Citizens, your beloved and occasionally well-smoked Primogeniture – the always savory TFD! – is a huge fan of all forms of BBQ and I constantly seek out the most micro-geographic versions of it that I can find: and this one from Tennessee is a doozy! 😀 Before going into the recipe, let’s discuss the history of BBQ in the U.S. first – way back before the Mayflower, in fact! 😀
As noted on one of my favorite cooking sites, amazingribs.com:
In 1492 Christopher Columbus made the first of his four voyages from Spain to the New World landing on the island he called Hispaniola, known today as the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and then went on to Cuba, and the Bahamas. On his first voyage he coined perhaps the oldest bromide in culinary literature. In his diary he wrote of seeing a “serpent” about six feet long that was probably an iguana. His men killed it, ate it, and he remarked that “the meat is white and tastes like chicken.”
Over the next 11 years he came back three more times and set foot on numerous Caribbean islands, Central America, and even northern South America. His tales of the strange new universe, its people, animals, foods, and riches, launched a flurry of explorations by Spanish conquistadors as well as French and English adventurers.
On his second voyage he is believed to have stopped in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa and picked up 20 to 30 cattle, mostly pregnant females descended from Portuguese and Spanish stock brought there a few decades earlier. Within three weeks they were grazing contentedly on the lush greenery of Hispanola and within a few years conquistadors brought them to Mexico where vaqueros, Mexican predecessors of cowboys, drove them north to Texas.
The people they encountered in the Caribbean were unfortunately called Indians since Columbus had been seeking a route to India. They were members of Arawak tribe, a sub tribe called Taino, and further north in the Bahamas, Lucayans. I shall call them Amerindians to avoid confusion.
According to an email from barbecue historian Dr. Howard Taylor “Oviedo is reputed to be a reliable source for translation from these American Indian dialects into Spanish because of his dedication to accuracy and experience as Chronicler to Charles V of Spain. Arawak tribes and dialects of the Arawak language were widely distributed across the West Indies, Central America, and Northern South America.”
Of course we will never know precisely what the Taino word was since they had no writing system. I’m guessing it only sounded like barbacoa to the Conquistadors since people usually mispronounce foreign language words. Nobody will ever know for sure, but barbacoa, especially the “-oa” at the end, sounds mighty Spanish to me. Other European explorers reported home that natives in northern South America, especially Guiana, may have called their version of the barbacoa a babracot or babricot or barboka. These are possibly dialects of the many tribal languages or further clumsy attempts to mimick the native words.
During the European explorations of the 1500s Arawak tribes were not native to areas now in the United States, but some Arawak tribes moved into southern Florida during the mid-to-late 1600s. “Florida” which was the Spanish name for all the land they claimed, extending north through modern Virginia and even into New York and west through Louisiana.
The English did not arrive in Jamestown, VA, until 1607, and the French did not settle in New Orleans until 1690. Present day Florida was populated with many different tribes, among them the Timucua, Apalachee, Calusa, Tocobaga, Ais, Mayaca, and Hororo, and most of them had adapted the barbacoa and accounts of other explorers show it in use by other tribes far north and west.
According to Charles Hudson’s 1998 book Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun: Hernando De Soto and the South’s Ancient Chiefdoms, on March 25, 1540 a party of about 40 Spaniards led by de Soto invaded a village in what is now Georgia and found venison and turkey smoke roasting on a barbacoa-like device. Although the word had not been brought north by Indians yet, DeSoto called it a barbacoa because he had probably heard the word in Spain. Famished from a 35 hour ride, despite the fact that it was Holy Thursday, they feasted on the first barbacoa in recorded history.
So, as you can see, turkey was actually the first BBQ meat in the world – and Tennessee has kept that tradition alive. Originally made with wild turkey, domesticated turkey is still a prized BBQ staple in Tennessee.
Interestingly, you see a bit of geographic “bleeding” in this recipe, as the white sauce used in Tennessee BBQ turkey sandwiches is in fact what Northern Alabamans use with their BBQ chicken. Since Northern Alabama abuts Tennessee, it’s not surprising that this sauce crossed state lines!
