You’re probably familiar with smoked turkey to some degree, but how much do you really know about it? Many people find that their experience with smoked meats extends only to imitations produced with artificial smoke—even if they’ve eaten at relatively nice ‘BBQ’ restaurants. To make sure you’re eating the good stuff, or to help you as you make your own, we’ve put together a top to bottom guide to what makes a smoked turkey great.
The basics of smoked turkey
First, what makes a smoked turkey a real smoked turkey? First off, barbecue must, by definition, be cooked with real smoke. Turkey isn’t as fatty as most meats, though, so it’s generally cooked slower and after a thorough brining to lock in moisture. If you’re buying smoked turkey at a restaurant, look for a wood pile; if there isn’t one to be seen, or it’s clearly decorative, you’re not getting real smoked turkey there.
What does a good smoked turkey taste like?
How can you tell you’re enjoying a quality product with all the depth of REAL smoking, versus a passable fraud?
A good smoked turkey should be tender and flavorful without being soft or squishy. If your meat is literally falling off the bone, you’re not looking at a real smoked turkey—you’re looking at boiled or broiled meat with artificial smoke flavor applied. You should also learn the taste of typical ‘cheats’ like artificial smoke and generic sauces.
How should smoked turkey be served?
There are countless ways to serve smoked turkey, but if you’re just looking to enjoy the meat then simple is best. There’s a reason a simple smoked turkey has become a traditional holiday staple – it works.
What can I do with smoked turkey leftovers?
While your turkey will be best on day one, the sky is the limit with smoked turkey—you can do anything from cold cuts to fine dining with properly-handled smoked meat leftovers. Here are just a few of your options:
- Rice dishes
Each of these encompasses a wide variety of specific dishes; feel free to experiment, substituting the usual meat of choice for smoked turkey. You’ll get something truly special, if you’re using high-quality turkey.
Problems to look out for
We have the problems you should keep an eye out for as a shopper. These may be honest mistakes from a well-intentioned shop, but mostly these are the result of cutting corners and costs at the expense of quality.
- Dry, because it wasn’t brined or was cooked quickly. Turkey needs a slow cook with added moisture to succeed.
- Served slathered in sauce. If you’re buying in a restaurant, any sauces should be served to the side if possible for the dish.
- ‘Supplemented’ with artificial smoke flavor. It doesn’t help at all.
- Overly strong wood flavors. Turkey has a weaker inherent flavor than other smoked meats, so use milder woods like fruit woods and nut woods.
Avoid these problems in turkey you cook or buy, and you’ll be on your way to culinary bliss.
As you can see, smoked turkey is a meat with a ton of depth and breadth to consider. Good barbecue shops know how to leverage that potential and reveal everything the meat has to offer. So make sure you’re getting it right, in your own home or out on the town, and enjoy the smoked turkey.
Meta: Smoked turkey offers a lot to those who know what to look for. Make sure you’re getting the most out of your smoked turkey, whether you’re buying it or making your own, with this top to bottom guide.