How To Smoke Turkey (The Easy Way)

Are you looking for a recipe for smoked turkey? 

You’re in the right place!

In this TheGrillingDad.com recipe, you’ll learn: 

  • Ingredients needed 
  • Step by step recipe on how to smoke a turkey
  • And much more! 

Smoked Turkey Recipe

You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to have a good turkey dinner.

This smoked turkey will steal the show at any dinner, whether it is a special occasion or just because.

Supplies Needed to Smoke a Turkey

Smoked turkey is delicious, but before you get too excited, ensure you have all the proper supplies on hand needed for making your own!

  • A smoker that will fit a full size turkey
  • Plenty of wood chips or pellets
  • Thermometer
  • Smoker (duh!)
  • Disposable pan (optional)
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06/11/2024 08:27 pm GMT

How to Brine and Season Smoked Turkey

Brining Smoked Turkey

Generally, if you purchased your turkey from the store, you picked up a pre-brinned turkey. In these cases, you won’t need to brine your turkey. If yours isn’t prebrinned, however, ensure you brine your turkey in step 2 as directed below. 

Seasoning Smoked Turkey

ALL turkeys need seasoning! And we stand by that remark. Even if you prefer plain turkey, you’ve got to rub the surface with a little butter and garlic. You can also grab a turkey rub from the store if you don’t want to spend too much time on designing your own seasoning. 

In our recipe, we direct you to stuff the turkey with onion and fruit as well as a bit of rosemary and thyme. It’s that simple! 

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06/11/2024 07:48 am GMT

How to Smoke a Turkey (7 Simple Steps)

  1. Thaw the Turkey
  2. Brine It
  3. Prep Time
  4. Start Smoking for 30 Minutes
  5. Cover Turkey and Smoke Until Done (About 7 Hours)
  6. Let It Rest 
  7. Carve It, Serve, and Be Thankful

More details on each step below. 

Related >> Is It Okay To Cook a Turkey That’s Partially Frozen?

Ingredients for Smoked Turkey

  • 15-pound turkey
  • 1 whole apple, quartered
  • 1 whole lemon, quartered
  • 1 whole onion, quartered
  • 1 tbsp of garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp of melted butter
  • 4-6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp of salt (if brining)
  • 2 cups of apple juice (if brining)
  • Several cups of room temperature water (if brining)
  • A few chunks of hickory or pecan wood

Step 1: Thaw the Turkey

Thawing a turkey usually takes about 24 hours for every 4 pounds. For a 15-pound turkey, you’ll want to put the turkey in the refrigerator 5 days before you want to smoke it. The extra day is for brining the bird, which is in the next step.  Leave the turkey in the original packaging and place it on a platter or cooking sheet so you don’t have a big mess to clean up after it thaws.

Step 2: The Brine

If you buy a higher-quality turkey, you won’t have to brine it yourself, but I still do because it’s now just a part of my process.  Brining is just soaking your turkey overnight, usually in saltwater, which allows the turkey to absorb and retain more moisture. I use a cooler and place the thawed turkey in it with 2 tbsp of salt, 2 cups of apple juice, and then I pour room temperature water until the turkey is submerged. Let it stay in the cooler for 24-hours.  While the turkey is in the cooler, you do not want it to exceed 40 degrees Fahrenheit. For some, that means setting the cooler outside, while for others, you may want to add a few pounds of ice.  As a safety precaution, I always add a meat thermometer inside the cooler and I get an alert if it crosses 40 degrees.  (Thanks for calling this out, Michael!)

