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First time "The Ultimate Smoked Turkey" on 18.5" WSM - Lessons learned and questions

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    First time "The Ultimate Smoked Turkey" on 18.5" WSM - Lessons learned and questions

    T'was two weeks before Thanksgiving, and out on the deck, sat John with a beer wondering...what the heck? I'll smoke a bird now to see how it goes, and prevent Thanksgiving mishaps and turkey woes...

    The Setup:
    • WSM 18.5", seasoned with about 8-10 smokes before this one (less radiant heat from walls)
    • Minion Method - small coffee can sized donut
    • Full (Smaller Size) Weber Chimney (40 briquets full to the top) - Ridge Brand
    • 2oz Apple and 2oz Pecan
    • Donut of a mix of Ridge Charcoal, B&B Lump Charcoal, and some left over semi-burned charcoal from my last smoke (stored in a bucket in the garage)
    • 10.8 lb. bird, spatchcocked, 8.5 ounces of factory "juice"
    • Simon and Garfunkel rub
    • Weber Connect temp monitoring
    • Freshly gasket door and lid rim
    • Dry water pan, foiled
    • 57 degrees and breezy, sunny
    The Process:
    • Prepped the bird the night before. Since it was "brined" at the plant I did not dry brine with Kosher salt. I'll tell you in the lessons learned, there are brined bird and then there are BRINED birds - like Kosher birds that soak up far more salt. More of that in the lessons learned.
    • Followed Meathead's recipe for draining the juice and adding the neck and giblets (except liver) to a bag for gravy.
    • Spatchcocked the bird. This ended up being a really good idea.
    • Dried it off really well and set it and the juice bag in the fridge over night (about a 15 hour rest had I brined it)
    • Next morning, made a double batch of S&G rub.
    • My wife prepped the dish for the gravy. I had just purchased a pan off Amazon that, when I make the calculations, should have held everything for the gravy recipe. We ended up having to leave out about a quart of water/broth. Maybe I have more juice from the bird than expected, maybe the cheap Amazon stainless steel pan I bought wasn't quite the dimensions I thought it was. Deeper is better...and that's all I've got to say about that.
    • Created the donut; chips & charcoal
    • Lit the full chimney
    • Put on some latex gloves and brought out the bird. The skin was not loose, so I used a small, thin, rounded plastic spatula that was about 10 inches long and gently separated the skin from the breast meat. This worked really well. I have heard some people say use the handle of a wooden spin. I am not a fan of wood and potential pathogenic material. How do you know you have thoroughly cleaned a wooden surface? It's tough to know.
    • Once the skin was loose, it was really easy to dump and apply the S&G under the skin. I then took a small amount of olive oil and rubbed down the skin )it felt very dry from the light before). I applied S&G all over - very good coverage (i covered the exposed breast area right before I put the bird on the WSM). I foiled the drumstick tips and wing tips. The olive oil was almost a must to get the S&G to adhere to the dry skin. Click image for larger version

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    • I added the chimney to the ring and waited for the temp to come up to 300 degrees (about 30 minutes)
    • I lowered the pan with the gravy mix on the lower grate and put the bird on the upper grate and inserted the meat temperature probe.
    What happened:
    • Started with all the vents wide open. Figured I'd go full Harry Soo and control the temps with the top vent.
    • Temps climbed nicely. Hit 325 pretty quickly and even 335 to 340 and still climbing.
    • Got nervous and messed with the bottom vents as well.
    • Temps dipped to 315 and I grew a pair and opened the bottom vents the whole way and for the rest of the cook I controlled temps wit the top vent. It worked pretty decently...but then (tune in later)
    • At about an hour into the cook the meat temperature was up to 90 degrees internal and the skin looked really nice:
    • Click image for larger version

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    • ... (tune back in) but then, about 1.5 hours in, I started having a temperate stall; cook temp, not bird temp. Temps dropping to 270 to 300. I opened the side door and stirred up the coals and took the dome lid off for about 20 seconds to get an That kicked the charcoal into gear, but then...
    • I had another temperature stall. The meat was around 130 degrees and the temps would not go up past 300. This really slowed down the cook. I stirred up the coals again and noticed that I had a lot of burned down coals already (faster than normal). I added some unlit chunks (i was out of briquettes...now THAT is a sin people!) and waited and worried a bit...my Nittany Lions were losing to Michigan.
    • Still couldn't get the temps above 305-307. Meat temperature was coming up, but I really wanted to try to finish the bird around 340-350.
    • At two hours, I asked my wife to fire up the oven. For that size bird, 2 hours should have been good. At about 2:30 the bird was 141 degrees in the breast and I finished it off in the oven for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
    • The bird came out great! Click image for larger version

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    • The meat was very moist, and the S&G rub is very subtle. Not overpowering at all

    Lessons Learned:
    • I asked a question about brined birds in the recipe section and got a great reply about sodium and when to brine and not to brine. Donw quoted this:
    "Awhile back Huskee posted this guide. He might have changed it since that post:
    Look at the Nutrition label:
    200-300mg sodium, brine as if it weren't salted at all
    300-400mg sodium, brine lightly.
    400+mg, maybe skip brining."

