We recommend that you rub the turkey prior to it going on the smoker. You could even do it 24-hours prior. I rubbed the turkey the morning before the turkey went on the smoker, then placed it back into the refrigerator until it was needed. To do this, simply wash the turkey well and pat dry. Mix rub ingredients together, making sure to break down in clumps of brown sugar. I used a mortar and pestle. It really wakes up the spices and breaks up any clumps.
Combine all the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl (make sure to work out any clumps of the brown sugar for even distribution) and stir to mix. Rub onto the meat on all sides. If you have time, wrap the turkey breast in plastic wrap and let it cure in the refrigerator for at least 4-hours or as long as overnight. Smoking the meat right away is ok, but sitting in the refrigerator for several hours allows the rub to penetrate the meat.
#2 Prep the Smoker or Grill
Smoking is a form of indirect cooking and usually takes place over a period of hours over low temperatures. Set up your smoker for what is called the burn-down method. To do this, fill the charcoal bed with unlit coals and add only a few lit coals to the very top. The coals on top slowly light the ones underneath and burn down slowly over time. If using a charcoal grill, set it up for an indirect heat technique with a drip pan filled with water directly underneath the meat to stabilize the temperature.
Soak a few handfuls applewood chips for about 30 minutes in warm water before placing on the coals.
Preheat the grill to 250 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.)
#3 Smoking the turkey
When the smoker or grill is the ideal temperature range, you are ready to smoke, place the turkey breast on the hot grate over the drip pan, toss a hand full of the soaked wood chips and some dry wood chips onto the coals and cover the grill.
David likes to use a combination of dry and wet wood chips, alternating between the two. The dry gives a quick intense smoke and brings the heat up. The wet wood chunks provide a lower, slower smoke and bring the heat down. Heat adjustments can be made using this technique.
Bring the temperature up to 250 degrees F, using the vents to regulate the temperature. Knowing the temp in your grill is crucial, so if your grill doesn’t have a temperature gauge, purchase a digital BBQ thermometer.
#4 Low and slow
Check the temperature of the grill every hour, staying as close to 250 degrees F as possible. Resist the temptation to open the lid. Only open the charcoal door or the lid if you need to add more charcoal or soaked wood chips to maintain temperature and smoke. After at least 4-hours, check the temperature of the meat to see where it is and get an idea of how much more time it will need to smoke.
#5 Test for doneness
Smoke the turkey breast until a dark “bark” (outside crust) forms and the internal temperature of the meat is about 170 to 180 degrees F, about 5 hours; use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. Like I said, our turkey had a nice pop-up timer!
#6 Resting the turkey
After the turkey is completely done, remove it from the smoker or grill and allow it to rest as you would with grilled or roasted meats. Allowing the turkey to rest before slicing or serving it lets the meat fibers relax, moisture that was driven out is redistributed and reabsorbed by some of the dissolved proteins. Rested meat holds on to more of its natural juices. A good 15 to 20 minutes rest should do under loosely tented foil.
#7 Slicing and Serving the turkey
To carve the turkey, remove the pop-up indicator (if applicable). Slice the breast against the grain into ½-inch slices. Perfectly cooked meat should be moist and juicy.
You can serve it simply sliced on a plate or you could serve as a sandwich. We found that it was better cold out of the refrigerator. The smoke flavor is intensified by the cold, but no matter how it is served the meat is always tender and juicy.
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