Step 3: Prep Time

Go get your smoker started and set the temp to a steady 225° F. Now that your turkey is brined, you’ll want to drain all the water from the cavity into the cooler or sink. You’ll also want to dab the turkey with a paper towel so it’s not soaking wet. Some moisture is okay, but you don’t want it so wet that it’ll slip from your hands or not hold your seasonings. Place the quartered apple, lemon, and onion in the turkey’s cavity. I also put half of the rosemary and half of the thyme in the cavity in this step as well.  After that, rub the melted butter and minced garlic all over the outside of the turkey.  Put the remaining rosemary and thyme sprigs on top of the turkey. I usually break them apart for the outside of the turkey, but keep them whole in the cavity.  Place the turkey in a roasting pan or cooking sheet. This makes it a lot easier to carry from the prep area to the smoker and it will be used again later. 

Step 4: Start Smoking for 30 Minutes

Place the turkey on the smoker. You can either put it directly on the grill grates with the pan underneath it or keep it on the pan inside the smoker.  The pan being underneath it helps catch the drippings that can be used for dressing later and it also helps clean up. If you put the pan underneath it, I like to add water to cover the bottom of the pan so the drippings don’t burn.  Keep it unwrapped during this stage, so the turkey can absorb some of the smoke flavors. I prefer hickory or pecan wood for turkey. Read More >> Top 5 Best Smokers For Beginners (2022 Review)

Step 5: Cover Turkey and Keep Smoking Until Done (About 7 Hours)

After 30 minutes to an hour of being on the smoker, the turkey has absorbs about as much smoke as it’s going to get. At this point, we want to cover it with aluminum foil to preserve that nice golden color of the turkey. You can leave it uncovered, but the skin may crisp up more than you originally wanted–I learned this the hard way.  After covering it, keep the turkey smoking until it reaches an internal temperature of 165° F. This should take about 7 hours. 

Step 6: Let It Rest For About At Least 15 Minutes

Before carving it up and serving it, you’ll want to let the turkey rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes.  Be warned, you’ll have every person within smelling distance ready to dig in as soon as you bring it inside. 

Step 7: Carve It, Serve, and Be Thankful

Now that your turkey is smoked and rested, it’s time to carve it. 
Using a sharp knife will help eliminate unnecessary pressure and leads to far fewer accidents.  After carving it, it’s time to serve it.  There is usually a lot of pressure on making a perfect Thanksgiving dinner, so remember to reflect on all you’re thankful for and the turkey will magically taste even better.  Enjoy!

Tips for the Best Smoked Turkey

  • Cook the turkey in a disposable pan for easy clean up. If you’d rather smoke the turkey directly on the grate, then a pan for the drippings is advisable.
  • Take the temperature of the turkey from the breast meat, being cautious not to touch bone. You’ll want to take readings in multiple places before pulling your bird off the smoker. 
  • Stuff your turkey with fruit and seasoning, but keep the stuffing separate and make it in the oven. 

How Much Smoked Turkey Per Person?

For a smoked turkey, you should plan around 1 ½ lbs.

per person you’ll be feeding. At 1 ½ lbs. per person, everyone will get their fill with plenty of leftovers for next day sandwiches.

A 15-pound turkey will feed around 10-12 people at this rate!

Read More >> Smoked Spatchcock Turkey (An Easy Recipe)

Should You Catch the Smoked Turkey Drippings?

A foil drip pan to catch the juices of the turkey is important for making gravy later.

Place a pan under the smoker and put several cups of water in prior to smoking your turkey.

The water will evaporate during the process so make sure to fill it as needed.

This helps keep the smoking environment moist, so you don’t get a dry bird!

Once you’re done, you can make a delicious homemade gravy to go with your turkey.

Read More >> How Long Does Turkey Last in the Fridge?

Smoked Turkey Temperature

You should always smoke your turkey to a temperature of 165°F. It is not safe to consume turkey which is at a lower temperature. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of your turkey, never try to guess! 

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Smoked Turkey Variations

  • Rub the turkey with a blend of brown sugar, butter, and garlic for a sweeter smoked turkey!
  • Prefer a spicier turkey? Add cajun seasoning or blackened seasoning the the exterior turkey rub. 
  • If you just want something more unique, experiment with stuffing the bird with additional items like orange slices or leeks.

