Annual Pretty Bird Turkey Shoot Photo Contest
Every year in November I invite my readers to post pictures of their turkeys and compete for prizes, and every year I am thrilled to see the beautiful photos submitted.
2014 Pretty Bird Turkey Shoot Photo Contest prizes
Backlit Thermapen. The Thermapen is the gold standard hand held rapid read thermometer. It has a very accurate thermocouple that reads accurately in two seconds. This is the backlit model, perfect for grilling in the dark winter months.
Thermoworks DOT. The DOT is for leaving in food while it is cooking. It has a large readout, an easily-set temperature alarm and a long probe cable. Unlike most thermometers of this type, it has a rapid response time that would allow it to double as an instant-read thermometer if needed. Because there are numerous probes available for this unit, you could insert one into one meat, another into a second piece, and a third to monitor the cooker temperature, making this a very versatile thermometer.
Thermoworks Timestick. The TimeStick is like a stopwatch. You can use the magnet to hang it on the grill or oven, but I wear it around my neck. No more overcooked meals at my house!
ThermoPop. The best inexpensive handheld rapid read thermometer with a five second read time. The readout rotates to make it easy to read. Really simple. Really good.
Thermoworks DOT. See the description above.
Thermoworks DOT. See the description above.
ThermoPop. See the description above.
2013 Pretty Bird Turkey Shoot Photo Contest Winners
1st PRIZE. Backlit Thermapen and the Big & Loud Timer. The Thermapen is the gold standard instant read. A very accurate thermocouple that reads in two seconds. This is the new backlit model, perfect for grilling in the dark winter months. But wait, there's more. The Big & Loud Timer has a magnet on the back and lives on my fridge. Nothing fancy, just easy and accurate.
First prize winner was Kole Shannon of Charleston, WV. That's his photo at the top of the page. A perfect bird, beautiful lighting, good crisp focus, a lovely tableau, and I can see how well he followed good technique with the wings and legs open so the crotch and wingpits could brown, wing tips chopped off, gorgeous color.
2nd PRIZE. Thermapen and the TimeStick. This is the tried and true water repellant Thermapen, the one tool that can make you a better cook overnight. The TimeStick is like a stopwatch. You can use the magnet to hang it on the grill or oven, but I wear it around my neck. No more overcooked meals at my house!
Second prize went to Jim Streisand of Sudbury, MA. The bird is cooked perfectly, the platter and presentation are pretty, and the focus is sharp. Beautiful color, great cooking technique.
3rd PRIZE. Thermapen. Have you ever noticed that this is the one that all the TV chefs use?
Third prize went to Chris Link of Franklin, TN. A beautiful overflowing platter with the two breast halves sliced thick across the grain at the top, and dark meat below and in the center. The bright pink smoke ring tells guests they are not eating an ordinary turkey.
4th PRIZE. ChefAlarm. This new thermometer is a "leave-in" probe. Insert the thin needle in the meat, set the alarm, close the door, and walk away. Very accurate.
Fourth prize went to Matthew Ford of San Antonio TX, for his glowing spatchcocked turkey hovering above the dark rich gravy squeezed onto a 22.5" Weber kettle outfitted with a Smokenator. This method gave him a bird browned on both sides and it cooked faster.
Honorable Mentions. Although there were no prizes for Honorable Mention, but there were 13 beautiful birds that made selecting the prize winners tough. Here is one that I had to share with you. Shawn Wheeler's photo came with a great story. He and his family live on the edge of the woods. The bird was cooking away out back and smelling great when his daughter spotted a bear lifting the lid and absconding with the holiday feast. They got a picture of him chowing down from a distance, and this is what he left behind. A Thanksgiving story they will never forget.
2012 First Prize, 5-way tie!
All five get a copy of The Great Meat Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Buy and Cook Today's Meat by Bruce Aidells . The founder of Aidells Sausage Company, you'll find Aidell's name in your grocery store and numerous magazines, and his face on TV. This is his 11th cookbook and his best, just published this year. Hardbound, it is a whopping 632 pages and loaded with photos and lists for $40. I have no idea how many recipes there are, but they are drool inducing.
Brenda Gaston. Here is what she said with her picture: "Thank you Meathead from Texas. We have been using your recipes for the last three months and have been successful with a all of the recipes. This is our first smoked Heritage Turkey we purchased from Slankers Grass Fed Meats here in TX. Realized my big hands were a little to much for the bird and tore the skin, will let the wife do it next time. Everything was awesome: Turkey, Stuffin Muffin's, Drunkin Cranberries, and Gravy. Thanks for a great Thanksgiving Meal."
Rob Baas. Rob went the extra two miles by creating a detailed, beautifully photographed web page about his turkey on his blog, CountrysideFoodRides. His photo of the whole bird was a prize winner on its own, but I chose this one because nobody ever submits the final plate, and this one looks wonderful. Beautiful lighting, sharp focus, great color balance. He documented the whole process including the dishes made with the leftovers (hot browns!). Some comments from his blog: "Crispy skin! Injecting sure is easier than brining, and I see no reason to brine another one. The thin gravy was the best revelation of this day. I tried some turkey with it and without it and the difference was huge. It basically replaces the moisture that was cooked out, while adding a lot of flavor in the process. It fixes the typical problem of smoked turkey being a bit dry, even after brining. I like a thick gravy for mashed potatoes, and there was enough liquid in the gravy pan to make both. We've eaten a lot of turkey in the past few days, and nobody complained about having even more after tasting this one. Everyone loved it. It'll be my go-to recipe from now on. It's quite simple, and I'm sure it'll be even better next time. Thanks, Meat!"
