Kiawe Smoke Turkey

Growing up Thanksgiving meant one thing, smoked turkey. Every year the holiday was spent in Palolo with my grandpa carefully monitoring the fire out on the back porch. The savory smoke blowing for hours in the cold air until finally ready.

Four feet tall, I pull myself onto a kitchen stool to watch my grandma slice and arrange the white and dark meat. Her wrinkled hands glistening from the oil. She hands me the little bits of meat too small for the platter, but just right for me. Moist and flavorful. Absolute perfection.

Since they passed, I’ve had several kinds of turkey–roasted, kalua and deep fried. All delicious, but never quite the same.


After 10yrs, I was determined to replicate the feast. The day before Thanksgiving, my dad lets us borrow his homemade smoker. A 33 gal drum, burned and sanded, fitted with PVC vents.


Packing the bottom with mounds of charcoal and soaked kiawe, we’re given a lesson in smoking 101. He leaves us with a 14 lb. turkey and ingredients for a simple brine.


Back on our own, we start boiling 6 qts of water, 3 cups salt and 3 cups sugar. We turn off the stove and wait. We remove the giblets and place the defrosted turkey in a bag. When ready, we add the cooled brine and orange juice. Tie it up and place it in a cooler to marinate overnight.


The next morning we begin with a propane torch. Starting in the middle, we leave the rest to burn throughout the day.


Next, a grate is placed above the fire and a bowl of water placed on top. Followed by a second grate and lastly the cover, leaving a few open vents.


Meanwhile, time for turkey. Roasting pan and rack, olive oil and paprika. Along with sage, rosemary and thyme, granny smith apple, white onion, and celery.


Pulling it out of it’s bath, we pat the turkey dry. A nice massage of olive oil and paprika. Then stuff with herbs, fruit, and vegetables.


A little turkey yoga. Tuck the wings under the front and stretch the legs back. Truss with butchers twine, one leg rested over the other.


Then off to the sauna. Keeping the temperature at a low 225 to 250F.


After 3hrs our bird has a nice golden tan. We turn up the temp to 300F and dress with butter and rosemary. Pierce a digital thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, careful not to touch the bone. After another 3hrs, the internal temp reaches 170F. Gorgeous!


We haul the bird in and let her rest for 20 min. our family arriving just in time. Everyone grabs a stool to watch my father-in-law’s carving skills. His hands covered with turkey juice as he slices away. The house finally filled with that delicious familiar smell.


The result. More than turkey. Practically a different animal. Nothing else like it.


Both white and dark meat, slightly pink with smoke. Tender and moist with strips of leathery skin, paired with the rest of the trimmings. Absolute perfection. All of it. Just like I remember.


3 thoughts on “Kiawe Smoke Turkey”

  1. Jesus Christ not sure if I’m just hungry now or what but i was about to take a bite off my phone! That bird looks amazing!! Looking forward to next thanksgiving, I know who’s party I’m crashing!)

  2. Counting down! Only 10 more months until I get to eat this again! 😫 Maybe we should do one sooner!!! 10 months is too long!!! 😁👍

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