What to Serve With Smoked Turkey

If you are making turkey on a day that isn’t an established holiday, you might be at a loss at what to serve with smoked turkey. We recommend serving it with bread, a hot vegetable like corn on the cob or steamed veggies, and something made out of potatoes. This could be mashed potatoes, fries, or even potato salad. 

How to Store Smoked Turkey

Any leftover smoked turkey should be put in an airtight container no later than 2 hours after it comes off the smoker. It should then be stored in the fridge or freezer, preferably towards the back. 

Smoked Turkey FAQs

How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Turkey?

How long your turkey will take to smoke will depend on the size of your turkey. You should plan to smoke your turkey for about 30 minutes per pound, so if your turkey is 15 pounds, you’ll be smoking for about 7-8 hours. 

How Do You Keep a Turkey Moist While Smoking it?

The best way to keep the turkey moist while smoking it is to cook it in a pan with drippings, or on a grate above a pan with drippings (or water). Any of these will help keep the smoker moist while the turkey cooks. 

Should I Wrap My Turkey in Foil While Smoking?

It is always advised to wrap your turkey while it smokes to both keep it moist and to speed up the cooking time. Just ensure you have 30 minutes of smoking the turkey unwrapped to start to crisp the skin. 

What Temperature Should You Smoke a Turkey At?

We recommend smoking your turkey at 225°F but you can smoke your turkey at 250°F if you prefer. Just keep it low and slow. 

What Type of Wood is Best for Smoking a Turkey?

Turkey’s taste best when they are smoked with more mild woods like apple, cherry, or lemon. Hickory smoked turkeys can also turn out tasty though!

Can You Smoke a Frozen Turkey?

While it is possible to smoke a frozen turkey, it is never advised as the turkey may cook unevenly. Rather, we recommend using the cooler method to thaw your turkey to bring it to an appropriate temperature quickly. 

Related: How to Thaw a Turkey in a Cooler (5 Easy Steps)

Should You Brine a Turkey Before Smoking?

If you did not buy a pre-brinned turkey, then you should absolutely brine your turkey prior to sticking it in the smoker. 

turkey in a smoker

Smoked Turkey (The Easy Way)

Shawn Hill
Want to smoke a turkey but worried about all the work? We've got the easy method for you right here!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 7 hours 30 minutes
Additional Time 2 minutes
Total Time 7 hours 42 minutes
Course Recipes

Ingredients
  

  • 15- pound turkey
  • 1 whole apple quartered
  • 1 whole lemon quartered
  • 1 whole onion quartered
  • 1 tbsp of garlic minced
  • 4 tbsp of melted butter
  • 4-6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 tbsp of salt if brining
  • 2 cups of apple juice if brining
  • Several cups of room temperature water if brining
  • A few chunks of hickory or pecan wood

Instructions
 

  • Thaw the turkey a few days before (it takes 24 hours for every 4lbs of turkey)
  • Brine the turkey overnight in salt water.
  • Preheat your smoker to 225°F.
  • Drain the turkey and stuff it with seasoning and fruit. Rub melted butter and garlic on the exterior of the turkey.
  • Smoke uncovered for 30 minutes.
  • Cover the turkey and smoke until it reaches an internal temp of 165°F (about 7 hours)
  • Rest the turkey for 15 minutes, then carve and serve!

If you want to learn more about grilling, check out these other helpful resources!

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Shawn Hill

Hey, I'm Shawn and I love this site. With a wife and 7 kids, I get most of my grilling practice from feeding my own family. I'm here to help you learn more about grilling, smoking, and backyard BBQ! With almost a decade of manning the grill and helping over 25,000 aspiring grill masters, you're in great hands! I've tried just about every type of grill, accessory, and gadget you can imagine. Because of that, I am here to help guide you to the best of the best and help you save time and money by avoiding the junk.

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