Barbecue Champ Melissa Cookston Details How to Smoke Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Melissa Cookston is pictured below at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

Since our household is still without a working oven, Tony will be breaking in our new Weber smoker for Thanksgiving dinner. Happily, barbecue champion Melissa Cookston is sharing her smoked turkey recipe from her upcoming “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” The book, scheduled for publication next year, is the first cookbook from the co-owner of Memphis Barbecue Co. in nearby Horn Lake.

Be forewarned: Cookston’s recipe calls for a soak in brine, a process that stymied me tonight as I tried to find a pot large enough for a 14-pound bird. Then I remembered my canning equipment in the shed. Voila! The pot is perfect, large enough for the turkey but small enough to fit in my fridge.

The brine, explained below, isn’t complicated, and most kitchen cooks will likely have the neccesary ingredients in their pantries. I’ll be posting the brine, the smoke, and the finished turkey for dinner on Twitter, so be sure to follow along @Memphis_Stew.


Holiday Smoked Turkey

(From “Smokin' in the Boys Room” by Melissa Cookston)


1 gallon chicken stock

2 cups kosher salt

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns

1 tablespoon allspice berries

1 gallon ice water

1 (10 to 12-pound) turkey

Canola oil, for the skin

3 tablespoons rub

1 large onion, quartered

2 large stalks celery, cut into 4 pieces


Bring the chicken stock to a boil and add the remaining brine ingredients except the ice water. Stir until the spices are dissolved. Remove from the heat, allow to cool add then the ice water.

Remove the giblets from inside the turkey and save them for another use. Place the turkey in a cooler or 5-gallon bucket, pour the brine over it, and place a plate on top of the turkey to keep it submerged. Keep cool, either by storing in the refrigerator or placing ice bags on top and changing them out every few hours. Brine for a minimum of 12 hours up to 24 hours. The longer it brines, the deeper the flavor will get into the turkey, but it will also increase the saltiness of the meat. 

Prepare a smoker to cook at 250 degrees using your favorite fruit wood. I always use apple for turkey. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well, and pat dry. Oil the skin of the turkey, then lightly sprinkle rub over the skin. Place the onions and celery inside the turkey. I fold the wings under themselves to help the turkey sit more evenly.

Place the turkey in the smoker for 2 hours. Remove and wrap with heavy-duty aluminum foil, then return to cooker. Cook for an additional 2 hours, or until the breast temperature registers 165 and the thigh temperature 175.

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