Chow Town

The daily dish on Kansas City's food and drink scene

This Thanksgiving, let’s smoke a turkey

11/21/2013 8:00 AM

11/21/2013 11:35 AM

How do you like your Thanksgiving turkey: oven-roasted, smoked, rotisserie flame-roasted, turkey-less vegan roast, or no turkey at all?

In Chow Town, Thanksgiving without turkey is as unthinkable as a day without barbecue.

My neighbors Kris and Lauran Powell promised their relatives that they will bring smoked turkey to the Thanksgiving feast next week. Kris asked me to mentor him for a trial run last Sunday to make sure he gets it right next Thursday.

There are many paths to smoked turkey perfection. The best way to begin is by keeping it simple and basic. Once that foundation is mastered, it is fun to experiment with variations.

Smoked Turkey 14 pound Butterball hen, thawed Olive oil Pepper Salt Charcoal briquets Apple and pecan wood chips

Method: While 2 cups of wood chips — 3/4 apple and 1/4 pecan wood chips — soaked in water, and a chimney full of charcoal briquets fired up in his charcoal chimney outside, Kris rubbed olive oil on all outer surfaces of the bird, followed by pepper and salt sprinkled on all outer surfaces.

When the briquets were gray, he dumped them on the fire bed in his kettle grill, making a hot zone on one side and leaving a cool zone to place the turkey opposite the coals. After draining the wood chips he placed a cup of wood chips directly on the hot coals, installed the grill grate, placed the turkey, breast side up, opposite the coals, and lidded the grill. He placed a candy thermometer in a lid vent. Using the vents at the bottom of the grill, he controlled the flow of oxygen to maintain a steady temperature of 250 degrees.

After the turkey smoked for two hours, Kris rotated it 180 degrees and re-lidded the grill. He repeated the rotation after another two hours, adding the remaining cup of soaked wood chips and more briquets. Total cooking time: 7-1/2 hours; internal temperature, 165 degrees breast, 170 degrees thighs. He let the bird rest for 45 minutes before carving.

I asked Kris if he is pleased with the result, and what will he do differently next time.

“Everyone loved it,” he said. “My test panel took so much home with them that I didn’t have enough left to share at work!”

As to adjustments for the big day next week?

“I liked the golden brown patina after four hours. The finished bird was dark outside, but moist and flavorful inside.”

Next time he will cover the breast with an aluminum foil canopy after four hours, hoping to maintain that four hour patina.

Turkeys and faux turkeys abound in our Chow Town markets — brined and frozen, brined and fresh, Kosher (try Trader Joe’s), fresh, organic, roasted or smoked to order, or do it yourself. Make your choices and enjoy the feast.

Since turkey contains C-tryptophan, which our brains convert to the calming sleep aid, serotonin, Thanksgiving is a perfect day to adapt Todd Johns’ advice at Plowboys Barbeque in Blue Springs: “Eat BBQ Turkey and Keep Calm.”

Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, His most recent release book is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”


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