Saturday, July 28, 2012

Recipe: Smoked Boneless Skinless Turkey Breast

So - other than the dog getting stuck under the shed - I managed to survive my Hubbie-less Week just fine.  "Survive" being the operative word here.  It was a bummer week for me - health-wise - but I'm not gonna p*ss and moan about that..........

I'll just remain eternally grateful that I have the Ultimate Telecommuting Gig that allows me to work productively WITHOUT going into an office (Freaking YAY!); I have Awesome Friends and Neighbors that I know I can count on (Double-YAY!); And I live in an area where damn-near anything can be ordered on the internet and delivered to my door! (YAY Pizza Delivery!  Double-YAY Grocery Delivery!) (And Triple-YAY to the job that pays me enough that I can AFFORD Grocery Delivery 'cuz it ain't cheap!!!)

So I went online to and did all my grocery shopping earlier this week.  At the time, I noticed they had turkey breasts on sale in the meat dept.  I was feeling delusional and thought I might tackle smoking another turkey breast since the last one came out so awesome (That, BTW, was a 3-day/4-post ordeal - which started here).  But I knew I could cut it down to under 24 hours (1 evening for brining, the next day for smoking).

Anyway, I ordered a turkey breast, and added a note that I would prefer "fresh" to "frozen." (I hate waiting for frozen-solid birds to thaw!)

Well, where last year I had cooked an 8# "almost-a-whole-turkey," what got delivered truly was just the breast.  Boneless and skinless even.  And it only weighed 3#.  Hmmm...

What the hell, let's try it anyway...  And THIS TIME I am going to condense everything into *one* post (with minimal rambling - ???  HA!!  Hope springs eternal!!!).

So the breast sat in the fridge for a couple of days.  I think it was "mostly fresh - but partially frozen."  By Friday night, it was fully thawed and ready to go.

Since the breast was soooo tiny (compared to last year's "quadriplegic bird"), I was able to get by with a 1-gallon ziplock baggie and a much smaller quantity of brine...

Anyway, here is the recipe - such as it is.  You might want to modify quantities based on the size of your bird.  Also, illustrations will be minimal (go to my "Turkey Saga" link posted above if you want lots of pictures!)

QT's Cranberry Turkey Brine
Enough for a 3-4 lb breast (adjust quantities accordingly - you want the meat fully submerged)
  • 4 cups cranberry juice (I used what I happened to have in the fridge: 2 cups of totally unsweetened cranberry juice and 2 cups of "regular" cranberry-apple sweetened with sugar - "No high-fructose corn syrup!")
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
  • 1/2 cup fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning blend (no clue what brand it is, but it's pre-packaged generic "poultry seasoning" in the spice aisle of the store)
  • 2 TBS McCormick Grill-Mates Applewood rub
Dump all of the ingredients into a 1 gallon zip-lock baggie.  Mix well, then place the turkey breast in the brine.  Seal it up and let it soak in the fridge overnight.  Hint: Not all Zip-lock baggies are totally water-tight, so it helps to put the bag in a large pot before you toss it in the fridge.  That way, if it leaks, you'll "contain" the mess!

Add'l Note: The turkey did come wrapped in a heat-shrink plastic wrapper (which, obv, you need to remove).  Then, inside of that, the breast was cinched-up in some kind of netting.  I had left the breast in the netting for the duration of brining and wasn't sure if I should remove it for smoking.  I did remove it - but it turns out that wasn't necessary based on what I found on this site. In a way, I kinda wished I'd left the netting on (We'll see what happens! LOL)

Okay...  Onto the next day!

About an hour before cooking, you'll want to start soaking your smoker-wood-chunks.  I used hickory this time around (ran out of fruitwoods).  Just fill a disposable aluminum 8" cake pan with warm water and toss the wood chunks in.  Let 'em soak for about an hour.  Turn them, if necessary, to make sure they soak-up the water evenly (you want smoke - not fire!)

Pull the turkey out of the brining bag.  Reserve the brine mix so you can pour it into the water-pan of your smoker (Normally I'd say "toss it" but since the water-pan liquid does nothing more than steam and add aroma to the meat, I think it's safe to re-use it for this purpose).

Place the turkey in a larger disposable aluminum pan (Lasagna sized?  Roaster sized? Whatever you have on-hand and, no, these don't have to be disposable!  I just hate clean-up!).  Tamp it dry with paper towels.  Spray it lightly with olive oil, then apply a seasoning rub.

