posted October 22, 2019
This smoked turkey is the perfect turkey to serve on Thanksgiving or other special occasions. The turkey is delicious and tender, and the whole bird tastes like it came from an upscale restaurant. I can guarantee this smoked turkey will take your holiday meal to the next level!
Best Smoked Turkey
Nothing beats a homecooked turkey on Thanksgiving, and this recipe will help you get the best-smoked turkey ever!
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.
The post below is loaded with lots of information to help you get the best smoked turkey around. Please take the time to read through the entire post before you smoke your first bird. Following all the recommendations below will help you avoid any pitfalls on the big day.
Supplies Needed for a Smoked Turkey
Here are the supplies you’ll need to gather prior to making your smoked turkey:
Make sure the turkey your purchase is around 15 pounds or less for food safety reasons. If you have a large group gathering for Thanksgiving, I recommend getting 2-3 smaller birds instead of one large turkey for dinner. See the next section about how much turkey to plan per person if you are unsure what size turkey to purchase.
The reason I recommend avoiding smoking a turkey 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 too long, and you risk bacteria overgrowing and spoiling your turkey before it is finished.
It’s best to cook 2-3 smaller turkeys versus a large one. If you REALLY want 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!).
2. Fuel & Wood
Ensure you have plenty of propane, gas, pellets, or wood prior to smoking the turkey. You do not want to run out while you are in the middle of the smoking process.
I recommend using apple, cherry, or hickory wood for smoking a turkey. These woods produce a light flavor that won’t overwhelm the turkey while still giving it a great BBQ smokiness.
An instant-read meat thermometer or remote meat thermometer is going to be your best friend while cooking this smoked turkey. Temperature is key when smoking a turkey, so make sure you have a good thermometer on hand to monitor the temperature of the various parts of the turkey while it is cooking.
How Much Turkey Per Person?
A good rule of thumb is to plan on 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person. Remember, you will be cooking a whole turkey with bones, skin, wings, etc. that won’t necessarily be consumed at the Thanksgiving table.
Personally, I estimate 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person. This will ensure everybody gets enough, and you’ll have leftovers for sandwiches the next day.
Brine and Seasoning for Smoked Turkey
Once you have your turkey (or turkeys) purchased, let’s take a moment to talk about brining and seasoning the turkey for smoking.
- Brining. If you are using a pre-brined, store-bought turkey, you do not need to brine the turkey prior to smoking. If your turkey is not already brined, then go ahead and make your own brine for the turkey. I definitely recommend my Apple Spice Smoked Turkey Brine for this very occasion. It’s sweet with the perfect blend of spices.
- Seasoning. Turkey tastes great with a little seasoning. Use a simple Sweet Rub or Smoked Turkey Rub on the surface of your turkey to add some authentic BBQ flavor and compliment the smoke from the grill. If you want to save yourself some time on Thanksgiving, you can purchase my Sweet Rub from the Hey Grill Hey Store.
Quick note: The sugar in the Sweet Rub will cause the skin of the bird to get quite dark and caramelized. It is not burned! It will simply appear darker.
Preparing the Turkey for the Smoker
Once you have your turkey thawed, here’s what you’ll need to do next before it goes on the grates.
- Thaw the turkey. Plan plenty of time in advance to safely defrost your turkey. The image below details when to move your turkey from the freezer to the fridge before cooking. For a 15-pound bird, place it in the fridge the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
- Remove innards. Once fully defrosted, remove the turkey from the packaging then 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 dry and tie. 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
- Season. 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 Sweet Rub or Smoked Turkey 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.
Catching the Smoked Turkey Drippings
Make sure you have a drip pan at the ready to catch the drippings as well as keep 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 Smoked Turkey Gravy you’ve ever had!
How to Smoke a Turkey
Now that your turkey is prepped, it’s ready to get it in the smoke!
- Preheat. 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 a gas grill, 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 pellet smoker, preheat your grill to 225 degrees F.
- To the grill! Once your smoker is ready to go, it’s time to get that bird on the grill! Place the turkey on the grill grates 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.
- Smoke the turkey. Close the lid of the grill and smoke the turkey for around 30 minutes per pound. The turkey is done when it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees F throughout.
- Rest. 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 it 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.
- Enjoy! All that’s left is to decide if you’re a light or dark meat person and get after it!
Smoked Turkey Temperature
165 degrees F is the safest temperature for consuming 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” to be done. All birds cook at slightly different speeds, so keep an eye on it to avoid overcooking. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey in the breast and thigh as it cooks. 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 serving platter.
How Long to Smoke a Turkey
At 225 degrees F, you can plan on it taking approximately 30 minutes per pound to smoke your turkey. Alternatively, if you are running your smoker at 250 degrees F, it will typically take 25 minutes per pound.
For example, my 15-pound turkey took around 7 and 1/2 hours at 225 degrees F to fully cook.
I always recommend planning an extra 30 minutes, just in case your turkey takes longer than you expect. If the turkey finishes a little earlier than planned, you can always wrap it in foil and rest it for a little while until everything else is ready.
More Smoked Turkey Recipes
If you like this method for smoked turkey, check out these great recipes! 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.
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 helping 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 Sweet Rub (Link in recipe notes)
- 4 cups water (to start, more to refill)
- Preheat. 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.
- Prep the turkey. 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.
- Season. Coat the exterior of the bird with olive oil or melted butter and then season on all sides with the Sweet Rub.
- Smoke the turkey. Place the turkey directly on the grill grates, close the lid, and smoke the turkey. 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.
- Remove to a serving platter. 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.
- Rest. 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.
- Enjoy! 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!
join the grill squad
Looking to up your BBQ game and become the ultimate backyard BBQ hero? Join my members-only group, The Grill Squad, for full access to my master classes, podcasts, and so much more! For a one-time payment of $89.99, you’ll join an amazing community of grillers that will help support you as you feed the people you love.
Join the Grill Squad