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How to smoke a turkey

What’s not to love about smoked turkey? You get tasty and tender meat, and the smoky flavor is just irresistible. Even better, smoked turkey is healthier and has less calories than most other smoked meats, meaning you can indulge without feeling guilty.

Is good smoked turkey hard to find in your area? If so, you should consider making your own smoked turkey. It’s not as hard as you might think, and to prove it, we are about to show you how to smoke a turkey on a grill or smoker at home.

What’s So Good about Smoked Turkey?

Our fresh whole turkey is rich in protein, vitamin A, iron, and calcium. Even better, turkey meat is lean, making it a healthier choice for individuals trying to lose weight.

Smoking your turkey will lend it an enticing smoky flavor and further reduce its fat content, making it leaner and tastier. Also, smoking with pecan, maple, hickory, or cherry wood can elevate the flavor of your smoked turkey.

Preparing Turkey for the Smoker

Before putting your turkey in a smoker, you need to prep it. If you have a frozen whole turkey, your first step should be thawing your turkey. Otherwise, you may experience a longer cooking time and an uneven cook. You can thaw your frozen turkey by placing it in a 40°F fridge for 24 to 36 hours.

After thawing your turkey, take the giblets and neck out and dry or wet brine the whole turkey overnight. If you have a fresh turkey, you can skip the thawing process move right to brining it. Brining will enhance the turkey’s flavor and ensure that the meat stays moist throughout the smoking process. Learn more about how to brine a turkey here.

What You’ll Need

You cannot smoke a turkey without these items:

  • Smoker or Grill: If you do not have a smoker, you can use a grill to smoke your turkey. However, if you want your turkey to have that distinct smoky flavor, you should only use a wood smoker or charcoal grill.
  • Honeysuckle White Turkey: You can buy and smoke a fresh or frozen whole turkey. If a whole turkey is too big for you, buy a bone-in turkey breast.
  • Seasonings: You can buy a dry rub or make your own by mixing kosher salt, pepper, onion powder, and any other spices you like.
  • Large Roasting Pan with Cooking Grate: The grate will hold the turkey, and the pan will catch the drippings during the roasting process.
  • Wireless Thermometer: Your wireless thermometer will let you know when your turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. A wireless thermometer is better because you don’t have to keep opening the smoker to check the turkey’s doneness. Frequently opening the smoker or grill can cause lost heat and increase your cooking time.

Instructions for Smoking a Turkey

Now that you have everything you need to make smoked turkey, here’s how to smoke a turkey in a grill or smoker:

Step 1: Prepare Smoker

You can make a smoked turkey with a gas or electric smoker, but a charcoal grill or wood smoker is your best choice for maximum smoky flavor. You can also use a pellet grill. If you plan on using a charcoal smoker or grill, soak your wood in water to help it burn slower. The best woods for smoking turkey include apple, hickory, cherry, or pecan wood.

While soaking your wood, clean the grates of your smoker or grill, then season the grates with oil or a non-stick cooking spray. You can then load in your wood and fire up the smoker or grill to preheat it.

Step 2: Prepare Turkey for Seasoning

Take your thawed turkey and pat the inside and outside dry with paper towels. If the turkey skin isn’t dry, your seasonings may not adhere to it, and you may not get crispy skin. You can season your turkey with a store-bought dry rub or make your own. In addition to kosher salt and black pepper, your homemade dry rub can include brown sugar, smoked paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and onion powder.

Step 3: Season Turkey

If you dry brined the turkey, it may not need extra seasonings. You only need to coat it with oil before placing it on your smoker or grill. However, if you wet brined the turkey, coat its dried body with oil before applying your dry rub. After covering the turkey with your seasonings, insert your oven-safe wireless thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey thigh. Do not stuff a turkey before smoking.

Step 4: Smoke Turkey

Place your seasoned turkey breast side up on your preheated grill or smoker. Put a pan under the turkey to collect drippings, or flames could flare up and char it. Close your smoker or grill to smoke the turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.

The exact amount of time it will take the turkey to reach an internal temperature of 165°F will depend on the size of the turkey and grill temperature.

When smoking at 225°F, it can take about 30 to 45 minutes to cook one pound of turkey. That means a 12-pound turkey should take at least six hours to cook in a smoker.

To smoke your turkey faster, increase the smoker’s temperature to 250°F to 275°F. At 250°F, it can take about 25 minutes to cook one pound of turkey, meaning you will need about five hours to smoke a 12-pound turkey. A 275°F smoker will cook one pound of turkey in about 20 minutes – a four-hour cook time for a 12-pound turkey. Any of these temperatures will work great for smoking your turkey, as long as it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.

Step 5: Rest Smoked Turkey and Enjoy

After smoking your turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F, take it out of the smoker or grill, but don’t cut it. Instead, place the turkey on a wire rack to rest for at least 20 minutes.

Resting your turkey before carving allows its juices to redistribute and settle. If you cut the meat without resting it, the juices will escape, resulting in a loss of juiciness and flavor.

Explore our Delicious Smoked Turkey Recipes

Discover new and exciting flavors by trying these delectable smoked turkey recipes:

  • Smoked Turkey: This smoked turkey recipe requires wet brining your turkey in water, brown sugar, garlic powder, and lime. The brine will help make your smoked turkey moist and flavorful. You will also use a dry rub to add even more flavor. After smoking, you will have a beautiful golden brown turkey – enough for 12 servings.
  • Fresh Smoked TurkeyIf you believe that fresh turkey tastes better than frozen turkey, this recipe is for you. You will need one fresh whole turkey, butter, garlic, onions, chicken stock, and your favorite herbs. You will inject the turkey with the stock and coat it with your butter, dry rub, and herbs to ensure that it tastes delicious on the inside and outside.

Now that you know how to smoke a turkey on a charcoal grill or smoker, it’s time to get smoking. Bring your preferred smoked turkey recipe to life today with fresh or frozen whole turkeys from Honeysuckle White.

Smoked Turkey FAQs

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about how to smoke turkey on a grill or smoker.

The secret to crispy skin on your smoked turkey is drying and oiling it prior to smoking. After brining your turkey, pat it dry with paper towels. You can dry it even more by letting it air dry uncovered in your fridge for at least five minutes. Once your turkey has a dry exterior, coat it with vegetable or olive oil. The oil will heat up and crisp the outside of the turkey as it smokes.

Smoking melts the fat in meat, which then flavors and moistens the meat. Unlike most meats, turkey has low fat content, especially in the breasts. The lack of fat means that turkey meat can taste dry when smoked, especially if you do not take preventive measures. Preventive measures that can help keep your turkey moist include brining the turkey and low heat smoking at 225°F.

The exact time it will take to smoke a turkey will depend on the turkey’s size and the temperature of your smoker. At 225°F, you can smoke a pound of turkey in 30 to 45 minutes. That means a 12-pound turkey will need at least five hours to cook.

A 250°F smoker will take about 25 minutes to cook a pound of turkey, while a 275°F smoker will cook one pound of turkey in about 20 minutes.

The USDA recommends smoking a whole turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. You can check your turkey’s temperature with a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey thigh. After your turkey reaches 165°F, let it rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

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