So, yesterday morning I got up to discover the weather forecast had changed from the 'severe thunderstorms all day' to 'sunny with a touch of cloud'.
On the one hand, as always, I felt like the weather forecasters shouldn't be allowed to 'cheat' and should have left the forecast alone so we could all see how wrong they were… but on the other hand it mean we could try out the new grill.
So, first thing, Sunny and I went to Ingles and bought a bag of mesquite wood chips and a 2.5lb turkey breast. When we got home, Sunny went to lie down (she'd worked all night) and I went to work on the grill.
The grill, considering it was a 'worthless' $100 grill we got for $70, worked beautifully. I filled my chimney starter with Kingsford charcoal briquettes (something else the grilling elite say is worthless and you should never, ever use for smoking) and waited for them to heat.
While I was waiting, I put the wood chips in a bowl of water to soak and Sunny had made an awesome dry rub that I rubbed into the turkey (You'll have to ask her for the recipe, all I know is that it had a touch of garlic, onion powder, paprika and cayenne).
About fifteen minutes later the coals were ready, so I emptied them into the smoker's firebox and watched the temperature on the cooking side rise to 250 degrees. A quick adjustment on the fireboxes damper got me to the 225 degrees I wanted and I put the turkey on the grate and closed the lid.
The only downside to the whole cooking process is that while the sky stayed perfectly clear, the wind really did pick up and we got some very high winds while I was trying to cook. This initially dropped the temp in the cooking side of the smoker to about 200 degrees and caused the temp to fluctuate between 200 and 220 for the rest of the cooking time. Now, while I'm sure the people with the $1000 super-awesome-deluxe grills would tell me that if I has a SUPER SMOKE-O-MATIC 8000 SE PLATINUM EDITION like theirs, I wouldn't have had a problem… but, personally, I'll keep the extra $700 and just add half an hour to my cooking time.
The only other real issue I had was that I'd bought one of those instant-read meat thermometers at the store, only to discover it was broken when I tried to use it (unless, of course, a glass of cold water really was 170 degrees), and having only cooked at such a relatively low temperature a couple times before, it was difficult to judge when the meat was actually done. Of course, cooking at 200 degrees meant you'd have to work really hard to over-cook and burn your turkey…but not having a thermometer meant the only way I could check it was done was to cut into it, and because I had to cut into it without letting it rest for half an hour, when I did, I lost what looked like a third of a cup of juice from the incision.
However, the whole process was really very simple. It took three hours to cook, which meant I just had to replenish the coals once and add a handful of soaked and drained wood-chips to the firebox every twenty minutes for the first half of the cooking time. As it turned out to be a really nice (if a little windy) day…I just sat next to the grill and watched a few episodes of Doctor Who on my iPod while I waited. Many people might not like the idea of taking three and a half hours to cook a 2.5lb turkey breast…but sitting in the sunshine, watching one of my favorite shows and occasionally checking a thermometer…well, I can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon.
So, how did the turkey actually turn out?
Well, I'm not quite sure how to frame this, except to say that it was, without a hint of exaggeration, the number one, absolute best turkey I have ever eaten in my entire f**king life. The rub complimented it perfectly, I had a textbook-perfect smoke ring around the outside of the meat, the flavor was so deep and complex that it was almost impossible to think while you were eating some…and it was so juicy that… well… if you imagine sponge fresh out of the water, that gets you close to how juicy it was.
The best way I can describe it is that I've eaten mesquite-smoked turkey before from the deli, or in packages from the supermarket fridge, but after making my own, I'd really hesitate to call them the same thing. It's like the difference between sitting on a beautiful, tropical beach and looking and a picture of one.
Long story short, it was the best turkey I've ever eaten. So much so that I actually got out of bed at 3am purely to go to the fridge and make a turkey sandwich.
If you've never done this before, I highly recommend it.