If you ever want to impress someone with an incredible meal, there is no need to look further then this recipe. Apple cider brined, hickory smoked turkey is impressive and the best turkey I have ever had. I am not exaggerating. Oh my god, this smoked turkey is so good you will dream about it and want to eat turkey more than once a year.
What is so special about hickory smoked turkey? Everything. First off, the turkey bathes in an apple cider brine for 24 hours. This is not your ordinary brine, but one built with layers of flavor from oranges, fresh ginger, cloves, garlic, and bay leaves. Next, more flavor permeates the turkey from the smoke in a charcoal grill. Hickory wood chips scattered over hot briquettes create a smoke with sweet and woody notes that pair nicely with the apple cider infused turkey. The end result is a turkey that is moist and tender, with a fall fruit-smokiness and love in every bite.
I realize that I am on a trend of making absolute, “This is the one recipe you ever need” statements like I also made for my roasted vegetable stock recipe. I promise not to make this a habit because when I do say it, I want you to believe it. Honestly, I have never tasted turkey so good. Even my daughter-in-law, who does not like turkey, stated she loves this smoked turkey and will eat it without any hesitation or obligation. You know the meal is a success when everyone keeps picking away at the remaining pieces of turkey on the platter throughout the night. I started to wonder if there was going to be any leftovers for turkey sandwiches.
Mastering Smoked Turkey
First off, the brine recipe and smoking technique are from my trusted grilling source, Weber.com. I own a kettle charcoal grill, so this recipe is written using a charcoal grill. If you own a gas grill, brine the turkey with the apple cider brine then, follow these directions for smoking a turkey on a gas grill.
Other than the turkey and brining ingredients, you also need some special equipment.
- Container large enough to hold the turkey with the brine, or large plastic bag
- Cooler or refrigerator
- A couple of bags of ice for the cooler
- 2-3 large heavy-duty aluminum roasting pans. One for the bottom of the grill to fill with water, the other for the turkey. I use two pans to hold the turkey for extra reinforcement.
- 100% cotton kitchen string to tie the legs together
- Charcoal for a charcoal grill
- Hickory wood chips for smoking
- Charcoal chimney
- BBQ gloves
- Instant read thermometer
- Oven thermometer if your grill does not have a built-in temperature gauge.
Grilling and Smoking a Turkey
The biggest challenge for outdoor grilling during the fall/winter season in the northeastern part of the US is getting the coals lit and maintaining the temperature of the grill. When I mentioned this at dinner, one son responded, “If you want to get it “lit”, you need loud music and more booze.” As fun as that sounds, whenever you are cooking over an open flame, I recommend keeping the parting to a minimum, at least until the food is cooked and the fire is out.
On a windy day, it is important to watch the fire in the charcoal chimney and make sure the paper fire catches and lights the coals. Once lit, the charcoal will heat up in about 15 minutes.
The few times I grilled a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner was when the temperature was mild for a November day in New York. That means, above freezing and preferably around 40°F (4.°C) or above. However, if you have a grill that is well insulated, keeping your grill at 350°F (177°C) should not be so difficult.
It takes around 3-4 hours to cook a 12 – 15 lb. (5.4 – 7 kg) turkey in a grill. To keep the coals hot and burning, locate your grill outside in a protected area with easy to access to and from your kitchen. To maintain the grill’s temperature at 350°F (177°C), add fresh charcoal to the hot fire, every hour. Keep track of the temperature with an oven thermometer placed on the grill rack, or a built-in temperature gauge on the grill.
If you are lucky enough to live in a milder climate you should not have any problems maintaining the temperature.
For the smoke, I used hickory wood chips, but any purchased wood chips will work. Each type of wood has its own unique flavor so pick one you like. If you can find apple wood chips, they will complement the apple cider brine nicely.
When cooking with poultry it is important to keep food safety in mind, especially when brining a turkey for 24 hours. It is crucial the brine and turkey stays between 35°- 40°F (1.6°- 4.4°C). If the temperature in your cooler goes above 40°F you run the risk of developing harmful bacteria like salmonella, which will make you very sick.
