This smoked turkey makes the best holiday main course without taking up any oven space. It’s wet brined in a flavorful mixture of spices and seasonings and then slow-smoked to juicy perfection. Get ready to impress everyone at the table!
Oh, how I just love the tasty, smoky, and juicy flavor of smoked turkey. Now, if you want to save up your oven space for your baked pies, cakes, and casseroles, it’s time to dust off your smoker for this big boy.
You’ll love that added smokiness that you don’t get from your regular roast turkey. And every inch of this bird is infused with all the wonderful flavors from our simple wet brine.
I know, I know, that it’s kinda labor-intensive, but you can always prepare this a day ahead, let it brine, and on Thanksgiving Day just pop it in the smoker. Easy, breezy, tasty bird for everyone!
Smoking vs Roasting Turkey
You might think that roasting and smoking are just the same, and I don’t really blame you. I also thought those two were the same but as I took a closer look, I saw their difference.
During the holidays, you’ll be faced between roasting or smoking. Since it’s usually busy in the kitchen during this time, people often go for roasting because it’s faster. Smoking typically takes about four to six hours (depending on the size of your turkey) while roasting only takes about one or two.
Indoors vs Outdoors
If you’re thinking about smoking, I suggest going outdoors or in your backyard. Your neighbors might call the fire department when they see smoke coming out of your house. Roasting doesn’t really make much smoke so you can do that in the kitchen.
Although both roasting and smoking can be done with a nice grill, only roasting can be done in an oven. So in essence, you can smoke on a grill but not in an oven.
The most popular and distinct difference between the two is the taste. Smoking adds a unique woody smokey infusion to the meat as it cooks. Roasting, on the other hand, has little to no flavor infusion if you don’t count the marinade or seasoning.
Perfectly Smoked Whole Turkey
You might have already heard about smoked ham, smoked salmon, and Smoked Chicken such as what we had before. So you’ve probably heard of smoked turkey before. No, I’m not talking about the microwave ready stuff you can find in the grocery store. I’m talking about the real deal! Perfectly toasty holiday turkey.
So, how can you tell if your turkey is perfectly smoked? Here are some points to see if you’ve smoked your turkey perfectly. Don’t worry, I’ll also show you tips and tricks to achieve these later.
Check the Skin
Poultry skin can be quite fragile especially when smoked but simply looking at it will tell you if it’s done. The color should show a deep golden brown to woody red color. Some parts may be a bit darker than the rest but that’s totally fine.
Tender doesn’t mean dry! But don’t carve your turkey just yet. Simply poke it with a skewer or thermometer to see how tender it is. If it’s too soft or it doesn’t easily go through, it needs more time to cook.
Since we’re already talking about poking, a bit of juice should come out of your smoked turkey. The liquid should come out clear if it’s cooked perfectly. Red or pinkish juice means it needs more cooking time.
The internal temperature of the turkey can tell you if it’s done perfectly. The only problem you’ll encounter here is that the perfect temperature for the meat varies. Red meats should reach about 175 degrees F. White meats, on the other hand, such as this turkey, should register 165 degrees F.
Ingredients for Brining Turkey
We want our turkey to be as flavorful as it can. One easy way to achieve this is through brining. It’s basically pickling and marinating in a nutshell. Here are the things we’ll need to get the flavor we oh so desire!
- Apple cider (may be replaced with water)
- Kosher salt
- Brown sugar
- Smashed garlic
- Bay leaves
- Cracked peppercorns
- Orange slices
- Lemon slices
The rule of thumb when wet brining your turkey is to let it sit in the brine (covered and placed in the fridge) for an hour per pound. That can range from 12-24 hours depending on your turkey’s size. You won’t regret doing this so as it adds flavor to every inch of your meat!
Different Ways to Smoke Turkey
- Personally, I think using a smoker will give you the most accurate end product. Smokers can run on charcoals, gas, or wood pellets – and, of course, there are also electric smokers that you can consider. I recently purchased a pellet smoker and it is AMAZING! A good place to start if you are a beginner and want hands-off cooking.
- You can also transform your grill into a smoker using charcoal or gas (see this article HERE). If you’re using a charcoal grill, be ready to add more charcoals every hour just so you’d maintain that desired temperature.
- If you don’t have either a smoker or a grill at home, you can do fake smoking. This uses liquid smoke which is often only available online or in specialty stores. You can either mix it in your marinade or brine or rub it as a seasoning before roasting. It’s not technically smoking but it mimics the effects well enough for Thanksgiving dinner.
- Lately, I’ve seen make-shift smokers (see this article HERE). From digging a deep hole in the ground to recycling a metal barrel or cabinet. I haven’t tried this course yet but it’s really amazing to see how creative people can be.
Things to Consider Before Smoking Turkey
Aside from infusing the flavors down to the core of the meat, brining helps in keeping your meat moist. If you don’t know how to smoke a turkey, you can easily dry out your poultry. This helps in preventing that.
Type of Wood
A certain type of wood would infuse a specific flavor to your smoked turkey. You can choose a specific wood depending on what you’re smoking. Personally, I prefer mesquite, cherry, or apple for poultry but you can change it depending on your preference.
