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What’s The Best Wood For Smoking Turkey?

A perfectly smoked turkey is one of the most delicious meals you’ll ever have, but you need to choose the right wood to avoid overpowering it. So here’s our guide on how to choose the best wood for smoking turkey.

A beautiful smoked turkey ready for carving.

When I was a kid we had turkey for dinner at pretty much every major holiday.

Thanksgiving? Turkey.

Christmas? More turkey.

Easter? Yep, turkey again.

I’m not complaining. My mom was a great cook and she made a phenomenal roasted turkey in the oven. But that’s as adventurous as she ever got. She knew she made a mean roasted turkey and she stuck with it!

It wasn’t until I was an adult with kids of my own that I learned to enjoy cooking for my own family. I love experimenting with new ingredients and cooking methods, and that includes turkey.

One year we hosted Thanksgiving at our house and I deep-fried the turkey. It’s the first time I ever had it deep fried and the whole family loved it.

But then I discovered smoking, and once I gave smoked turkey a try I knew I had found the perfect way to prepare our Thanksgiving dinner.

This year I’m probably going to smoke two turkeys because everyone fights so much over it and there’s barely enough to go around.

Turkey Is Delicate And Easy To Overpower

Like chicken, turkey has a delicate flavor profile and you can easily overpower it if you choose the wrong wood. This is why I generally stay away from robust woods like oak or mesquite. They will drown out all the natural flavor of the bird itself.

Remember, you’re not cooking baby back ribs or a beef brisket here. Smoking a turkey requires a little more finesse.

Your best bet is to stick with lighter-tasting smoke from fruit or nut woods. These will enhance the deliciousness of the turkey without completely overpowering it.

Best Wood For Smoking Turkey

One of the keys to smoking a turkey is choosing the right wood. I’ve tried a number of different flavor combinations and here’s a list of my favorites.

Apple

Apple wood imparts a subtle, sweet, and fruity flavor that goes perfectly with any kind of poultry. It’s a great option for those who are new to smoking meats because the mild flavor leaves plenty of room for error.

Apple wood is one of my go-to woods for smoking turkey.

Pecan

Pecan is one of the most popular woods for smoking turkey, and for good reason. Pecan wood gives a beautifully rich, sweet, and nutty flavor that your guests will go nuts for (pun intended).

Cherry

Cherry wood is another excellent option when smoking a turkey. Cherry will give your turkey a sweet smokiness and the skin will take on a deep, rich coloring.

Maple

Maple wood is most often used for smoking pork (especially bacon) but I think it gives turkey an amazing flavor too. Maple provides a sweet smokiness that’s stronger than apple wood but not as strong as hickory.

Peach

Peach wood is mild and won’t overpower the taste of the chicken. It will impart a sweet fruitiness similar to apple wood, but unique in its own way. I’m starting to drool just thinking about it.

Can You Mix Woods When Smoking Turkey?

Of course! By mixing and matching different varieties of wood you can achieve all sorts of unique flavors profiles.

Combining different woods also allows you to experiment with some of the stronger woods without overpowering your meat.

Try adding a few chunks of oak along with cherry or apple wood. You’ll get a stronger smoke flavor without losing the sweetness of the fruit woods.

Wood

Beef

Pork

Poultry

Seafood

Vegetables

Alder


X

X

Apple

X

X

X

X

X

Apricot

X

X

Cherry

X

X

X

X

Hickory

X

X

X

X

Maple

X

X

X

X

Mesquite

X

X

Oak

X

X

X

Orange

X

X

X

X

X

Peach

X

X

X

Pecan

X

X

X

Whiskey Barrel Chips

X

X

X

What’s The Right Style Of Wood For Smoking Turkey?

It all depends on what kind of smoker you’re using. Here’s a breakdown of the different wood styles and when each one works best.

Logs

Full-sized log splits or sticks can be used in an offset smoker, often referred to as a “stick burner smoker”. Logs generate plenty of heat and smoke and work well in offset smokers where they burned away from the food and not directly under it.

Chunks

Wood chunks are versatile and can be used in all sorts of smokers, including the Pit Barrel Cooker, the Weber Smokey Mountain bullet smoker, and Kamado Joe ceramic grill.

Place the chunks directly on hot charcoal. You can also place a few pieces under the charcoal so it will continue to generate smoke as the charcoal is used up.

Chips

Wood chips are smaller than chunks and they burn quickly and easily. There’s no need to soak wood chips before using them. Just toss them onto hot charcoal or add them to a smoker box on a gas grill.

Pellets

Pellets are basically just sawdust that’s been pressed into a standard shape and they’re designed specifically for use in pellet smokers. You can also use them in a smoker box on a gas grill.

Sawdust

Sawdust is exactly what it sounds like. A fine powder that burns easily, sawdust is typically used in electric smokers or handheld smoking guns.

Just make sure you’re using sawdust that’s meant for cooking food. You don’t want to cook with sawdust leftover from plywood or lumber scraps as it could contain harmful chemicals.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing the best wood for smoking turkey. I generally recommend mild flavors from either fruit woods or nut woods.

But ultimately you should feel free to experiment with various woods and even different combinations of wood to find the one you like best.

Woot!