Salting is a method that adds flavor to poultry and retains moisture in the meat without the hassles associated with brining. No big plastic containers taking up room in the refrigerator, and no significant changes to the texture of meat after brining that some people find objectionable.
Crispy skin is always a challenge when barbecuing poultry, and brining makes matters worse because the skin retains water from the brine solution. To promote better skin, this recipe applies a mixture of salt and baking powder to the skin that helps remove moisture, and the alkalinity of the baking powder creates more browning and crispier skin. The recipe also calls for poking holes into the skin that let rendered fat drain away, which also promotes better skin. These techniques are inspired by several articles that have appeared in Cook's Illustrated magazine over the years.
Here's how I salted and cooked a whole turkey using this method on August 22, 2009 and May 25, 2013. The photos in this article are a mix from both dates. You may notice that, in some photos, the black pepper is missing from the turkey skin...that's the August turkey.
As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.
Select And Salt The Turkey
Choose a 12-14 pound turkey and thaw according to the package directions. Remove and discard any leg restraint, then remove the giblets from the neck cavity and the neck from the body cavity. Trim away large areas of fat or excess skin around the body cavity, and pat dry with paper towels.
Using the handle of a wooden spoon, loosen the skin over the breasts, legs, and thighs as far as you can in all directions (Photos 1-3). Work slowly from the cavity opening, making sure not to puncture the skin.
Salt the turkey as follows. Measurements assume Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt*.
After salting, cover the turkey and refrigerate for 24-48 hours (Photo 8).
* 1 TBSP Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt = 2-1/4 tsp Morton's Kosher Salt; 1 tsp Diamond = 3/4 tsp Morton's.
Skewer And Butter The Turkey
Fold the wings under the turkey so they won't burn during cooking. Tie the legs together using kitchen twine so they don't splay-out during cooking.
For a neat appearance, use toothpicks to pin down the loose skin around the cavity opening (Photo 9). This prevents the skin from shrinking away from the cavity during cooking.
Brush the turkey all over with 4 Tablespoons of melted butter (Photo 10).
Use a skewer to poke 15-20 holes in the fat deposits of the breasts and thighs (Photos 11-12).
Let the turkey sit at room temperature until ready to go into the cooker.
Fire The WSM
Fire-up the cooker using the Standard Method—one full Weber chimney of hot Kingsford charcoal briquettes in the charcoal bowl, followed by another full chimney of unlit Kingsford, allowing all coals to become fully lit before cooking.
If you have two chimneys, you can fire all of the charcoal at once, as shown in Photo 13.
Foil The Water Pan
Cover the inside and outside of the water pan with wide, heavy duty aluminum foil. Place the pan inside the cooker, but leave it empty.
No Rub Required
There is no barbecue seasoning or rub applied to the turkey as part of this recipe. If you choose to use one, try a low-salt or no-salt rub.
Smoke The Turkey
When all the coals are covered with gray ash, place 2-3 medium-sized chunks of dry cherry wood or other mild smoke wood on the coals. I used 2 chunks of cherry (Photo 15).
Assemble the cooker and
place the turkey breast-side up on the top grate (Photo 16). Set the three bottom
vents to 100% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way
throughout the entire cook.
If the cooker drops below 325°F with all three bottom vents fully open, try turning the access door upside down and propping it open (Photo 18). This allows more air into the cooker, causing the fire to burn hotter.
Cook the turkey until it measures 160-165°F in the breast,
170-175°F in the thigh, approximately 2-1/2 to 3 hours.
Here's how the cooker temperatures and vent settings went during my cook:
Rest Then Carve The Turkey
Remove the turkey from the cooker and let rest for 20 minutes before carving. Do not cover with foil, as this will cause the skin to go soft.
Alternatively, wrap the
turkey tightly in several layers of wide, heavy duty aluminum foil,
place breast-side down in a dry cooler, and hold for 90-120 minutes
I like to remove the breast as a single piece and then cut into slices across the grain using an electric knife (Photo 20).
Photo 21 shows the legs/thighs from the finished turkey. Photo 22 shows a close-up of the moist, tender breast meat and thin, crispy skin.
Collecting Pan Drippings For Gravy
There are three common ways to collect pan drippings when smoking a turkey:
Assuming you don't over smoke the turkey, the drippings will be perfect for making gravy—in fact, they're already seasoned by the salt applied to the turkey.
As you remove the turkey from the cooker, pour any accumulated juices inside the body cavity into the pan. You can also use the juices left in the bottom of a rimmed baking pan after letting the turkey rest before carving.
It's not uncommon to end up with about 1-1/2 cups of drippings (Photo 24).
If you don't have any drippings, make the delicious turkey giblet gravy described on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board using the giblets, aromatic vegetables, chicken stock, white wine, and seasonings.
More Turkey Links On TVWB