Learn how to smoke a turkey that will come out beautifully golden, juicy and packed with flavor this holiday season.
Are you thinking about smoking a turkey for Thanksgiving or the holidays? Find helpful tips and tricks on how to get your turkey to come out moist, flavorful and so beautiful.
HOW TO SMOKE A FLAVORFUL MOIST TURKEY:
There are two main ways to brine a turkey: wet brine and dry brine. The biggest difference between the two are… you guessed it, one uses liquid and is soaked and the other is a dry mixture. Both can add flavor but we prefer wet brining our turkey because it offers additional moisture.
Wet brining is simple and straight forward. You can find additional information and our favorite wet brine recipe in a post I shared –> How To Wet Brine A Turkey.
WET BRINE METHOD:
Wet brining uses a liquid mixture heavy in salt with added spices and ingredients to boost moisture and flavor of your turkey.
A turkey should be brine for 2-3 days so plan accordingly. The brine itself is very quick and easy to make but the process of brining takes a while (48-72 hours).
Your turkey will need to be brined in a large brining bag or clean food grade 5 gallon bucket AND it needs to remain cold. That means it needs to stay in the fridge or a cooler packed with ice during the process.
Once the time has passed the turkey will be rinsed, dried (initially pad dry then place in fridge to dry for 12-24 hours — we usually do it over night). Drying the skin is important as it allows the moisture to lock into the meat and helps the skin crisp up during the smoking process.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TRUSS A TURKEY?
Trussing a turkey simply means tying it with bakers twine or 100% cotton to tuck and tighten parts for even cooking. With about a 3 foot length of string, wrap around the neck bone then under the breast to the butt of the bird. Tie a tight knot at the butt of the breast bone (at the opening of the cavity). Then wrap one string in opposite directions on each leg bone and tie tightly together. That’s it!
You can truss a turkey before or after it has been brined. I typically truss it after it has been brined and rinsed.
You will also want to tuck the wings back behind the breast. By tucking the wings under the bird during cooking, this will allow for more even cooking. No need to use string, just push each wing back behind the turkey.
DO I NEED TO TRUSS A TURKEY BEFORE SMOKING?
Yes. Trussing a turkey will help the bird cook as evenly as possible. Avoiding overcooking parts of the bird will help it come out juicy and moist.
SMOKE A TURKEY:
Smoking a turkey can be fairly easy when given the right tools. Some of the tools and equipment you will need (besides a brined turkey) are:
- A smoker – we have a Camp Chef 24 inch Woodwind and LOVE IT!!! It takes all the guesswork out of the process and makes things so easy. It’s also a perfect size for our family. We can fit a turkey in it but it also doesn’t consume the room on our patio.
- Smoker Pellets – I like to use a fruit tree blend but use can really use want ever kind you prefer.
- Meat Thermometer – our smoker has thermometer built into the design but if you don’t have a smoker that monitors the temperature of the smoker or the meat make sure you have one for each. I like to use 2 thermometer in my turkey (one deep in the breast and another in the deepest part of the thigh).
PREP THE SMOKER:
Our smoker has a drip tray in the bottom but because a turkey is very large I like to add a tinfoil-lined cookie sheet on top of the drip tray. This way I can use any drippings and my smoker is much cleaner after the turkey is done. That’s a win, win.
AT WHAT TEMPERATURE SHOULD I SMOKE MY TURKEY?
My general rule of thumb is to plan on smoking at 250F for about 30 minutes PER pound or until the internal temperature of the inner thigh reaches 180F or internal temperature of the breast hits 165F. I know poultry is to be cooked to 165F but I usually pull the turkey when it reaches 160F as the bird will continue cooking for a bit after removed from the heat.
That said, you an also slow down or speed up the smoking process but increasing or decreasing the temperature. If you smoke the turkey at 225F plan on 35-40 minutes per pound. It is important to note that a turkey should hit a critical temperature of 140F within 4 hours of cooking to avoid food borne bacterial growth.
If you turn the heat up to 300F, it will most likely be done much quicker at 20 minutes per pound. It is recommended to go no higher than 300F when smoking a turkey.
So, if you have a turkey weighing in at a whooping 20 pounds plan on smoking it for at least:
- 13 1/2 hours at 225F
- 10 hours at 250F
- 6 1/2 hours at 300F
If you are looking for a quicker way to smoke your turkey, try a spatchcock method which will increase the surface area of the turkey and cook much quicker.
WHY DO I NEED TO LET THE SMOKED TURKEY REST?
Letting the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing is crucial. This time allows the moisture in the turkey to absorb back into the meat and keep the bird moist and juicy. Cutting earlier than 30 minutes after removing from the smoker will inevitably result in lost moisture and a drier turkey.
When the turkey is done being smoked and has hit the correct internal temperatures, place the turkey on a cookie sheet and cover with tinfoil to hold heat and moisture.
TIME TO SLICE AND EAT!
Follow the tips and tricks in this post to make a delicious, moist smoked turkey this holiday season.
LOOKING FOR MORE GREAT HOLIDAY RECIPES? TRY ONE OF THESE:
- Cutie Turkey Oreo Cookies
- Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Casserole – great for leftover turkey
- Turkey Soup
- Reese’s Turkey Cookies
- Grandma B’s Dinner Rolls – A Thanksgiving MUST TRY!!!
- Cranberry Jalapeno Appetizer
- No-Knead Cranberry Walnut Bread
HERE’S THE FULL PRINTABLE RECIPE FOR A FLAVORFUL SMOKED TURKEY. ENJOY!
- Whole turkey, thawed
- 2 gallons water, cold
- 1 1/2 cups canning or fine sea salt (do not use table or iodized salt)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Tbs dried minced garlic (or 3 Tbs fresh)
- 1 tsp ground garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 Tbs cracked fresh black pepper
- 3-4 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
- 2 4-6 inch sprigs rosemary (or 1 Tbs dried rosemary)
- THAW TURKEY!
- In a clean food safe 5 gallon bucket or brining bag, add seasonings, spices and salt. Add water.
- Stir or shake for a few minutes to help salt dissolve.
- Add thawed turkey (make sure to remove neck and giblets for turkey cavity).
- Soak turkey in brine for 48-72 hours (must stay below 40F so do this in the fridge or cooler with ice).
- Remove turkey from brine, discard brining liquid. Rinse turkey and dry thoroughly before cooking. Letting turkey dry in the fridge for 12-24 hours before smoking.
- Prep smoker with trip pan if desired. Heat smoker to 250F. Add turkey. Make sure to insert thermometer probes into deepest part of breast or inner thigh.
- Smoke at 250F for about 30 minutes per pound (20 lb turkey will most likely take about 10 hours) or until internal temperature of breast reaches about 165F or inner thigh reaches 180F.
- Once internal temperature is reached, carefully remove hot turkey. Please on clean cookie sheet, cover with tinfoil and let rest at least 30 minutes before slicing.
- Smoke time may vary depending on smoker used, temperature outside, how cold the turkey is going into the smoker, etc.
- Temperature can be increased up to 300F or decreased to 225F. Lower temp will offer more smoke time. Higher temperature will cook the turkey quicker. For a 20 pound turkey, plan on:
If you need the turkey to cook faster than these times, I recommend the spatchcock method (cutting out the back bone and laying the turkey flat).
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