Smoked Turkey=Thanksgiving around here. Hopefully you’ve had to opportunity to try the tender delicacy that is the perfect smoked turkey. If not, let’s make this the year! This post will teach you the ins and outs to create a juicy smoked bird at home!
The steps below are loaded with info, are very detailed, and I definitely think you should take the time to read through them all before you smoke your first bird. Following everything below will bring you holiday fame and a turkey day of legend. If you want the shortened, printable version, scroll all the way to the bottom of the post. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!
How to Smoke a Turkey:
You can make a smoked turkey at home, no matter what kind of grill you’ve got on your deck. In fact, our first ever smoked turkey was done on our old gas grill and to date, is one of the best smoked turkeys I’ve ever had (you never forget your first!) I like to use my CampChef pellet smoker (check that out HERE) because it maintains the smoke and temperatures for me so I don’t have to do as much babysitting, but you can make this smoked turkey on a gas grill, charcoal grill, or any type of smoker you have. The most important thing is to use a grill where you can create indirect heat, maintain consistent temperatures, and add in the element of wood smoke.
Smoking a turkey definitely takes a bit longer than roasting. Read on and plan in advance so you can have plenty of time for the perfect turkey!
Supplies Needed for a Smoked Turkey:
– Turkey, fully defrosted (around 15 pounds or less for food safety reasons)
– Fuel (propane, gas, pellets, etc)
– Smoking wood (chips, chunks, pellets) I definitely prefer apple, cherry, or hickory for smoked turkeys
– Drip pan
– Instant read meat thermometer or remote meat thermometer
If you are using a pre-brined store bought turkey you should be ready to build a fire and get smoking. If you have planned ahead, you can create your own brine for a turkey and add in some amazing flavor (make sure you purchase a turkey that hasn’t been injected with a brining solution from the store). I definitely recommend my Apple Spice Brine, or the Apple Bourbon Turkey Brine from my Holiday Recipes eBook.
I also recommend using a simple Sweet BBQ Rub (recipe HERE) on the surface of your turkey to add some authentic BBQ flavor. Just note that the sugar in the Sweet Rub will cause the skin of the bird to get quite dark and caramelized. If you prefer something with less sugar, I would recommend my Homemade Veggie Shake. It has great herbs and spices to bring out the flavor without adding an sugar.
Turkey on a Smoker:
The key to a great smoked turkey is indirect heat and consistent temperatures. The goal is to keep your ambient grill temperature at an even 225 degrees F for the duration of the cook. If you’re using gas, turn on half of the burners to medium-low and leave the other half off. If you are using charcoal, preheat your coals until just ashed over, dump them on one far side of your grill, and set the vents to about 25% open. If you are using a dedicated smoker, preheat your grill to 225 degrees F.
For a gas grill, use a smoker box to add chips and generate smoke. For charcoal, place wood chunks directly in the preheated coals. For a smoker, follow manufacturer’s instructions to get even smoke. Whatever method, you want the smoke coming from your grill vents to be thin, swirling, and just lightly tinted blue.
Preparing the Turkey for the Smoker:
First up, remove your defrosted turkey from the packaging. Remove the neck and giblets from the inside cavity of the bird. If your turkey has been brined, carefully rinse the exterior of the turkey with cold water. Pat the turkey down on all sides with a paper towel. Tie the legs together with butcher’s twine and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulder joint. This will help prevent the tips from burning and create a more beautiful presentation with the final bird. At this point, I like to coat the exterior of the bird with olive oil or melted butter and then season on all sides with the BEST Sweet Rub. If you brined your turkey, it will be sufficiently seasoned and won’t require any additional seasoning on the exterior. I would still coat lightly with olive oil or melted butter for crispier skin.
I do not recommend stuffing a turkey with dressing before smoking. By the time the inside of the stuffing reaches a safe temperature, the meat of the bird is typically overcooked. You can add in apples, onions, herbs, or citrus to the interior of your turkey for additional flavor, just don’t pack it in there tightly so the air can still circulate and be sure to discard whatever is inside the bird after you’re done smoking.
How Long to Smoke a Turkey:
Once your smoker is ready to go, it’s time to get that bird on the grill! Place the turkey on the grill grate breast side up (no need for a roasting pan) on the indirect heat side of the grill. If you are cooking on gas or charcoal where you have slightly higher temperatures on one side of the grill, be prepared to rotate the turkey several times during the cooking process for even cooking.
At 225 degrees F, you can plan on approximately 30 minutes per pound. If you are running your smoker at 250 degrees F, it will typically take 25 minutes per pound. For example, my 15 pound turkey will take 7 and 1/2 hours at 225 degrees F. I always plan an extra 30 minutes, just in case. If it finishes a little earlier than planned, you can always wrap in foil and hold for a little while until everything else is ready.
The reason I recommend avoiding smoking turkeys over 15 pounds, is that it can take too long to cook. Your bird will be sitting in the food safety danger zone between 40-140 degrees F for far too long and you can really risk the bacteria overgrowing and spoiling your turkey before it is finished. If you need to cook a larger bird, I recommend using my Spatchcocked Smoke Roasted Turkey recipe. It is a flattened bird that cooks at a higher temperature so it is safer and more evenly cooked (no dry breasts on a spatchcocked bird!)
How Much Smoked Turkey Per Person:
For smoked turkeys (since we are smoking birds that are less that 15 pounds usually) I plan 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person. Remember, you will be cooking a whole turkey with bones, skin, wing tips, etc. that won’t necessarily be consumed at the Thanksgiving table. 1 1/2 pounds per person will ensure everybody gets enough and you’ll have leftovers for sandwiches the next day. If you need to serve more than the 10-12 people you can feed with a 15 pound bird, don’t stress. Just cook multiple turkeys!
Catching the Smoked Turkey Drippings:
The drip pan in the ingredients list up above is for the purpose of catching the drippings as well as keeping your smoker environment moist. I use an aluminum pan that I can position in the grill underneath my turkey. Fill the pan with several cups of water. This water will likely evaporate during the smoking process, so be prepared to refill the pan and keep a few cups of water in there at all times. Once your turkey is done, use those lovely drippings to make the absolute best turkey gravy you’ve ever had!
Correct Internal Temperature for Smoked Turkey:
165 degrees F is the safest temperature for smoked turkey. You need to be sure that you’re achieving the correct internal temperature for both food safety reasons and also for the juiciness factor. Start testing your turkey for doneness about an hour before it is “supposed” too be done. All birds cook at slightly different speeds, so keep an eye on it to avoid over cooking. Use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey in the breast and thigh. Make sure you test both sides of the bird, ESPECIALLY if you are smoking on a gas or charcoal grill where the temperatures of your grill may have been higher on one side than the other. You will be going off of the lowest reading you get from each side of the turkey. Once all temperatures are above 165 degrees F, it is time to remove the smoked turkey to a large platter or cutting board.
Allow the turkey to rest for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving. If your turkey is done a little early, cover the turkey with foil and wrap with towels to insulate and keep the heat at a safe serving temperature. This can soften the skin, but a quick (like 1-2 minute) broil in the oven can get it back to crispy. All that’s left is to decide if you’re a light or dark meat person and get after it!! Happy Thanksgiving everybody!
Smoked Turkey Recipes:
If you like this method for smoked turkey, check out these methods as well! There’s more than one way to smoke a bird. Click the image to head straight to the recipe.
Side Dishes for Smoked Turkey:
I didn’t want to leave you hanging with an awesome turkey and nothing else!! Click theses images to head directly to these awesome Thanksgiving side dishes!