How to Smoke a Turkey

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Ever since I got my first smoker, I have been smoking everything but turkey.  I never had the guts to try to smoke a Turkey for Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is one of those meals that you cannot screw up.  However, after this year of competitions and gaining more experience with my smoker, I wanted to try it.  I must say, smoking a turkey is simple and fun.  Plus, it tastes amazing.  I have no idea why I have not done this sooner.  Smoking a turkey opens up space in your oven for side dishes and also makes it so that your oven does not have to be on all day.  With a few simple steps, your turkey will come out perfect every time.

Smoked Turkey

Smoked Turkey

The first step is to start your smoker.  You want it to be at temperature before you place your bird on it.  I use a mixture of charcoal and hardwood.  I prefer a mixture of oak and fruit woods for smoking turkey.  Today I am using white oak and apple.  Oak for heat, apple for flavor.  I took the following picture and thought it was pretty cool.

Start the smoker

While your smoker is starting, remove your turkey from the brine and rinse the inside and out.  Then, pat dry with a couple paper towels.  Place the turkey on a shallow pan.

Brined Turkey

Next, combine the dry rub ingredients into a small bowl.  Then, add the vegetable oil to make a paste.

Using your hands, pull back the skin on the breast meat and near the thighs.  Then, rub the bird with the wet rub all over the skin and underneath the skin in the pockets that you just made.  At this time, insert your probe thermometer if you have one, into the thigh.  Make sure that it is not touching the bone.

Rub the turkey

Once your smoker is chugging along at about 225 degrees Fahrenheit place the turkey breast side up onto the smoker.  I have a barrel smoker and find that when cooking a thick cut of meat or a large bird it is best to place it on the half closest to the heat source.  I also place a disposable pan underneath the bird with water to catch the drippings and add a bit of moisture to the cooking process.

Place on the smoker

Cook the bird at 225-250 degrees for about 30-40 minutes a pound.  I cooked an 11 lb turkey and it took about 6 hours to cook.  I use the time for approximating cooking time, but for poultry I always use a probe thermometer and cook until the center of the thigh reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  Why 170 in the thigh?  After countless testing, I have found that when the thigh reaches about 170, the breast meat is about 160.  After resting for 20 minutes, the thigh reaches around 175 and the breast reaches the perfect 165.  Remember, your turkey needs to reach 165 to be safe. Also, use a thermometer to check the temperature in the breast before removing the bird from the smoker.  The other reason I use the thigh?  Well, my temperature probe sometimes hits the lid of the smoker when I use it in the breast.  This throws off my readings and also starts to bend the cable.

Smoked and ready to eat

Once the bird reaches temperature, remove it from the smoker, wrap it in foil and let it rest for 20-30 minutes.  In this time, the bird will continue to cook and the internal temperature will rise 5-8 degrees.

Wrap and let rest

Now it is time to eat.  Carve and serve with your favorite sides.

Carve and serve

This was one of the best turkeys that I have had.  It was moist, delicious and had a kiss of smoke.  You have to try this if you have a smoker at home.

How to Smoke a Turkey
Author: 
Recipe type: Turkey
Cuisine: BBQ
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
How to smoke a Turkey!
Ingredients
  • 1 Brined 10-14 lb Turkey - (See my post on how to brine a turkey - takes 12-24 hours)
The Wet Rub
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 tbs onion powder
  • 1 tbs garlic powder
  • 1 tbs paprika
  • 2 tsp white granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp powdered sage
  • ½ tsp rosemary
  • ½ tsp sage
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
Instructions
  1. The first step is to start your smoker. You want it to be at temperature before you place your bird on it. I use a mixture of charcoal and hardwood. I prefer a mixture of oak and fruit woods for smoking turkey. Today I am using white oak and apple. Oak for heat, apple for flavor. I took the following picture and thought it was pretty cool.
  2. While your smoker is starting, remove your turkey from the brine and rinse the inside and out. Then, pat dry with a couple paper towels. Place the turkey on a shallow pan.
  3. Next, combine the dry rub ingredients into a small bowl. Then, add the vegetable oil to make a paste.
  4. Using your hands, pull back the skin on the breast meat and near the thighs. Then, rub the bird with the wet rub all over the skin and underneath the skin in the pockets that you just made. At this time, insert your probe thermometer if you have one, into the thigh. Make sure that it is not touching the bone.
  5. Once your smoker is chugging along at about 225 degrees Fahrenheit place the turkey breast side up onto the smoker. I have a barrel smoker and find that when cooking a thick cut of meat or a large bird it is best to place it on the half closest to the heat source. I also place a disposable pan underneath the bird with water to catch the drippings and add a bit of moisture to the cooking process.
  6. Cook the bird at 225-250 degrees for about 30-40 minutes a pound. I cooked an 11 lb turkey and it took about 6 hours to cook. I use the time for approximating cooking time but for poultry I always use a probe thermometer and cook until the center of the thigh reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Why 170 in the thigh. After countless testing I have found that when the thigh reaches about 170, the breast meat is about 160. After resting for 20 minutes, the thigh reaches around 175 and the breast reaches the perfect 165. Remember, your turkey needs to reach 165 to be safe. Also use a thermometer to check the temperature in the breast before removing the bird from the smoker. The other reason I use the thigh, well my temperature probe sometimes hits the lid of the smoker when I use it in the breast. This throws off my readings and also starts to bend the cable.
  7. Once the bird reaches temperature, remove it from the smoker, wrap it in foil and let it rest for 20-30 minutes. In this time, the bird will continue to cook and the internal temperature will rise 5-8 degrees.
  8. Now it is time to eat. Carve and serve with your favorite sides.
  9. This was one of the best turkeys that I have had. It was moist, delicious and had a kiss of smoke. You have to try this if you have a smoker at home.