Bubba Broker. "I had never smoked a turkey before, but, with 13 people coming over for dinner, I thought...What the heck?! The 20 pounder that I smoked while dutifully following your directions / tips, turned out great!" I especially like the festive look with the WSM in the background.
Charleen Long. "Smoked on a WSM using your instructions. Delicious."
Beth Bennet. "I just wanted to say that this recipe is awesome, and the turkey was too good to last long. Being that the fiance and I didn't have a working oven, due to kitchen renovations, we had to get creative for our Thanksgiving turkey. With much internet searching, I found these instructions and recipes, and knew that this was what we were going to use. Everyone we told that we were going to cook a turkey on a BBQ grill had nothing but horror stories to tell. "It's going to be really dry" "You'll burn it" "It'll taste bad" "You should do this and that instead". We stood firm, and boy were there a lot of surprised faces. The aroma alone caused everyone to drool. The skin was crispy, the flesh extremely juicy and flavorful. The apple wood we added to the fire gave the flavor a nice touch. Some thought that we were going to add flour to the gravy, but told me not to change anything when they actually tried it. There wasn't much in leftovers as everyone had 2nds and 3rds, but even after reheating with a microwave the next day, the meat was still juicy. We really want to get another turkey now so we can do this again, the flavor was just too addicting and in the end the fiance and I both wanted the last bite. I forgot to get a picture after it was done, but here is one I snapped when we first put the turkey on the grill. One of my hens wanted to see what was going on, silly girl. (I removed her shortly after for her safety)."
2011 Pretty Bird Turkey Shoot Photo Contest
On Thanksgiving I made the decision to stay by my computer until the last possible minute fielding questions like the Butterball Hotline. Your inquiries really helped me fine tune my recipe to anticipate future questions and as a result I have completely rewritten it. It was especially thrilling as the first pictures started rolling in. I felt like a proud Grandfather as his children sent in pictures of the grandkids. There were about 100 entries (I stopped counting) and more on my Facebook page. Selecting winners was not easy and took me a whole day. So many pretty birds!
First Prize by David Lauro. David's bird (above) was not only perfect looking, he took time to garnish it with lettuce and grapes, and frame it perfectly with his centerpiece in the background. This could be a magazine cover! He cooked 2 birds and submitted photos of several stages of the cooking process from brining to the heavily laden dining table, most of them out of focus. But he nailed this one and first prize in the process!
From his comments: "Here are pictures of the smoked turkeys I did for Thanksgiving 2011. I hope they are pretty enough, lol. I've cooked smoked turkey before in the past, but decided to follow your recipe in entering the contest, as well as seeing and tasting the end results. Your method produced a very moist and extremely flavorful bird. Your brine recipe is definitely a keeper! And so is your method for making your thin gravy. The herb rub added a lot to the flavor as well (just sage and thyme). My guests continually raved about how juicy and incredible the turkey tasted. They were big fans of the Grilled Apple Salad too!"
He also said "I wanted to add that these two birds were cooked in a Oklahoma Joe Longhorn smoker at around 260-275 degrees. It does render quite well at that temperature I've found, without it getting scorched on sides near the firebox. I used a mixture of soaked Guava and Apple wood chips that I would add to red-hot Kiawe coals at 1 hour intervals."
First Prize. Thermoworks ThermaPen. With this superfast precision digital thermometer, you'll never overcook anything again.
Second Prize by David Bradley. A perfectly carved bird (at with the thigh meat glowing pink from smoke and garnished with green onions, lemons, flat leaf parsley. His presentation is not overly formal or prissy, but achievable. He also submitted another picture of the dark mahogany bird roosting on his Weber Kettle. I've cropped this slightly so you can see more of the bird.
From his comments: "This was my first time fixing the turkey. My dad always smoked the turkey when I was growing up and I wanted to do it too. With your method I'm pretty confident I improved on my Dad's. Just used a Weber classic - no Smokenator." That's right, he used an $89 grill. Dad would be proud David, and you know it is just going to get better over the years. You're setting a high bar for your kids.
Second Prize. Weber's Time to Grill by Jamie Purviance. Chef Purviance knows more about grilling than anybody. You'll drool over the pix.
Third Prize (tie) by IndyDuq who did his Pretty Bird on a MAK pellet smoker. That's almost like cheating. I love the color of the bird and the platter and the place settings, devoid of people whom I can guess he had to shoo away for the shot. I vsualize them standing 5' away drooling, as am I as I write this.
