Holiday Feast Issue

Smoked Turkey by Ed McGrew

Another way to curate the flavors of a feast’s main beast

By Micah Drew
Smoked turkey brined in brown sugar and kosher salt by Ed McGrew on Nov. 19, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, Ed McGrew, of the eponymously named Whitefish BBQ joint, will smoke close to 30 turkeys. 

“I always came from a barbecue family and when I moved here I started doing it for some friends and parties and it just grew from there,” McGrew said. 

While McGrew is a big believer in a traditionally roasted turkey, his barbecue background has made him the local go-to for a smoked bird, which he says is different enough to add an extra facet to a meal. 

The secret to smoking a turkey is in the brine. McGrew makes his using a cup of kosher salt and a cup of brown sugar per gallon of water. 

“You can just taste it,” McGrew said. “It gives you the moisture, it seasons it and it just keeps it real basic.”

Getting too complicated with a turkey is something McGrew sees a lot around the holidays — and smoking can get complicated quickly. Instead of spending money on specialized smokers, McGrew says to use what’s on hand. 

“I’ll hear so many people say “all I have is a Weber grill,’” he said. “A Weber grill is a great thing to have.”

Before smoking, McGrew brines the turkey for 24-36 hours, then dries it, seasons it and puts it back in the refrigerator for another 48 hours uncovered. For the actual smoking, he says it’s best to go off of temperature, not time. 

He says to put it in at 235 degrees until the internal temperature hits 170, then wrap the turkey and put it back on the smoker until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees. 

Finally, McGrew says people always overlook using the leftovers of a smoked turkey. 

“Save the bones, save the carcass and make stock,” he said. “Smoked turkey stock is a wonderful thing.”

Smoked turkey brined in brown sugar and kosher salt by Ed McGrew on Nov. 19, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Brine Recipe 

kosher salt

brown sugar

Hudderite turkey

seasoning of choice

clean 5-gallon bucket

(one cup kosher salt and one cup of brown sugar per gallon of water)

Chef’s Tips

For smaller smokers like a Weber, McGrew says it’s best to spatchcock the turkey, a technique that involves removing the backbone and butterfly-ing the bird. 

“The best thing is there’s a YouTube video for every kind of barbecue, so if you aren’t sure, you can look it up,” he said. 

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