Smoking a turkey is an easy way to highlight the turkey’s natural flavors while keeping it tender and juicy
Fresh herbs and smoke come together to produce a tender and juicy smoked turkey that is absolutely delicious. This turkey recipe is more than an easy way to step up your Thanksgiving, it’s the type of dish that should be eaten all year long, especially in the fall.
In this Piece
How to Smoke a Turkey
What makes smoked turkey so tasty is how the smoke brings out the flavors in the bird while cooking it so gently that everything stays moist and juicy.
To help your smoked turkey be a hit we’ve included a few tips.
Make sure to spread the seasoning under the turkey’s skin and inside the cavity so you flavor the meat and not just the outside.
If fresh herbs aren’t available, feel free to substitute dried thyme and rubbed sage; the dried version will not have quite as much flavor as fresh herbs do but are better than nothing.
The reason smoking works so well for whole turkeys is that the smoke infuses a deep subtle smokey flavor in the turkey as it slowly cooks. This helps make sure the bird is tender and juicy and that there are interesting flavors in every bite.
An advantage of smoking is it makes brining optional. The lower temperature and moisture from the water pan help keep the turkey plump and juicy.
Brining can be a helpful way to infuse flavors deep into the turkey, it can also be a pain in the butt when you have a fridge full of food, which is why it’s included as an optional step below.
When we’re smoking a whole turkey we like to cook it until the inside of the breast has hit at least 162℉ and then cover the bird in aluminum foil and let it rest for 30 minutes before serving.
Letting the turkey rest allows the internal temperature to reach at least a 165℉, which it needs to do for safety reasons before serving. It also gives the bird a chance to relax and reabsorb all of its juices.
The question of how long to smoke a turkey really comes down to the type of smoker you’re using and how well it can maintain it’s temperature. In general, we’ve found that a 12 lb turkey smoked at 250℉ takes around five hours to cook all the way through.
Because there is so much variation between smokers and turkeys we highly recommend using a digital thermometer to determine when the turkey has finished cooking.
Turkey With All the Fixins
If you’re smoking a turkey and want to serve all of the traditional Thanksgiving fixings, you’ll need to do a few things differently then if the turkey was being roasted in the oven.
The first is do NOT cook stuffing inside a turkey cooked at this low of a temperature. The stuffing will not get hot enough to kill off the bad stuff.
Instead serve this Mushroom, Onion, and Sage Stuffing, which is delicious and baked in the oven.
Also, there’s no reason you have to go without gravy when you’re smoking a turkey. When you’re getting dry rub ready remove the turkey neck and follow this recipe for some of the best gravy you’ve ever had.
- 1 10 to 14 lb turkey
- 1/2 cup salt for brine, optional
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp sage
- 1 tsp thyme
- In a large pot brine the turkey overnight, using 1/2 cup of salt and approximately 6 quarts of cold water. Once the turkey is completely submerged in the water, cover it with plastic wrap and place it into the fridge.
- Finely mince the thyme and sage and add them to the salt, pepper, cumin, and smoked paprika.
- Using your fingers, loosen up the skin on the turkey to spread the seasoning under the skin. Also, rub the spice mixture all over inside of the bird and on the outside of the skin. If you have some extra thyme and sage feel free to throw them inside the bird.
- Smoke the turkey at 250℉. Hickory and mesquite both work well and add a lot of flavor without overpowering everything when you’re smoking a whole turkey.
- The amount of time it takes to smoke the turkey will vary some by smoker but generally takes around 5 hours for a 12-pound turkey.
- When the turkey is getting close to done, brush the outside with butter, making sure to brush the whole bird a couple of times. This crisp up the outside, adds flavor and helps brown everything. It's also really fun to give the turkey a butter bath.
- For a great show carve it tableside.