Smoke your Thanksgiving

November 15, 2019

Last year, we smoked our Thanksgiving turkey and apple pie on our Sapling Smoker. Delish! Whether you are hosting or bringing a dish to share, consider wood smoke as a possible addition to your ingredient list this year.

After having been smoked on the Sapling Smoker, this turkey is being finish-basted with apple cider syrup. The cider syrup was made on the Sapling Evaporator! 

Tired of the same-old, same-old? Is your Thanksgiving wanting for a brand new tradition? Mixing with a different crowd this year? Like to impress a special someone?

Whatever your Thanksgiving baggage, or even in the absence of same, we feel the need to tell you what we discovered last year at about this time: smoked turkey and smoked apple pie. Wowzer!

Traditionalists will be traditionalists, of course. If, for example, you are inviting the South Carolina McCabes to your Thanksgiving table, you must also have an oven-roasted turkey on hand. Just like if you are hosting the Dunn family of New Jersey, you may not substitute fresh green beans for the canned variety in the classic casserole, or, if you are married to my husband (hypothetically, of course), you should not suggest leaving off the pecan pie. Yes, that’s even though the apple and pumpkin are clearly also mandatory. And, yes, even though three pies is really too many . . .

That is all to say, we get that you may have limitations. But we encourage you, nevertheless, to try smoking one or two of your Thanksgiving dishes this year.  We will not pretend to be experts; we’re more of a passable-at-a-lot-of-things family. But we do try hard. And sometimes, that effort pays off. This is one of those times.

You can smoke almost anything you can bake or roast. For expert instruction, regardless of what smoker you own, we suggest Jeff Phillips. Here, we’ll pass along our experiences smoking our Thanksgiving turkey and apple pie on our Sapling Smoker last year!

We wish you and yours a safe, happy and tasty holiday!

Sapling-Smoked Turkey and Apple Pie

Step 1: We got some wood chunks and water pans. Wood chunks and chips can be found at hardware and agricultural stores, or even your own backyard. We have a few old apple trees on our property and as we prune them each year, we save the trimmings in a bag to use for smoking.

It’s good to have a water pan or two in the Sapling Smoker to add moisture (especially for long, slow smokes like this one).  Tin foil pans work great for this. We grabbed a few low profile pans at our local supermarket.

Step 2: We soaked the wood. When we are going to start up our Sapling Smoker, we usually start the day by soaking wood chunks (better, in our opinion) or chips (ok in a pinch) in a bucket of water.  We shoot for at least one hour, but longer is better.

Step 4: We prepared the food. To smoke apple pie, all you need is your favorite apple pie recipe, some individual serving sized baking dishes, and . . . extra butter! We recommend using a tart apple to cut the richness of said extra butter. Some swear by granny smith for this general purpose, but we prefer the cortland: tender, colorful and found locally here in Vermont.

Prepare a batch of your favorite crust, refrigerating for a time if necessary.

Then, leaving the skins on your apples, core and dice them. Toss the diced apples with lemon juice, vodka, rose water, vanilla, or whatever other liquid tart or aromatic your recipe calls for, and set them aside. Whisk together the dry ingredients of your choice—sugars and spices, going very easy on or omitting the flour or other thickening agent—and bind together with two melted sticks of butter. Toss the butter mixture with the apples.

Divide your crust evenly into however many individually sized baking dishes you have available, times two.  We used six glass pudding dishes. You could use four to six small ramekins, two or three very small cast iron pans, or even a six-muffin tin, in a pinch.  Roll out your bottom crusts to fit your cooking vessel, fill with the apple mixture, and top either with lattice or vented top crust.

Following the above, we prepared our pie. Then, starting with a fresh, twelve-pound turkey, we rinsed the bird inside and out, patted it dry, and, on the theory that bacon makes everything better, coated the bird with bacon fat and freshly ground black pepper. We left the turkey on the counter to get up to room temperature while we prepared our Sapling. We planned on three hours of smoking time for the pie, and six hours for the turkey.

Step 3: We positioned our Sapling Smoker. We arranged our Sapling Smoker on a level, heatproof surface away from buildings. This time of year, that means the yard or the driveway. We inserted the Sapling Efficiency Baffle. The Sapling Efficiency Baffle allows us to smoke food with indirect heat, thus helping us smoke slow with a low temperature. Handily, it also holds the water pans. We inserted the baffle into the barrel opening so that it is as far forward in the Sapling as we can get it.

Step 4: We prepared the Sapling to Smoke. We placed the Sapling Grill Grates over the baffle and water pans, and heaped charcoal in the front of the Sapling Smoker over a grate, fire brick, sand or ash. We ignited the coals, and when the coals had a light coating of grey ash, we spread them out a bit in a circular pattern.   We then placed the soaked wood chunks on the coals through the door on the front of the Sapling, closed the front door vent and damper, and waited 15 minutes or so for the smoke to fill the barrel. We then placed the turkey and pies on the cooking grate, making sure to leave some room in between each piece for the heat and smoke to travel.

Step 5: We tended the smoke. Every half hour or so, we added six to twelve briquettes and four to eight wood chunks. We kept our eye on the temperature of the Sapling with a magnetic thermometer placed on the side of the barrel and, using the damper and front door vent, shot for 250 degrees. After three hours, we removed the pie.

Step 6: We finished the bird. While we could  have kept smoking the turkey for another three hours, instead, we cheated and finished in the oven. It took about an hour for the internal temperature to come up to 165 degrees. Came out as tender and delicious as can be.

You can smoke almost anything if you put your mind to it! Seen here, a late harvest weekend meal: smoked turkey with sage and cranberry, smoked mashed potatoes with butter and parsley, smoked delicata squash straight from the garden, and smoked pumpkin pie.