Thanksgiving Eve! Smoked Hot Turkey and Smoked Sage and Apple Turkey

Welcome to Thanksgiving Eve, an underrated and often overlooked “eve”.  Not the same panache as Christmas Eve for most people.   Thanksgiving Eve is the day preceding Thanksgiving, so there is still plenty going on.  Deviling the eggs, cooking the yams (by the way, my daughter Emma said my turkey name is “Yam Bam Messy Dressin”…).  Going to sleep at night with dreams of candied sweet potatoes, dressing and corn and potatoes all mixed up and smothered with gravy…Wait, what am i forgetting?

Turkey!  Yes!  The centerpiece of the meal!  The foundation of all the Thanksgiving food that follows.  The focal point of the dinner table.  The prize bird that perpetrated the myth that Benjamin Franklin once proposed the turkey should be our National Bird. (He didn’t actually formally state that he wanted the turkey instead of the bald eagle, just that the drawing of the bald eagle looked like a turkey and felt the turkey was a more “respectable” bird).

067So what has become a family tradition is the smoking of the turkey on Thanksgiving Eve and this year was no exception.  Today our smoker contained not one, not two, but THREE smoked turkey breasts!  We smoked a Hot Turkey in the Nashville tradition, following the “Hot Chicken bandwagon”  brined in hot sauce and rubbed with hot spices, as well as two  traditional versions, brined in apple cider and sage and rubbed with various spices.  (Please see my blog “Hot Turkey Brine and Sage and Apple Turkey Brine” for the brining instructions.)055


Once we pulled the birds from the brine, we coated each one with a dollop of mayonnaise to help the rub stick to the bird better.  For the Hot Turkey rub, we created our own using hot spices (cayenne pepper, pepper flakes, some other secrets found in the cabinet) along with my brother Kent’s (aka The Deck Chef, check his site here)  So Damn Hot Cajun Rub. Shout Out to my Bro!!

The rub for the other turkeys included dried thyme, dried sage, dried parsley, white pepper and garlic powder.  Once the birdie breasts were good and rubbed down and covered, they were placed on the electric smoker breast side down initially and turned over
about half-way through the smoking
process.  The drip pan liquid used for the Hot Turkey smoker included water, hot sauce and of course…beer.  For the other smoker, we used water, apple cider and…beer.  When smoking, you have to keep liquid in the drip pan to add moisture during the smoking process along with enhancing the flavor.  We used apple wood for both smokers  which is less strong than hickory and adds a subtle flavor while not taking over-powering the natural taste of the turkey and brine.

(The beagle or other family pet is essential during the smoking process to help clean any spills along with keeping you vigilant.)

Turkeys need cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.  You can actually 041
pull the bird off when you reach 160 degrees and they will continue to cook while sitting in a pan.  This helps prevent over-cooking and drying out your bird breast. Smoking time could be anywhere from 30-45 minutes per pound, and since smokers vary  for a 7 -9 pound breast figure a good 5+ hours.  Avoid the temptation to lift the smoker lid!  This is the same concept with opening the oven door when cooking. You don’t want the heat to escape.  Every once in a while you may want to replenish your soaked wood but even opening the little door lets heat escape.089.JPG075

The Hot Turkey turned out just as we had hoped.  The brining process added a lot of juiciness and the flavor was fantastic!  The meat itself had a little bit of spicy bite but  the real heat came from the skin.  The rub combined with the smoking had a heat comparable to some of the “hot” levels at local Hot Chicken spots but certainly not the hot, hot level where the heat can get in the way of the taste.  It will certainly appeal to those fans of Hot Chicken!


The beer used for the drip pan is not the same beer I’m recommending!  You have to try Peanut Butter Milk Stout!  Brewed locally by Tailgate Beer, this beer is one of my favorites from the brewery located just down the road from my family’s old West Nashville house. Just a hint of peanut butter, smooth and verrry drinkable.  Best from the tap but the cans do it justice!  These cans from The Casual Pint in Franklin.





Hot Turkey Brine and Sage and Apple Turkey Brine

(2 recipes in one post!)

Turkey Day!!!  Yes, it’s that time of year when men go old-school and decide to spend theimg_3335 day avoiding most pre-Thanksgiving chores by breaking out the smoker and announcing “Honey, I really wish I could help you get the house ready for all the family and friends descending on us for Thanksgiving but I am going to be way too busy smoking a turkey and it will probably take my undivided attention…yes, for the entire day…no, really……long”

(Reality Check:  Wives wake up at 4:00 am on Thanksgiving day and put the turkey in the oven, then start working on the sides and desserts, while men sleep longer, only to be woken by the aroma of oven-baked turkey, come into the kitchen and grab a bowl of cereal, then sit on the couch and watch the parade….)

(Double reality check:  Turkey smoking happens the day before Thanksgiving and husband wakes up with wife on Turkey day at 4:00 am to help prep and cook the Thanksgiving feast.  Edited by wife)

Generally some of the best whole turkey-cooking methods involve brining the turkey in a salt mixture before cooking and the smoking method follows the same principle.  We like to prepare the brine and soak the breasts a least 24-36 hours before smoking.  Make sure the turkey is thawed when brining.

The Sage and Apple brine is for the more traditional turkey lovers who enjoy their bird with the smoke flavor highlighted by the apples and herbs.

Jumping on the back of the Hot Chicken bandwagon was an easy decision since it’s a favorite of mine and it’s popularity has outgrown Nashville.  The Hot Turkey idea  was inspired by many visits to Hattie B’s Hot Chicken,  Big Shakes Hot Chicken and, of course, Prince’s Hot Chicken

Whatever recipe you use, always make sure the brine is cool before you submerge the birdie-breasts and remember that you need to clean any materials that come in to contact with the raw turkey to avoid contamination.  This brine can be used for either oven-baked or smoked turkey.

Sage and Apple Turkey Brine

  • Servings: brine for 2 turkey breasts or 1 whole turkey
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 gallon water

2 quarts apple juice or apple ciderimg_3329

2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock

3/4 cup kosher salt

2 cups light brown sugar

2 tbsp chopped fresh sage

4-5 bay leaves

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

3-4 fresh rosemary sprigs

1/4 cup whole peppercorns

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 tsp orange zest

Bring the ingredients to a boil or at least hot enough to make sure the salt and brown sugar dissolve and the flavors from the herbs or hot sauce infuse the mixture.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Once cool pour over the turkey breasts (Remember to remove the giblets from the cavity if they are included. Don’t want any surprises! ) and seal in a cooler or a large pot in your refrigerator. We use double kitchen trash bags and set in our large cooler with plenty of ice.