Annual Pretty Bird Turkey Shoot Photo Contest
Sponsored by Thermoworks
Every year in November I invite our readers to post pictures of their turkeys and compete for prizes, and every year I am thrilled to see the beautiful photos submitted, most of them cooked with my Ultimate Turkey Recipe. The contest prizes are sponsored by Thermoworks, makers of my favorite cooking thermometers. Rules are in the sidebar column as is more info about the prizes.
Kreg Hasse had the best picture and bird combo of the year with the rich warm amber hue in this image. It is at the top of this page. His house is no doubt a warm and welcoming place for the holiday. He said "I salted the skin per your recommendations, and let the trussed bird dry in the refrigerator for a couple of days. The night before, I rubbed the turkey with oil and used your Simon & Garfunkel rub for the seasoning. The turkey was smoked on my MAK 2 Star General set at 325 degrees."
Joseph Jeske shows that a spatchcocked bird can make a striking presentation with this simple assymetrical composition. He managed to get really crisp tight skin and said "My first attempt at spatchcocked turkey. It was delicious! This is a 14 pounder, done on my Weber 22 kettle. Simon & Garfunkel rub under the skin. Dry brined before cooking. A warm day, so half a chimney to start, and a small foil packet of apple chips. About 1 hour later, a small packet of pecan, to give it the beautiful color. It took a bit longer to finish, because I was too lazy to remember to order my hinged cooking grate before Turkey Day, so I had to remove the grate to add coals. Learned my lesson there! Still, it came out nicely! I folded the legs back under to make it look a little more traditional."
Matt Charles shows us his spatchcocked bird on a basic 22" Weber Kettle with a Slow 'N Sear insert. This was from his practice run before Thanksgiving and I like this picture better than the one from the holiday cook because the lighting really made it glow and you can see his perfect setup: Spatchcocked, gravy pan beneathe the bird, probe in the breast, probe on the grate next to the bird, and foil protecting the drumsticks. "It turned out pretty great. I had some issues getting the temperature right because I had only used the Slow n Sear previously for 225F cooks. At first it was too hot, then too low after cooling it down, then settled in around 300-310 after I added more lit coals. This added to the cooking time but I'm hoping to get it more accurate and consistent now that I know how much charcoal to use."
Tommy Brooker did this picture perfect specimen on a 18.5" Weber Smokey Mountain at his in-laws' home in Ocean Springs, MS, a town with a great barbecue traditions since it is the home of the awesome Shed Barbecue. A born and bred Texan, he says "My idea of the best BBQ is the central Texas style. Heavy black pepper, simple rubs, cooked low and slow, sauce on the side if at all. I dry brined and rubbed with a simple poultry seasoning. I smoked this bird over apple and Kingsford blue bag. I had some trouble getting the WSM up to temp but once there it held 325F for the whole cook. I am a huge Weber fan! I have around 8 or 9 Weber cookers. Always love talking BBQ! I read your site all the time!"
Their turkeys may not have been picture perfect but their sense of humor and feel good is unmatched.
Chad Elliott says this was his "First attempt at a smoked bird. Smoked at 325F using a Maverick ET-732. Over a pecan/Jim Beam Oak barrel wood chip mix. The family loved it. Mr. Putin however seemed a bit miffed."
Tyler Manthey sent this with no comment. None needed!
By Tara Allen. Her prizes are the Backlit Thermapen, the very best rapid read thermometer, the Thermoworks DOT, super for oven or food temp, or both, and the Thermoworks Timestick, a fine kitchen timer with an alarm. More info on them in the sidebar.
Tara won first prize for a stunning magazine-worthy composition that showcases the bird in rich autumnal hues with fresh herbs and autumn fruits in a beautiful serving and carving platter with sides high enough to contain all copius the juices. I especially like the thoughful inclusion of the carving set and color coordinated napkin.
Tara said "First off, I want to thank you for providing such an outstanding site. I often find myself looking up info/procedures before starting a project and taking good notes for follow-up cooks. Also enjoy watching your segments on the BBQ Central Show - good stuff. Thanks! :-) I have smoked several turkeys in the past 5 years but this was the first one that I have cooked in my BPS Drum [Big Poppa Smoker Drum Smoker Kit], which my husband helped me build this spring. The 15# Diestel [Family Ranch] Tom was dry brined uncovered for 24 hours, rubbed down with Whole Foods ghee (clarified butter) and generously sprinkled with fresh ground pepper and herbs. Following your advice, I resisted loading the cavity with aromatics and trussing the wings and legs. Because I had already made a large vat of turkey stock prior to Thanksgiving, I only used a water pan on the lower grate - mainly as a heat diverter for this cook. Fueled with lump and one very small chunk of pecan. Started at 325°F and then lowered the heat to 300°F as it runs a little hot in the center. Covered the wings and legs with foil about an hour and a half later. Pulled at 165°F and let rest until the remainder of dinner was ready. Can't say how nice the skin turned out, and the white meat was super juicy. Never again will I mess with buckets of wet brine!"
