One of the common questions discussed in the Turkey Talk Forum at The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board is whether you can brine an injected, self-basting turkey like the popular Butterball brand turkey. I've always advocated brining a natural turkey so that you have total control over the flavors being adding to the meat. However, there are cases where people want to try brining an enhanced turkey because it's the most affordable option or because that's all they can find at their local supermarket.
As it turns out, you can successfully brine an injected turkey as long as you take care to not brine it too long or use too strong a brine solution so the meat doesn't become too salty.
Here are some photos I took on December 14, 2014 when I brined and smoked this Butterball turkey.
As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.
Select And Prepare The Turkey
Choose a 12-14 pound self-basting Butterball brand or equivalent store brand turkey. 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, rinse thoroughly inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels.
The turkey is now ready for brining.
Photos 1-2 show the 13.04 Butterball Premium frozen turkey I cooked for this recipe, a common turkey that you'll find at supermarkets all over the United States.
Brine The Turkey
In preparation for brining:
See All About Brining and Food Grade Plastic Containers For Brining for information about selecting an appropriate container, including alternatives like coolers or turkey roasting bags inside non-food safe containers. These pictures show an 18-quart polycarbonate food service container that I purchased at a restaurant supply store.
Here's the recipe for the simple brine solution I used for this turkey.
Put the turkey in the brine solution (Photos 4-5). Place a heavy plate or bowl on top to keep the bird submerged, if necessary.
Brine the turkey for 8-12 hours or overnight. Since brining does not preserve meat, the turkey and the brine solution must be kept below 40°F throughout the entire brining process.
Fire The WSM
Fire-up the cooker using the Standard Method—one full Weber chimney starter of hot Kingsford Charcoal Briquets in the charcoal bowl, followed by another full chimney of unlit Kingsford, allowing all coals to become fully lit before cooking.
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.
Rub The Turkey
Remove the turkey from the brine around the same time you start firing-up the cooker. Pat dry with paper towels, then apply a very thin coat of vegetable oil to the turkey skin. Sprinkle with your favorite rub inside and out. Let the turkey stand at room temperature until ready to go into the cooker.
I used Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ "Love Meat Tender" All-Purpose Championship Rub on this turkey. You can make your own version using this recipe from Harry Soo.
For better presentation, tie the ends of the drumsticks together using kitchen twine so they don't splay out into a funny shape during cooking. There's no need for any elaborate trussing. Also, fold the wing tips under the turkey.
Smoke The Turkey
When all the coals are covered with gray ash, place 2 fist-sized chunks of dry apple wood or other mild smoke wood on the coals (Photo 7).
Assemble the cooker and
place the turkey breast-side up on the top grate (Photo 8). Set the three bottom
vents to 50% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way
throughout the entire cook.
Cook the turkey until it measures 160-165°F in the breast,
170-175°F in the thigh, using an instant-read thermometer. Cooking time is approximately 2-1/2 to 3 hours.
I smoked this turkey on a very windy day and had only a partial wind screen to protect the WSM. As a result, I had difficulty getting the cooker above 300°F. Still, the turkey was finished in 3 hours to just over the target internal temperature.
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 (Photo 9). 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 an empty cooler, and hold for 90-120 minutes before
I like to remove the breast as a single piece and then cut into slices across the grain using an electric carving knife (Photos 11-12).
My cooking log notes that this turkey had a dark mahogany color with good moisture, tenderness and flavor without being too salty.
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 any rub 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 arimmed baking sheet pan after letting the turkey rest before carving.
It's not uncommon to end up with about 1-1/2 cups of drippings (Photo 14).
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.
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