You’ll need either a smoker or a grill to get the right temperature and flavor infusion. You’ll also need aluminum pans to catch those lovely juices and also to help regulate moisture. And the most important one for me is an instant-read thermometer to make sure that our turkey is perfectly done.
How Long to Smoke a Turkey?
The cooking time for this will depend on how much turkey you’re cooking. I used a 16-pound of turkey for this smoked turkey recipe and it took me around 4 to 5 hours to fully cook it. So that’s around 20 minutes per pound of turkey. For a more intense smoke flavor lower the heat to 225-250 Degrees F.
How Much Turkey Per Person?
Well, you can easily plan it by serving 1-pound per person. But if you want a lot of leftover turkey for sandwiches, casseroles, and soups, you can go for 1 1/2-pound of turkey per person.
What to Serve with Smoked Turkey?
Turkey is a holiday dish so it’s just fitting that it’s served with your favorite holiday dishes. Here are just some of my favorite dishes to go with it.
- Roast Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Giblet Gravy or Homemade Gravy
- Green Bean Casserole
- Cornbread Dressing
- Duchess Potatoes
Other Holiday Recipes That You Need to Try
How to Smoke Turkey
Brining and Seasoning the Turkey
Discard any wrappings from the turkey and remove the giblets, place it in a desired brining pot. Heat up about 4 cups of water in the microwave or stovetop until warmed. (The idea is to heat it up so it can dissolve the sugar and salt.) Remove and pour in the salt and sugar. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Let the salt and sugar brine cool, then add the remaining water and apple cider (or replace it with water). Water should not be warm – you want it to be completely cold. Pour over the turkey in the pot. Then add garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and bay leaves, peppercorns, orange and lemon slices. Cover the pot or container with a lid. Place in a prepared place in the fridge for the turkey to brine for 12 or up to 24 hours.
Rule of thumb: Let the turkey sit for an hour per pound.
Remove the turkey from the brine and dry all over with paper towels. Brush with oil and proceed with the desired seasoning. Stuff the turkey with onions, apple, and herbs (optional). Tie the legs of the turkey together with kitchen twine to help hold its shape. Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. This will help to stabilize the turkey when carving.
For a crispier turkey: Let it air dry in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
Remove the turkey. Mix desired seasonings and rub the entire outside of the turkey to fully coat them with seasoning. (I used creole seasoning and red pepper flakes (optional).)
Smoking the Turkey
Heat the smoker to 250- 275 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher the temperature, the faster the turkey would cook. Place the turkey in the smoker and brush every 1-2 hours. Smoke until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast reaches 165 degrees F. Rotate turkey halfway through for even browning. This turkey was 16 pounds and took about 4-5 hours to get to that temperature. Remove the turkey from the smoker and allow it to sit, covered with foil, for 10 minutes before carving.
- 12-17 pounds whole turkey
- 1 gallon water
- 1 gallon apple cider (replace with water)
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 7-8 smashed garlic
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 4 sage leaves
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons cracked peppercorns
- 2 large oranges , sliced
- 2 lemons , sliced
- 1 onion , sliced (optional)
- 1 apple , chopped (optional)
- seasoning for turkey (or Creole Seasoning)
- 1-2 tablespoons red pepper flakes (optional)
How to Brine Turkey
- Discard any wrappings from the turkey and remove the giblets, place it in a desired brining pot.
- Heat up about 4 cups of water in the microwave or stovetop until warmed. (The idea is to heat it up so it can dissolve the sugar and salt.) Remove and pour in the salt and sugar. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve.
- Let the salt and sugar brine cool, then add the remaining water and apple cider (or replace it with water). Water should not be warm - you want it to be completely cold.
- Pour over the turkey in the pot. Then add garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and bay leaves, peppercorns, orange and lemon slices.
- Cover the pot or container with a lid. Place in a prepared place in the fridge for the turkey to brine for 12 or up to 24 hours.
- Rule of thumb: Let the turkey sit for an hour per pound.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and dry all over with paper towels. Brush with oil and proceed with the desired seasoning.
- Stuff the turkey with onions, apple, and herbs (optional). Tie the legs of the turkey together with kitchen twine to help hold its shape. Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. This will help to stabilize the turkey when carving.
- For a crispier turkey: Let it air dry in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
- Remove the turkey.Then brush with oil or melted butter . Mix desired seasonings and rub the entire outside and inside of the turkey to fully coat them with seasoning. (I used creole seasoning )
How to Smoke Turkey
- Heat the smoker to 250- 275 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher the temperature, the faster the turkey would cook. Place the turkey in the smoker and brush every 1-2 hours.
- Smoke until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the breast reaches 165 degrees F. Rotate turkey halfway through for even browning.
- This turkey was 16 pounds and took about 4-5 hours to get to that temperature.
- Remove the turkey from the smoker and allow it to sit, covered with foil, for 10 minutes before carving.
Tips & Notes:
- Please keep in mind that nutritional information is a rough estimate and can vary greatly based on products used.