Turkey Smoking Tips

You'll make great smoked turkey when you bone up on these turkey smoking tips. Learn about brine, seasoning your turkey, and cooking turkeys in your smoker or on your grill.

Smoked turkey is very popular, especially during the holiday season. There are lots of different recipes for brines, marinades and turkey dry rub mixes.

And there's nothing wrong with just smoking a typical pre-basted bird either. Seasoned with a little black pepper and a bit of salt, these smoke into some great tasting eating.

Smoker Tips

Turkey comes out great when smoked at 275-300 degrees, so well that there's really no need to cook it low and slow. I've had trouble reaching the higher smoker temperature in my vertical electric water smoker, but I found that if I kept the water pan empty I got better results. When the water pan is empty, it's important to place another pan under the turkey to catch drips, otherwise the juices will burn in the bottom of the dry water pan. Either put the turkey directly in a pan, or place a pan on the lower rack, with the turkey on the upper rack.

If using a charcoal smoker, use plenty of lit charcoal to get the temperature up. Adjust the vents as necessary to control the temperature.

Use a good remote thermometer to monitor the turkey internal temperature. If you just have one, use it in the breast. Better yet, use two...one in the breast and the second in one of the thighs.

If at all possible, don't use charcoal lighter fluid, and don't use the "Match Light" types of charcoal. Use a charcoal lighting chimney, and your turkey won't taste like petroleum.

Grill Smoking Tips

Turkey can also be smoked in your charcoal or gas grill. Use the indirect grilling method - heat to the sides, and no heat directly underneath bird. Adjust the gas valves, or add charcoal as needed to maintain the desired temperature.

Preparing The Turkey

Thaw frozen turkeys in the refrigerator, over several days. It can take up to 5 days to thaw a big one. Alternatively, thaw the turkey in a sink full or cooler full of cold water. Don't allow the water to rise above 40 degrees. And never thaw a turkey at room temperature.

Once thawed, trim off fat deposits and remove the giblets, neck and whatnot from the body cavity and from under the neck skin. Rinse well, inside and out. Separate the skin from the breast area. The breast meat will brine more thoroughly, and you'll be able to rub dry seasonings directly on the meat. After seasoning, reposition the skin and secure with a few toothpicks.

Turkey Brine Tips

Use a good turkey brine recipe. It's best to boil the water, sugar and salt together until completely dissolved. When boiled, brine works better, since the salt and sugar are more completely dissolved. But it still works almost as well to just stir the salt and sugar into cold water.

Minimum brining time for a small turkey is 12 hours, and up to 24. Bigger ones can be brined up to 48 hours.

Rinse well after brining. If you can spare an extra day, it helps to put the turkey in the fridge overnight, uncovered. The skin will dry, and the salt will continue to absorb deeper into the flesh. If this step is skipped, just be sure to dry the bird well before seasoning and smoking.

Seasoning the Turkey

The turkey can be seasoned with just some pepper, or more complex dry rubs can be used, either homemade rubs or commercial ones.

Turkey Smoking Tips

Wood for Turkey Smoking

My favorite is apple, followed by cherry then oak. But you can use whatever you prefer. Just realize that some woods have a stronger flavor, so less is needed.

Using charcoal? Wood chunks can be buried in the charcoal as you load the pan or ring. You can also add water soaked wood chips or chunks directly on top of the briquettes as desired. At times, chunks may ignite and cause the smoker temperature to rise sharply. To prevent this from happening, wrap the smoker wood in heavy duty foil, and prick a small hole in the top. Lay directly on top of the coals.

Using electric? Use the wood pan if it has one. If not, wrap the wood in foil and lay next to the element. Since most electric smokers are unvented, you can use less wood.

For additional information, see More Turkey Smoking Tips, where you'll learn about:

  • Best Temperature for Turkey Smoking
  • How Long to Smoke Turkey
  • When Is Turkey Done?
  • Resting The Turkey After Smoking
  • Freezing Smoked Turkey
  • Reheating Smoked Turkey
  • Smoked Turkey Leftover Recipes

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