This Smoked Turkey is the perfect turkey to serve on Thanksgiving or other special occasions. If you haven’t had the opportunity to try the tender delicacy that is the perfect smoked turkey, now is the time to try it out. It takes the ol’ turkey to the next level.
The steps below are loaded with info and are very detailed, please 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.
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!).
Nowadays, I prefer to use my Camp Chef SmokePro pellet smoker 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
Here’s what you’ll need to assemble in advance to make sure your smoking is a success:
- Turkey. Make sure it is fully defrosted and around 15 pounds or less for food safety reasons.
- Fuel. Ensure you have plenty of propane, gas, pellets, etc. prior to smoking this turkey.
- Smoking Wood. This may consist of chips, chunks, or pellets. I definitely prefer apple, cherry, or hickory for smoked turkeys
- Drip Pan. This turkey is gonna be juicy, so make sure you have a drip pan on hand to catch everything.
- Instant Read Meat Thermometer or Remote Meat Thermometer. Temp is key when smoking a turkey.
Smoked Turkey Brine and Rub
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 for this very occasion.
I also recommend using a simple sweet rub 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 any sugar.
Smoked Turkey Temperature
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. For a charcoal grill, 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. If you are using 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.
Next, 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. (You can also purchase my Signature Sweet Rub pre-made from Patio Provisions). 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 of cooking time. 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 at the beginning of the smoke. 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!
Smoked Turkey Temperature
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!
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, and Hey Grill Hey is here to help you feel successful leading up to the big day.
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!
Smoked Turkey Recipe
Follow the recipe, and I’ll teach you the simple steps to making your own smoked turkey at home. Hey Grill Hey is dedicated to help you make better BBQ, feed the people you love, and become a backyard BBQ hero. You can find more of my smoking and grilling recipes and videos on YouTube, Instagram, or our Facebook Page.
- 1 15 pound turkey (defrosted)
- 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
- 2-3 Tablespoons Signature Sweet Rub (Link in recipe notes)
- 4 cups water (to start, more to refill)
- Preheat whatever type of grill you are using for indirect smoking at 225 degrees F. 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. Add the wood chunks or chips, if needed, to achieve a thin blue smoke.
- 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.
- Coat the exterior of the bird with olive oil or melted butter and then season on all sides with the Sweet Rub.
- At 225 degrees F, you can plan on approximately 30 minutes per pound for your turkey to smoke. For example, this 15 pound turkey will take 7 and 1/2 hours at 225 degrees F. I always plan an extra 30 minutes, just in case.
- 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.
- All that's left is to decide if you're a light or dark meat person, slice into that pretty bird, and get after it! Happy Thanksgiving!