Smoke-n-Choke Practical Tips

Captain’s Blog – Stardate 2015.1202 Turkey Brining
These are the voyages of the starship SausagesWest.
Its never-ending mission: seek out new forms of sausage and brined meats. Eat them. Ask for more.


We interrupt this melodramatic installment of “Truck Stop Bratwursts of Interstate 35” to bring you the following special holiday edition, a review of Chuckwagon’s “Smoke-n-Choke” Turkey Brining and Cooking method. This unusual variation on the usual mixture of salt, cure #1, dextrose, and water adds popular soft drink 7-Up® to produce an extremely moist, flavorful turkey. Aficionados will admit that this may be the best use of 7-Up® since the Seagram’s Seven Crown® whiskey cocktail, the “7-and-7,“ caught on back in the ‘70’s. (Others may omit everything but the “7-&-7.” That’s their prerogative.)

Here’s the recipe:

Since those days, Seagram’s beverage division has been acquired by Diageo, Pernod Ricard, and the Coca-Cola Company in 2000. The rights to the 7-Up brand are now held by Dr Pepper Snapple Group in the United States, and PepsiCo (or its licensees) in the rest of the world. Most turkeys in this end of the galaxy are now acquired from …well, a bunch of corporate and private producers. Native Americans are believed to have acquired, er, hunted wild turkey as early as 1000 A.D. …and many of them (the turkeys, that is), when cooked, taste like they were left over from about then.

…unless you use this recipe.

So, how do you start? Well, in order to prepare one for Thanksgiving, you need to come over to our house. You see, it takes four to five days to brine the thing, especially if it’s a monster, and Thanksgiving being a day away at this writing, you’re too late. (…unless you don’t mind calling it “leftovers.”) Smaller ones are more tender, but you can have your Mae West turkey if you want- – this method assures that it will be tender and juicy. An added benefit is that you never come out even on the 7 Up, so make sure you lay in a bottle of Seagram’s 7 during the same trip to the grocery/liquor market.

So, let’s say that you got into the game four or five days ago. A common question is, “Awww, c’mon, do I HAFTA make that much brine?” Well, Bunky, to be honest… no. The amount you HAVE to make is enough to submerge the turkey in whatever pot or bag or whatever that you intend to drown, uh, cowboysubmerge the thing in. The theory, here, is that the turk will take on about 10% of its “green” weight in fluid, so if you wanted to be cheap about it, you could weigh the turkey, multiply by a tenth, ratio the brine recipe to that amount, then inject it all into the poor, cleaned, naked beast. More realistically, most people will brine the turkey in a brining bag or in a pot or other non-reactive container. The amount of brine required is simply that volume required to submerge the turkey. …but don’t forget that you have to fill the body cavity, too.

This suggests (as do I) that you put the turkey into the bag or container, fill it with water until submerged, then pull out the turkey and measure the volume of water. You can then ratio the recipe to that volume, or you can make up the recipe amount and discard the excess. Obviously, don’t do this in a 55 gallon drum or a bathtub. You’ll waste far too much brine ingredients. Instead, a large enameled pot or plastic container would be a good choice, as would be what I did, a freezer bag such as (in the USA) a Food Saver bag. I put my turkey into a bag which I had previously sealed at one end, set the thing upright in a plastic container like it would later be in the refrigerator, filled it with water, gathered the top like it would be when sealed, then poured out the water a measurement cup at a time, to see how much was needed.

Assuming this amount is greater than 10% of the turkey’s weight (which is a really good bet), you can then ratio the recipe. This is a great assumption, as you can readily see by noting that the turkey’s rib cage holds quite a bit of fluid volume by itself, plus you then need additional volume for the rest of the container. No biggie- – by measuring the amount of water required, you now know exactly how much fluid you need.

Which leads us to the fun of calculating the ratio. You’ll note that (against the advice of someone whom we won’t mention) a certain mustachioed old guy who shall remain nameless managed to specify the recipe in volumes, and not just ANY volumes, but the screwy “avoirdupois” measurement commonly used in the USA but abandoned by everyone else. Cups, pints, quarts, gallons indeed! What we need is WEIGHTS, Man!

What does one do? Well, I dunno about you, whichever one you are, but as for this one, I take a measurement cup out, weigh it, fill it with whatever ingredient is called for, then weigh it again. Subtract the “tare” (empty measuring cup) weight from the total weight to get the net weight. That way (that weigh?), you get what is called a bulk density and you can calculate how much WEIGHT of each ingredient you need.

The next trick is to make sure that it is all on a common basis. Don’t try to mix gallons and cups and such. Convert it all into weight units. Also convert the amount of water you found that you need into weight. Your conversion factor for the recipe is simply the weight of water you measured, divided by the total weight of the recipe.

Got that? Right. Now, get out the Seagram’s, if you haven’t already, and pour yourself a shot for your efforts. Dilute it half-and-half with some of the 7 Up. There ya go. …all better?

Okay. Now, multiply the original recipe’s weight of each ingredient by your conversion factor. Weigh out and mix ‘em. (In my case, I mixed ‘em in the Food Saver bag which I had prepared earlier, had tested the turkey in, had filled with water and measured out, and had made sure that I allowed enough bag to seal later.)  …not confident that you did it right? Have a look at Smoke-n-Choke Spreadsheet , where you can get further advice and download an Excel spreadsheet which makes the calculations easier.

Put the turkey into the bag or container. Then add the brine. If using a bag, no problem- – squeeze out most of the air, then seal the top. (Don’t bother to vacuum it. …talk about mess!!!) It is important that the whole turkey be covered with liquid, so if you are using a pot, weight the turkey down with something (a small plate will do) if it floats. If you are using a bag, I have found that placing the bag upright in a plastic container, then gathering and folding the loose portions and clipping them in place, forces the liquid high in the bag, submerging the bird.

Place it in a 38 degF refrigerator for the required 3 or 4 or 5 days.

Now comes the fun part. If you get up during the night, as some of us older folks must do, no problem. The night before, fill a pot with water, cover it, and put it into the refrigerator. About 3:30 or 4 AM, go into the kitchen, remove the turkey from its flotation chamber or bag, rinse it off, then put it into that pot of cold water. Pour off any excess. Dump some ice on top, cover, put it back into the refrigerator, then go back to bed.

Bright and early, 6:30 or so, get up, go out, and start warming the smoker to 130 degF. Go back in, have a nice breakfast (homemade “sons-of-bees” bacon and eggs and some of Ross Hill’s baked goods are recommended), then take the turkey out, pat it dry, and place it in the warmed smoker. Dry for an hour at 130 degF, vent wide open. At that point, follow the recipe as to number of hours smoked, vent closure, temperature, type of wood, et cetera. (I like apple wood smoke at 140 degF, 25% vent, for 4 hours. See the recipe for times and temperatures.)

As smoking time nears its finish, preheat your kitchen oven to about 300 degF. (Mine always overshoots badly, so I use 280 degF.) When smoking time is finished , bring the turkey inside. (You have one of those inexpensive thermocouple temperature gauges with the alarm, right? No? Go get one, Rat Now!) Cook until the specified Internal Meat Temperature, IMT, 155 degF. Pull it immediately from the oven, tent it with foil, and allow it to rest. It will “coast” upward, to about 160 degF. This is the perfect temperature, according to “He Who Must Be”… uh… Ol’ Chuckles.

…an’ I believe it. Happy Holidays!