie bar through the turkey and secured the forks into the meat and set it off to rotate.

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I added a chunk of Hickory and a chunk of Cherry making sure I pushed the wood out to the far edge to avoid flames hitting the turkey and burning it.

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Previous cooks have taken 90 minutes so I was guessing this would be about the same. The grill was running at around 250c, you could run it lower and cook longer. I was planning to do this but I got started later than planned so just ran it at 250c. 90 minutes is a lot quicker than you would expect but the notes that came with the Turkey advise this is normal for a quality bird.

35 minutes in and the Turkey was taking on a great colour from the smoking wood.

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At 90 minutes the internal temperature was around 75c in most places.

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I took the meat off to rest for half an hour. The wing tips were a bit charred, I thought they might get burnt as it rolled round. I will probably trim these off next time.

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Time to Eat:

After half an hours rest it was time to slice!

DSC02550-01This is not a great picture which I am a bit gutted about! I had sipped a few single malts at the time so I will blame that. You can see the amount of juice that’s come off the bird though, it was fantastic!DSC02558-01My wife contacted some of her American pals to see what we should have with the Turkey: Candied Yams, Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole, Gravy and Cranberry sauce:IMG-20171126-WA0004-01IMG-20171126-WA0005-01Finished off with Pumpkin Pie:IMG-20171126-WA0002-01

 

Summary:

This was such a stress free cook. Literally, set it off and leave it for 90 minutes which also left plenty of room in the oven for everything else to get cooked. Before the turkey was cooked I could tell it was a quality product from touching it and smelling it. A total contrast to the supermarket birds I have had in the past. Eating it once cooked we weren’t disappointed either. The meat had a nice gamey taste, was very tender, very juicy and had that nice touch of flame and smoke to it. We really enjoyed the meal!

The breasts were pretty big and the 4 of us didn’t finish off a whole breast between us. There was plenty of meat that came off the carcass easily too. The leftovers will last us quite a few meals which brings the cost per meal down.

So, in summary – a great meal, stress free and really tasty. No need to brine (Wet or Dry) just spend a bit extra on a quality bird. This is exactly what I will do for Christmas lunch and my Turkey is already ordered from Herb Fed. My wife went to pick up the Turkey from M&S one year and had to queue up for 2 hours to be told our order wasn’t there. Who needs that aggravation at an already busy time?! Just get it delivered!

Cook Equipment: Weber Kettle
Cook Method: Rotisserie
Charcoal: Oxford Charcoal Hardwood Blend
Smoking Wood: Smokewood Shack Hickory and Cherry
Cook temperature: 250C
Cook time: 90m and 30m rest
Internal temperature: 75C
Notes: 1: Trim off the wing tips before cooking

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