Note: Over the next few weeks, Register Reporter Eric Spruill will be going around to local barbecue joints, getting tips from the pros on how an everyday person can create a delicious holiday or game day meal on a smoker or grill.
Since moving to Kansas, I have become enamored with smoking meat. Thanksgiving and Christmas give me the excuse I needed to learn how to smoke a turkey. There are various ways of doing so. One can spend hours on the internet reading recipes and tips, but it’s hard to replicate it by watching a three-minute video on YouTube.
Thanks to Robert Thompson, who runs Papa Rob’s Eats for Everything food truck, I was allowed to see firsthand how the process works.
Thompson had me drop off my 13.6-pound turkey the night before, so he could make sure it was thawed out properly. Thompson also had a 24-pounder for Sheriff Bryan Murphy, which looked more like a pterodactyl compared to my turkey.
“Get to my house around 6 in the morning,” he said. “We will throw the birds in the smoker around 7. It is all about timing when you are smoking meats.”
Rob Thompson, with Papa Rob Eats for Everything, prepares the turkey. He stuffs the turkey with rosemary, mint, oregano and thyme, along with a stick of butter. He then applied a light sprinkle of his homemade rub.
We’ve all had dry turkey before, and I am not a fan. Rob assured me this meat was going to fall off the bone like butter. “You may think I am crazy, but you won’t even need to de-bone this meat,” he said.
I didn’t really know what to think at this point. I had always heard the expressions “fall right off the bone,” and “melt like butter in your mouth,” but had never received the compliment personally.
Thompson loves food. You can hear it in his expressions and how he views cooking as a way to make people happy.
“People say the key ingredient is love,” he said. “And it really is. I love to make people happy and I can do that through food.”
Rob Thompson places the turkey in the smoker at his home early Wednesday morning. He set the temperature at 260 degrees and said the ideal temperature is between 225 and 250.
In addition to smoking meat, Thompson is an expert at making cinnamon rolls.
“I treat every one of these cinnamon rolls as if I were making them for my family. If I can make a person smile when they see and taste what I have prepared for them, then it was worth it,” he said.
When I get to Thompson’s house he is preparing my turkey and Murphy’s pterodactyl for the smoker.
He starts off by stuffing a stocking with his special blend of herbs and spices. He fills the tip of the stocking with rosemary, mint, oregano and thyme. He then sticks this into the cavity of the turkey followed by an entire stick of butter.
After an hour and 45 minutes in the smoker Papa Rob tightly wraps the turkey in plastic wrap, followed by tin foil. This he says ensures the turkey will hold in all the moisture. When the turkey is done the meat will simply fall off the bone.
Thompson then gently sprinkles his homemade rub on the outside of the turkey.
“This can be any rub of your choice. Turkey and chicken each have their own unique flavor. You don’t need to be aggressive with it. You just want something to enhance it and bring more flavor out of the turkey,” he says. “Rubs also help give it the color that you want when you bring it out.”
Thompson had the double-door smoker at 260 degrees, allowing for the escaped heat on a cold day. For warmer conditions, the ideal temperature is between 225 and 250 degrees.
One trick Thompson shared was to never cook a turkey or chicken breast up.
“Don’t go by the thermometer, it’s on the wrong side,” he said of the plastic contraption that come with store-bought birds.
“I use my own thermometer. Cook your bird breast down because you want the white meat to be nice and moist. All the juices from the back fat will go down through the breast and stay there. The breast will be the first area to dry out,” he said. “Every year I hear people say their turkey was dry. I ask, ‘did you cook it with the breast up? There’s your problem.’”
Papa Rob pulls the turkey out of the smoker seven and a half hours after he wrapped it in plastic. A turkey larger than 13 pounds would require more time.
Thompson puts the two turkeys in the smoker for one hour and 40 minutes.
When I return at 8:40 a.m., things get interesting.
He pulls the turkey out of the smoker and with a huge roll of plastic cooking wrap carefully wraps the turkey. He then tightly wraps that in aluminum foil.
The turkey then goes back into the now 250-degree smoker for 7 ½ hours. Murphy’s turkey was scheduled for 9½ hours.
When I picked up the turkey, Thompson had put the juices into a container which he told me to save for reheating it or for making turkey noodle soup.
Thursday finally arrives and I cannot wait to see if this turkey is as good as the buildup.
I dump about half the bowl of juices back into the pan and wrap the still wrapped turkey in another layer of tin foil.
After pulling the turkey out of the smoker, Papa Rob demonstrates how moist and loose the meat is. All he had to do was gently touch it for meat to fall off the turkey
He instructed me to set the oven at 200 degrees and let it go for two hours.
When the appointed time arrived, we decide to watch a YouTube video on how to carve a turkey.
They say to cut out the wishbone first. So we pause the video and I find the wishbone.
But I didn’t need a knife, as the bone came out with just a tug.
There was no carving involved. The meat simply fell off the bone, as Thompson had promised. I have never been a fan of white meat, because it was always so dry. But I am here to tell you this was the moistest, tenderest white meat I have ever tasted.
No cutting was involved in getting the turkey ready for Thanksgiving.
I may have been 200 miles away from the place I had grown up and shared Thanksgiving for 38 years of my life, but thanks to Papa Rob I will now have a new holiday tradition.
We are not all capable of pulling off the perfect holiday turkey, but if you follow these steps you at least have a fighting chance. You can also let the pros do it.
For those interested in finding out where Papa Rob is setting up, you can contact him at (620) 380-6158.