Whether you’re making it for Thanksgiving dinner or just because, smoked turkey is always a surefire hit. It’s juicy and delicious, and it will WOW your guests when they see it. Plus, it’s not as complicated to make as most people think it is.
In this guide to smoking a whole turkey you’ll everything you need to do (and what not to do) to prepare a turkey so amazing your friends and family will be fighting over it.
Let’s talk turkey!
As you can see in the picture above I smoked this bird on my Weber Smokey Mountain, but you can smoke turkey on a pellet grill, a gas grill, or whatever set up you have at home. As long as you can maintain a consistent temperature for a long time you’ll be good.
I only smoke turkey a few times a year, so when I do I go all out. In this guide we’ll go over the four major steps in this smoked turkey recipe:
- Brining the turkey
- Injecting a marinade into the turkey
- Rubbing the turkey
- Smoking the turkey
Brining The Turkey
A brine is a mixture of salt and water (and sometimes other ingredients) that’s used to moisturize, tenderize, and flavor food.
You can make a damn good turkey without brining it first, but brining gives your turkey added flavor and keeps the meat moist and juicy. So if you have time it’s definitely worth the effort.
The most basic brine is just a combination of salt and water. But there are limitless possibilities and you can customize your brine to include many different flavor profiles.
My favorite turkey brine recipe includes apple cider, brown sugar, oranges, garlic, cinnamon sticks, and a whole bunch of herbs. Prepare the brine the night before and let the turkey sit in it overnight so the bird can absorb all those amazing flavors.
Injecting The Turkey
Smoked turkey already has a ton of flavor and if you’re tempted to skip this step I get it. But try it once and I promise you’ll be hooked for life.
Injecting turkey with a marinade prevents the meat from drying out and infuses it with even more flavor. Instead of a dry, bland bird you’ll have a turkey that’s juicy and packed with flavor.
I like to keep things simple, so my go-to turkey injection recipe uses just 4 simple ingredients: butter, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and parsley.
It only takes a few minutes to prepare and It will keep your bird extra juicy and give it a rich deepness of flavor.
Rubbing The Turkey
Whether you’re cooking a turkey on a smoker, a grill, or in the oven…you gotta rub it down and give it some flavor. Don’t let that poor bird cook naked.
There are plenty of pre-bottled rubs you can find in the grocery store, but I prefer to make my own.
My basic dry rub for smoked turkey include:
- Brown sugar
- Kosher salt
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- Black Pepper
- Celery Seed
Just combine all ingredients in a bowl and use a fork to mix it well. Rub a tablespoon of olive oil or mustard all over the turkey and then liberally sprinkle with the rub and be sure to get some rub under the skin. This allows the seasonings to better penetrate the meat and provides the best possible flavor.
Smoking The Turkey
Preheat your smoker to a temperature of 225 F to 250 F. Transfer the turkey to the smoker and let it smoke until the internal temperature reaches 165 F. Plan for a smoke time of about 20 to 30 minutes per pound. A 12 to 15 pound turkey will take around 5 to 7 hours to smoke.
Remove the turkey from the smoker and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving and serving.
Tips For Smoking A Turkey
The best size turkey for smoking is between 12 and 15 pounds. Any bigger than that and your turkey will take forever to cook and it will spend too much time between 40 F to 140 F. This range of temperatures is known as the Danger Zone because it’s when bacteria grows most rapidly and that’s when your turkey could spoil.
You’re better off cooking two smaller turkeys rather than one giant bird.
When it comes to picking a wood for smoking turkey, choose a hardwood like apple, cherry, pecan, or hickory.
Start early. Smoking a turkey isn’t like tossing burgers on the grill. Expect it to take 6 to 8 hours and add in extra time for setting up the smoker and prepping the bird.
- Prepare the brine according to recipe directions. Refrigerate and let the turkey soak in the brine overnight.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- Prepare the turkey injection according to recipe directions. Load the marinade into the turkey injector and begin injecting it into the bird. Start at the top of the breast and work your way down, injecting in multiple spots.
- Prepare the dry rub according to recipe directions. Rub your turkey seasoning all over the outside of the bird and under the skin.
- Preheat your smoker to about 225 F to 250 F. Transfer the turkey to the smoker and let it smoke until the internal temperature reaches 165 F (about 5 to 7 hours)
- Remove the turkey from the smoker and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving and serving.
Use an instant read thermometer to check your turkey's temperature in multiple spots. It's ready when it reaches an internal temp of 165 F.
Choose a hardwood like apple, cherry, pecan, or hickory.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 866Total Fat: 34gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 500mgSodium: 472mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 131g