Smoked Turkey Recipe and Video

April 5, 2018

Smoked Turkey means Thanksgiving around here. Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to try the tender delicacy that is the perfect smoked turkey. If not, let’s make this smoked turkey recipe happen this year! This post will teach you the ins and outs to create a juicy smoked turkey at home!

Smoked Turkey Recipe and Video

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.

Smoked Turkey Video

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

Thermapen Mk4

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, 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.

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. 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.

Smoked Turkey

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 RubIf 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.

Smoked Turkey Cooking Time:

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!)

Smoked Turkey Brine

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!

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!! 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.

Apple Bourbon Brined Smoked Turkey (this recipe is available exclusively in my Holiday Recipes eBook!)

Apple Bourbon Brined Smoked Turkey

Spatchcock Smoke Roasted Turkey

Spatchcock Smoked Turkey

Marinated Smoked Turkey Breast

Marinated Smoked Turkey Breast

Bacon Wrapped Turkey Roulade

Bacon Wrapped Smoked Turkey Roulade

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!

Jalapeno Pomegranate Glazed HamSmoked Chantilly Potatoes- Smoked Turkey Side Dish

Candied Sweet Potato Stacks- Smoked Turkey Side Dish

Bacon Wrapped Maple Glazed Carrots-Smoked Turkey Side Dish

Bacon Brussels Sprout Bites- Smoked Turkey Side Dish

 

Smoked Turkey Recipe

5 from 6 votes
smoked turkey
Smoked Turkey
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
7 hrs
Total Time
7 hrs 30 mins
 
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Barbecue
Servings: 7 people
Ingredients
  • 1 15 pound turkey defrosted
  • 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Homemade BBQ Sweet Rub Link in recipe notes
  • Aluminum Drip Pan
  • 4 cups water to start, more to refill
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Coat the exterior of the bird with olive oil or melted butter and then season on all sides with the Sweet Rub.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
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41 thoughts on “Smoked Turkey Recipe and Video

  1. Curious how long do you brine the bird, I’m excited to make this recipe in a few days. I plan on doing your apple / bourbon brine + sweet rub. So do I leave it in the brine for 2 days, 1 day? Thanks for everything – I love your recipes. I’ve made at least a dozen of them 🙂

    1. I like to smoke breast up. I feel like the thighs can handle a little more of the direct heat on the grill grates and I like the presentation of the bird without grill marks across the top.

  2. I have just prepped my turkey and put the rub under the skin. After applying the rub, the turkey appears bruised. Did I do something wrong? Is this okay to smoke in the morning and eat?

    1. Hey Melissa- if the turkey looked normal when you started, it is likely just the rub color showing through the skin making it look dark. You should be fine to smoke tomorrow.

  3. Just got done cleaning up the dinner plates from first smoked turkey ever. Thank you so much for the info and the rub recipe. Did a 10lb bird on my Big Green Egg and it was AMAZING!!!! I’m going back in to bask in the glory. Happy Turkey Day.

  4. Looking to do our first smoked turkey this thanksgiving. We have a pellet grill and was wondering should we rotate the bird while cooking?

    1. I suggest reading over the post a few times before smoking your first turkey. You will want to rotate it a few times to make sure everything cooks evenly!! Please come back and let me know it turns out for you!!

  5. You made mention about making gravy with the drippings?

    Do you have a recipe for that?

    Thanks, look forward to trying a few of your recipes

    1. I don’t have a typed out recipe, but I typically melt 4 tablespoons salted butter and whisk in 4 tablespoons of flour. Cook that over medium for 3-4 minutes and the stir in the strained juices and additional stock to reach your desired thickness. If you’ve got time, I’ll also steep fresh thyme in the gravy for a while until it’s time to serve, then I’ll strain the herbs out of the gravy.

  6. Looks great. I recently discovered Peach butcher paper for grilling. I like wrapping meat that may get too dark in the paper and continue to cook. Also good to wrap for resting meat or storing when done early, which I place in a cooler without ice of course.

  7. I am looking to use this recipe for Thanksgiving . I wanted to verify something, can you use the brine and the sweet bbq rub together? My first bird was pre-treated with a light brine and a rub. It was good but a little salty. Then I stumbled across this recipe (should have checked here first, all the other recipes I have used from here always turn out great!).

  8. I’m looking forward to giving this recipe a try this week (a test run for the big day). I was wondering if you have a suggestion on what wood chips to use (dedicated smoker). I know different woods have different flavor profiles so I was thinking like an apple/cherry combination to get some sweetness out of the smoke. Thoughts?

  9. Hi! This looks awesome. Is their any reason you wouldn’t want to use this method, but spatchcock for a bigger bird? I saw your other recipe, but this flavor is more what I was looking for.

  10. I’ve seen the “turkey cannon” method or a higher temp for smoking. Do you recommend ther low and slow? Also, was the meat still moist?

  11. This looks wonderful! We are having a large group over for Thanksgiving. If I did this a day ahead, how would you recommend heating it back up on Thanksgiving Day?

  12. I read that you can add in apples, onions, herbs, or citrus to the interior of your turkey for additional flavor.
    Just curious what you recommend with your rub? I can’t to make this recipe.
    Thanks

  13. I’m using your brine recipe for a bone-in turkey breast. Should I still coat the breast after brining with butter and a rub?

  14. I’m using your method on my Camp Chef pellet grill for the first time. Do you recommend mixing the rub with the butter and then putting under the skin as well as on top of the skin prior to placing the bird on the preheated grill?

  15. This was my first time making a turkey, I tried this recipe and it is the best turkey I’ve ever had! Everyone was impressed.
    Thanks!

  16. Hi! I just received a pellet smoker for a gift and can’t wait to try this recipe! Since I have never used it before, I was wondering where in the smoker I place the pan to catch the drippings? Also, I’m assuming it’s just a throw-away aluminum pan you use? Thank you very much for your help!

    One more thing and this is just a general question – do you need to coat the smoker rack with non-stick spray or oil before putting the turkey on it?

    1. Hey Erin! I am excited for you to start smoking and try this recipe!!! I usually place a disposable aluminum pan under my grill racks on my smoker. You an totally grease your grates if you fill you need to.

  17. Hi! So I recently made a turkey breast on my smoker and I brined it in your brine recipe first. The question that I have is that it was only 4 pounds and it took 12 hours to reach 165 degrees. I kept the heat steady at 225 degrees throughout and even used 2 thermometers to make sure they weren’t malfunctioning. The only change from other things I’ve smoked is that I did put an aluminum pan under the grilling rack to catch the drippings (but it didn’t produce any). I can’t figure out why it would have taken so long to reach the 165 degrees – could it have been the brining or the aluminum pan addition?

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