Smoking your first turkey is a right of passage in the grilling world. But before you can smoke your turkey, you’ll probably want to tuck the wings.
You may be wondering whether or not you have to tuck the turkey wings, and the short answer is no, however, you (and your guests) will likely enjoy the meat more when you do tuck the wings as this allows the bird to cook more evenly and saves the wing tips from burning.
Read on to learn the step-by-step process for tucking the turkey wings, as well as some other helpful information for smoking your first turkey!
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Why Do You Tuck Turkey Wings Before Smoking?
As we mentioned above, it isn’t a requirement to tuck the turkey wings before smoking. However, if you choose not to tuck your turkey wings, it is likely that some parts of the wing and the bird could cook unevenly and become dry–and no one likes to eat dry turkey!
Additionally, tucking the turkey wings helps to keep them in place as the bird cooks, making it easier to monitor the temperature.
How to Tuck Turkey Wings (Step-by-Step Process)
Ensure your turkey is properly thawed before you tuck the wings. If you are struggling to figure out how to defrost turkey wings, take a look at our article about How to Thaw a Turkey in a Cooler. It is also recommended to brine your turkey before tucking or trussing it.
Step 1: Pat Dry
Pull your turkey out of the wrapper if you haven’t already, and pat it dry with a couple of paper towels. This will make the turkey easier to handle.
Step 2: Empty the Cavities
Remove the giblets and any store-provided ties. If you plan to leave your turkey out before cooking, now is the time to do that as well. Those who are unsure of the reason for leaving a turkey out can find more information in our article about letting a turkey sit before cooking.
Step 3: Place the Turkey on a Pan
Place your turkey on a pan or cutting board, breast side up, this will keep your counter clean as you prep your turkey.
Step 4: Tuck the Wings
Grab one of the turkey’s wings in one hand, and with your other hand, lift the bird. As you lift the bird, pull the tip of the wing beneath the turkey. Lower the turkey, the wing should stay in its new position.
Step 5: Repeat
Repeat step 4 with the other wing; just like that, your turkey’s wings are tucked!
Need a visual? Check out this video on YouTube:
Is Trussing the Same as Tucking the Wings?
Tucking a turkey’s wings is part of the trussing process, but it is important to know that these words aren’t the same. Trussing represents the process of tying a turkey’s legs together in addition to tucking the wings.
Like tucking, trussing isn’t required for a good smoked turkey, but it can help your turkey to cook more evenly (and make it look a little nicer!) If you do plan to truss your turkey, stuff it before you do so.
Tips for Tucking Turkey Wings
- Dry your hands before you begin: Just as you dried the turkey, you will find the turkey easier to manage when your hands are dry rather than wet.
- Ask a friend or family member for help: While it may seem easy to tuck turkey wings, turkeys are slippery birds, so it might be a good idea to have a friend hold the bird in place on the pan while you tuck the wings.
- Stuff your bird after tucking: We don’t recommend stuffing a smoked bird, but if you are putting your turkey in the oven instead, know that it is easier to tuck the wings on an unstuffed bird.
Should You Leave the Plastic Leg Holder on a Turkey While it Cooks?
In most cases, the plastic leg holder on a turkey is called a hock lock, and it is safe to cook the turkey with it still on the bird. However, not all hock locks are heat resistant, especially if you are planning to smoke your turkey.
We recommend removing the hock lock and using some twine to secure your turkey’s legs instead. This way, you can rest easy knowing you aren’t going to have any melted plastic on your dinner.
Should You Smoke a Turkey Breast Side Up or Down?
After you tuck your turkey’s wings, you may be wondering if you should smoke the turkey breast side up or breast side down. The bottom line is it is up to you how you decide to smoke your turkey.
Some people swear cooking the bird breast side down leads to a tastier bird, while others attest to cooking it breast side up. We personally cook ours breast side up at the recommendation of the USDA, as it can be difficult to check the temperature of a bird that is breast side down.
Can’t decide how to smoke your turkey? You can also cook it in the spatchcock position, which is where the bird is more spread out to encourage more even cooking.
How Do You Know When Your Turkey is Done?
All turkeys should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. This ensures that any bacteria that may have been present in or on the meat have been destroyed and that the turkey is safe for consumption.
We also recommend letting your turkey rest before you carve it to ensure the meat is nice and juicy.