 

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22 thoughts on “How to Smoke a Turkey

  • November 21, 2010 at 4:04 pm
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    I can't wait to smoke our bird this week. I'm going with cherry wood I think.

    Reply
  • November 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm
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    Chris, cherry is a great wood for poultry. You really can't go wrong with any of the fruit woods. Hope your holiday is awesome and your bird steals the show.

    Reply
  • November 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm
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    CAN YOU SMOKE THE BIRD WITH THE STUFF ING IN IT

    Reply
    • November 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm
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      Tom,

      I would not smoke the bird with the stuffing in it, as the stuffing would get way too smokey. Since the bread is porous, it would absorb the smoke and you would have stuffing that would taste like a chimney. Also the added stuffing would alter the cook time and by the time the stuffing reached 160 degrees, the bird would be way too done. I would stick to making the stuffing on the side. If you wanted to present the bird with the stuffing, add cooked stuffing to the bird before you take it to the table.

      Rex

      Reply
  • November 22, 2011 at 11:28 am
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    HI! i am researching to smoke a turkey breast for the holiday and while i see a lot on the time and temp, no one ever shows pics of how to light the fire and when and where the chips go! how much coal do you need and once its to the temp to cook at, how do you keep it there? do you add more coals as you go? does the wood go directly on top of the coals or on the grate? i have an offset smoker and a lot of the videos i do see are the other types. this is the most comprehensive i have found, but i would really like to know more specifically about the fire and maintaining the proper cooking temp. THNAKS!!

    Reply
    • November 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm
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      @Ndcoach29 chech out my post on how to light a fire without lighter fluid http://www.savoryreviews.com/2009/05/09/how-to-st….
      Every 1-2 hours add more wood chunks and every 3-4 hours add more charcoal. Light your smoker with the vents wide open and once it hits your temp close the vents down until you reach a steady temp. Keep on adjusting your vents by opening them up to keep your pit at temp. When your vents are wide open it is time to add more charcoal. Then you can close the vents back up when the charcoal lights and start the adjustment again.
      Good luck.
      Rex

      Reply
  • November 23, 2011 at 11:52 am
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    I've always deeo fried my birds and this is the first year I'm smoking one. When frying a turkey, I've always used an injectable marinade. Has anybody used one when smoking the bird? I've an Applewood Smike injectable marinade and I'm wondering id I should use it or not. Thanks for your help.

    Reply
    • November 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm
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      Where can you buy this Applewood Smike? Do you pierce the skin?

      Reply
      • November 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm
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        Not sure about the applewood smoke, but I would inject right through the skin.

        Reply
    • November 23, 2011 at 4:14 pm
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      Feel free to inject it. The turkey above was just a test of using just a brine and rub. I wanted to taste it as is to get a good basis for the marinade and rub. It was perfect without an injection but I love injections. An apple smoke injection would be perfect.

      Reply
  • November 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm
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    Thanks for the comments. Because our kids are all grown, we always do our Thanksgiving on Sunday so that everyone can make it without worrying about needing to be someplace else. My plan is to brine the birds from Friday morning til Saturday morning, than I'll inject them and put em in the fridge until Sunday morning. I'm looking forward to smoking them this year. Really, is there anything better than putting in the time to do it right and spend the day watching the smoke rising? I don't think so.

    Reply
    • November 23, 2011 at 10:12 pm
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      I totally agree. I might smoke one later this week. I just picked up a new Lang Smoker and want to see how it works on a turkey. Actually I just want to bbq. It could be any meat, but since it it Thanksgiving, it is Turkey time. Have fun this weekend.

      Reply
  • December 25, 2011 at 9:45 pm
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    What?s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It positively useful and it has helped me out loads. I am hoping to give a contribution & assist different users like its aided me. Great job.

    Reply
  • November 20, 2012 at 9:15 pm
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    i just wanna smoke the turkey

    Reply
  • November 22, 2012 at 5:18 pm
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    I have to thank you for the best turkey I have ever eaten. I followed ur recipe to a tee, brine, rub, smoker and all and it was amazing!

    Reply
    • November 22, 2012 at 5:21 pm
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      We used hickory chips, I can't wait to try it again

      Reply
    • November 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm
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      Bobo – Glad you loved it! It is a staple at our house. The brine is key. Next time try a fruit wood if you have access to some. I find that the fruit woods match poultry nicely. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  • December 23, 2013 at 12:31 am
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    Great step by step directions. Beat the inlaws deep fried turkey in taste test!

    Reply
  • December 20, 2015 at 10:41 am
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    I’ve smoked and grilled dozens upon dozens of Turkey’s over the years. The best way I’ve found, cut the turkey up like a whole fryer chicken first. Once you cook one on the grill you’ll never waste your time grilling a chicken again..

    Reply
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