Smoking A Thanksgiving Turkey, “Guajolote Ahumado”
Karla McLaughlin continues a practice that began here in 800 B.C., the domestication of turkeys. I’m grateful to Karen who drove all the way from Montgomery to my home in Houston to deliver this 15 pound organic-fed, free-roaming turkey and two pork loins. She generously took the time because I was in a pinch, facing a party deadline. She is a one-of-a-kind farm owner. Knowledgeable, caring and meticulously strict about raising the turkeys and other animals that she and her husband, John, tend on their farm.
They call it “Olde World Farms” and it is located in Montgomery, Texas. No antibiotics, no animal products in their feed. The turkeys stay inside large barns until they are big enough so that the hawks won’t swoop them up. Then they grouse around and eat freely on the farm. On Saturdays Olde World Farms sells at the Urban Harvest Eastside Street Farmers Market.
To prepare the turkey for smoking, this is what I used to make the
3 gallons warm water
1 lb salt
12 ounces light brown sugar
1 Tbs onion powder
1 Tbs garlic powder
Stir until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved then let the brine cool down completely.
1. I used a syringe to inject some of the brine into the meat. the total amount of brine should be 10% of the weight of the turkey. Here’s the math for a 15 lb turkey.
15 X 16 ounces = 240 ounces
240 ounces X .10 = 24 ounces of brine. (FYI: One fluid ounce of water weights exactly 1 ounce)
2. Using a plastic or stainless steel container, submerge the turkey in the brine and refrigerate for 3 days. The container was too heavy and large for my refrigerator so I partially filled a large ice chest with ice and a little water and set the container in it. Closing the ice chest, the temperature is maintained at a safe 37-39 degrees F
3. After the third day, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse it thouroughly with fresh water, pat dry and place in the fridge, uncovered, for 16 hours until a pellicle forms on the skin. This tacky glaze will help absorb smoke and keep in the moisture. I hate to say this but in the interest of efficiency, omit this step if you don’t have time to do this or if there’s no room in the fridge.
4. Smoke the turkey in Pecan wood at 185 F for about 6-8 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.
Ok, yes, you can enjoy a beer meanwhile, and ponder this:
A) The habit of cooking and eating turkey predates us by centuries and
B) The bird came from Mexico and is native to this land, Americas.I’ve placed a dot on the location of Coba, Mexico, near Cancún.(1) This is where archeologists have found the earliest evidence of turkey remains. They are dated 100 BCE-100 CE. From there the turkey went north and populated North America, evidence of the vibrant trade and communication withiin the region pre-1400’s. By the time the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, we had domesticated turkeys not just in Mexico but also in what is now the US New Mexico and Texas (2). Thereafter the turkey, wild and domesticated, populated the whole of the US and some of Canada. By your second beer, you will have pondered that we and the turkey go back a long way.Let me know how it turns out if you decide to smoke for Thanksgiving. ¡Feliz Día de Dar Gracias!
(1) map used by permission of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
(2) “Native Americans First Tamed Turkeys 2,000 Years Ago” Feb 1, 2010 by Jennifer Viegas
(this post first published November 16, 2011)