Just bought an entry level smoker - should I even attempt Turkey?
I'm usually bouncing all over the place but I'm trying to slow down a bit and injest life at a slower pace.
Along those lines, I have a great gas grill that I often use (not for big dishes). But I've remained open to those who are passionate about real fire, and just bought and entry level grill. It's the type with Grill and side fire box. I cured it this weekend and am ready to fire it up.
Right off the bat I realized I need a remote thermometer.
Secondly I need to but the right fuel, and how does one place it for the desired cooking effect. I was thinking of ribs, but now there's Turkey. Are ther chunks that last 8+ Hours so I can sleep?
I salute those who cook big birds. Maybe I should try a ham :0
I loved smoked turkeys - definitely worth it. However, since turkey doesn't have all the tough connective tissue like ribs, pork shoulders and brisket I don't think it benefits from a long, low smoke. Instead, I do a high heat smoke. Essentially the same thing with the same fuel and smoke wood, but keeping the temps around 325-350. Not sure if you can get that high in your offset smoker. Just open all the vents and stack up the fuel. The turkey will be done in around 2-3 hours max. You get all the benefit of a slow-roasted bird, done in 1/3 the time.
Go fairly light on smoke wood. A little goes a long way. Apple and cherry wood is great for poultry.
I don't know about a whole ham, but a picnic (shoulder) for 6-8 hours would be a good place to start - definitely more forgiving than a turkey - as someone mentioned below, turkeys can dry out real quick. The picnic can be dry-rubbed and then when done, made into some delicious pulled pork.
My first smoked turkey came out great by accident. I smoked it much too long - it was dry to the point of being shrunken off the skin, and the skin was hard crisp. Seeing as I had nothing to lose, I put it in a steamer - a big pot with a small one in the bottom to keep the bird out of the water. The dry bird sucked up that steam and actually was busting out of its skin, which had softened up completely. We carved it up and thought it was quite delicious - both smokey and moist. I actually haven't tried it since - turkey just isn't on the top of my list, and we've been buying bigger birds that won't fit either my smoker or a pot. The only time we had a couple of smaller turkeys, we deep fat fried them, which turned out realy good - I think we'd rather do that again, before we smoke/steam another one.
As far as wood lasting forever, the best you can do is make sure you use whole cured wood logs, as opposed to chunks and certainly not chips. Chips and chunks are fine for gas/electric and augmentation on a grill, but if you have a good size firebox, you're better off with dry logs (make sure they're dry - you don't need to be eating a lot of creosote). Even then, you need to tend to the fire every hour or so, and restock about every 3-4. Chunks don't go much over 2 hours.
About the only way to get around this is to use an electric Bradley - with its puck feeder. You can load 8 hours of pucks in there and go away. Set the electric element for 225-275 and get up the next morning with your smoked shoulder or brisket ready to go. But then, you're stuck paying out the nose to Bradley for their wood chip hockey pucks since you can't use anything else.
I've actually built a box that lets me use the Bradley feeder on one side and an offset box on the other - works ok, but haven't gotten all the air flow designed to maximize the smoke exposure in all the racks. Also, I don't really use the Bradley except to generate smoke when cold smoking, so I'm not actually doing what I described above - I mainly got the Bradley cause you can't cold smoke with a directly attached offset box, it gets too hot.
Depending on the smoker you bought, the size of the firebox and the amount of draft that it has, cooking with all wood might be a bad idea. Defintely look to combine charcoal (briquettes or lump) and wood-- at least until you get to know how your cooker operates. Wood should be about the size of a fist and definitely well dried. Do not use pine or other resinous woods.
Pour a hefty chimney of charcoal into the firebox, keep the exhaust (stack) wide open, and use only the inlet on the firebox to adjust airflow/heat. Briquettes will burn a bit cooler and longer than lump-- so start with about 10 pounds of briqs or about a dozen to sixteen good sized pieces of lump to get started. Throw about 3 wood chunks on to start, then maybe one or two more after an hour. As someone else said, a little wood goes a long way. With that style cooker, a super-long burn on wood alone is highly unlikely. If you want to sleep while cooking, look into a Weber Smokey Mountain.
For a turkey, don't bother with barbecue-style, low-temperature cooking. It would suck. Just cook it at a regular oven temperature but be advised that it may cook a bit faster than in an oven because of convection, or maybe because of the little bit of radiant or "direct" heat that you get in a cheap offset.
I wouldn't recommend cooking a cured ham in a smoker, but I bet that a fresh one would be good.
I have used nothing but lump charcoal in my cheapo offset smoker and the results have been fabulous. I can dump in a 4-kilo bag of the Whole Foods market store brand and the cooker will hold temperature for several hours, probably not eight but do you really want to sleep for eight hours when there's dinner for fifteen in your cooker? What, you don't have any beer?
I cook brisket and pork butts for about twelve to fourteen hours at around 225. No tricks, no sauce, no mustard bath, pan of water, cooking in foil, turning it around or flipping it over, just a rub of salt and pepper for the brisket, salt pepper and sugar for the pork. I fancy it up by cracking the black pepper myself, using kosher salt, adding some red pepper flakes for the brisket and some cayenne and paprika for the pork (Chris Schlesinger's recipe for the butt rub, although iirc Joy of Cooking has a good one too.) Similar rub for ribs, they take five-six hours and I cook them a little hotter (around 250) so I do move them around a little so that they cook evenly.