Brining a turkey for 24 hours in a refrigerator is the safest and easiest option. However, if there is no room in your refrigerator, a good quality cooler is the next best thing. Fill the space in the cooler around the plastic bag filled with brine and the turkey, with ice and close the lid tightly. Periodically check the cooler to see that the ice is not melting. Replenish the ice as needed. A good quality cooler will maintain the temperature for several hours, just make sure you fill it with fresh ice before you go to bed.
Some words of advice
Brining and cooking a turkey is an involved process, even when you cook it conventionally in the oven. All the steps are not so difficult; however, it takes time and constant monitoring. If you can, buy a fresh turkey and save yourself 4-5 days of worrying about defrosting the turkey. I often use frozen turkeys, but it adds 4 more days to your timeframe just to defrost the darn thing in the refrigerator.
I quickly thaw a frozen turkey by submerging a sealed turkey in a leak-proof bag in my cooler filled with ice water. A 14-pound turkey will defrost in about 8 hours if the temperature of the ice water is between 38-40°F (3.3 – 4.4°C). It is important to check the temperature of the ice water every hour until the turkey is fully thawed.
Because you are brining the turkey, make sure the turkey you buy is not already injected with a saltwater solution. Some commercial brands, like Butterball and Kosher Turkeys, have a saltwater solution already injected in their turkeys. Carefully read the label to make sure.
If you are having difficulty maintaining the temperature of your grill at 350°F, preheat your oven and finish cooking the turkey in the oven. You will not get as much of the smoked flavor, but you will get a properly cooked turkey and that is what is important.
You can do this. Cooking a turkey is an occasion by itself and just think how ecstatic you will feel when you are done. Although, this recipe might not be the easiest starting point if you never cooked a turkey before, or you are a novice griller. It is good to have some experience before one starts to experiment. Fortunately, the apple cider brine adds lovely fruit flavor and moisture to turkey no matter how it is cooked. So, feel free to use it for a conventional roast turkey.
Over the weekend when I shared this meal with my family, an overwhelming sense of gratitude and love filled my heart and home. It was the generosity of spirit and the positive attitudes from each of my children and their significant others, that moved me more than anything. As delicious as the food was, it was only the exclamation mark to a wonderful time, not the meaning or purpose. It was an I don’t want this evening to end, kind of night. Don’t wait for Thanksgiving to show gratitude and love and make something delicious and unexpected to share. Seize the moments as they come. Light up your life with family, friends, and food in your own special way creating those moments you never want to end.
Hickory Smoked Turkey
This is one of the best recipes for making a turkey I know. Like any roast turkey recipe, it takes time and constant monitoring, but it is well worth the effort. The hickory smoke steeps into the apple cider brined turkey, creating a light smoke flavor that is sweet and woodsy with dark and crispy skin.
To determine the size turkey you need, the general rule of thumb is 1 - 1½ pounds (500 - 750 g) of turkey per person. You want leftovers for sandwiches and turkey pot pie, so you cannot err on the side of buying too much turkey. Keep in mind the smaller the turkey the lower ratio of meat to bone.
Plan ahead and give yourself lots of extra time to cook the turkey. 24 hours for brining the turkey. 1 hour to prep the vegetables, bring the turkey up to room temperature, soak the wood chips and light your coals. Cook the turkey for 15 to 20 minutes per pound depending on the temperature of your grill.
