Below is a sample menu for a more or less “traditional” Thanksgiving meal. This menu is composed of selections that are overall relatively simple, quick for the most part and really flavorful. These items have served me well, and they’ll do the same for you, trust me. When used in combination with the advice given in the Cooking for Events article (http://smokinstevesblog.com/2015/11/18/cooking-for-events/) you can advance with your prowess in the kitchen.
Like Cooking for Events, this sample menu is meant to be used as a guide that you can either use in its entirety or take apart and use as you see fit, they are both something that can be referred to for years to come; guidelines are simply tools to be used as needed.
So here we go:
TURKEY: First, a word or two about turkey; chances are you’ll buy a nice frozen turkey of suitable size and the thing will be as solid as a rock. You’ve got to thaw this thing out. You really have two choices so as not to make the entire crowd as sick as dogs; thaw it out in the icebox, this method is best but it takes forever. You’ll need to start the thawing process several days in advance. The other method is using COLD water. The water method will pretty much take care of it over several hours, the catch is you must change the water every so often to keep it cold. NEVER, NEVER thaw at room temperature. The deal here is the skin will thaw first, and the meat in layers; the slightly warmer skin and the gap between the skin and the meat sets up a prime environment for holiday killing bacteria. I advise use of one of the methods I’ve mentioned above.
SMOKED TURKEY: The key to flavorful and moist smoked turkey is brining. Here’s where another ice chest comes in handy. Get a container, I prefer an ice chest, (prior to use, sanitize the container with soap, water and bleach then rinse it out) and fill with enough COLD water to cover the bird. Now before sinking the turkey in the water, make a brine. Using kosher salt, (kosher salt with soy sauce works great as well) salt the water until it’s only slightly salty. Anything more than that will lead to a heavily salted bird.
Next add something for a hint of sweetness. Use dark brown sugar, molasses or real maple syrup (be forewarned maple syrup is expensive). This will allow for a nice sweet and salty combination. It will also give your bird that beloved brown color and a faintly crispy skin, which conceals a tasty, and moist turkey. You may need to add a little more salt once you add the sweetener just don’t go over- board. Sink your bird in the brine and add ice. Adding ice will of course help to keep the bird cold; chances are you’ll have to add ice a couple of times during the brining process depending on the container. Brine the turkey overnight.
Aromatics for the Cavity
It’s time to smoke the turkey; while the fire is getting up to temperature remove the bird from the brine. Let it drain well, and while it’s doing that chunk up an onion, red onions work great (they’re generally fairly sweet), and cut an orange and a lemon into chunks. Season the cavity of the turkey with salt and pepper, and likewise the citrus and onion. Leave the peel on the orange and lemon, the salt and pepper will bring out a lot of juice, and cause the peel to give up some of its essential oil. Stuff the cavity with the citrus and onions. A decent amount of flavor enhancement can be had with the use of these aromatics during the smoking process.
Smoking: I like to smoke turkey at 300F for about 20-25 minutes per pound. Do the math for the sized turkey that you have, and build your fire and smoke accordingly allowing enough time to do it right. The bird is done when an internal temperature of 165F is reached. At this point you’ll notice that the juices will run clear with no hint of red or pink.
Build a fire that is sturdy enough to last the entire process without having to add charcoal, interruption of the smoking to add charcoal will mess up your FLOW.
Smoke over indirect heat, as the drippings will surely cause the fire to flare up, in turn burning your bird, a drip pan works well here. I like to use a combination of lump charcoal and briquettes for flavor, heat, and a lasting fire. Smoke with the wood of your choice, soak the wood in water for a while, which will cause it to give up its smoke.
Chunk of Hickory Added
Brined Turkey, Ready to Smoke
Blackjack, oak, hickory, pecan, apple or cherry are all great woods to smoke with. I avoid mesquite at all costs because this stuff tends burn very hot and if you’re not careful, you’ll wind up with a fire that gets away from you. You won’t need to add any additional wood; one nice chunk will do the trick, as the turkey will take on most of its smokiness in the initial stages of cooking. There’s no need to keep a heavy smoke going throughout the entire cooking process, in doing so will give the bird a bitter and acrid flavor. A little goes a long way.
