Alarm went off on time, but no, getting up wasn’t going to happen. Too many beers the night before and up too late with Jessica and her brother, so I reset and tried again. I finally dragged my weary carcass from bed around 5:45am and got straight to work.
First the turkey was pulled from the truck, and removed from the brine. I rinsed both the turkey and the brine bucket, and the put the turkey back in the bucket with some fresh water. This was recommended to tame the salt some. While the turkey was soaking in fresh water I started to get the smoker ready. Unfortunately I was bit lazy last time I used the smoker and had a lot more work to do than I had expected. I had to empty all the ashes, clean the water pan, and clean the grill. Once the smoker was ready for use, I filled my charcoal chimney and started the first coals. I then went to fill my water pan with water, and this was when I encountered my second problem of the morning. I forgot the pan had a hole in it. I solved the problem last time by lining it with aluminum foil, unfortunately that foil was no longer usable, and we were out of it (or so I thought).
At this point I decided I needed a little help, and nuked up some leftover coffee from the morning before. This alone wasn’t going to cut it, so I added in some Irish cream liquor (Molly’s). This did the trick, and I was able to focus on the problem with the water pan.
I ended up sticking an old camping cook pot in it, and filling that up with water. I couldn’t just use the cook pot because it was too narrow to rest in the sprockets to hang it, but it worked fine sitting in the old pan. Actually, it worked better because it held more water and meant I wouldn’t have to add any while smoking. This was great because refilling it loses a lot of heat and adds time to the cooking process. I also chopped a couple apples that were rather bruised and getting old and threw them into it. The apples wouldn’t taste good to eat, but they would add some flavor to the steam rising from the pot.
Next step was to prepare and apply the wet rub to the turkey. Once again, no recipe, just threw it together. I poured about a ½ cup of olive oil into a bowl, added about a handful of celery salt, ground pepper, thyme, basil, oregano, and garlic powder. Everything was mixed thoroughly and let sit for about 10 minutes. While it was sitting, I pulled the turkey out of the water and dried it off. I then slathered the wet rub all over the turkey and put it to the side.
First cup of coffee was wearing thin and I started a fresh press pot. By the time it was ready, and I added some more Molly’s, the charcoal was ready. So I put the coals into the smoker, added some additional charcoal and a couple pieces of the mesquite wood I had been soaking. Water pan was put into place with the camping pot, and then the grill was put in. I put the lid on the smoker so everything could start heating up, and went inside and put meat thermometer probe in the turkey. The previous year, after struggling to smoke my first turkey, I decided to buy a wireless digital thermometer. This was a great buy, it allowed me to spend time with our guests, help prep the rest of the food, etc, while still monitoring the turkey and smoker temperatures. Once the thermometer was in the turkey, it was time to put it in the smoker and install the other probe in the smoker.
7:30am and the turkey was finally on the smoker. I was a bit concerned that i may have gotten it started a bit late to make our goal dinner time of 4pm. Not much I could do about that at this point so I decided to take a short break and sat on the porch with my coffee and Molly’s. It was too cold to sit out there long, but that was ok, because the coffee didn’t last long anyway. I went back in, poured another cup of coffee and Molly’s and started cleaning up my mess. I needed to get the kitchen ready to start making the rest of the dinner.
I then poured another cup of coffee with Molly’s. Before I finished that cup of coffee, my pocket started beeping letting me know that the temperature in the smoker had fallen too low. So I quickly went out and tried stoking it up. Unfortunately, 15 minutes later temp was still dropping so I started another chimney of charcoal. I used only bigger chips in it so that I could more easily put them into the smoker. I anxiously kept checking the charcoal chimney to see if coals were lit enough to use. The whole time the temperature in the smoker kept slowly sinking. I was starting to think I might have the turkey ready by Christmas at the rate things were going. Finally, the additional coals were ready and I put them in the smoker with some more mesquite, and additional unlit coals. It took a few minutes, but temps started to rise again.
I washed the coal dust from my hands and went back into the kitchen. My next planned step was to make the cranberries. I usually start with the basic 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar and add 1 bag of cranberries. From there I add ground cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger powder, a little ground cloves, cayenne pepper, zest of one orange, and some chopped walnuts. This year I decided, while starting it, to sub in some honey for some of the sugar. I put the water, sugar, and honey into a pot, and put it on the stove with burner on high. While I was waiting for it to come to a boil, I started looking at what else I could get ready, and totally forgot about it. That is until it boiled over. Sugar honey water boiled out of the pan, onto the stove, into the stove etc. I quickly pulled what was left off of the stove, set it aside, and finished my coffee.