Citizens, my version of this delicious recipe calls for first brining the breast meat for ultimate juiciness, but unlike the classic sandwich, I like to take a hint from Eastern North Carolina in my version! In that region, they mix crispy pork crackling in their chopped pork sandwich and I have adapted that in my recipe to use crispy turkey skin!
Be sure and add the skin on top of the lettuce, which is itself on top of the sauce-soaked meat. This keeps the skin crisp and delicious and a great textural element in the final sandwich.
My original template for this recipe is the exceptional one from cookscountry.com – but I use my own recipe for the Northern Alabama white sauce and the use of crackling skin is my own innovation. 🙂 The brining step is also not in the original recipe, but I prefer my turkey breast brined.
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- 5 pound bone-in turkey breast
- Turkey brine:
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 1 quart water
- ½ cup of salt
- ¼ cup of sugar
- 5 smashed garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 large sprig fresh thyme
- 2 cups wood chips – TFD greatly prefers oak for this recipe, but use your favorite
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper
- 1 (13 by 9-inch) disposable aluminum roasting pan
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
- White BBQ Sauce:
- 2 cups mayonnaise – only Duke’s brand is acceptable to TFD for this recipe, but Best Foods/Hellman’s will work if that is all you have
- ¾ cup apple cider vinegar
- ⅛ cup apple cider
- ¼ cup prepared horseradish
- 2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tbsp. Creole (preferred) or spicy brown mustard
- ½ teaspoon celery seeds, ground
- 8 hamburger buns
- Shredded iceberg lettuce
- Carve the individual halves of the turkey breast from the bone so you are left with two boneless halves. Keep the bone for stock.
- Remove the skin from the turkey breast halves. Dry pieces THOROUGHLY. Cut it into manageable-sized pieces, and lay them on a cooking tray. Add a goodly amount of kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to each slice. Leave in the fridge overnight until they are nicely dried out.
- For the brine: Pour the water into a sauce pan, along with the salt, sugar, garlic, pepper and bay leaf. Bring everything to a boil, then remove from the heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Let the brine cool to room temperature. Once it’s cool, combine it with the buttermilk, then pour the mixture over the turkey breast in a brining bag or small bucket. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- For the Crispy Skin: Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Spread skin evenly over a piece of parchment paper set in a rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with salt and pepper. Place a second sheet of parchment on top and carefully squeeze out any air bubbles using the side of your hand. Place a second rimmed baking sheet on top and transfer to oven.
- Roast until skin is deep brown and crisp (it will crisp further on cooling), 30 to 45 minutes. Allow to cool and set aside at room temperature. Turkey skin can be roasted in advance, cooled completely, then stored, loosely covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days. To re-crisp, place in a hot oven for a few minutes just before serving.
- Just before grilling, soak wood chips in water for 15 minutes, then drain. Using large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap soaked chips in 8 by 4½-inch foil packet. (Make sure chips do not poke holes in sides or bottom of packet.) Cut 2 evenly spaced 2-inch slits in top of packet.
- FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter three-quarters filled with charcoal briquettes (4½ quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Place wood chip packet on coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 5 minutes.
- FOR A GAS GRILL: Remove cooking grate and place wood chip packet directly on primary burner. Set grate in place, turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot and wood chips are smoking, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on medium-high and turn off other burner(s). (Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature between 300 and 350 degrees.)
- Clean and oil cooking grate. Unwrap turkey and sprinkle with pepper and cayenne. Place turkey on cooler side of grill, with thicker parts of breasts closest to fire. Cover grill (positioning lid vent directly over turkey if using charcoal) and cook until breasts register 120 degrees, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Transfer turkey to disposable pan and top with butter. Cover pan tightly with foil and return to cooler side of grill. Cover grill and continue to cook until breasts register 160 degrees, 25 to 35 minutes longer. Remove pan from grill and let turkey rest in covered pan for 20 minutes.
- Transfer turkey to cutting board. Using two forks or your hands, shred turkey into bite-size pieces. Transfer to large bowl. Add ½ cup whisked juices from pan to shredded turkey and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Then, chop up the crispy skin into relatively small pieces.
- Serve turkey on buns with white barbecue sauce and lettuce. Add the chopped skin on TOP of the sauce and lettuce so it doesn’t get soggy. Eat and enjoy.
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