This recipe and grilling technique is by Jamie Purviance on weber.com
- 2 qt. (1 liter) apple cider
- 1 lb. (2 cups packed / 456 g) light brown sugar
- 1 cup (250 ml) kosher salt
- 3 qt. (1.5 liters) water
- 3 oranges quarter
- 4 oz. (125 g) fresh ginger peeled and sliced thin
- 15 whole cloves
- 6 bay leaves
- 6 large garlic cloves peeled and smashed
- 1 recipe Apple cider brine
- 1 12 -15 lb. (5.4 - 6.8 kg) turkey (thawed if frozen)
- 1 orange cut in wedges
- 1 lemon cut in wedges
- Enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the turkey
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1-2 TB Herbs de Provence
- 1 sprig fresh sage
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 2 ½ cups (600 ml) chicken stock
Make the Brine
Pour the apple cider in a saucepan and place on a burner set at high heat. Add the sugar and kosher salt and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally to make sure the sugar and salt dissolve. Cook at a boil for 1 minute then remove the pan from the heat to cool. If using the same day, cool the brine to room temperature before adding to the turkey. You can make the brine 24 hours in advance and keep in the refrigerator overnight in an airtight container.
Brine the Turkey
You need a five-gallon food grade bucket, or another large food-safe container large enough to hold your turkey and brine, or 2 large plastic bags (I use two to prevent the brine from leaking.)* Add the remaining brine ingredients to your container, stir to combine then submerge the turkey in the liquid.
If you are using plastic bags, place the bags in the cooler or container first, then add the turkey. Mix the apple cider brine and remaining ingredients in another bowl then add to the turkey. Bring the bag ends together in a way that shapes the brine around the entire turkey. Tie a knot near the top of the turkey to seal the bags and prevent the brine from leaking.
Place the turkey with the brine in the refrigerator or cooler for 24 hours. If you are using a cooler, add ice to either side of the turkey and check the temperature periodically to ensure the cooler is maintaining a constant 36°- 40°F (2.2 - 4.4°C) temperature. You do not what the temperature to go above 40° F. Add ice to the cooler as needed. Make sure to add fresh ice to the cooler just before you go to sleep for the night.
Prepare the turkey
Remove the turkey from the brine after 24 hours. Discard the brine and place the turkey on a rimmed baking sheet. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and allow it rest on the counter for one hour to bring it up to room temperature.
Meanwhile, add 4 large handfuls of hickory wood chips in a pan and spread out in an even layer. Add water to cover the chips and soak them for a minimum of 30 minutes. Set aside.
Just before you want to start grilling, dry off the turkey again with paper towels. Stuff the cavity with orange wedges, lemon wedges, and fresh herbs. If the legs are floppy, tie the drumsticks together at the tips with kitchen string. Baste the entire surface of the turkey with the olive oil then season with Kosher salt, black pepper, and Herbs de Provence.
Add the chopped celery, carrots and onion to a large heavy-duty aluminum roasting pan in an even layer.
Add the chicken stock to the vegetables then place the turkey, breast side down in the pan.
Prepare your Grill
Light your coals 20 minutes before you want to begin grilling. When the coals are ready, place a large aluminum foil baking pan in the center of the lower grate and arrange the hot coals around the pan in a horseshoe shape. Fill the pan with a tea kettle amount of warm water. Add some more coals to the hotbed of coals and allow them to heat up for a few minutes.
Add two handfuls of the soaked wood chips evenly over the hot coals. Place your grill grate in the grill. Cover your grill with the vents open all the way and wait for the smoke to appear.
Cook the Turkey
Once you see smoke, position the roasting pan with the turkey on the grill grate with the legs pointing to the hottest part of the grill, the arch of the horseshoe. Cover the grill with the vents open. Cook for one hour.
After an hour, carefully turn the turkey over and position it the breast side up. Add more charcoals if needed and more wood chips. Cover the grill and continue roasting. After an hour and a half check the turkey and cover the wing tips and drumstick tips with foil if they are getting too dark. Add more coals and wood chips as needed. Maintain the grill temperature at 350 °F (177°C) for the duration of time while cooking the turkey.
Cook the turkey until the internal temperature reads 165°F (74°C) at the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone. Check the breast meat for the same temperature reading. Usually, unstuffed turkey takes 15-20 minutes per pound to cook. While the turkey is smoking, check the coals periodically to make sure it maintains a constant 350°F temperature.
