SYD Tangilicious Turkey

November 14th, 201114 Comments



SYD Tangilicious Turkey
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Your friends and family will certainly perk up when the aroma of your BBQ turkey wafts into the house through the open door to your backyard. Whether it’s Gobbler Day or any other occasion, turkey is comfort food that sets the mood for your gathering. Many have asked me whether you can BBQ a turkey and won’t cooking it in a smoker dry it out? If you follow my secret step to dry-brine it first, you’ll amaze your guests with this simple and fool proof recipe.

I like a dry brine versus a wet brine because it’s less work and easier cleanup. With dry brines, only the surface of the meat is covered in salt rather than in a wet brine, where the entire bird is soaked in a salt solution (the brine) before cooking. For a wet brine, you mix the brining liquid in a large bucket, immerse your turkey, and then refrigerate overnight. If you have a 20 lb turkey, you’ll need a 5-gallon container and will likely need to remove a shelf in your fridge for it to fit. Further, you’ll probably have to use something like a brick or heavy pot to weigh it down so it’s completely submerged. It’s a messy process and with all the liquid sloshing around, it’s easy to contaminate your kitchen with nasty bugs like Salmonella. Wet brining creates an interaction with the salt and protein that makes cooked meat moister by 1) swelling the cells of the meat with water before cooking and 2) by minimizing water loss of the cells as the meat is cooked. Dry brining works primarily by the interaction of the salt and protein which causes the cells to hold on to water better than unbrined meat, rather than actual increase in water volume.

The brine also gives the meat a desirable salty flavor and infuses it with any aromatics that are in the brine such as peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme, sugar, etc. The concern with wet brining is that you may dilute the protein flavor and also get a soggy texture which sometimes results when excessive moisture is absorbed from the brine liquid. Dry brining consistently retains a firm meat texture and it avoids this risk. The worry of the dry brine approach is that the salt does not get past the fatty skin to season the meat underneath so some folks suggest putting the rub under the skin. I’ve tried that and I prefer the rub on the skin as my experience is that if you do it for at least a day before your cook it, the outcome is superb. Of all the techniques I’ve experimented, dry brine produces the best results even if I may not completely understand how and why. For example, this dry brine approach helped us finish 1st in chicken in the nation in the Kansas City BBQ Society (KCBS) rankings among 6,000 teams in 2012. In summary, skip the hassle with wet brines and use my dry technique with your poultry and you’ll get a tasty bird.We all eat with our eyes so I use a secret ingredient to get a gorgeous color on my turkey skin. If it’s good enough for NASA astronauts, then it’s good enough for your turkey. Sprinkle a medium coat of Orange Tang on your turkey or any poultry to get a mouthwatering glow on your meat. Don’t be afraid to use Tang liberally on the bird. It’s unlikely you’ll overdo it. In addition to the stunning color, it leaves a very faint sweet orange note (desirable I think) to your meat.
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: American
Serves: 8
  • 1 whole natural turkey, thawed (12 to 20 lbs) - Do not use pre-brined, injected, enhanced, or koshered turkey
  • 1 stick sweet cream butter, melted; mixed with ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup SYD Original rub (or substitute with 1 part Kosher salt, ½ part black pepper, ½ part mild chili powder, and ½ part garlic powder)
  1. Remove turkey from package. Remove neck and giblets from cavity. Trim off excess fat and the turkey tail. Pat dry inside and out. Ensure that the cavity is open to allow for even cooking.
  2. Put turkey onto roasting pan breast side up. Rub the melted butter and vegetable oil mixture all over the inside and outside of the turkey.
  3. Apply a medium coating of Orange Tang on the outside. It’s much easier if you put the Tang into a pizza cheese shaker to apply the Tang. Be sure to apply it evenly else your turkey color will be uneven after it is cooked. Wait 5 minutes for the Tang to be absorbed then touch up the spots you missed.
  4. Apply a medium coating of SYD rub all over the outside and inside, again with a shaker. Less is more so use less if you’re unsure how much a medium coating is. In my definition of a medium coat, you can still see the skin under the rub.
  5. Put the roasting pan into the fridge uncovered. Let it sit for at least a day for the dry brine to take effect. Brine for a maximum of 2 days. The salt in the rub will pull moisture from the meat and it will become tacky over time. If you are planning on 2 days, use less rub else the turkey may be too salty.
  6. When you are ready to cook your turkey, start your smoker and let it settle at 275 degrees.
  7. Take your turkey cold from the fridge and put it breast side up into your hot smoker. The coldmeat-into-hot-smoker approach encourages the formation of a delightful pink smoke ring which announces to your guests that your bird is authentic low and slow barbecue. I like to use apple wood chunks so I toss a couple of tennis-sized chunks into my fire. Add a chunk every ½ hour afterwards. Stop adding wood when the skin darkens to the color you like. Don’t over smoke your turkey else the skin will get too dark. I avoid cherry wood as it darkens the skin too much.
  8. Close the lid and come back after 1 ½ hours. Open the pit and check whether crust is starting to form on your turkey skin. If the crust is starting to form, spray your turkey with water in a spray bottle (you can use other liquids like beer, apple juice, pineapple juice; but I find water works best). If the crust is completely wet and not yet set, don’t spray and check back in 15 minutes. Continue to spray every 15 minutes after the crust has set and until turkey is done. The spraying helps to keep the bird very moist.
  9. The turkey will be ready in 3 to 6 hours depending on the size you began with. Use an instant read thermometer to check for doneness – 160 in the breast and 170 for the thigh. If your turkey is getting too dark, cover with foil. I also cover the wing tips with foil if they look like they are burning.
  10. TIPS – tent the turkey if the skin is getting too dark. If the skin is already dark enough and the turkey is not cooked, remove it and put into the oven to finish. As you can see from my picture, the color is great because I tented the breast when it reached the color I wanted. Also, remember to cut away the skin so the cavity is as big as can be to allow the hot air to cook the insides of the turkey.
  11. Remove when done and keep warm in a 170 degree oven. Rest for at least 30 minutes before you carve and serve.