After pouring a cup of Molly’s with a dash of coffee, I started cleaning up my mess. About this time Jessica wandered into the kitchen, and informed me that her mom and Tom were bringing the cranberries. This left me with a partial pot of honey sugar water that I didn’t need. But, less work for me, so I celebrated with another Molly’s with a hint of coffee, and then started another pot coffee.
Shortly after I cleaned my sticky mess from the top and insides of the stove, Jessica’s mother, Darla, her mother’s husband, Tom, and her grandmother, Bernie, arrived. We greeted them. Their additions to dinner, and their luggage were brought in. Her brother and Menderes woke up around this time and joined the throng. It was general chaos for a while, and the Molly’s with coffee coloring was going down quickly.
After a while, they all started talking about making breakfast before getting started on dinner. This seemed fine with me, but as with most things, they took a while to get started on it. The smoker temp was doing well, and the turkey was making up for lost time. Temperature of the meat probe showed it cooking quickly. Actually, before anyone got started on breakfast, I started to realize turkey was cooking too quickly. It wasn’t quite 11am yet, and the turkey breast had already reached a temperature of 150deg. It only needed to get to 160!!! Now I was cooking the damn thing too fast! I tried to get them moving on breakfast, but I was the only one that seemed to understand that dinner was coming, and possibly coming soon. If they didn’t get breakfast going, they were going to have turkey for breakfast.
I poured some more Molly’s and went out to try and cool off the smoker. I cracked open the top, and side door for a while. Once temp was down around 250 (it had been around 390) in the smoker, closed it all up again and went back inside and topped my Molly’s off, and added a little coffee coloring.
Fortunately, breakfast was now underway. I was a bit grumpy (a lot grumpy if you ask my wife), and didn’t want to breakfast with everyone. I just wanted to get them started on dinner. Wasn’t sure how long I could nurse the turkey along without drying it out too much. Fortunately, the water pot still had plenty of water steaming away in it. In retrospect, maybe a morning long breakfast of Molly’s and coffee wasn’t the best idea, but at the time I thought it was working well.
Not soon enough for my liking, breakfast was done and I helped clean it up, while drinking another mug of Molly’s. I then helped get started on the rest of Thanksgiving dinner. I was continually in and out of the house though, as smoker temperature kept getting too high. I would go out, partially open top and door again, and then when temp dropped low enough shut them again. The good thing was that Jessica, Darla, and Bernie were all into dinner prep mode and things were going well in the kitchen. At least until we got to the dressing. Jessica wanted to do it one way, her mom a slightly different, I chimed in with another variation and got ignored. Eventually I had enough, or Molly had enough, and I left the rest of the dinner prep to the three of them, which they handled quite skillfully. I instead decided to quit pretending, drained my Molly’s and went down to the basement and poured myself a pint of Southern Tier IPA.
I had to keep sneaking through the kitchen to cool off the smoker, and then back through again, but managed to not interfere with the work going on there. At some point though I did end up with a knife in my hand, but merely used it to chop some onions and celery for the dressing. I also finally found the right amount to crack open top of smoker to keep it at a steady 250deg, so I didn’t have to keep going out. The turkey temp actually dropped back down to 140 and stayed there.
Finally, after I don’t know how much Molly’s and about 3 pints of IPA, dinner was approaching completion. I went out, closed up the smoker, stirred up the coals, and got the turkey going again. It took about 45 minutes, but the turkey hit 160, and dinner was ready. I just needed to let it rest 15 minutes and then carve it up.
Around 2pm we all sat down to eat. We had initially planned for around 4pm, and the way things started with the turkey, I was thinking I’d be lucky first for 10pm, then noon, but it all worked out well in the end. I was feeling no pain, the turkey was tasty, as were the dressing, mashed purple potatoes, mashed turnips, candied sweet potatoes, cranberries, apple pie, pumpkin pie (made with real pumpkin that Jessica cooked up), and cranberry bread. I wish we could have had all of our family and friends with us, but we’re grateful for those that were.
After dinner I had to finish carving up the turkey. The carcass was put in a freezer bag and stuck in the freezer for Jessica to use to make soup. I then had over an hour of clean up for my all of my smoking gear, including the smoker itself. By the time I was done, over 30hrs had been invested in smoking the turkey. A lot of time, but well worth the effort. Good news is, we still have a turkey in the freezer so I can do it all again next summer…