    My bird was 230mg sodium, but not a lot of that seemed to go into the meat. I should have dry brined.
    • Spatchcocking saved this smoke. I am fairly certain my internal temps would have been lower when I had my temperature stall had I not spatchcocked.
    • The gravy - the gravy recipe within the Ultimate Smoked Chicken recipe IS NOT YOUR MOMMA'S gravy. It is more like an au jus...AND IT IS FREAKING AWESOME. So flavorful. We added a bit of salt to it to make up for the lack of saltiness in the meat. Really really good...but it is not thick.
    • Simon and Garfunkel rub, like the songs of its namesake, is mellow. If you want more flavor use a different rub or change the recipe a bit. Personally, I think this rub will be enjoyed by everyone. Not everybody likes flaming arse death by ghost pepper rubs.
    • 1/4 cup S&G rub will lead you wanting - double or triple the recipe.
    • Meathead's instructions for how to carve a turkey were spot on. Make sure your knives are sharp!
    • Gasket kit for the original door and the lid really helped with controlling temps until I had my stall. Very little leakage. I have a new Cajun Bandit door but didn't use it this time as I have to touch up the shape on one corner.
    • This recipe is fairly easy as is the smoke process. Don't be nervous.
    • Your oven can save the day. Know when and if you need to punt.
    • Smoking anything and drinking a beer helps dull the pain of your team losing in football.
    • Need ideas on my charcoal stall.
      • Is reusing partial used charcoal a sin?
      • Is the brand I am using not good for higher temp cooks?
      • When I add charcoal, should it already be partially lighted?
      • The day was breezy, so air coming into the vents wasn't an issue. 50+ degrees (and in the sunlight) should not have been the end of the world.
      • After removing the gravy and the bird (lid was off for about 5 minutes), the charcoal bed was again red hot and my temps climbed to 400 degrees. Yes Virginia, you can get your WSM hotter than 275...
    That's it folks. Thanks in advance for charcoal inputs!

    By the way, 2 hours later and the smoker temp is still in the mid 300s. No idea what happened an hour and a half in…


      Great writeup - thanks, (even though I don't have a WSM ).

      I only use leftover briquettes for hot n fast, , but that's essentially what you were trying to do. Leftover does seem to burn faster to me though.
      Not familiar with that brand.
      You don't have to pre light charcoal when adding, but you will get a faster response if it is at least partially lit.

      Sounds like a winner anyway...


        Another two hours later and the temp was still 326. Bed was red hot; finally closed the vents. Outside temp is now 43.


          Nice write-up with useful information.
          I Traeger therefore I am.
          I just set the temp.
          Spatchcock does seem the way to go. Actually cut in half works too, but I like spatchcocking.


            Great write up. When I did my one and only turkey a few years ago I used the kingsford professional charcoal that I buy at Costco. As for using any leftover charcoal, I’ll use it for any cooks if I have them but there’s usually not that many. I always give a little shake to the WSM so that the smaller chunks fall through the grates. I’ve only used the minion method and I’ll fill up the charcoal chamber with charcoal and then I bury some wood chunks in there. Depending on the ambient temperature and conditions helps me determine how much to fill up the starter and then I dump them all over the chamber when they’re burning. For poultimleave all the vents open and I’ve never used a coffee can before. When I did my bird a few years ago I didn’t make any gravy from the drippings. My MIL brought some that she makes and it was delicious. I also spatchcocked it too and injected it. I used a rub that didn’t contain any salt either. Don’t remember the cook time but I didn’t care because I had plenty of beer and was watching the Bears game, which will be the case again this year. I’ve decided that I’m going to use my WSM again for the bird and might use the pellet smoker for sides/@apps.


            • fzxdoc
              fzxdoc commented
              Editing a comment
              jsaniga , Ace Hardware stocks Kingsford Professional, FWIW.


