Salting is a way to add flavor to poultry and help it retain moisture without the hassles associated with brining. No big plastic containers taking up room in the refrigerator, and no significant changes to the texture of meat after brining that some people find objectionable.
Here's how I salted and cooked a whole turkey on August 22, 2009. The technique is based on an article from Cook's Illustrated magazine.
As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.
Select, Prepare And Salt The Turkey
Choose a 12-14 pound turkey and thaw according to the package directions. Remove and discard any leg restraint, then remove the giblets from the neck cavity and the neck from the body cavity. Trim away large areas of fat or excess skin around the body cavity, rinse thoroughly inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels.
Using the handle of a wooden spoon, loosen the skin over the breasts, legs, and thighs as far as you can in all directions (Photos 1-3). Work slowly from the cavity opening, making sure not to puncture the skin.
Salt the turkey using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt* as follows:
After salting, cover the turkey and refrigerate for 24-48 hours (Photo 6).
* If using Morton's Kosher Salt, apply 4-1/2 teaspoons to the cavity, 2-1/4 teaspoons to each breast, and 1 teaspoon to each leg/thigh.
Rinse And Dry The Turkey
Pat the turkey dry inside and out with paper towels, making sure to push out any water trapped beneath the skin.
Fold the wings under the turkey so they won't burn during cooking. Tie the legs together using kitchen twine.
For a neat appearance, use toothpicks to pin down the loose skin around the cavity opening (Photo 7). This will hold the skin in place so it doesn't shrink in a funny-looking way during cooking.
As a final step, brush the turkey all over with 4 Tablespoons of melted butter (Photo 8).
Let the turkey sit at room temperature until ready to go into the cooker.
Fire The WSM
Fire-up the cooker using the Standard Method—one full Weber chimney of hot Kingsford charcoal briquettes in the charcoal bowl, followed by another full chimney of unlit Kingsford, allowing all coals to become fully lit before cooking.
If you have two chimneys, you can fire all of the charcoal at once as shown in Photo 9.
Foil The Water Pan
Cover the inside and outside of the water pan with wide, heavy duty aluminum foil. Place the pan inside the cooker, but leave it empty.
No Rub Required
There is no barbecue seasoning or rub applied to the turkey as part of this recipe. If you choose to use one, try a low-salt or no-salt rub.
Smoke The Turkey
When all the coals are covered with gray ash, place 2-3 medium-sized chunks of dry cherry wood or other mild smoke wood on the coals. I used 2 chunks of cherry (Photo 11).
Assemble the cooker and
place the turkey breast-side up on the top grate (Photo 12). Set the three bottom
vents to 100% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way
throughout the entire cook.
If the cooker drops below 325°F with all three bottom vents fully open, try turning the access door upside down and propping it open (Photo 13). This allows more air into the cooker, causing the fire to burn hotter.
Cook the turkey until it measures 160-165°F in the breast,
170-175°F in the thigh, approximately 2-1/2 to 3 hours.
Here's how the cooker temperatures and vent settings went during my cook:
Rest Then Carve The Turkey
Remove the turkey from the cooker and let rest for 20 minutes before carving. Do not cover with foil, as this will cause the skin to go soft.
Alternatively, wrap the
turkey tightly in several layers of wide, heavy duty aluminum foil,
place breast-side down in a dry cooler, and hold for 90-120 minutes
I like to remove the breast as a single piece and then cut into slices across the grain using an electric knife (Photo 15).
Photo 16 shows the legs/thighs from the finished turkey.
Collecting Pan Drippings For Gravy
There are three common ways to collect pan drippings when smoking a turkey:
Assuming you don't over smoke the turkey, the drippings will be perfect for making gravy—in fact, they're already seasoned by the salt applied to the turkey.
As you remove the turkey from the cooker, pour any accumulated juices inside the body cavity into the pan. You can also use the juices left in the bottom of a rimmed baking pan after letting the turkey rest before carving.
It's not uncommon to end up with about 1-1/2 cups of drippings (Photo 18).
If you don't have any drippings, make the delicious turkey giblet gravy described on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board using the giblets, aromatic vegetables, chicken stock, white wine, and seasonings.
Butterball Turkey Tips
If you have questions about anything having to do with turkey, visit the Butterball website. The site features turkey preparation info, grilling tips, carving techniques, recipes, and a frequently asked questions page.
Another great resource is the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line (800-BUTTERBALL) which is staffed by Butterball specialists during the months of November and December.
More Turkey Links On TVWB