How to Smoke a Turkey
To smoke a turkey, you really just need a smoker–and a turkey! The smoker could be a homemade, makeshift one or one of the fancy smokers on the market. Add a turkey that’s been brined and a few simple ingredients, and you are in for the best meal of your life!
In the South, everyone has that family secret that is the very best recipe, technique, and equipment for smoking meat, from turkey to brisket. Anything smoked automatically trumps any other cooking method; it quickly becomes the pride of anyone with any business in the kitchen.
However, I convinced myself that a roasted turkey was every bit as good as a smoked one, maybe even better because of the ease. My husband begged to differ and challenged me to a cook-off. He would smoke his turkey and I would roast mine. I, of course, lost by a long shot.
There is no denying it: there’s nothing like a smoked turkey for the Thanksgiving table with its crispy skin and moist, succulent meat. It really can’t be beat for tenderness. This smoked whole turkey / smoked turkey breast recipe will give you a perfect bird every time.
Since our cookoff, I’ve smoked all sorts of meats, from chicken to sausage. We can’t get enough of them!
By smoking the turkey, you’re setting yourself up for a one-of-a-kind experience full of flavor and an unbeatable texture that just melts in your mouth.
It also makes amazing sandwiches the next day!
What supplies do you need for smoking a turkey?
Smoking a turkey really is very simple. Here is what you will need:
- You’ll obviously need a smoker. There are all kinds of smokers available, from a Camp Chef and Traeger Grill Smoker to a Weber or Masterbuilt. Of course, if you are a do-It-yourselfer (as I know many of my readers are!), you can build your own turkey smoker. You’ll also need a meat thermometer and a mixing bowl.
- A 12- to 14-pound brined turkey or turkey breast. I prefer wild turkey breast.
- A few ingredients – butter, oil, salt, garlic powder, ground pepper, and paprika – similar to the herbs you would use for a dry rub.
- A little patience!
How Do You Smoke a Turkey?
- Rinse the brined turkey and dry thoroughly with paper towels.
- Spatchcock (butterfly) the turkey for more even cooking. (See video below.)
- Place turkey breast side up on a sheet pan. Liberally rub butter-herb mixture completely over the entire turkey. Refrigerate 24 to 48 hours uncovered.
- Remove turkey from the fridge and bring to room temperature while your grill or smoker is reaching 225 degrees.
- Oil the rungs of the rack to keep the bird from sticking.
- Bring either the grill or smoker to 225 degrees F. Add several chunks of hickory or apple wood (they burn more slowly and won’t overtake the flavor of the turkey) to the smoker or on top of the charcoal if using a grill.
- Place turkey in the middle of a smoker or on the grill preheated to 225 degrees. Maintain temperature between 225 to 250 degrees during the entire cooking process. Cooking time should be 2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the bird. Figure on 11-13 minutes per pound.
- Once the bird reaches 160 degrees, remove it from the smoker. Cover the turkey loosely with foil and allow it to rest 30 minutes before carving.
That’s it! How easy can this be? I find that smoking a turkey is one of the easiest methods of cooking a turkey. Moreover, it leaves more room in the oven for the sides and desserts!
Additional FAQ for Smoking a Turkey
Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about smoking a turkey.
How long does it take to smoke a turkey?
The key rule when smoking a turkey is to remember that for every pound of meat, it will take 11 to 12 minutes to smoke. Therefore, if you have a 12 lb. turkey, it will take somewhere between 2 and 3 hours to smoke. The internal temperature should register 160 degrees with a meat thermometer. That is the minimum temperature at which turkey is considered safe to eat.
How do you keep a turkey moist when smoking?
The best way I have found to keep the turkey moist is to brine the turkey for up to 48 hours in a solution consisting of at least 8% salt. By doing this, the protein cells of the turkey will retain more moisture, leaving you with a much juicer end product. Also, I have found that spatchcocking a turkey cuts down on the cooking time. These simple steps make the turkey more moist but also keep the skin crisp.
Do you wrap turkey in foil when smoking?
Avoid wrapping your turkey in foil. Although it may seem as if foil will speed the cooking, the layer of foil actually guards the turkey from the smoke, thus rendering the smoking process useless. Instead, let the turkey smoke uncovered. If the turkey is done early, you can then wrap it in foil to insulate the heat and help the juices absorb into the meat.
Can you smoke a 20-pound turkey?
Although you can smoke a 20 lb. turkey, the optimal weight is between 10 and 12 lbs. A smaller turkey will cook faster, leaving you with a better end product.
What’s the best wood to smoke turkey?
Hickory or apple wood is the preferred wood with which to smoke a turkey because it is a much milder wood that won’t overpower the flavor of your turkey. Also, because of the high moisture content found in these woods, they tend to burn slower, so less wood will be needed.
What is the best temperature to smoke turkey?
Between 220 and 225 degrees is the preferred temperature. This will allow the meat to gain a rich and deep smokey flavor, but also be done quick enough to be moist and in time for dinner.
Do you need to brine a turkey before smoking?
Brining the turkey before smoking it is essential. The reason to brine is because the brining process effectively seasons the turkey and keeps it from drying out in the smoker.
Should I smoke my turkey breast side up or down?
Always smoke your turkey breast side down as this will allow the juices to collect in the breast, leaving no part of the turkey dry.
Why did my smoked turkey turn black?
As the turkey smokes, it is directly exposed to soot, which tends to stick to the meat. The soot, in turn, changes the color of the skin. To avoid this result, use a low amount of sugar in the brine, as the sugar content tends to attract the smoke. Also, using too much wood can cause an excess of smoke, choking your meat and, as a result, turning it black.
How do I get crispy smoked turkey skin?
To get crispy skin, load up on oils such as butter and avoid basting or wrapping the turkey as it cooks.
Where do you put the thermometer in a smoked turkey?
Insert the thermometer into the thigh, taking care not to let the temperature gauge come into contact with the bone.
When is the turkey done?
When the thermometer reads 160 degrees in the thigh or between 160 to 165 in the breast, the turkey is done.
What sides go best with smoked turkey?
My favorite sides with smoked turkey are potato salad, cornbread dressing, squash casserole, wild rice casserole, apple-mustard coleslaw, crawfish mac and cheese, and sweet potato fries.
For the entire tutorial on turkey perfection, check out my post Brine and Cook a Turkey Perfectly Every Time.
Smoked Turkey Recipe with Brine
- 1 12-14 pound turkey
- 1/4 cup butter melted
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- Rinse the turkey and dry thoroughly.
- Spatchcock the turkey for more even cooking.
- Place the turkey breast side up on a sheet pan. Liberally rub butter-herb mixture completely over the entire turkey. Refrigerate 24 to 48 hours uncovered.
- Remove turkey from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature while your grill or smoker is reaching 225 degrees.
- Oil the rungs of the rack to keep the bird from sticking.
- Bring either the grill or smoker to 225 degrees. Add several chunks of hickory or apple wood (they burn more slowly and won’t overtake the flavor of the turkey) to the smoker or on top of the charcoal if using a grill.
- Place turkey in the middle of a smoker or on the grill preheated to 225 degrees. Maintain temperature between 225 to 250 degrees during the entire cooking process, 2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on the size of the bird. Account for 11-13 minutes per pound.
- Once the bird reaches 160 degrees, remove from the smoker and cover loosely with foil and allow it to rest 30 minutes before carving.
– Happy Thanksgiving from Stacy Lyn!
Here are more of my top holiday recipes.