By Jeremy Radmall. His prize is a ThermoPop and a Thermoworks DOT. Jeremy has the table set and the two colonial chairs beckon the viewer to have a seat, dinner is about to be served. The bird is a magnificent mahogany against the bright sunlit table with vibrant colors, especially the cranberries. Any minute now I expect people to stream down the hallway in the background oohing and ahhing, as I am.
Jeremy says "I made an herb butter with a little bit of olive oil in it with my own version of the Simon and Garfunkel Rub rub ground with a mortar and pestle to release more flavor. I rubbed the softened butter on the breast under the skin. Then I melted the rest and brushed it on the outside of the bird, then filled the cavity with half an onion, some rosemary, and thyme, and a tangerine, halved. Using my Masterbuilt Dual Fuel Smoker Pro I smoked it between 275-300°F (cold day!) with pecan wood only. I think that gave the skin a good amber color and a nutty buttery smoke flavor. It made a really tasty Thanksgiving meal - extended family loved it (even those who normally hate turkey snarfed it down)!"
By Adam Payne. His prize is a Thermoworks DOT. Adam has done the difficult job of proving that a spatchcocked turkey can look just as inviting as a whole Norman Rockwell bird. It was shot outdoors on what looks like a picnic table making me think he is enjoying his dinner on his dock in some place warm like the Hawaii. The truth is a bit more mundane:
Adam says "Hey Meathead, I found your site a couple of weeks ago when looking for some tips for smoking some ribs on my Weber kettle. I used your recipe for them and ended up with the best ribs I have ever eaten... and I live in the South. As the designated turkey cook for our annual staff Thanksgiving luncheon at work, I have been frying turkeys for the past several years. This year, I decided to use your recipe here to see what I could do with it. We had 2 turkeys. One, a 15.6 pounder, was fried as usual. The other, a slightly larger 15.9 pound bird I smoked, following your directions as closely as possible. The 5 year old Webber did a pretty good job of keeping temperature with Kingsford briquettes and a few applewood chips (to start). I had an early morning to have everything ready by noon, and I had to fight a cool breeze until the sun came up a bit. The results, though, were spectacular! The smoked turkey was the star of the show, and I fry a mean turkey. Plus, a co-worker had her locally renowned ham on the table. I got more compliments on that smoked turkey than anything I have cooked for this group in the 5 years I've worked here. Thanks Meathead, and everyone who contributes to this site for making such useful, thorough knowledge available to the rest of us! I will be joining the Pitmasters Club very soon. What I have already learned is worth that cost. I could REALLY use some quality thermometers!"
4th Prize (tie)
By Clayton Kliewer. His prize is a ThermoPop. No fancy garnishes, just a simple 3 piece triangular composition, nicely lit, that says it all. And it makes you smile, doesn't it?
Clayton said "This is the second year I've used your Ultimate Smoked Turkey recipe. It is EXCELLENT in combination with your Simon and Garfunkel Rub. My family has given me the thumbs up both years I've used it. I pass those thumbs on to you. I grilled and smoked this turkey (17 pounds) on my 22.5" Weber (my pride and joy). We used your gravy recipe which they all loved as well. I know you recommend not using hickory with turkey, but I'm kinda partial to hickory. I kept it light though on the smoke and it turned out great. As you can see, the end result was a masterpiece. Thank you for your wisdom and tips. *Side note: it can be difficult to keep the other "turkeys" (see photo) away from anything that originates from AmazingRibs.com."
4th Prize (tie)
By Kelly Clissold. His prize is a ThermoPop and our admiration for the perfect setup on a plain old Weber Kettle. Coals on one side, some lit, some fresh, drip pan full of gravy on the other. Spatchcocked bird scrunched up into the indirect section turning a magnificent color and cooking evenly throughout, with two temperature probes snaked up through the air intakes in the bottom, one registering air temp and the other reading the deepest part of the breast. He saysa a Smokenator is on his wish list. That would be all he needs.
It was a tough year of judging! There were more entries, and better entries than ever as our cameras and our photo skills improve. Those that were a whisp of smoke from a prize were Hank Belz, James (no last name), Joseph d'Agostino, Cody Shores, dixhillssmoker, ezra, gary monti, gregg cook, and idaho sagebrush.
For the rest of you, clearly you got the cooking right. I saw scores of properly cooked birds. All you need to do now is work on your lighting, composition, and focus!
1st Prize. Backlit Thermapen and the Big & Loud Timer. 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. 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. 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. 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)."
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!
1st 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.
2nd 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.
3rd 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!!"
3rd 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.
3rd 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. "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.
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.