After a brief (and well worthwhile) interruption to fill you in on our efforts with the Bacon Explosion, we now return you to our regularly scheduled write-up: a turducken smoked on the Big Green Egg.
As I revealed in my post last week, I have been wanting to make a turducken for years. When I lived in Pentagon City and first started shopping at Harris Teeter, I noticed that they carried both a frozen turducken and a smaller turducken breast from Cajun Specialty Meats on a regular basis. Tempting, right? All I needed was an excuse (instead I kept coming up with excuses not t0). And the Super Bowl provided the perfect opportunity.
On Thursday afternoon I took a trip to the new Harris Teeter on Pennsylvania Ave., SE, where I picked up the only turducken they had in stock. The cardboard box had that damp feeling that signals a product that has spent time alternately thawing and refreezing…usually a bad sign. Thankfully, the turducken is such a solid mass of poultry that it would take significant time outside a freezer to thaw (and ruin) it, so ours was still in prime condition when we cooked it.
The results, along with a recipe for a surprisingly tasty andouille sausage gravy, after the jump.
Upon purchasing the turducken and getting it home, I quietly congratulated myself on having the forethought to buy the bird a few days in advance. The thawing instructions on the box recommend a minimum of 48 hours to thaw under optimal conditions (on a rimmed baking sheet in the refrigerator). With two days having come and gone and a decidedly firm feeling to the interior of the turducken, we ended up giving it a few hours out of the refrigerator to hasten the thaw.
The moral of the story? If you’re trying this at home and buying a pre-stuffed and frozen bird, do yourself a favor and leave a good three days for thawing.
The turducken came pre-seasoned and stuffed with a sausage-cornbread dressing (in addition to the boneless duck and chicken ensconced in the turkey). Despite Nell’s warning of bland birds at her family’s holiday tables, I decided to trust the Cajun Specialty Meat folks and put the turducken onto the Big Green Egg as-is.
But this wasn’t going to be your average BGE smoker session. Using the advice of the Bacon Terrorist (confirmed by a number of Egg-related chat boards), I set the smoker to cook as though it were a barbecue grill, allowing the temperature to climb all the way to 350 degrees. A chimney-smoker’s worth of hardwood lump charcoal went into the base of the Egg, followed by a bowl of soaked applewood chips. The result was a billowing cloud of white smoke and an Egg that quickly spiked north of 400 degrees before some manipulations of the airflow reined it in a bit.
But our day’s cooking schedule would not permit the turducken to linger on the Egg for the full 4-plus hours it would take to cook. Instead, we opted for a hybrid cooking method whereby we would smoke the bird for the first two-and-a-half hours of its cooking before finishing it in a more closely-regulated oven for an additional two hours.
This served three functions. First, it ensured that we would be cooking the turducken at a fairly constant temperature throughout its cooking process. This was meant to result in tender, juicy meat…and it certainly delivered. The second (and arguably more important) purpose was to free up the Big Green Egg for our pair of Bacon Explosions which required two and a half hours on the smoker, as well. Finally, it allowed us to more easily gather pan drippings for the sauce that would serve as our failsafe against a bland bird.
It seemed intuitive enough – if you’re going to make a gravy for a Cajun specialty meat, you should do your best to incorporate a Cajun specialty. But my searches for “andouille gravy” and other such combinations were relatively fruitless. Finally I hit upon a recipe from Emeril (usually a very good sign) for an andouille gravy to go over chicken-fried pork chops, and I knew I had found what I was looking for.
I finely chopped one whole andouille sausage and cooked it over medium heat in a mixture of two tablespoons turducken drippings and two tablespoons bacon fat (from the crispy center of our Bacon Explosion). When the sausage seemed to have softened a bit and the fats were shimmering, it was time to make the roux that forms the base of so many great Cajun recipes. I stirred in two tablespoons of all-purpose flour (overlooking the classic 1:1 ratio of fats to flour in a standard roux) and proceeded to slowly whisk in three cups of milk. When the sauce had come together, I added some salt and pepper as well as a few tablespoons of leftover barbecue sauce and stirred the mixture. Letting it cook over medium-low heat for 12 minutes resulted in a thickened sauce that offered tantalizing chunks of andouille and a nicely spicy kick for the poultry in the turducken.
When it finally came time to carve the turducken (we let it rest for 30 minutes after pulling it from the oven so the juices could redistribute throughout the bird), I set about the task with gusto. I was eager to slice through three types of fowl at once…but this was where the joy of the turducken fell apart (literally).
Maybe a smarter man would have realized in advance that three distinctly different birds wouldn’t exactly lay down in nicely formed slices when cut. Maybe a more forward-thinking barbecue enthusiast would have realized that the turducken’s integrity only lasts about as long as it takes to make the first slice. Unfortunately, I was not one of those guys.
I found myself frustrated by the way in which the different meats kept separating themselves from each other as I scooped pieces of meat into a giant serving dish along with spoonfuls of stuffing. It didn’t seem right to me that the turducken would cook all the way through and then fall apart at the end. A hard-learned lesson, to be sure.
We ended up serving the turducken in sliced pieces, allowing guests to grab as much duck, chicken, turkey and dressing as they’d prefer without having to sample all of it at once. The smokiness imparted by the applewood chips really made itself known in the flavor of the turkey (the outermost layer) and the seasoning on the birds came across well without being too heavy-handed. I’m not sure that the results were worth the cost of the turducken itself, but the flavors were wonderful.
And the real star for me was the andouille gravy. Thank goodness for Emeril’s New Orleans sensibilities as I made the sauce at the very last minute. It was spicy and thick, blending some of the most recognizable flavors of New Orleans cuisine.
Would we try the turducken again? Sadly, we’d probably pass. The cost ($69.99 at Harris Teeter and a bargain when you compare that to shipping one up from New Orleans yourself) makes it a bit too high-end considering how similar the flavors were to that of a good roasted (or smoked) chicken or turkey.
But the combination of flavors and the sheer hubris of the creation make the turducken a legend that was just begging for us to take it on. Thanks for coming along for the ride!