Smoked turkey is the go-to dish of most major holidays in North America. So much so that I can’t remember a Christmas or Thanksgiving where we weren’t having Turkey for dinner!
If you love turkey, who doesn’t, but want to put a spin on the traditional turkey dinner, you have got to try this smoked turkey recipe! Smoked turkey ads a whole new spin to traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas Turkey.
If you fully want to enjoy your holiday, we recommend smoking a turkey for your main course. You know what! You can double up the flavor fun by pairing this smoked turkey recipe with some tempting and delicious side orders.
The side order I would recommend you to have are smoked gouda, smoked sweet potatoes, smoked corn on the cob, and smoked, baked potatoes.
Table of Contents
How to choose a Turkey
Choosing the right Turkey for smoking can be hit or miss. With so many options, sizes, and companies saying they have the ‘best turkey’, how’s a person supposed to choose the right turkey for themselves. Well, luckily we’re here to help with that!
The first thing you’re going to want to consider is the overall size of your turkey. While many people want to cook the biggest turkey they can find, that may not be necessary if you’re only feeding a small group of people. I’ve found that a 10-14lb turkey is the perfect size for 6 grown adults and a handful of kids. It’ll feed everyone (with seconds) and might even leave some for leftovers. If you have more people to feed, go with the next size up, just make sure it’ll fit in your smoker!
Many companies pre-brine their turkeys and don’t make it clear on their packaging! If you see “injected with a ___% saline solution” or “self-basting” on you turkey packaging, you’ve purchased a pre-brined turkey. If you buy pre-brined turkey, make sure you don’t brine it again. You’ll get a super salty smoked turkey and probably won’t be asked to host again next. I recommend looking for non-brined turkeys and then just brine it yourself. This gives you ultimate control over your flavor and process.
Preparing the Turkey
It’s important to thaw out your turkey before you’re ready to smoke it! Not thawing out your turkey could very quickly ruin your plans for a smoked turkey dinner.
For best results, place your frozen turkey into the fridge (still in it’s packaging) 3-4 days before you are ready to brine or smoke the turkey. This should give your bird planty of time to slowly thaw out.
Brining a Turkey
Brining your turkey before smoking is very simple. It just takes a little extra planning to make sure you have all the right ingredients and enough time to make sure the brine sets and all the flavors are ready to be infused into your turkey. Follow our Smoked Turkey Brine recipe for a perfectly brined turkey brine recipe.
Ps. The secret to making a good turkey brine is to make it 2-3 days before you stick the turkey into it! This extra time allows all the flavors to mix and form a beautiful aroma bath for your turkey.
Seasoning a Turkey
You can season a whole turkey any way you want, but if you’re looking for a consistently delicious turkey rub that will blow your guests away, try our Smoked Turkey Rub. It’s a perfect mix of salty, sweet and turkey goodness.
How to make smoked turkey
Smoking a whole turkey is not a difficult thing to do, but surely it is time taking. For beginner pitmasters, we would recommend smoking a turkey under the supervision of someone professional. Here we will walk you through the best-smoked turkey recipe that we have tried and is the best of all. Prepare your pellet smoker, gas smoker, or electric smoker along with wood chips to get started.
Gear up! Here is the recipe to make an excellent smoked thanksgiving turkey.
Smoked Turkey Recipe
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cooking Time: 6 hours
- Total Time: 6 hours 10 minutes
- Cook Temperature: 250ºF
- Finished Temperature: 165ºF
- Wood Flavor: Maple wood, cherry wood, and applewood
- Servings: 10-14 people
- Smoker of your preference (I am using a pellet smoker)
- Commercial grade tin foil
- Roasting pan
- Meat temperature probe
- Food grade kitchen twine
- Cooking spray
- Large aluminum disposal pan
- 10-12 lb whole turkey
- 1 batch of BBQ rub
- 1 lemon
- 1 onion
- 3 cups of chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Some fresh herbs
- Herbs for garnishing
- A pinch of ground black pepper
- A pinch of kosher salt
- Turkey brine (optional if you want to enhance the taste and to serve a more juicy and flavor full turkey)
- Set your smoker and maintain the temperature at 250ºF.
- Using cooking spray, coat a large disposable aluminum pan. Place the turkey in that pan and tuck the wings under the body.
- Fill up the turkey cavity with herbs, lemon, and onion before tying up the legs with kitchen twine.
- Coat the turkey with BBQ rub.
- Place it in the smoker.
- Remove it and serve it with some best-matched sideline.
BBQ Hero Tip: For adding more flavor, separate the skin from the turkey by running your hand between the meat and the skin. Then, take some partially melted butter and slather it between the meat and the skin. This will add some additional flavor and ensure nice and juicy turkey meat!
