My New Year’s Eve Smoked Turkey Experiment!
I had a very interesting 30 minute conversation on the sales floor of the Kitchen Window (the cooking store that ate Calhoun Square!) on the last day of December. There’s no problem getting waited on in the grilling department when it is below zero outdoors! Ha ha. I was there buying more pecan wood pellets for the monster (27#) turkey I was smoking at home. Since it was below zero, made even worse with a severe wind chill, my grill was having a hard time thawing out, much less getting up to critical temperature. Finally, I shut it off, and rolled it into my garage where I turned the entire garage into a smoker. The good news is that without the wind chill, my grill did just fine and my pellet consumption dropped accordingly.
In my discussion with the lead grilling expert at Kitchen Window, I found that a new brand of grill has emerged as the super star of the store, and that is the MEMPHIS grill made by a company called BLOOMINGTON, which is in Bloomington, MN! One major feature is that it is constructed with an insulating double layer of stainless steel both in the lid and in the basin, so heat stays where you need it, thus saving lots of fuel and creating a faster warm up, and a more consistent temperature. They are absolutely gorgeous. This grill will SEAR meat as the cooking surface will hit 850 degrees. All premium grills are expensive these days, but this one is really expensive. However, its probably the last grill you will ever need to buy!
I've begun the journey away from the standard grill where meat juices and fat can drip right onto the heat source, causing the generation and release of nitrosamines and other carcinogens (the extremely dangerous cancer factor in almost all restaurant BBQ and grilled meats, as well as home-grilled meats). Those gases rise and adhere to the surface of the meats being cooked. If you have this kind of grill, either get rid of it, OR there are quite a few simple techniques on the internet to convert it to a safe system. For example, move all the charcoal over to one side and cook on the other side. Another is to construct a metal barrier that sits between the heat and the meat being cooked, with an angle or fold in it that directs the drippings away from the heat source. The main thing is that we should never cook meats where the juices land on that 2000 degree charcoal or heating element. A fundamental design flaw.
The first step I took was a HOLLAND GRILL, which unfortunately was a gas grill, something else I'm moving away from. It was a fine grill otherwise, with indirect heat. The other major problem is that there’s never enough heat at the surface to sear meat, so while fine for roasting or smoking hams, turkeys, or big roasts, it’s not a good option for making delicious burgers or steaks. I sold that and got a TRAEGER GRILL which was a pellet grill but also didn't have the required surface temperature to sear meat (less than 600 degrees). That grill is an excellent slow-cooking grill as well as an excellent smoker. They are very well-made too. It currently resides at the Thousand Hills Cattle Co headquarters for use with staff events or open house events.
I now use a recently-purchased GREEN MOUNTAIN GRILL, which we got from Kitchen Window. It has a surface temperature of over 600 degrees and is thus minimally capable of searing meat but it's a thin-walled construction so in cold weather I really go through a lot of pellets. The computer interface is also idiotic and so counter-intuitive that you need to keep the manual in one hand while you push buttons. We opted for the less-expensive black paint grill instead of good stainless steel which means we are already seeing signs of corrosion and rust, after only one season of use! I still have the grill and don't want to spend any more money, but Kitchen Window no longer remains a dealer of them. They were very polite about dropping the line, but I could read enough “between the lines” that they must have had lots of customer complaints, so that speaks volumes to the problems I’m seeing.
The other amazing grill is, and probably always will be, the BIG GREEN EGG. Several people we know use them and they are awesome. It's "low tech" in that it's basically a huge ceramic Weber-style bowl, with a super heavy ceramic lid and super heavy and well-insulated basin. It's fired by lump charcoal and works great for smoking or slow-cooking. It has the desirable indirect heat however, I'm not sure if it will sear. Keep your eyes open though because I’ve seen these listed on Craigslist for a major discount which would be the best way to get one. They are also quite expensive.
Anyway, back to my New Year's SMOKED TURKEY, I cooked it from 10 am until 6 pm at about 220 degrees average temperature. I'd also butterflied it on the grill to speed cooking time and penetration. I have to admit that I over-cooked it a bit (for my taste) so it wasn't quite as juicy as I'd hoped, but still, the smoky flavor and tenderness was amazing. Far more interesting than an oven-roasted bird. After serving a gathering of 12 people I was able to pull enough meat off the carcass to send "care packages" of sliced deli meat to 4 families, then I took all the bones and made almost a gallon of strong (smoky) bone broth. I used the crock pot set low for 12 hours overnight. All in all, a highly recommended event. Timing prevented me from BRINING the bird before cooking but I will definitely do that next time.
Here are photographs of the elegant Memphis Grill as well as a medium to large-sized Big Green Egg….