We have all felt the pressure before, no one wants to screw up the Thanksgiving Turkey. To help, we came up with 5 tips for smoking a turkey as you get ready for the Thanksgiving holiday. Hopefully we can take some of the pressure off and maybe just have the family asking you to do a smoked turkey every year.
Looking for a benefit of smoking your turkey, you also free up the oven for cooking some other dishes.
Most of these tips should apply regardless of whether you are smoking turkey on a charcoal smoker, pellet grill or electric smoker.
Tip #1 Brining A Turkey To Smoke
There are two answers to this questions and both are correct. I will break them down a bit more below and will help you have a juicy smoked turkey.
Brining A Frozen Turkey
If you are using a frozen turkey from a company like Butterball, there is probably a salt/brining solution involved. In many cases those turkeys have been injected with a brine. You will see something along the lines of “Contains up to 8% of a solution of Water, Salt, Spices, and Natural Flavor.” . If that is the case, then there is a brine solution already involved with this turkey. If you start looking around the internet asking about smoking brined turkey, I make a bet you find a 50/50 split of people that still wet brine the Butterballs vs dry brine or no brine.
You can still wet brine, I still do a wet brine but cut back on the salt content of the brine. I also cut back on the time from 24 hours to about 12 hours. At this point its more flavor that we are looking to achieve over actual brining. Be mindful of the recipe you are using and the salt content of that recipe.
Brining A Fresh Turkey
A fresh turkey either from a butcher or from a grocery store, if probably not going to have any brine solution involved so that will want a full brine. You typically want to brine for 24 hours, give or take. Brine away if your turkey is fresh because if not, you definitely risk drying your turkey out.
Tip #2: Thawing Your Turkey
Below is a graphic for when you should start thawing your turkey. Something you need to keep in mind and this relates to Tip #1. If you are going to brine you need to bump your time frame up a little earlier. If you are running out of time and may not thaw the turkey in time, give it a water bath, either in a large sink, in a bathtub or cooler. Make sure its cold water. You need to keep the temperature below 40°, so if you have too, add ice to keep the water cold.
Tip #3: Measuring The Internal Temperature
A very important tip for smoking a turkey is how and where to measure the IT when you smoke a whole turkey. A turkey breast will dry out faster than the thighs. Thighs, whether its chicken or turkey can handle a higher heat. You want the internal temperature of your turkey breasts to measure at 165 degrees. Thighs can take an IT upwards of 180°, 175° is preferable.
My suggestion is to have a 3 probe meat thermometer. One probe for ambient heat, one for the breasts and one for thighs. If you are looking for a quality probe without breaking the bank, try the ThermoPro TP829. It is one of my go to digital thermometers.
Once you see the breasts get to 165°, go ahead and pull the turkey. Double check the thighs to make sure they are at least at 165° but they should be.
Tip#4: Hot and Fast
I am sure you want crispy skin on the turkey. If so, low and slow will not achieve that. You want to crank that temperature upwards of 325°. If you start smoking in the 225° range, you will end up with rubbery skin on the turkey. A little bit of butter baste will also help crisp that skin. You will also shave a lot of time off your smoke by going hot and fast. You are looking at being done in about 3-4 hours when you run the smoker at 325°. As a gauge, figure about 15-20 minutes per pound at 325°.
Tip#5: Seasoning A Whole Turkey
If you are using a frozen turkey that already has brine and you may be brining again, you want to use or make a rub that does not contain salt. You run the risk of overloading it with salt content. One rub I would recommend is the Chairman of the Bird Gourmet Turkey Rub. Or if you are looking to make one yourself, a suggestion would be the following:
- 2 tablespoons of dried sage
- 1 tablespoon of dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon of dried rosemary
- 2 teaspoons of pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon of allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground mustard
This is not exactly seasoning related but its close enough. I would not recommend stuffing your turkey. You run the risk of the stuffing not cooking as fast as the meat and then you have a turkey filled with uncooked stuffing and/or cooked stuffing and dried out turkey. Do yourself a favor and do the stuffing separately.
Tips For Smoking A Turkey: Honorable Mention
- Use a drip pan, save the drippings for gravy and makes clean up easier
- Make sure you have a roasting rack, not required but helpful
- You can but don’t have to rest the turkey, serve while its hot
- What is the best wood to smoke a turkey? I am going with cherry, pecan or apple, great compliments to the rubs above
- There is no downside to basting, just don’t keep opening the smoker every 30 minutes
- When buying a turkey, assume 1.25 pounds per person
I hope this article was beneficial as we tried to find some you some of the more important tips for smoking turkey. Smoking turkeys is not any more difficult than smoking another meat, I think everyone just feels more pressure because of the holiday and no one wants to be the guy that ruined the turkey.
Thanks for being here and checking out this our 5 Tips For Smoking A Turkey. I hope you enjoy it! We always appreciate comments, 5 star recipe rating and social media shares. As always, keep that smoke rolling!
If you are looking for some other ideas and recipes, especially as the holidays roll around, here are some suggestions:
- Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey
- Smoked Turkey Breast
- Smoked Turkey Soup
- Smoked Pork Loin
- Roasted Chestnut Recipe
- Hickory Smoked Nuts
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