Once the turkey is done, remove it from the grill and roasting pan and place on a cutting board. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and rest for 15 – 20 minutes before carving.
Use the pan juices for gravy. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and discard or serve them with the turkey if they are not spent. I was able to save the carrots and onions, but the celery was overdone. Pour the pan juices in a fat separator or skim off the top layer of fat from the pan juices with a spoon. Pour the pan juices in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Turn down the heat and simmer until ready to serve. The pan juices have a lot of flavor from the apple cider brine and smoke, so it should not need any seasoning. Taste first before you add any salt or pepper. This makes a light sauce, not a gravy, which is how I like it.
If you want a thicker gravy-like sauce, make a roux then add the warm pan juices. Melt 1 -2 TB of unsalted butter in a saucepan then add the same amount of all-purpose flour to the pot. Whisk the flour and butter together and turn down the temperature to medium. Cook the roux, until it has a light golden color and the flour taste is gone. Add the hot pan juices to the roux and whisk until smooth. Taste and correct the seasoning. Simmer for 5 minutes stirring occasionally until ready to serve.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Roasting a 15-pound turkey is intimidating and not without its challenges. It is difficult to get the white and dark meat well-seasoned, properly cooked and done at the same time. The size of a turkey is enough to stop people from cooking one. Not everyone needs or wants the whole bird and fortunately turkey parts are more available. When I entertain a small group for a holiday meal, I like to make turkey breast roulades. It has the wow factor like a roast turkey, but is more impressive seeing the cheese and herbs rolled inside the turkey breast. The bonus is, it takes 45 minutes to cook.
This recipe is from 2014 Oct/Nov issue of Fine Cooking Magazine. It is a great recipe by Jenn Louis and perfect alternative to roast turkey. What first attracted me to the recipe was a couple of things. I was hosting a small gathering for Christmas dinner and did not want to roast a whole turkey.
Second, there is a special ingredient in this recipe and it is not the bacon. Fennel Pollen. If you have never had it you are in for a treat. In this recipe, fennel pollen is mixed with bread crumbs, garlic and fresh sage. This mixture gets rolled into the turkey breast with fontina cheese and gives the turkey an exotic flavor. A lively je ne sais quoi flavor. If you tasted this recipe without the fennel pollen it would still taste great, but adding the fennel pollen brings the turkey roulade to another level of surprise and sophistication.
I first discovered fennel pollen a few years ago and believe it is a magical ingredient. I could cook with fennel pollen every day and never get tired of it. The flavor is more pronounced than fennel seed, but in a complex way. It is amazing with goat cheese, which is how I first discovered fennel pollen. A little goes a long way because the flavor is not shy. I love bold flavors and if used properly and with nuance, transforms a meal from delicious to unexpected in an extraordinary way.
Fennel pollen is expensive and hard to come by, but I believe it is worth it. I purchased fennel pollen at Savory Spice Shop in St. Petersburg FL, when I was visiting St. Pete. You can source fennel pollen at your local spice shop or farmers market. Or, you can also buy it online at Amazon or at Pollen Ranch.
Turkey Breast Roulade
Making turkey breast roulade is a production, but once assembled it is easy to cook and one you will feel very proud of. This impressive entrée is worth the extra effort. I found the most difficult part is pounding out the turkey breast to an even half-inch thickness. It is not that it is hard to do, it just takes some elbow grease and extra time. The good news is you can release any pre-entertaining angst with each whack of your meat mallet. It took me about 20 minutes to finish shaping the turkey breast. Essentially, you are taking an uneven shaped lobe and pounding it into a half-inch thick, 9 x 10 inch semi-rectangular shape. If you do not have a meat mallet, use a heavy-duty skillet. I tried it with both and found I had more control with a mallet.