Detailed Cooking Instructions
The following instructions are assuming you have already brined and thawed out your turkey. If you haven’t done either one of those things and you have people coming over to eat smoked turkey in less than 24 hours, it would be best to go pick up some thawed Turkey Breast and make smoked turkey breast instead. Smoking Whole Turkey takes preparation to do properly.
1 – Get your smoker up to temp
Add some maple wood chips to the smoker and light it up. Maintain the temperature at 250ºF
2 – Prepare a disposable aluminum pan and place turkey
Take a large roasting pan. In that pan, place a large disposable aluminum pan thoroughly sprayed with cooking oil. Take the whole turkey and place it in that aluminum pan with the wings tucked under the body.
You can use fresh turkey as well as a frozen turkey that has been completely thawed. I would recommend using a fresh turkey because it has all the nutrition calories that are required and it turns out more juicy.
Before preparing it for smoking, you can also brine the turkey to have a moist and juicy texture. For that, you need 1 brine recipe and place the turkey in it for some time. After brining, prepare it for smoking.
3 – Filling up the cavity with herbs, lemon, and onion
Take an onion, some fresh herbs, and lemon and tuck them up in the cavity. Once done filling up the cavity, take both legs, place them in a cross and tie them up with kitchen twine. The crossed legs will help keep all the ingredients to stay inside the cavity while smoking.
4 – Coating the turkey with olive oil and BBQ rub
You can either mix the BBQ rub with olive oil and apply it to the turkey, or you can coat the turkey separately with these two ingredients. Along with these two ingredients, sprinkle black pepper and salt as per your taste. You can also squash a lemon above this BBQ rub to give a sour flavor.
5 – Smoking the turkey
Place the roasting pan in the smoker that has internal temperature maintained at 250ºF. Grease it up after every 30-40 minutes with chicken broth while smoking the turkey for 6 hours. You can use commercial-grade tin foil to cover the meat if the turkey breast turns brown due to heat.
Make sure to insert the meat thermometer probe in the thickest part of the thigh to measure the internal temperature. If it is 165ºF, consider it done and remove the turkey from the smoker.
6 – Serving time
Take the turkey out. You can also hear a tempting sizzling sound. I like to garnish it with finely chopped parsley and a few lemon slices to spice up the presentation.
Your perfect smoked turkey is ready to be served, and fill the Thanksgiving table with a delicious main course.
BBQ Tip: While many people say to stick the meat thermometer into the breast, we HIGHLY recommend inserting your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Turkey thighs always take longer to cook and you want to make sure the entire smoked turkey is cooked through!
Frequently Asked Questions
Smoked turkey recipes are often hard to make for the newbies. But nothing is impossible. We will answer all the common problems a newbie can face during the cooking process.
How do you keep a smoked turkey moist?
Brining the turkey is the best thing to do if you want to have a moist smoked turkey at your dinner table. Brine the turkey for at least 24 hours before smoking. Make sure not to brine it for more than 24 hours because extra brining will break down the cells.
Should I wrap my turkey in foil while smoking?
Usually, I warp my turkey in foil while smoking. It keeps all the juices and the natural taste alive. Moreover, the turkey gets infused with an excellent smoky flavor. You can wrap it up if you want.
The reason why people warp it with foil is to preserve the upper crust from drying. The foil also protects the turkey from the excessive heat that can turn it into dark brown color, giving it a burnt look.
Is smoked turkey better than roasted?
Yes, it is. A smoked turkey is more savory because of the smoky wood flavor and the brine. Whereas when you roast the turkey, there will be no juices, natural flavor, and smoky wood flavor.
Do you smoke a turkey covered or uncovered?
I prefer to cover the turkey before smoking. After marinating the turkey with the desired rub, adjust the skin with the help of your hands. You can also use a couple of toothpicks to hold down the skin.
What is the best temperature to smoke a turkey?
The smoker temperature at which a turkey should be smoked is 250ºF. The optimal internal temp should be 165ºF.
Avoid overcooking it; otherwise, the juices and natural flavor will dry out, leaving a dry textured turkey behind.
Why did my smoked turkey turn black?
When the turkey is marinated with rub, having a high quantity of sugar and being exposed to high heat turns the color to black. Make sure to use the rub with less sugar so that it does not turn black when the turkey is exposed to a high temperature.
Can you smoke a turkey the night before?
Yes, you can. Simply wrap the turkey in foil and place it in a refrigerator. While serving, take it out from the fridge and directly place it in a preheated smoker at 250ºF for 2 or 2.5 hours.