14 comments... read them below or add one

  1. effinre says:

    I’m going to try this recipe out this year for Turkey Day…But I have one question on whether tying the legs and wings together would make a difference when you smoke a turkey or is it better to leave it untied so the smoke can get to all parts of the turkey.

  2. effinre says:

    Harry- Many thanks…Can’t wait to start smoking this turkey tomorrow morning as I just finished putting the rub on the turkey this morning. You are definitely the best. I’ve tried your Baby Back Ribs recipe many times with all great results. My friends are all amazed at how great my ribs tasted and give me compliments like, "You should open a restaurant." Or my favorite, "This is the best ribs I ever had." Ohhh and thanks to you, I can no longer order ribs at any of those chain bbq restaurants. It’s like you gave me the red pill and it’s opened my eyes to a whole new bbq world and there’s no way I want to go back…Lol

  3. johnmhat says:

    I used this recipe yesterday. This is the third one of Harry’s recipes I have followed to a T. The family was impressed, again. Thanks Harry.

  4. Susan says:

    any suggestions if not using Tang? I am allergic to the dye. Not as worried about color, but the orange flavoring sounds like fun. small amount orange juice concentrate? or would that be too wet. Thanks

    • Harry Soo says:

      Sure, you can gentle boil off orange juice concentrate and smear it over the turkey before you apply your rub. It should work! Happy Turkey Day!

  5. John Wigmanich says:

    My very good friend and I went to your class at your house. I swore to not meat for a month since we had an awesome cornucopia of meats at your class. I’ve made your rub and people LOVE it.
    Here is my question. I just bought an 18.5 WSM and practiced with a pork butt (with water in the pan). I waited for temp to hit 190 and pulled it right off. It was super tender and had a thin little bark on it that I over salted…Easy to correct.
    Now, I’m doing a 16 pound turkey which I’ll use your dry brining instructions with and will cover with tin foil after I get the right color of my turkey.
    Couple of questions:
    -For about six hours of cooking (if that’s right for a 16 pounder), do I fill the fire ring to the rim with kingsford charcoal, (I’ll be doing Minion)?
    -Do I use a water pan filled with water all the way?
    -And will a foil container with a turkey rack be sufficient?

    My best friend who is also owns a Santa Maria BBQ thinks that there is no finesse in smoking…After my first smoke yesterday, I beg to differ with him.
    Thanks Harry for being my guru on smoking!

    • Harry Soo says:

      For six hour cook, you can fill the charcoal until above the fire ring.
      No water in water pan for better and faster crusting of the meat
      I would cook the turkey on the grate and then cover with foil once it reaches the desired coloar.
      As you probably found out, cooking indirect low and slow is one of the most challenging things to do.

  6. John says:

    Harry, Thank you so much for helping me!

    By the way, I totally forgot to use the butter and oil before I put the tang and rub on. Can I put the butter/oil combo on the turkey before I put it on the smoker? I’m afraid that I’ll mess up the beautiful tang/rub cover I have on the turkey.

    I’m so stoked that you told me to use an empty water pan!

  7. Mitch says:

    When you say to use the "original rub," is that the All-purpose, the Jailbird Chicken, or other?

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