Can You Smoke a Turkey a Day Ahead? (Plus Reheating Tips!)

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Holidays can be very busy. Between cleaning and preparing food, you may not have time to spend hours smoking a turkey. So can you smoke it a day in advance? You’ve come to the right place!

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you will discover:

  • If you can smoke your turkey in advance
  • How to reheat a turkey
  • Turkey smoking tips and tricks
  • And much more!
a cooked turkey on a cutting board

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Can You Smoke a Turkey a Day Ahead?

Smoking a turkey isn’t an instant process, and because it takes so many hours, many wonder if they can smoke their turkey before the holiday during which they wish to consume it. 

While a turkey can be smoked in advance, know that it might change the texture of the meat as well as how nice it looks sitting on your table. Not to mention that it still takes 3 hours to reheat, so smoking a turkey in advance will still result in work the day you wish to serve it. 

This might not be quite the answer you were looking for, but before you resolve to cook your turkey in advance or on the day of your event, read the rest of this article. This way, you can make the best decision possible when it comes to smoking your turkey. 

Why Would You Smoke Turkey a Day Ahead?

Depending on the size of your smoker and the temperatures it reaches, smoking a turkey takes 8 to 10 hours. This means that if you are serving a holiday dinner around 3 pm, you would need to start cooking around 5 or 6 am.

Therefore, those who don’t want to get up early may want to consider smoking their turkey a day ahead. Although it may change the meat a bit, sometimes the extra sleep is worth it! 

Sometimes people want to smoke a turkey a day in advance because they need to make two turkeys, and they won’t both fit in the smoker at the same time. When this is the case, preparing one in advance to reheat in the oven can help ensure everyone is fed without needing to purchase a second smoker. 

Maybe you aren’t spending the holiday at your home and instead have a three-hour drive the next morning. It is much easier to smoke the turkey in your smoker before your drive (and reheat there) rather than arriving early to cook the turkey at your relative’s house, especially if they don’t have a smoker. 

Turkey isn’t just for holidays, and some people smoke a turkey for the purpose of using it on a sandwich. When this is the case, it doesn’t matter if your turkey is hot anyway, so it’s much better to prepare your turkey the day before. This way, on the day of your event, you can simply add the turkey to your sandwiches and serve.

Should You Smoke Turkey a Day Ahead?

Unfortunately, while there are many reasons to smoke a turkey a day before you need it, there are many cons as well. 

First of all, smoked meat has an amazing flavor when you first take it off the grill, and there is just no way to get it back when it is gone. This means your precious smoked bird may not taste as smoky when it is reheated. 

Plus, after the initial smoking, the turkey needs to be put in the fridge. This toughens the meat a bit, and you will lose that tenderness you were going for in the smoker in the first place. 

The fridge time will also make it more difficult to carve your bird when the time comes because the meat will be more adherent to the bones. Turkey skin fans will also be disappointed because turkeys that are reheated lose the crispy skin texture, so ensure you have prepared yourself for this. 

Taking all these factors into account, here at TheGrillingDad, we don’t recommend you smoke your turkey in advance. There is something just so delicious about meat fresh out of the smoker, which is why we recommend you do everything possible to cook your turkey on the day of your event.

How to Store a Smoked Turkey

As much as we hope that you are able to cook your turkey fresh this holiday season, we also know it is not always possible. If you do smoke your turkey in advance, storing it before you reheat it is crucial to ensure no one in your family gets sick from consuming the turkey. 

Here’s how to store a pre-smoked turkey.

Step 1: Allow to Cool

Putting hot food in your fridge will heat up all the other items. Allow your turkey to cook for about 40 minutes prior to the next step.

Step 2: Wrap Your Turkey

Wrap your turkey, preferably using aluminum foil, in the pan, it will be reheated in to ensure things are easy the next day.

Step 3: Put in the Back of the Fridge

Turkey will maintain the most stable temperature when put in the back of the fridge. Ensure your fridge temperature is below 40°F as above this temperature, germs can grow on your turkey.

Reheating Smoked Turkey

If you need to reheat your smoked turkey, follow the directions below. 

Step 1: Pull it Out of the Fridge

Pull your turkey out of the fridge one hour before you want to cook it. 

Step 2: Wrap the Turkey

Wrap the turkey in a new layer of aluminum foil. 

Step 3: Preheat to 250°F

Preheat your oven or smoker to 250°F.

Step 4: Baste Your Turkey

Place a little bit of basting, such as butter and oil with seasoning, in the foil with your turkey. This will help prevent it from becoming too dry.

Step 5: Place the Turkey

Place the turkey in the oven or smoker and allow it to reheat until it reaches the internal temperature of 145°F. Past this temperature, the meat will start to get dry. This will take about 3 hours, depending on the size of your bird. 

We recommend putting a temperature probe in your turkey and leaving it in for the duration of the reheating for easy temperature checks. 

Step 6: Rest the Turkey

Just because your bird is reheated doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to rest! Rest your turkey for 20 minutes prior to serving. 

Turkey Smoking Tips and Tricks

Is this your first year smoking your bird? Here are some tips and tricks we find work best when you are smoking your turkey. 

Start at 275°

275°F is the perfect temperature for smoking turkey. At this temperature, it will take 20-25 minutes per pound of turkey for your bird to reach a safe temperature. This means that a 20lb bird will take about 7 hours to cook. 

Smoke While You Sleep

Because smoked turkey doesn’t need as much attention as oven turkey, in order to avoid the issue of smoking your turkey in advance, we recommend putting the bird in right before you go to bed. 

This is especially easy when you have a smoker for turkeys that has wifi notifications. This way, your phone can alert you if anything is going wrong while you sleep easy and wake to an almost cooked turkey. 

Buy a Bigger Turkey

Many people struggle with knowing how much turkey they should buy each year. Generally, the rule is 1.5lbs of turkey for each person if you want to have leftovers. If you are between sizes, as long as it will fit in your smoker, size up. 

Defrost Your Turkey Before Smoking

While you can smoke a frozen turkey, you will have much better results with one that has been defrosted. We recommend defrosting your turkey in the days leading up to the smoking in your fridge. If it’s already the day of, you can use the cooler method to defrost your turkey more quickly. 

Keep the Smoker Door Closed

While it’s tempting to check on your turkey, each time you open the smoker door, you let out the precious heat needed to cook your bird. Trust your smoker and let your turkey cook in peace until it’s close to the end, and you need to check the temperature. 

Final Thoughts on Smoking a Turkey the Day Ahead

During the busy holiday season, it can be difficult to plan for 8 or 10 hours to smoke your turkey on the day of your event. While we recommend always serving freshly smoked turkey, you can smoke it the previous day and simply reheat it in the smoker or the oven.

If you choose to do so, ensure you follow all food safety guidelines and store your turkey properly between the smoking and the serving. This way, you and your family can enjoy your holiday! 

Hope Davis

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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