Smoking a whole turkey can seem intimidating, it’s the centerpiece of any holiday meal for a whole family. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, or just a family get together, a smoked turkey can bring folks around the table to enjoy a traditional feast unlike any other. Smoked turkey can enhance this experience by bringing flavors and a level of juiciness a traditional oven baked turkey cannot. Today I will bring to you an easy recipe for smoked turkey that will have your family fighting over leftovers.
- Turkey, 1.5 lb per guest
- Brine Mix
- Turkey Seasoning
- Butter, for basting
- Onion 1
- Garlic 3 cloves
- Carrot 1 large
- Celery 1 stalk
- Smoking Chips, chunks, pellets
- Foil pan for drip pan
Selecting a turkey is easy. I usually just head to the local store and grab a frozen one. I’m looking for a Turkey that is around 15 pounds for the party. A good target is one that gives about 1.5 lbs of smoked turkey per guest. However, if you are serving more people than a 15 lb turkey would feed, I’d suggest actually getting 2 smaller turkeys. Food safety is important, and a large, 20 -25 lb turkey can stay in the danger range <140, for much longer than smaller turkeys typically do, allowing for more bacterial growth.
Honestly, and smoker or grill can be used for smoking a whole turkey. The most important thing is being able to control the temperature consistently at 300 degrees. When it comes to this, Komodo style, or pellet grills are typically the best, but it can be done with any grill with indirect heat applied consistently. This allows us to cook the bird evenly, almost simulating an oven, ensuring we don’t overcook it and keep it juicy. Also, you will probably be doing a lot more than just cooking a turkey, so the less we have to babysit our smoked turkey, the better!
Any smoking wood will work with a turkey, but some are certainly better than others when working with poultry. I like to use fruit woods for turkey, and usually mix some apple with cherry. This will give us a suttle smokey flavor that doesn’t overwhelm the turkey, and also will give a deep coloring to the turkey that is also out of this world. If you are using a pellet smoker, there are pre made mixes that work well.
The only safe way to smoke a whole turkey is to know the exact internal temperature of the turkey as its cooking. Your smoked turkey must hit 165 degrees in the thickest section of the breast. The only way to verify is to have a thermometer reading that temp. I like to have a probe thermometer inside the turkey as its cooking, so I know what’s going on. I also like to verify that temperature with a instant read thermometer as a safety net. I will usually check different spots than my probe is in, the ensure I have hit 165 all over the bird. This is a must for smoking a whole turkey to make sure your family doesn’t get any sickness from undercooking the turkey.
Brine and Seasoning
Brining a turkey will allow deep penetration of flavors through the use of herb blends. This will help our smoked turkey be extra juicy as well as savory throughout the whole bird.
If you already have a pre brined turkey, you can skip this step.
I like this turkey brine here, and it comes with a bag.
This turkey brine calls for about 1 hr in the brine, per pound of turkey. Place it in the fridge, and forget it until its time to warm the smoker.
Seasoning the turkey is a breeze.
First thing to do is dry the turkey once it’s out of the brine bag. After that, apply a little canola oil or melted butter to allow the rub to stick. Lightly dust the turkey, all over with your favorite rub, we like to use more savory and traditional rubs.. This isn’t a pork butt, or ribs where a lot of seasoning is used. So just go over the bird like you would any other cut of chicken, evenly distributing the seasoning as you go to get a good coverage.
Now that you’ve got the outside of our smoked turkey seasoned, I like to do a little extra step to let some flavor get deep into the turkey meat. For this, I simply cut an onion in half, cut up a carrot and some celery, and peel some garlic. With those, I just stuff them inside for it to roast inside of it while we are smoking our turkey. This will allow for a whole other flavor profile to penetrate our smoked turkey from the inside out.
Now that we’ve got our bird all seasoned up and ready to go, its time to smoke some turkey!
- Preheat your grill or smoker to 300. It is important to get your smoker to a stable temp, but that will also allow your smoke to calm down so you don’t get nasty white smoke leaving its overpowering flavor on the turkey. You want to have a light blue smoke coming out of the smoker. While your smoker is warming up, you can be seasoning your turkey. You can use any smoker or grill that offers indirect heat, it’s just important to keep the temperature consistent.
- While your smoker is warming up, place your drip pan with 2 cups of water under your grate where the turkey will be. If using a pellet grill or
- Carefully take your turkey out to the smoker! This step isn’t difficult, unless you have a large dog following you in hopes it hits the ground. If it does, did anyone see it ? 😉
- Smoke that Turkey! Close the lid and smoke your turkey. I like to butter baste it almost every hr or so. After the first hour, I will insert my probe thermometer to keep an eye on internal temps as it cooks. This will take around 30 minutes per pound, give or take. Just keep an eye on it. When you hit 165 on the thermometer, double check it on the other breast in thick sections of the turkey to verify you have hit 165 all over the bird.
- Let the smoked turkey rest- This is an important step as it allows the turkey to regain some of its moisture, and cool off enough to carve. Let it rest atleast 15 minutes. If you are taking the turkey to another house, or need it to rest longer you can simply cover the turkey in foil and put it in a cooler. You may need to do a quick broil to re crisp the skin in the oven if you let it sit for a while.
That’s it, a nice and easy smoked turkey for your Thanksgiving, Christmas, or get-together with family and friends.