Once the desired internal temperature is reached remove the turkey from the smoker and let it rest a few minutes before carving, this will allow the juices to redistribute.
If not serving directly, tent with foil and put into an ice chest. It will remain nicely hot until time to serve, provided you don’t wait too long.
*If roasting the turkey in the oven, use the temperature and cooking time per pound as stated above until the safe internal temperature is achieved.*
Now while your turkey is smoking, it’s time to work on side dishes:
Mashed Potatoes: Peel the potatoes (russet potatoes are probably the best for mashed potatoes) the night before and store in the icebox in some water until needed. The day of cooking boil them until they get tender without falling apart. Now mash up the whole works. Add REAL butter, and sour cream to taste. Now break out the hand mixer and mix until fairly smooth. Once finished, put them in their serving vessel cover with foil and put in an ice chest.
Green Bean Casserole: Again the night before, using frozen or canned green beans (frozen are best, however, if using canned be sure to drain them completely) add about four cups worth to a casserole dish, in a separate bowl mix up a half cup of milk and a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Pour the soup mixture over the beans. Stir in half a container of those French fried onions. Add kosher salt, onion powder and pepper to taste, topping off with the remaining fried onions. Bake the whole works at 350F for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbly. Once these are done remove from the heat, cover with foil, and store in an ice chest.
Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes: The night before, get three pounds or so of sweet potatoes, peel and boil over medium heat until tender, just not overly so and store in the fridge, storing in water is not required for these. This amount of sweet potatoes will be plenty for this dish and a pie as well. The day of cooking slice up the amount of sweet potatoes needed crosswise into pieces a couple of inches thick put them in a baking dish( two or three sweet potatoes will probably do the trick). In a sauce pan add about 1/3 of a cup of real maple syrup and three or four tablespoons of butter. Heat this until it starts to bubble. Pour this mixture over the sweet potatoes and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Bake at 350F for 5 to 7 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove from the oven and cover with foil and put in the ice chest.
Cole Slaw: Buy a bag of pre-shredded cabbage or cole slaw, you know what I’m talking about. Very thinly slice some red onion and add the onion to the slaw. Now it’s time for the dressing:
Cream slaw: In a blender add about a cup of mayonnaise, half cup of sour cream and a half cup of white vinegar and blend all of this up. Now add sugar to taste, along with a pinch of kosher salt; the goal being a creamy, tangy and slightly sweet dressing. Put the slaw and onion mix into a sealable gallon bag and add the dressing, make sure the works are mixed well, and store in the icebox. Do all of this the night before. The next day the slaw will be very runny, as the dressing will leach a lot of juice from the cabbage. Just drain off the excess dressing, mix it up and serve.
Southern Style Slaw (http://smokinstevesblog.com/2015/10/02/side-dish-ideas-2/) Use the same slaw mixture as above, however, the dressing for this style of slaw goes as follows:
1 cup of white vinegar
½ cup of sugar
1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil
Pinch of kosher salt-to taste
Pinch of coarse ground black pepper-to taste
Toss these ingredients into a *non-aluminum pan* and get it warm. Break out the whisk and whisk until the sugar is dissolved; adjust the seasonings to suit your taste.
*Remember aluminum combined with salty and or acidic ingredients has the potential for a nasty reaction. You DON’T want this trust me, so don’t mess around with it. Use stainless steel or heat safe glass.*
Once again throw the slaw mix into a sealable gallon bag, add the dressing and refrigerate overnight.
As with the cream slaw, the ingredients in the dressing will draw quite a bit of juice from the slaw mix, simply drain off the excess and there you have it.
