A Pulled Smoked Turkey for Canadian (Real) Thanksgiving
Ah, Canadian Thanksgiving! That festive time of year again. It’s so much more than just fodder for jokes on How I Met Your Mother.
It’s pretty much like American Thanksgiving, except we do it on a weekend in October instead of on a Thursday in November, thereby actually aligning with the harvest for which we are thankful while not screwing up the work week. If we’re lucky, it might even be unseasonably warm so I can spend hours fussing over a smoker in nothing more than a t-shirt and a hoody (on top, anyway).
And, on top of it all, we get to try out our more bizarre concepts for the traditional turkey feast and then blog about them a few weeks before our American cousins start to wonder what they’re going to serve to compliment their pumpkin pie.
My wife, Penny, got the idea a few weeks ago that we should re-create a North Carolina-style pulled pork using a turkey. Let it suffice to say I was intrigued indeed.
To pull it off, we referenced 2 books: Champion BBQ Secrets for Real Smoked Food by Karen Putnam, which recommended smoking a 10 pound bird at 225-250°F (107-121°C) for about 6 hours; and The Barbecue! Bible by Steven Raichlen, which gives a great breakdown on how to do a pork butt in the North Carolina style, complete with coleslaw in vinegar sauce.
Step 1: Rubbing your bird (That’s what she said!)
Since you’re going to be smoking pretty much all day, if you want to rub your bird you’re going to have to do it the night before. Now, I’ll admit, it’s totally optional, especially since you’re going to lose all the skin in the pulling process. However, if you’re a freak like me, you’re going to want to reserve the carcass and some of the skin afterward to make a smoked turkey stock.
Here’s the recipe for the rub.
- 1 tablespoon mild paprika
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
- 1½ teaspoons hot paprika
- ½ teaspoon celery salt
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- ½ teaspoon dry mustard
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
Rub all over the skin and then wrap the bird and let it sit in the fridge overnight.
Whenever I use this recipe for a pork butt I have some spices left over that I dissolve in apple juice to inject into the meat. If you want to do this with your turkey I’d recommend doubling the rub recipe. After I’d gotten into all the birds nooks & crannies I was all out of rub and had to settle for injecting with plain old apple juice.
You can inject the night before, prior to wrapping your bird up and returning it to the the fridge, if you want. Since my fridge was so tightly packed I opted to inject the next morning in order to avoid cross-contamination. Remember when injecting a bird you’ll have fewer leaks if you can avoid puncturing the skin. See how much you can get done going in between the legs and through the neck.
Step 2: Build a fire and get smoking that bird
Any smoker will do in this situation. I use a Weber Smokey Mountain bullet-style smoker that I picked up a few years ago for about $300. You want low & slow heat here – 225-250°F (107-121°C). If your smoker doesn’t have a heat gauge I’d recommend picking up one of the handy models you can place right on the grill top. I picked up a great one at Golda’s for $8. The better you can control the temperature, the better your end result will be.
Keep a spray bottle full of apple juice on-hand to quickly baste the bird every half hour. Otherwise, keep the lid closed in order to keep the smoke in and the heat relatively constant.
Step 3: Mix the Vinegar sauce
Barbecue varies from region to region. In North Carolina they specialize in a unique cider vinegar-based sauce that dresses both the meat and the slaw in a traditional pulled pork.
Here’s a simple recipe for vinegar sauce from The Barbecue! Bible:
- 2 cups cider vinegar
- 1½ cups water
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons ketchup (try one sweetened with agave nectar if you can)
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 5 teaspoons salt
- 4 teaspoons hot pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
Mix it all up. It’s all ready to go when the salt & sugar fully dissolve. Season to taste if necessary, but I usually find this recipe hits it about right. There should be a bit of tanginess too it and just a hint of sourness.
Pop it in the fridge until your ready to use it up.
Step 4: Gentlemen, pull your turkeys!
When your bird is cooked through, bring it in, wrap it in foil and let it sit at room temperature for 15 solid minutes. Then, tear it, removing flesh from skin & bone. Use fingers or forks to pull the meat into fine strips and pile it all up in a roasting pan. When you’ve got everything off that you’re going to get, grab the vinegar sauce and pour in 1 – 1½ cups and mix it all up until the meat is all nice & moist.
Cover the pan in foil & take it back out to your smoker for another half hour.
Step 5: Make some slaw
Finely chop about 2 lbs (1 kg) of green cabbage. Mix in about a cup of the vinegar sauce. That’s it.
Step 5: Serve and enjoy!
Here’s how you want to do it: Tear apart a kaiser roll (or similar style bun) with your thumbs (that’s right, none of that sissy knife cutting here). Stack some of the meat on the bottom half of the bun. Then stack some slaw right on top of it. If you so desire, drizzle some more vinegar sauce on top.
Affix the top half of the bun atop the slaw and you’re good to go. If there’s any sauce left, you may want to set up a dipping bowl to get even more moisture in there.
The resulting taste is two American classics coming together in sweet, sweet harmony in your mouth. The preparation usually reserved for pork butt compliments the turkey very well indeed, and if you can get a gamier bird, such as free range, heritage, or even wild, then more power to you.