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Bob Hart’s recipe for the perfect smoke-roasted turkey

Article image for Bob Hart’s recipe for the perfect smoke-roasted turkey


It’s turkey time. And for many, notably Americans, the turkey rehearsal has already taken place with one of these mighty birds having been served up for Thanksgiving on November 26. And yes, I celebrate it every year ? notably as a chance to choose a barbecue, rehearse my Christmas turkey roast, and settle upon a technique.

This year, for example, I roasted a (smallish) 4kg bird in a Pit Barrel Cooker ? the newly-released smoke-roasting barbecue I mentioned some weeks ago, and which is unbeatable for this particular bird, and many other joints of meat. And is now in our shops at around the $700 mark.

Traditionally, turkeys are gently roasted and served in mountainous quantities  – Americans insist you must allow at least 500g of bird per person when you order your turkey – with an alarming array of side dishes and vegetables. But that’s not quite our way.

Methods of cooking turkeys – not the easiest of creatures to prepare because of a tendency for the breast meat to become dry and boring – have changed over the years. Americans, for example, love to deep-fry them and, curiously, that method works pretty well ? except for a tendency for it to burn your house down. One essential technique, however you are cooking your bird, is to brine it for up to 24 hours before cooking it. This way, both moisture and flavourings penetrate the meat and the result is spectacular.

So now, buy a fresh bird of around 5kgs (for 12 diners or 10 Americans) ? you can order a fresh one at places like the market poultry shops – and try this:

Make enough brine to cover the bird: use a generous cup of sea salt with three litres of water and balance with half as much sugar – brown, ideally, and raw Dulce sugar (from Market Lane coffee outlets) if possible – as salt.

Enliven your brine and, thus, the turkey, by adding plenty of orange zest and some juice, several flattened garlic cloves and a generous splash of bourbon. Also, prick the skin in a few key places to allow the brine to penetrate.

Dissolve the sugar and salt in warm water before making up the quantity with cold and, cooling more if necessary. Remember, also, after brining, to rinse the bird in fresh water and to pat it dry with kitchen towels. If you can source one of those giant resealable plastic bags, you will find it easier to accommodate the bird in your fridge, incidentally. Now?

Brined birds give you a head start, but you still have to think about it your approach to roasting it. And if you decide to barbecue it, which I strongly advise, much will depend upon your barbecue. For a large gas barbecue, a Weber kettle or any kamado barbecue, for example, you can either roast it on an adjustable roasting rack, in the conventional manner, or butterfly it and cook it on the grill ? starting skin side up ? to speed up the process. Allow plenty of time ? up to 3 hours for a whole (not butterflied) bird – and use a good meat thermometer to monitor your progress. You need to get that internal temperature to around 75-80 C. Remember, also, to loosely tent your cooked bird and rest for at least 30 minutes before carving. Other things ? a good giblet gravy, sweet potatoes cooked slowly in butter and cream, sprouts and the rest ? are entirely up to you.

This year, I will repeat my Thanksgiving approach and use my Pit Barrel Cooker with a turkey hanging rack and a hint of hickory. It works magnificently. So please, don’t call on Christmas Day.