Here's The Rub:
(I cheated again and bought a pre-packaged McCormick's "Apple-Sage Pork" mix.  I know it's cheesy, but I load-up on 'em when they're on sale 'cuz they're super-easy!)

  • 1-1/2 tsp Rubbed Sage
  • 1 tsp Minced Garlic (dried - ICK!)
  • 1 tsp Thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp ground Allspice
  • 1/2 tsp Paprika
Rub the breast well.  Top and bottom (and, like I said, I wished I'd left the netting on - removing it meant I couldn't really wiggle-and-roll it around too much!).

I rubbed my breast! (Shhhh!)

Right about now, you'll want to wrap up your wet wood chunks in heavy-duty aluminum foil.  Make little fist-sized packets, well-wrapped, and poke holes all-around.  Then place your wet-wood packets in the bottom of your smoker.  I used a smoker-box on top of the heating element and tucked the other packets between the loops of the heating element (I'm pretty sure you don't want aluminum foil *touching* the element).

BTW- I am using a cheap-and-cheesy Brinkmann "Gourmet" Electric Water Smoker and it suits me just fine for the amount of smoking I do.  BBQ purists would roll their collective eyes at me, I'm sure.  Found mine, on-sale for $69, at Home Depot last year.  You could probably find 'em for much less at Yard Sales or on Craigs List.  It's definitely not the best, but it does the job (and if it craps out - as mine did last year - it's quick and cheap to replace!).

Anyhoooo...  You've got your wet-wood packets on the bottom level of the smoker, so put the middle-section on top of that.  Place the water pan in position and dump your leftover brine in there.  Then add your grates (helps to spray them with olive oil.  Less skank to scrub later!).  

Okay, NOW put your temperature probe on the top grate, add the lid and plug the unit in.  It'll take appx 20 mins to pre-heat.

All this time, the breast is sitting on the countertop in the kitchen.  Not quite getting down to room temp, but not chilling either.  I don't think any grody bacteria-monsters are gonna take-hold in that time - although most Smoker-Sites seem to recommend leaving the bird in the fridge 'til the last possible minute (do what YOU feel comfortable with!).

Okay, once the smoker reaches appx 250*, you're ready to start cookin'!  Take your probe and sink it into the thickest part of the breast.  Note: If you left the netting on, the breast *seems* to be in two pieces, so you'll want to make sure the end of the probe isn't in the "in between" section.  Since I removed the netting, I could clearly see where the "in-between" section was, so I stuck my probe off to the side, in the middle of a thick hunk of breast-meat.  Then pop the top on the smoker and pour yourself a margarita!!!

We're cookin' now!

Smoker won't start smoking immediately at this point.  But, if you've soaked your wood pretty-well, it will start smoking about an hour into it.  And the smoke should be low-n-slow - which imparts a very nice flavor to the meat.

Approximately 2-1/2 hours later, the internal temp of the breast should reach 165* and you're ALMOST done!  Remove the breast from the smoker, wrap it in aluminum foil, then a towel, and put it back in the lasagna pan and let it rest for appx 30 minutes.  I'm assuming (but not confirming!) that the internal temperature will continue to rise...

The thing that surprised me (and I'm not sure why I'm surprised) was that there was almost no shrinkage during cooking.  When I saw how small the turkey breast was (it sure looked small!  Especially compared to last year's turkey-breast experiment), I was worried that we'd end up with almost NO edible meat.  Probably because I am more accustomed to slow-cooking pork (which usually nets about 50% of what you started with!).  I was actually debating going to the grocery store this morning and picking up a pork roast so that I could "maximize my productivity" and cook up TWO hunks of meat at once (something that could be easily accomplished, actually).  But I was too lazy to go to the store ;-)

Honestly, if I did this again, I'd probably cook-up TWO turkey breasts and freeze one for slicing later...

All Done!

Smells - and TASTES - delicious (although compared to last year's "quadriplegic bird," this one was not *quite* as moist.  And I could definitely detect the cranberry-brine this time.  It's still very tasty though)!  Hubs wants Open-Faced Turkey Sandwiches for dinner tonight.  I think I can accommodate that request!

All told, not a bad way to burn a lazy Saturday afternoon.........

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