Have you always wanted to make your own Smoked Turkey? You’re in the right place! This tutorial will show you how to smoke a turkey of your very own.
Why does smoked food taste so good? Is it the slow, low, deliberate application of something that might otherwise ruin it?
Wouldn’t you love to have a video of the first time someone smoked meat and realized it actually tasted good? No? Just me?
Smoked Turkeys have something of a mystique surrounding them. We have a store nearby where people flock eight weeks before Thanksgiving to order smoked turkeys for their Thanksgiving feast.
Everyone in these parts agrees that smoked turkeys are where it’s at flavour and texture-wise. I’m not sure why very few people take on the process of smoking it themselves because it’s such an easy and forgiving cooking method.
The truth is that you’re far, FAR more likely to render a turkey inedibly dry when roasting it. Think of Clark Griswold’s sister-in-law on ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’. Remember how that thing was turkey jerky?
Do I need to brine a turkey to smoke it?
My short answer is no. That said, you can certainly brine your turkey if you prefer it that way.
The longer version is that I don’t find brining to the worth the effort and mess it creates. Some people swear by it, but I think it’s extra effort for something that doesn’t need it.
If you’re interested in the effect of brining without the mess, you can dry-brine the turkey using the instructions found in my smoked whole chicken post. Just follow the instructions there, but size up in proportion to the weight of your turkey.
How to smoke a turkey?
The Smoked Turkey, on the other hand, cooks at such a low temperature for such a long time -basting itself continuously- that it doesn’t have a chance to get dry and boring. The smoke delivers incredible flavour making any seasoning beyond salt, pepper, and a touch of granulated garlic and onion superfluous and unnecessary.
Like I do in my Five-Spice Roasted Turkey, I stuff the cavity of the bird with aromatics that provide the added help of being full of moisture. Thereby, you’re basting the turkey from the inside out as it absorbs all that gorgeous smoke.
While I know perfectly well that it’s not convenient to leave a big old turkey in a bigger old pan in the refrigerator overnight, it’s kind of crucial. You can blot a turkey’s skin with paper towels all. day. long, but it isn’t going to get it as dry as it would get all by itself sitting on a roasting rack in a refrigerator with air circulating around it.
Why do you want a dry turkey skin? It just behaves better in the smoke. It gets marginally crispier, although I wouldn’t say that smoked turkey skin is ever going to be as crisp and lovely as roasted turkey skin. It also helps the meat absorb the smoke flavour better, so it’s worth it!
What spices are best for smoked turkey recipes
I meant it when I said you don’t have to do anything more than salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and granulated onion. If you want to boost the colour, you can add a bit of paprika.
Don’t skip those aromatics inside the turkey cavity! They lend serious flavour to the party.
Smoked Turkey Breast vs. Smoked Whole Turkey
You can absolutely, positively use my drumstick removal method before smoking the turkey. I’ve done it both with the drumsticks attached and detached and had good results both ways.
The drumsticks cook a little more quickly when detached meaning that if left in for the same amount of time as the larger part of the bird, they’ll be more ‘done’ when the breast meat is just finished. This is exactly how I prefer my turkey. Choose accordingly.
You can also use a bone-in turkey breast to make smoked turkey breast. You still have the cavity to stuff with all the goodies, so feel free to go that route if you really prefer just the white meat.
What equipment and wood do I need to smoke a turkey?
Obviously, a proper smoker is going to make this job FAR easier, but it can most certainly be done in a grill with a very low indirect heat. You’re going for 225°F to 250°F. If you have a real deal smoker with an adjustable thermostat, please set it at 250°F for the duration.
We need to address what kind of smoke we’re applying right? I swear by apple or alder wood for my turkeys.
I think it’s mild but flavourful and easy to come by (at least in this neck of the proverbial and literal woods.) If you wanted a good second choice, I think hickory would be excellent, too. I’d be less likely to go for mesquite, but it wouldn’t be bad.
I used to use a dedicated smoker, but these days, I use my handy-dandy, trusty Traeger smoker/grill for the job. It’s insulated, it maintains temperature as easily as an oven, and it has a hopper I can fill with convenient wood pellets.
It takes all of the work out of smoking any number of proteins. Bonus: I can order my Traeger pellets to be shipped monthly from Amazon via the subscribe and save feature.
How long to smoke a turkey?
The answer to how long to smoke a turkey is all about the size of your bird. Of course, you want to be sure that you’ve completely thawed it first, but that’s a given.
You’re looking for about 30 to 40 minutes of smoking per pound. The easiest way to tell when you’ve reached the optimal temperature is to use a probe thermometer that can stay in the turkey while you’re smoking it.
A good second choice would be to use an inexpensive instant read thermometer to take occasional readings of the dark meat and white meat both.
Since I judge all turkey by the performance of its leftovers, I have to say this one is an exceptional choice. Oh sure, it’s AMAZING fresh and hot, but smoked turkey sandwiches?
HELLO! And smoked turkey in the Trashed Up Barbecue Turkey Pizza is out of this WORLD.
Do not forget to save those turkey bones for some incredible turkey pho .
Smoked Turkey: How to Smoke a Turkey and Why
- 1 whole turkey 12 to14 pounds, fresh or thawed if frozen, giblets and neck removed and reserved for another purpose
- 1/4 cup peanut oil
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon granulated onion
For the aromatics:
- 2 yellow onions halved, papery skin removed
- 3 fresh apples stems removed and cut into wedges
- 3 cloves garlic pulled apart, papery skins removed, but left in the peel
- Pat the turkey dry and set it, breast side up, on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Let rest, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight to dry.
- The day of smoking, heat your smoker to 250°F according to manufacturer’s instructions or build a bed of low coals off to the side of a grill. Either way, use apple wood chips to produce smoke for 30 minutes before putting the turkey in the smoker.
- Stuff the onions, apples, and garlic in the cavity of the turkey. Drizzle the peanut oil over the dried turkey and rub with the salt, granulated garlic, and granulated onion. Put the turkey into the smoker and smoke for 30 to 40 minutes per pound, or until an instant read thermometer (or stay-in-the-bird probe thermometer) reads 160°F in the thickest part of the breast meat. Use silicone oven mitts or two sets of tongs to carefully shift the smoked turkey to a rimmed half sheet pan or clean roasting pan and tent lightly with foil for 30 minutes before slicing, giving the juices time to redistribute. This also makes the meat easier to slice evenly.
Originally published November 2014, republished October 2018 with an instructional video, revised November 2020 with improved information/notes.