Cornbread Dressing: Using Smokin’ Steve’s Cornbread recipe and here’s a link for that, just scroll until you find it http://smokinstevesblog.com/2014/09/ or use a mix if you like.
This one kind of begs for a recipe so here you go; again this can be prepared the night before:
4 cups crumbled cornbread
¼ cup finely chopped celery
1 small onion finely chopped
1 ½ table spoons of poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup salted butter, melted
1 egg beaten
2-3 cups chicken broth, I recommend the broth be made with Better than Bouillon Chicken Base (no I don’t get a residual for recommending this stuff, it happens to have great flavor and works best for me).
Saute the onions and celery in a pan with the melted butter. In a mixing bowl combine all of the other ingredients except the broth. When adding the onions and celery, add them along with the melted butter that was used for sautéing to the cornbread mix. Just let it cool a bit before adding to the other ingredients so as not to cook the egg. Mix all of this stuff up well and put it into preferably a Pyrex or oven safe glass dish then add the broth to the desired degree of wetness. Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes or until a nice crust develops on the top, cover with foil and put in the ice chest. Again, prepare this dish the day before and all you have to do is bake it. The unbaked ingredients will meld overnight and really complement each other in the finished product.
Gravy: In a sauce pan heat up a couple of cups of water, add several teaspoons of the Better than Bouillon Chicken Base to taste. Bring to a light boil. In another bowl mix up an ample amount of cornstarch and water; mix this solution until it is thoroughly combined without any lumps. Take the cornstarch and water and drizzle into the simmering chicken soup base, stirring continuously. The broth will begin to thicken and take on a silky texture. Add the corn starch mixture until the desired consistency is achieved, just remember the more you add the thicker it gets. There you go, gravy. Make the gravy the day of cooking and serving, it takes only a few minutes to make it fresh.
Bread: Cornbread is nice, or some quality heat and serve rolls work well too. Avoidance of baking yeast bread will relieve some of the stress. Here’s the link to the cornbread, just scroll until you find it. http://smokinstevesblog.com/2014/09/18/smokin-steves-blackjack-cornbread/. Remember to make enough corn bread in separate dishes to facilitate the dressing, and a batch for the bread component of the meal.
Whisky Cranberry Sauce: It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce right? I like mine with whisky, and after all this cooking some shots are called for; some for me and some for the cranberries, a win/win situation! Here goes:
1 pound (about 4 cups) cranberries
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup whisky
Once again this dish will utilize a 350°F oven. Combine the first 3 ingredients in a 9×13-inch Pyrex or oven safe glass baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake until cranberries are tender and sugar is dissolved, stirring once, this usually takes about an hour. Remove from the oven and stir in the whisky. Refrigerate the cranberry sauce until it’s well chilled. (This stuff can be prepared 1 week ahead.) Transfer to a nice bowl and serve. Just awesome, trust me!
Sweet Potato Pie: You just gotta have desert after a meal like this, and sweet potato pie will fill the bill, take the following:
1/3 cup of salted butter, softened
½ cup of sugar
2 eggs slightly beaten
¾ cup of evaporated milk
2 cups of mashed sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon of quality vanilla extract
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
¼ teaspoon of kosher salt
In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Now add the evaporated milk, sweet potatoes, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; mix until smooth. Pour the mixture into a pie shell. Again, this can be made the day before and all you have to do is bake it. Bake the pie at 350F for 35 to 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Store in the icebox until dinner time, take it out of the fridge and let stand at room temperature until serving time, this will knock just a little bit of the chill off of it.
There you have it, everything for an outstanding Thanksgiving feast. The great thing is, all of the stuff that requires baking will bake at the same temperature so if your oven is big enough they can be baked concurrently, they just get removed at different times. The stuff when done goes into the ice chests where it gets covered with foil and a towel, and it will remain hot until the turkey is done, and the whole thing is ready to serve.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM SMOKIN’ STEVE AND http://smokinstevesblog.com and MY TWIN SLEAZY STEVE AT http://thundercityrock.com !
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