Rolling up each turkey breast then wrapping them in bacon is something that requires some coordination, but gets easier each time you make it. The first time you make this, don’t let any insecurity of the unknown seep in and question your performance. Read the directions carefully and trust your instincts. After you see your first turkey roulade you gain twice as much confidence to tackle the second one. The plastic wrap is an excellent helper and assists in rolling up each turkey breast and wrapping the bacon over each turkey roulade. I included a video made by Fine Cooking that shows how to make a roulade for your convenience. Hopefully, all your questions get answered between my instructions and watching the video.
Helpful Hints for Making Turkey Breast Roulade
Time is the extra ingredient. Make sure you give yourself lots of time, especially the first time you make the roulade. It is important not to be rushed or cut corners due to time constraints. Whenever I feel rushed or cut corners, I make mistakes and do not get as good results. You can make turkey breast roulades the day before you want to serve it, which is a huge stress reliever and time saver when entertaining. Plan ahead and give yourself enough time to brine the turkey breasts for 12 – 24 hours, and assemble the roulades ahead of time. There are 8 steps – brining, pounding, stuffing, rolling, wrapping, cooking, making the au jus, and slicing the roulades. No one step is difficult, they just take time.
I always find it is helpful to read the recipe from start to finish a couple of times before I start cooking. Being familiar with the process helps anticipate each step.
If you cannot find boneless skinless turkey breasts, ask your butcher to cut one for you. Most stores carry whole turkey breast on the bone. A good butcher will use it and prepare it any way you want.
How to work with raw turkey breast
Making the turkey breast roulades requires you handle the turkey meat and get your hands dirty. As long as you have your Mise en place, cross contamination of unwanted bacteria won’t be an issue.
- Remove all jewelry from your hands and wrists. Even if you wear latex gloves, take off your rings. If you have a plain ring, like a wedding band, you can leave it on.
- If you have medium to long hair, tie it up to keep it out of your face.
- Push your sleeves up and wear an apron to protect your clothes.
- Do all your prep before you start handling the turkey breast and station them at your work area. Place all the utensils, plastic wrap cut to size, roasting pan within reach, and a couple of kitchen towels nearby. Mise en place.
- Wash your hands a lot. I wash them before I start, between steps, and when I’m finished. Every time I step away from raw poultry, I wash my hands.
- Throw out unused ingredients, like the extra grated cheese.
- Wash and rinse the counter and area where you worked.
I know you can do it. Turkey Breast Roulade with Fontina and Sage is an impressive and delicious meal. One that you will feel proud to make as well as enjoy eating.
Turkey Breast Roulades with Fontina and Fennel Pollen
- 2 TB granulated sugar
- 2 TB Kosher Salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 medium garlic cloves halved and green germ removed
- 2-1½ lbs 750 g boneless, skinless turkey breast halves, remove tenderloins from each breast
- 1/3 cup 75 ml fine unseasoned bread crumbs
- 4 cloves of garlic green germ removed and minced
- 2 TB finely chopped fresh sage
- 1 tsp fennel pollen or ground fennel seed
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 6 oz 175 g fontina, grated (about 2 cups / 500 ml)
- 2 brined turkey breasts
- 1 lb bacon about 18 - 20 slices total
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- 2 oz / 4 TB 50 g cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 TB pieces
- 2 medium shallots thinly sliced
- 6 fresh sage leaves finely chopped
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 2 cups 500 ml homemade or low sodium chicken broth
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice plus more to taste
- Kosher salt
Brine the Turkey Breast
Combine all the brine ingredients, except the turkey breast, in a medium saucepan. Bring the brine to a boil and simmer until the sugar and salt dissolves. Turn off the heat and pour the brining liquid into a large, non-reactive bowl. Let the brine cool to room temperature. Once cooled add the turkey breasts and up to 4 cups (1 liter) of water so the turkey breasts are completely covered in the brining liquid. (I needed less than 2 cups of water). Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.
Make the Roulades the following day.
In a small bowl combine the breadcrumbs, sage, fennel pollen and minced garlic. Stir to combine.
Remove the turkey breasts from the brine and pick off any spices. Pat each breast dry.
