Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deep Fried Turkey, Hold the Deep Fry

The "Oil-less Turkey Fryer" from Char-Broil arrived just in time for me to test before Thanksgiving. I am one of their bloggers this year on Char-broil live in exchange for a few goodies like this. The products are for me to use or give away. If I want to review them, I can, but without any strings attached. But first, some back story....

I've been intrigued by this little unit for a few years now, having competed on one in a Barbecue Smackdown at Memphis in May in 2010. I'd always wanted to go to MIM, so when Char-Broil invited me to be a guest chef for some fun demos and competitions with some other barbecue personalities, I jumped at the chance.

I'd never touched one before I was thrown into a celebrity grilling competition, and had to learn quickly how to operate it while at the same time realizing that everyone else was cheating wildly, pulling bacon and other ingredients out of their pockets.

Luckily, The Big Easy, as it's called, is really easy to operate. Turn on gas, turn igniter switch and you are good to go. I didn't win the competition, but it was a blast. Next time I'll stuff my pockets with bacon. It was nice to get to know this cooker at home, without the pressure of TV cameras on me.

I decided to make a simple "deep fried turkey", according to the recipe provided in the packaging booklet. I rubbed a 14 lb turkey with peanut oil, and then sprinkled on a rub I made by mixing two commercial rubs together plus some thyme. I didn't need to get finicky about the rub as this was my maiden voyage. It was more about testing the tenderness, the skin, and the cook time than any specific flavors.

First I seasoned the little guy (the grill, not the bird) with vegetable oil, per the instruction booklet. By the way, my preferred oil rag for grills is a clean old sock of Eric's that has finally shredded. I can get an old sock oily, dirty, and then throw it in the compost with a clear conscience that I've both reused an old thing and diverted it from a landfill. We always seem to have a steady supply of tube socks in the process of biting the dust. Eric will try to wear the torn, holey socks out of the rag drawer, so I have to actually rip them to the point that they no longer hold a foot. But I digress....

Here are my comments on The Big Easy:

I cooked my turkey for 4 hours, about 30 minutes too long because the kids were in the bath and I couldn't go out and get it. It came out beautiful, but on the edge of too done. The booklet math recommendation came out to 3.5 hours so it was correct.

The skin: The skin is definitely the highlight of this turkey and cooking method. It was all I could do not to pick the bird bald. Crispy, fried but not oily, and a deep amber color...perfect.

The flavor: I didn't brine the turkey and wish I had. It was a little bland beyond the skin layer.

The texture: This time of year we are up to our necks in turkey at Pete's, so I'm used to the smooth, almost delicate texture of a smoked turkey. The texture was a little tougher, but I attribute this to my overcooking.

Sturdiness and other comments about the cooker itself: I like the basket and little handle lifty thing that comes with. You simply load the basket and drop it down. It was solid enough and sat level, yet once assembled I could carry it out the door and down the steps to the front yard. It was easy to set up and easy to clean.

What I did NOT like: It cooks totally open - you only use the mesh lid at the end, meaning you have this really hot burning thing right at kid level. And by kid level, I mean right exactly at the height and spot a 2-5 year old would stick their hands on or in. It made me very nervous. I got so nervous bringing my almost 3 yr old widely around it that she nearly tripped, out of transferred nervousness, into the burning hot center.

I've come up with a solution. Char-broil should include cones and caution tape with the packaging to section off the grill. And maybe a few English traffic cops to stand around it to make sure no one gets too close to the flame.

Final comments: I like it. I'm keeping it vs giving it away. I wish it came with a lid or cover because the very first night I left it out and of course it rained. I recall the ones we used in the competition had lids, and grill inserts so maybe these are extras one can order.

I'll use it again, though it will most likely be on a less frequent rotation than other grills, due to the open flame/small child issue. I want to try it with a brined turkey. The booklet has some recipes with injections, but no brines.

As for my opinion on injections, I think I've already answered that poetically.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Barbecue Soap Curing

The barbecue soap is unmolded and cut. It will be ready for sale and to ship by December 5th, just in time for the holidays.

I've been making this soap for stocking stuffers since we opened Smokin' Pete's. It's scented with hickory and sandalwood, and is a classic Castille soap recipe (mostly an olive oil base, with some coconut and palm oil). No, I did not render the brisket fat to make it! I used to make soap and bath products with a friend. For a brief while we sold it at crafts fairs and farmer's markets.

The last two years, I've either not made it or made very little, but I've had so many requests this year I made sure to make two big batches.

The only change this year is to the packaging: instead of the tag line "For the manly man that wants to smell fresh out of the smoker!", it will say "For when you want to smell fresh out of the smoker!"

I've always struggled with that line. It always got a lot of laughs, and I liked the rhythm of it, but I didn't like that it was only geared toward men. In honor of the spirit of She-Smoke, I decided to make the packaging equitable for all. Here is what the packaging looks like, but with the "old" line.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's Here! My New Oil-less Turkey Fryer

It's called The Big Easy and Char-Broil claims is has all the taste of a fried turkey, without the oil, mess and imminent backyard explosions we hear about every year on Thanksgiving.

I'm intrigued. I've always been too chicken to fry a turkey (heh heh), and therefore the perfect candidate to try out a gas powered oil-less unit.

First I'll need to assemble and season the little guy. I've bought a 14+ pound Northwest Natural turkey and am planning to try the first recipe in the Charbroil booklet they send. It's very simple - 1 turkey, peanut oil, and herb seasoning of your choice.

