The unseasonably warm weather in my hometown of Nashville assured that my holiday turkey would just have to be cooked outdoors. I’ve outgrown the fad of deep-frying turkeys, both because it’s really pretty unhealthy and the fact that I really don’t want to burn my house down just to save a little cooking time. Plus, I really like the flavor of a smoked turkey because, let’s face it turkey doesn’t really taste like much unless you add something to the meat.
After a two-day brine in a simple solution of water, salt, sugar and a few favorite spices and an overnight stay in my refrigerator to dry the bird out a little bit to help ensure a crispier skin, I applied my favorite wet rub under the skin and all over the outside and got ready to smoke it.
Of all my outdoor cooking devices, and trust me when I say I have a few of those, I prefer to use a simple electric kettle smoker because it’s easy to fire up and keeps a very even heat level throughout the cooking process, which is really important during the seven-hour + smoke that a 14 lb. turkey requires. Unfortunately, over the years the heating element of my smoker has begun to wear out and it seems to lose a couple of degrees off of the top temperature every time I use it which can drastically increase the cook time. I’ve replaced the element once already but wasn’t smart enough to consider this before embarking on this year’s turkey.
I always use my iGrill when I’m smoking to monitor both the temperature of the meat and the cooking area simultaneously. As the morning progressed, I tracked the graphs of the probe inserted inside the thigh of the bird and watched it steadily creep upwards toward my desired temperature of about 175°. I was mildly alarmed when the temp seemed to plateau at about 150° and stayed there for a while after four hours of cooking. I did some mental arithmetic and thought I could still get the bird cooked in time for the expected onslaught of relatives who were expecting a big meal that afternoon. Then, the turkey’s temperature graph apparently reached a point of inflection and began to head down. Uh oh, nobody wants an undercooked bird.
I decided that I needed to employ an alternate cooking method in a hurry. Since most of the smoke flavor is contributed in the first couple of hours cooking anyway, I could have gotten away with finishing the bird in the oven just to bring it up to a safe temp, but I had already promised the oven space to my girlfriend who had lots of other dishes planned to go in and out of the oven during the hours leading up to supper. Plus guy=outdoor cooking, right?
So I figured I could crank up my Medium Green Egg and still complete the cooking over smoke and fire, thus preserving my man card. With time running out, I had to get the Egg up to cooking temperature in a hurry. Fortunately, I had the nuclear option available to me thanks to a trick I’ve learned from friends on the competitive barbecue circuit. I unhooked my propane tank from my gas grill and attached a 100,000 BTU garden torch. (NOTE: do not try this at home. Or at least don’t say that I suggested it.) After a quick Johnny Human Torch impression, the coals were hot and ready to roll. Here’s a picture of a friend of mine using this method on my Primo grill to give you an idea of the power I brought to bear. And how much fun it was.
Of course, there were still a few flare-ups, but I was prepared with a new product that the folks at Grate Chef had sent me earlier to try out. Flare Down is a specially formulated spray designed to help you safely put out grill flare ups while you are cooking out. “But why can’t I just use a spray bottle of water, Chris” you might be asking. Spraying water on a grease fire is extremely dangerous and can lead to just making the problem worse. If you don’t believe me, just watch this.
Flare Down uses a mixture of potassium salts and water to create a food-safe solution that can help put out grease flare-ups without affecting the taste of whatever you are grilling. Available for about $6.00/bottle at Grate Chef’s website, Flare Down is a must-have safety accessory for any frequent griller.
Luckily, Thanksgiving was saved and the turkey came out on time, very juicy and tasty. Our guests raved over the sweet, smoky flavor that my mix of hickory and apple wood added to the meat. They didn’t have to know how close they came to eating bologna sandwiches for dinner…
If you read my review of the Primo smoker vs. the Big Green Egg, you may remember that one of my complaints about my Egg is that it is impossible to add more wood to it during the smoking process without completely disassembling the whole shebang and having to find safe places to put the meat you are cooking and all the hot surfaces of the grill and the smoker parts. Recently, I have discovered another brand of kamado-type ceramic smoker that addresses that issue in a very clever way.
The Saffire Grill Company is based out of Illinois, and is a relative newcomer to the world of ceramic smokers. Their product is similar to the Primo and the Big Green Egg, but with a few new innovations. They have added an expanded cooking surface by providing a grate that can sit on top of the main grill in case you want to cook several items at the same time. They also have a cooking grid elevator that sits inside the charcoal compartment to raise the grill to the level of the edge of the smoker when it’s open. If you’ve ever tried to cook a homemade pizza in a ceramic smoker (and you should, like today! It’s delicious and a lotta fun.), then you’ll recognize how useful it is to be able to slide your dough flat across the pizza stone without the risk of burning off all of your wrist hairs or dropping the pizza in the fire.
But the biggest innovation is their ingenious “Smokin’ Chip Feeder.” This is a tray which fits through a slot in the side of the smoker which allows you to add chips on top of the fire and below the cooking surface without even having to open the lid of your smoker. Because remember, “Lookin’ ain’t cookin.” Every time you crack open the lid, you add time to your process by letting out heat and smoke. Instead, you can just pour your favorite flavor of wood chips down the chute without interrupting the cooking cycle.
Now I already have two kamado smokers, and I don’t think that I can justify buying a third. But if I was in the market for one, I would certainly give strong consideration to the Saffire. They are available on Amazon for under $900 or you can consult the company website to find a dealer near you. With their bright red paint job, they sure would look sharp on your patio when grilling season kicks off again next spring, and Christmas is coming…
Come to think of it, one of these babies would really dress up my back deck. Maybe I can start laying the groundwork with my girlfriend now. Don’t tell her what I’m up to!