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Turkey Fail

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    Turkey Fail

    My first attempt to barbecue a turkey wasn't a complete disaster, but it wasn't anywhere near a success. Weds I spatchcocked the bird (no big deal there, I spatchcock chickens all the time) and dry-brined it overnight, uncovered in the fridge. On Thurs rubbed it down with a wet rub made of S&G and olive oil, including under the skin over the breasts. I built a medium-sized pile of charcoal in my KJ Classic II with a smallish block of apple at the bottom. After getting the oven settled in around 325, I put the deflectors in and, on top of the deflectors, a roasting pan with water, onions, celery, carrots, apple pieces, the juices from the bird, and some bay leaf, sage, and thyme. Over the roasting pan I put in the grills and and the turkey. I put the temp probe in (what I hoped was) the thickest part of the breast and closed it up.

    What went wrong:
    1. The biggest problem was that I ran out of fuel. The meat probe was reading 140 when the temp in the kamado started dropping. It got down to 280 or so before I declared an executive emergency and pulled the turkey out of the KJ and put it in the kitchen oven. I've been working on getting cleaner smoke in the KJ and one way of doing this is to build smaller, hotter fires that do a better job at burning the wood. If you load up any kamado with a lot of charcoal you are going to have to damp it down so low that any wood in the pile is just going to smolder. The lesson here is that it is better to err on the side of too much charcoal than too little.

      What also may have been a contributing factor to the fuel exhaustion was a hot start. When I first fired up the coals the temp got up to 380 or so before I pulled it back down to 325. Had I not consumed all that fuel, I might have made it.
    2. The skin was pathetic - mostly pale and flabby. You would have thought that, at the point I took the turkey out (breast at 140 or so) it would have started getting crispy, but it was not. I tried to remediate this by turning the kitchen oven to 375 for the last bit, but met with limited success. I'm pretty sure that, even if I hadn't run out of coals, the skin would have been pale and flabby.
    3. Meathead's cooking temps do not work for my family. When the turkey was in the kitchen oven I kept close watch on the temp with my thermapen. When the breast hit 160 I pulled the turkey out. After letting the turkey rest for a bit the carryover took the breasts to 165 and the thighs to 175. Perfect, right? Not for my family. The breast was perfect but the thighs and legs grossed everyone out. They still had a good bit of red translucence around the bones and joints and, even though everyone was sure that the dark meat was *safe* to eat, no one wanted to eat it. So I put the legs and the thighs back in the oven while we ate the breast meat.
    4. The stock/gravy came out okay, but I think putting the roasting pan on the deflectors caused it to dry out faster than it should. Unfortunately, there just isn't that much horizontal space in a KJ Classic II. I have spacers for just this problem, but they were too big for this job. Next time I will go with small balls of wadded up aluminum foil.

    My Husband does all of his chicken and turkey using this method and it works extremely well as it lets him pull the breast and leave the dark meat to cook longer as we prefer.He learned it from his Aunt who always cooked the Thanksgiving turkey this way and claimed it was the only way to get the big turkeys properly cooked. He much prefers it over spatchcock.
    He has used this method for years and was surprised to see it on the internet.


    • mcook2201
      mcook2201 commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for posting this link Debra. This is one method a lot of folks don't think about but it just works. Kinda one of those 'why didn't I think of that'! Thks again.

    I don't know about the rest, but gravy is my thing. I can tell you that the drippings "drying out" should not have been a problem for the gravy. As long as they were not actually carbonized, i.e. burnt, and you thoroughly deglazed the pan before cooking your roux, which would have at least partially rehydrated the fond (dried drippings residue), the gravy should have been delicious. Perfect, even.


    • gilbertpilz
      gilbertpilz commented
      Editing a comment
      So next time a shallower pan with less liquid and not directly on the heat deflectors.

    Thinking about it some more, I think problem 4 had a lot to do with problem 2. The water in the drip pan was releasing so much steam so close to the turkey that it made it impossible for the skin to crisp. What I ended up with was steamed skin.


      I pull my turkey when the breast hits 150. There's plenty of carry over to cook it all the way through.


      • gilbertpilz
        gilbertpilz commented
        Editing a comment
        What do the thighs and legs look like at that point?

      • BFlynn
        BFlynn commented
        Editing a comment
        They're generally higher than the breast. But i check them at a few points, especially right in the joint.

      Post mortem shot of charcoal situation. Too little charcoal is worse than too much charcoal.
      Attached Files


        Being a recent KJ Jr. owner, I have learned the “too little charcoal” lesson myself. I don’t care for smoked turkey, so I cook turkey in the oven. Dare I say thermometer issues because the thigh/leg turned out the way they did?


          It looks as though you've pinpointed the problems with the cook very well, and it all started with running out of fuel. When the cook started to go sideways, you switched gears and brought it around to home plate (pun intended). And you learned a lot.

          As several people have said, one challenge with turkey is that we usually only cook it once a year, so we don't have the buildup of experience like we do with other cooks.

          I think you should take all you've learned and try another turkey soon to see if you can nail it. Then log all the specifics in a turkey cook log so you'll be forearmed for next year.

          For one thing, maybe use two ambient probes, placed directly across from each other. They don't lie. And my WSCGC in kamado mode can have a 20-40° or more temperature variation across the width of the grate just like the PBC does from one side of the barrel to the other. This doesn't make much difference in most (longer) cooks, but it can be critical in a hot 'n fast big bird cook. Knowing which side is hotter can help you direct the legs.

          You already found out thighs and legs have got to be in the 185° range for the family to eat them, so you've got that goalpoint checked.

          As far as whether or not the skin should have oil on both sides or a big heat sink like a pan of water and veggies set under the bird are factors, only you and your kamado will know for sure. Documenting your observations and possible remedies are the keys to having a better cook next time, especially if that cook is a year away.




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