Turkey Taking Longer Than Expected? (Here’s Why & What To Do!)

So, you’ve decided to smoke a turkey for the first time, but it seems to be taking longer than you expected. Is there anything you can do to speed up the process without drying your turkey out?

In this TheGrillingDad.com article, you’ll find out:

  • What you can do if your turkey is taking longer than expected
  • Tips you can follow to speed up the process
  • And much more!

Turkey Taking Longer Than Expected

Cooking turkey isn’t easy and it can be disheartening when you open the smoker when the timer goes off to find undercooked turkey. What are you doing wrong?

When it comes to smoking a turkey, especially for the first time, there can be many reasons that it may be taking longer than expected to finish. While some are issues you can fix easily, others have everything to do with the smoker unit.

As someone who is smoking a turkey for the first time, you may make some errors that can make the turkey take much longer than expected. One may have to do whether or not the turkey is completely thawed.

Another reason a turkey may take longer than expected could be due to the inability of the smoker to hold the temperature. This can result in the temperature fluctuating up and down which as a result can increase the cooking time.

How Long Should it Take to Smoke a Turkey?

The length of time that it takes for a turkey to complete the smoking process depends entirely on the temperature the smoker is set at. The higher the temperature, the less time it takes for the turkey to finish.

This means that if you set the temperature to smoke at about 325℉, it may take approximately 15 minutes per pound to finish. Other factors may change this time such as if you stuffed your turkey beforehand.

If you set the temperature at a lower temperature such as between 275℉ and 300℉, it should take 20-25 minutes per pound. Again, several factors go into the exact time it may take to finish including whether or not the turkey is stuffed or thawed completely.

Another factor you should consider when estimating the time it should take to finish smoking the turkey is how large the bird is. This is because if your turkey is larger than average size, cooking it for longer or at higher temperatures can cause it to dry out.

It is important to keep in mind that since turkey is poultry, it is recommended that it cooks until it has an internal temperature of 165℉. This is because harmful bacteria can begin to grow when the temperature is less than this. 

In most cases, it is best if you remove the turkey once it reaches an internal temperature of about 160℉ since it will continue to cook in the resting stage. This means that once it is finished resting, depending on the recommended time, it will reach the desired temperature. 

Related >> Is Turkey Done at 165 or 180 Degrees?

carving a turkey

How to Know When Your Turkey is Done

While the recommended temperatures and times for finishing a turkey are mostly estimates, it is suggested that you use a quality meat thermometer to be certain. Doing this is the only way to know for sure if your turkey is completely cooked.

Since the cooking times can vary for turkeys depending on the size and the brand of smoker you use, a meat thermometer can give you better information. Keep in mind that you should never rely purely on the estimated times it takes to cook a turkey in your smoker.

To check the internal temperature of your turkey, it is recommended that you place the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. This allows you to determine whether or not the turkey is cooked thoroughly.

Additionally, if you are smoking a whole turkey, it is best if you also check the temperature of the darker meat areas such as the thighs. When you are doing this, you should place the thermometer in the thigh where it meets the rest of the bird.

You will need to be careful as you are checking the internal temperature of the turkey, since touching the bone with your thermometer can give you a false reading. This means that your turkey may or may not be completely done if you rely on the thermometer after it has touched the bone.

3 Reasons Your Turkey is Taking Longer than Expected

Smoking a turkey for the first time can be exciting and extremely frustrating especially if you are not sure what to expect. For example, when you expect that the turkey will take 3 hours, but it is still not finished, it can be overwhelming.

If you are curious as to why your turkey may be taking longer than expected to cook, keep reading.

Turkey is Frozen

One reason your turkey may be taking longer than expected to finish is if it is still frozen when you put it in the smoker. Although you can still smoke a frozen turkey, many people forget that they have to add more time to the cooking process.

In most cases, it can take up to 50% longer to smoke a frozen turkey than it does to cook one that is completely thawed. This is because the turkey first has to come up to room temperature in the smoker before it can begin the cooking process.

Turkey is Partially Frozen

If you attempted to thaw your turkey but find that the cavity or other parts are still partially frozen, you can still place it in the smoker to cook. Keep in mind that just like the frozen turkey, you will need to add more time to the process.

For a turkey that is partially thawed, you will need to add about 25% more time to the cooking process. Again, this is because the turkey has to come up to standard room temperature before it can begin to cook as normal.

Temperature is Fluctuating

Even though outdoor grilling and smoking can be a great way to cook your food, you will need to keep in mind that outdoor temperatures may affect cooking time. This is especially true if you are attempting to smoke a turkey when it is colder outside.

It is well known that a smoker or outdoor grill can often lose heat depending on how insulated and secure the body is. Since smoker brands differ, this can mean that the construction of the unit will also differ and thus may not hold temperatures as well as some.

If the smoker is not completely sealed, and it is colder than usual outside, the unit will have a hard time keeping the temperature steady. This means that the temperature you chose may dip from time to time, thus taking it longer to finish.

thanksgiving turkey resting in a pan

Tips to Speed the Cooking Process Along

For those who run across the issue of a turkey taking longer than expected, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to fix it. There are several things you can do if you want to speed up the cooking process.

Check out these ways you can speed up the process:

1. Increase the Temperature of the Smoker

While this may seem like the best solution since the turkey is not quite finished and you want to hurry it along, keep in mind that it is also a risky move. This is because increasing the temperature too much can result in a turkey that is either dry on the inside or overly crisp on the outside.

2. Carve the Breast Meat off the Turkey

If you don’t mind having the turkey carved before serving it, you may want to remove the turkey breast from the rest of the bird. This will allow you to cook at one temperature until the breast is finished, and then raise it for the rest of the turkey.

3. Spatchcocking the Turkey

This tip can only help at the beginning of the cooking process but can be quite helpful if you have run into the issue of your turkey taking too long to finish. By removing the backbone and laying the turkey flat on the grates, you can reduce the amount of time it takes to complete the cooking process by about 50%.

Although there are many more tips that can be used to ensure that your turkey is finished cooking at a decent time, these are the most common ones that are used. This is because you are either discovering the cooking time differences at a critical time, or you have experienced it more than once.

Final Thoughts if Your Turkey is Taking Longer Than Expected

Overall, if you discover that your turkey is taking much longer to finish cooking than you expected, you will want to find out why.

If your turkey was frozen or partially thawed, you may want to increase the temperature slightly so that it cooks at a higher rate. However, if you run into the problem often, you may want to consider alternative methods of cooking your turkey moving forward as it could be an issue with your smoker.

Photo of author

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!

Leave a Comment