Place a large piece of plastic wrap down on your work surface and place one breast, skin side down on top of the plastic wrap. Cover the turkey with another piece of plastic wrap. Do the same for the remaining turkey breast.
Use a meat mallet or the underside of a heavy-duty skillet, and pound each turkey breast to an even ½ inch (1 cm) thick, and approximately 9 x 10 inch (23 x 24 cm) rectangle. It won't be exactly like a rectangle, but it will be close. Use a downward and forward motion when pounding on the turkey breast, stopping every now and then to straighten out the plastic wrap on top of the breast. When you think you are close to done, stop and feel each flattened turkey with your hands for any uneven areas. Pound out these parts until each piece is flat with an even half inch width.
Remove the top piece of plastic wrap from each breast and evenly sprinkle Kosher salt over surface, about 1/4 tsp each breast. Add a few rounds of freshly ground black pepper over each breast.
Sprinkle the breadcrumb and herb mixture over each turkey breast, leaving a ½ inch (1 cm) boarder around the perimeter of each turkey breast. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the breadcrumbs and herbs. Make sure you have a nice even layer spread over the turkey's surface.
Fold inward a half-inch boarder along the long sides of each rectangular turkey piece. This will enclose the bread crumbs and cheese so they don't spill out when you are rolling it up and while cooking.
Start at the short end and roll up each turkey breast, keeping the folded edges inside the roulade. Use the plastic wrap to guide the turkey into place. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425°F / 220°C / Gas Mark 7 and place the rack in the middle position.
Lay a piece of plastic wrap lengthwise on a work surface. Arrange the bacon slices lengthwise across the middle of the plastic wrap. Overlap each piece of bacon, about 1/3 of the way over each piece lengthwise. Make sure there are no gaps. The bacon should line up across the middle of the plastic wrap to equal the length of each roulade. About 8-10 slices of bacon per turkey roulade.
Lay a turkey roulade across the middle of the bacon slices, so that the bacon strips run perpendicular to the turkey roulade. Lift the top side of plastic wrap with the bacon, up and over one side of the turkey. Peel away the plastic wrap while holding the bacon in place. The bacon slices should lay over half the width of the turkey roulade meeting close to the seam. Repeat with the other side. If the bacon ends do not meet, stretch them until they completely cover the turkey around its girth. Secure the bacon to the turkey with toothpicks. Set aside and repeat with the other turkey roulade.
Place a medium flameproof roasting pan on a burner set at medium-high heat. Add the extra virgin olive oil and heat until shimmering.
Add the roulades top side down into the roasting pan and sear the bacon for 4 minutes. The bacon will begin to brown. Turn each roulade over on its' side and sear for one minute. Repeat for the remaining sides, ending with the top side up.
Place the roasting pan in the oven and bake until an instant read thermometer registers 165°F / 74°C at the thickest part of each roulade, about 35 minutes.
Place each roulade on a cutting board and let the turkey rest for 10 minutes and up to an hour.
Make the Au Jus
Pour the drippings from the pan into a fat separator and let the pan juices settle. Place the roasting pan on a burner set to medium heat. Add 1 TB of the fat from the pan juices and 1 TB of butter to the roasting pan. After the butter melts, add the shallots and sage to the pan and cook until the shallots are soft, about 3 minutes. Stir to prevent the shallots from browning. Add the chicken stock and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. If there are any drippings at the bottom of your fat separator, not the fat, add them to the stock. Whisk to combine, and taste then correct for seasoning. Bring the au jus to a gentle simmer. Turn the heat down to low and add the remaining butter one tablespoon at a time, whisk between each addition until the butter is incorporated. Turn off heat and add the lemon juice. Season to taste.
Carefully remove all the toothpicks and slice. Serve with the jus.
The turkey roulades can be assembled and wrapped in bacon up to 12 hours before cooking. Cover each roulade in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator before cooking. Remove the roulades 30 minutes prior to baking to bring up to room temperature.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.