            • jsaniga
              jsaniga commented
              Editing a comment
              fzxdoc Our local Ace Hardware didn’t have it. They had a bunch of other brands, including the Ridge I often use and Big Green Egg brand. I will ask if they can bring it in. Honestly, they should cut a couple of the other brands they have and replace with the K-Pro.

            • fzxdoc
              fzxdoc commented
              Editing a comment
              Our local Ace Hardware doesn't stock Kingsford Professional either. I order it online from the Ace Hardware website and have it delivered to my local Ace Hardware store. Works out great that way, jsaniga . No shipping fees that way.


            That Turkey recipe has been the star of the show for the last five thanksgivings…and it’s about to make its sixth run!

            Depending on the size of the crowd I’ll do two birds. Both prepped equally per Meathead’s recipe; one cooked in the smoker, one in the oven. If the crowd is smaller I’ll put half in the smoker and half in the oven…easy to do when the bird is spatchcocked!

            I do one oven bird because some family members like a more "traditional" flavor. Those same people also prefer a thick gravy, so I make a roux and add a little thin gravy. Best of both worlds!

            I don’t have a WSM, and don’t use charcoal for smoking, so I can’t help with your questions. But it sounds like you’re on the path to a delicious Thanksgiving meal in a couple weeks!
            Last edited by Santamarina; November 13, 2021, 09:04 PM.


              I’ve had a temp stall before on my wsm 18.5 doing a turkey and I honestly haven’t figured out why. The 22” has a fan controller so I haven’t had a stall like that. But I’ve been doing turkeys on both for some time and only had it once with 18”. I should keep better notes, read: start keeping notes.

              great write up btw!


              • jsaniga
                jsaniga commented
                Editing a comment
                Well if I figure it out I will be sure to let you know. I think ecowper ‘s comments below, especially not skimping on the charcoal, are good to consider. I didn’t think I skimped but I had to add more. Looked good, wasn’t as good as I thought.

              Over all this looks like a really successful trial cook. I say successful because your outcome was ultimately successful and you had a lot of learning that occurred. Really, I don’t have much to add to your trial cook, except on the topic of charcoal and stalls.

              First, for an important cook …. And surely the Thanksgiving turkey qualifies for that … I would not use charcoal from a previous cook. I would do the entire thing with brand new charcoal that I was sure was pristine. It would be horrible to have a failed turkey cook because of re-used charcoal or wet charcoal or the like.

              Second, I have found that WSM’s can have plateau’s, drops, stalls, etc with grate temps. Most often I find it is due to not having enough charcoal, both lit and unlit, in the fire ring. Next most often, it is due to f’ing with the vents. I notice in this cook that both things likely apply. Don’t skimp on the charcoal during such an important cook. And remember to trust …. You don’t need to muck about with the bottom vents at all. Just use that top vent as your chimney.


              • jsaniga
                jsaniga commented
                Editing a comment
                Great points, thanks! I have the smaller Weber charcoal chimney starter. I have the larger one waiting to pick up at Lowes. I think 40 lit briquettes was enough to start up but not enough to get maximum effect.
                Last edited by jsaniga; November 14, 2021, 07:40 PM.

              Great write up! Thanks for sharing.

              : Disclaimer : This is just my opinion. None of this is intended to be the gospel truth, and should be taken with a healthy pinch of Kosher salt, or half as much by volume of table salt.

              If I had to guess, your temps at grate level dropped off due to evaporation from the bird and the liquid in the juice pan. I'm basing this off of what happens if you try to run high temps with the water in the water pan. You just can't run the fire hot enough to overcome the evaporative cooling of the liquids. This seems to be backed up by the fact the pit temp rose just fine once the bird and the pan were out of the cooker.

              As for the charcoal, the difference in one brand to another should not effect the temp in a controlled temp cook. You are controlling the air to slow or speed up the burn rate of the charcoal, so what will change one brand or type to the next is burn time. There are regular discussions on how different brands of briquettes perform, as well as types and brands of lump. You can check out all 33 pages of charcoal discussions here.

              At the end of the day, what really counts is the quality of the food, not how it got there. In your case it sounds like you nailed that. Well done!
              Last edited by willxfmr; November 13, 2021, 09:46 PM.


                Originally posted by jsaniga
                How do you know you have thoroughly cleaned a wooden surface? It's tough to know.
                Spray bottle of Clorox.

                I enjoyed your AAR. I agree completely about the gravy, it is wonderful. But there are traditionalists who will scorn it; for them it is best to have a jar of Heinz ready, and serve it next to the can of cranberry sauce.


                • jsaniga
                  jsaniga commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Oh yeah, we will also have the "traditional" thick and rich Yinzer gravy I grew up with.


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