I enjoy smoking wild turkey breast from time to time, although it’s not my go-to technique. The meat from a wild turkey is so lean and–especially if it’s an older tom–dense, it doesn’t lend itself to a long, dry sit in a smoker. However, with some preparation and the right technique, you can end up with a moist, delicious wild turkey from the smoker. Here are a few thing to consider.
Getting as much moisture into the meat before it goes into the smoker is essential, and that means brining the breasts in a saltwater solution overnight at the very least. My typical ratio is one cup of kosher salt to one gallon of water, and I’ll often add brown sugar and a host of other spices. However, there are commercial brines and cures available that do a great job of keeping meat moist and flavorful. Of those that I’ve tried, I’m most impressed by the Wild Sky Seasoning I first used on snow geese earlier this year. I also inject the thicker parts of the breast with some brining solution.
I rarely use the water pan in my Camp Chef Smoke Vault, but there are a few times when it’s necessary. Smoking lean meat like a wild turkey breast is one of them. Adding hot water to the pan creates a humid environment within the smoker that helps the meat retain moisture. The surface moisture also makes the meat sticky, allowing smoke to adhere for better flavor. Skip the beer, wine, stock, or additional spices. I’ve never found them to make a big enough flavor difference to justify the money.
Plucking a wild turkey is, frankly, a pain in the rear, and there’s so little fat on the bird it’s not really worth the time or effort. A skinned breast, however, does have a tendency to dry out, creating a tough exterior. One way to combat this is by using what’s called a mop. I use equal parts apple cider vinegar and water. Other folks use straight apple cider. There are a number of mop recipes out there, so find one you like. And contrary to the name, you don’t have to mop it on. I use a spray bottle and coat the meat two or three times over the course of the cooking time.
Keep a close eye on your smoker to ensure the temperature inside remains between 200-225 degrees the entire time. Always use a meat thermometer, preferably one that allows you to monitor to the temperature of the meat without opening the smoker. Time will vary depending on the size of the turkey, but plan for 3 to 4 hours. Pull the turkey with the temperature probe registers 160 degrees. (Yes, 160 degrees is safe. Don’t believe me? Here’s what the USDA has to say.) Let the turkey rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.
The one step I didn’t take this time that I will the next is wrapping the meat, along with a little splash of chicken stock, in tinfoil when it comes off the smoker. In the barbecue world, this is similar to what’s known as the Texas Crutch, because it’s often employed by pit masters to make smoked ribs and brisket tenderer. It’s essentially a braising technique that I think would do wonders to add a little extra moisture and tenderness to a tom.