How many of you have deep fried a turkey? How many have tried The Big Easy? If you've tried both, please share your comparison in the comments.

Monday, November 14, 2011

7 Do's/Don'ts When Smoking Turkey

Turkey time is a favorite part of the year for me. For one, Thanksgiving dinner is my favorite meal. When asked what I'd choose if stranded on a deserted island, with only one food choice, I say Thanksgiving dinner. Then I'm told that's not fair, I must choose one food, like a mango, to which I reply, that's ridiculous, no one could live off one food, nutritionally, and I stick to my guns. Definitely Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, and gravy...lots and lots of gravy.

I love the hustle and bustle of this week at the restaurant, and I know all of you are making plans, calling relatives and friends, and divvying up the menu. Are you are asked each year to bring a special dish that everyone loves? Is there a dish someone always brings that, oh god, makes everyone silently groan?

If you are on turkey duty, here are some tips for smoking your turkey.

#1 DO start with, if possible, a fresh bird. Fresh birds were slaughtered this season. When you buy a frozen bird, it could very well have been left over from the year before.

#2 DO buy a natural turkey that has not been pumped with any solution. You are going to brine your turkey, so you'll want your turkey free of additives.

#3 DO brine your turkey before smoking. Give at minimum of one hour of brine per pound of your turkey. Usually one day in the brine is best. This will keep your bird juicy during the smoking process. See my post above all about brines.

#4 DON'T get too fancy with your brine. Strong brines, like beer or wine brines, are best for red meat. I find a simple salt brine or citrus brine is best for turkey.

#5 DO rub turkey with olive oil or butter before you add a spice rub. This will help combat the somewhat rubbery skin that can occur from slow and low cooking.

#6 DON'T stuff your smoked turkey. Stuffing lowers the center temperature of the turkey. Because of the low temps for smoking (180-220), stuffing won't allow the bird to get up to a proper safe internal temperature. I'll discuss the stuffing conundrum in my next post.

#7 DO remind your guests, in particular your mother, that smoking causes the meat to turn pink. It's a different pink than a turkey that is undercooked. Undercooked turkeys are pink in the center, closest to the bone. Smoked turkeys are pink throughout.

Those are just a few tips dealing with the very beginning and the very end of smoking one's turkey. I'll discuss the middle part, the cooking part, in my next posts this week.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Brining the Bird 101 (Repost)

This is a repost from a Thanksgiving series I did in 2009. I won't repost the entire series, but brining your turkey before smoking is both essential and simple. Without further ado....
For Turkey Week today the Barbecue 101 class is about BRINES.

What is brine? It is a combination of water or other liquids, with salt and often sugar. Brines add flavor and more importantly, moisture to the meat.

How does it work? For a brine to do it's magic, it must a) fully cover the meat and b) be saltier than the meat itself. The meat draws in the salt, and the liquid with it, to equalize the salt ratio. It makes sense, when you think about it. There aren't "salty spots" in an ocean, or "almost fresh water" areas. Salt water is salt water. I know there is a scientific answer for this, but it's late while I'm writing and I don't want to get on an oceanography google fest tangent. If any of you want to chime in, please do.

What goes into a brine? Water and salt are all you really need, but it's fun to add other flavors. A large turkey isn't going to take on much flavor inside the meat from a rub. That will remain on the skin, or just under as we will discuss in the Thursday recipe. A brine is an excellent way to infuse other flavors into your turkey. Sugar and vinegars are popular. So is beer or other alcohols. I like these on large cuts of pork or beef, but find they overpower turkey.

I get surprisingly traditional at holiday time. I just can't teriyaki my turkey. I love the simple flavors of citrus, garlic, and herbs. Below is a variation of the Citrus and Clove Brine featured in She-Smoke (pg. 63). For examples of other brine recipes, click here. My turkey was pretty big for smoking (14lbs), and I used a 5-gallon bucket so I made a brine batch and a half. If you fill a large plastic bag with your brine and turkey, you can make less brine solution.

Holiday Turkey Brine

2 gallons water
2 cups kosher salt
3 tbls. pepper corns plus 1 tbls. ground pepper
1 red onion, cut into wedges
1 orange, cut into wedges
1/2 grapefruit, cut into wedges
1 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
5 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves

As a general rule, you need to submerge a turkey an hour for every pound, for a maximum of 48 hours. Too long in the brine and the meat can get mushy. Once brining is done, rinse the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels before adding your rub and cooking. The Thursday recipe will cover preparing and smoking a turkey.

Any questions, class? Please post them in the comments so that everyone can benefit from the discussion.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stuffed Turkey Breast with Orange-Maple Glaze

Whether you want a new turkey breast recipe for a weekday dinner, or have a smaller gathering at Thanksgiving this year, here is a post I hope you'll like that I wrote for Char-broil Live.

The other day a friend of mine bemoaned the fact that she would be having a quiet Thanksgiving this year. She loves turkey dinner with all the trimmings but the thought of “all that work” just for two, and having to process most of the turkey for the freezer, was making her rethink the menu. She wasn’t fishing for an invite. In fact, she was looking forward to her first quiet Thanksgiving in her 42 years.

Read the rest of the post and recipe HERE!

I'll be posting more about turkey and some trimmings this month. If anyone has questions they'd like answered, please e-mail me at julierbq at q dot com and I'll put it on the list to discuss this month!