From his comments: "Brined, smoked turkey. I've been smoking my birds for nearly 20 years, and brining for the last few. It was always an adventure chasing the temperature on my gas smoker depending on the fickle Midwestern weather this time of year. Thanks to Meatheads thorough reviews, I purchased a MAK 1 Star this summer, and for the first time, my smoke was worry free thanks to the oven-like precision temperature control. Had a bit of a scare when the bird was done a full 90 minutes early, but dialed back the grill, and in spite of coming off at 175 deg, the meat was still very tender and juicy! So very nice to not be messing with the old gasser!! I should add that I had always been told that low & slow was the ticket for turkey, and that is how I have always smoked my birds. Meathead explained that since there isn't an abundance of connective tissue in poultry, that you can cook at 325 deg. for a much shorter period of time. So nice to put the bird on at 9:30am this year as opposed to 5:30am for so many years!!"
Third Prize. The Hamburger: A History by Josh Ozersky. Fun stuff to know about America's favorite iconic sandwich by one of my favorite food writers.
Third Prize (tie) by Jeff Boldt . Boldt submitted a lovely composition that was not quite in focus, but he wins a prize for his creative video of the process posted on YouTube. His notes on the preparation: "Last year I cooked my bird on my 22" Weber kettle, this year I did it on my newly purchase rotisserie, can I add, this is my first cook with the roto. 13 LB Bird pre brined from Trader Joe's. Apples and Onions in the cavity. Smoked with Apple, Cherry and Maple wood." Boldt will also get a copy of The Hamburger: A History by Josh Ozersky.
Honorable Mention by Kevin Keller. I love the way he presented the bird by reconstructing it although I am left wondering what he did with the thigh meat (I think there's a piece of it peaking out between the breasts so maybe it is underneath). Incidentally, this is similar to the way I try to present my turkey, but it rarely comes out looking so nice.
He cooked his on a ceramic cooker that looks like a Big Green Egg judging by his other pix. I love the lighting, but I wish you had found a better place to put the bird so I didn't have to crop out the faucet...
From his comments: "Thank you for one of the best turkeys I've had for Thanksgiving. I've never cooked a turkey on a grill, so I supposed I violated one of your [tenets] above by doing it for the first time for the big day, but apart from a few other minor deviations I stuck to the plan and it came out moist and tasty. As instructed, I let the bird get up to 160 at the thickest part of the breast (multi-probe digital thermometer...one probe for the grill temp, one for the meat) and then pulled it out, set it in my cooler and let it work its way up to 165 and stay there for awhile stewing in its juices while I prepared the "gravy," which was freaking amazing. My dogs both hate, and love you by the way...they were begging by the time I was done...the smell was driving them nuts."
Honorable Mentions. All HMs get the new AmazingRibs.com Temperature Guide Magnet. This 8.5" x 5.5" magnetic card can be attached to your fridge or grill, or both!
Honorable Mention by Smokin in Colorado. Let's hear it for focus! Smokin In Colorado submitted four nice sharp pix showing all sides of a perfect bird that practically glows. Alas there might have been more prizes if folks held their cameras a little steadier, used a higher ISO, or a tripod. From his comments: "My first ever smoked turkey did not disappoint. Followed your recipe for the most part and it was the juiciest turkey any of us had ever had. Thanks for all your great insight on BBQ!" Congrats. You can Tebow now.
Honorable Mention to Dean Shultis. Dean made a smart move with two small birds. He is clearly a man of good taste. "My wife wanted me to smoke a turkey for Christmas day, so I decided to do two 10 pound turkeys rather than one 20 pound turkey. I used a horizontal type smoker for about four hours and then transferred the turkeys to an indoor oven to finish them off. Following your advice, the turkeys were cooked to perfection! While is Positano Italy this summer we ordered a ceramic table which was to be cut from solid volcanic rock in a single slab and then decorated with hand painted ceramics. The table arrived just three days before Christmas. The plates are also hand made in the same area of Italy and hand painted, all a perfect compliment to the perfect turkeys."
Honorable Mention by B Tucker. Tucker submitted two shots, this facy fella ready to go out on the town dressed in spats, and another sitting on the beat up old Weber Genesis that has clearly served him well. "I've tried many of your BBQ recipes with great success. This was my first time smoking a turkey. I was a little skeptical that it could be better than fried turkey, but this was by far the best turkey I've ever had! I followed your instructions step by step on my Weber gas grill and the result was out of this world. The pics I submitted below for the contest are actually a second, smaller turkey I smoked on Friday because there was no turkey left to eat with the rest of the leftovers from Thanksgiving Day!! I give Thanks to you for such a wonderful and informative site. You have made me my family's 'Grill Master'!!"
Honorable Mention by Scott D. Streaker. "Hey Craig, here's our submission for the photo contest. The bird was excellent, only thing we goofed on was not having a big enough platter! Thanks for the excellent website, you taught me everything I know about BBQ." Platter? That looks like one serving! But it still shows a nice presentation of white meat and dark meat.
2010 Pretty Bird Turkey Shoot Photo Contest
First Prize. Steve Navarre took great stills and made a fun 2 minute movie that shows the whole process of smoking a bird with a mix of video and stills.
Second Prize. Shawn Mullins sent in this beautiful presentation.
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