As most turkey fans (and chest-freezer owners) know, the best time to buy a turkey is a few weeks after Thanksgiving. I normally smoke a turkey on the holiday itself, but this year I did a breast roulade that resulted in no leftovers, s0 when turkey-clearance time came around ($1.19/lb.), I went big. Very big. Like, 22 pounds big. It was by far the largest bird I’ve ever worked with (trying to spatchcock a turkey that weighs more than a medium-sized dog is not up there on the list of tasks I enjoy), and while at the time I swore I’d never do it again, nearly a month later we’re STILL eating turkey sandwiches, turkey enchiladas, and turkey soup, and my deep freeze is packed with gallons of smoked-turkey stock. It’s hard to argue with weeks upon weeks of meals for $26.50, so yes, I will probably do it again. Read on to see how it went. (And, above, enjoy a photo of a particularly bountiful day at the Fred Meyer meat-clearance section.)
I prefer smoking turkeys not only for the taste, but for the stock—smoked-turkey stock just can’t compare with chicken or even regular turkey stock. It makes a killer French onion soup, and adds a meaty, almost bacony flavor to anything it’s added to. However, smoking a turkey this large not only requires spatchcocking (read: removing the backbone) for even cooking, but brining overnight so it doesn’t turn out inedibly dry during the longer smoke time. Which means finding a container large enough to fit in the refrigerator. I’ve found often the best solution is to use one of the crisper drawers.
This turkey was too big for the crisper drawer to close, so I had to cover it in plastic wrap and put it on one of the bottom shelves. (Be sure to remove all the giblets and plastic doodads before brining. Freeze the neck and giblets for when you make the stock.) I don’t believe brine additives lend discernible flavor to a smoked turkey, so I use a bare-bones basic brine, as explained here in a post from a few years ago. (Before I owned a smoker.)
For the actual smoking, you can successfully smoke a turkey on a regular charcoal grill (Google it), but I use a Weber bullet smoker with Kingsford and apple-wood chunks, which usually takes around 2 1/2 hours in non-windy weather. (Always check all parts of the meat—breast, thigh—with a probe thermometer. 165 degrees is perfect.) Also, if you’re wondering why the legs are tied together in the photo below, it’s because I had to to keep them from flopping out the sides of the smoker. That’s how enormous this thing was.
After it comes out of the smoker and cools, the not-fun part starts: picking off the meat. For a 22-pound turkey, this took a very, very long time, and made a huge greasy mess. I put about 1/4 of the meat in a Rubbermaid tub in the fridge for sandwiches, and put the rest in quart bags to freeze for later. Then I took the carcass, the neck, and the giblets, put them in a garbage bag, and put it in the deep freeze for when I had time to make the stock.
For making the stock, be sure to use the largest stockpot you can get your hands on. As with the brine, I don’t add anything to the stock—the turkey is flavorful enough on its own. Add the frozen carcass, neck, and giblets, fill up to the top with water, and simmer for as long as you have—preferably all day. After this point I put the stock in separate containers to let it cool, then freeze it in gallon bags. (The carcass and neck will probably yield another couple quart bags of meat as well.)
One of my favorites meals to make with the leftover turkey and stock is turkey noodle soup—with zucchini noodles. You need a spiralizer to turn the zucchini into noodles (I got one for Christmas that plugs into my stand mixer), but once they’re added to the simmering smoked-turkey stock they absorb much of the flavor while softening into a texture just like rice noodles. (I normally hate zucchini’s taste and texture, so if it fools me, it will fool anyone!) The resulting meal is much like Vietnamese pho—healthy, nourishing, gluten-free, and can be made in about 20 minutes from previously frozen smoked-turkey meat and stock.