If you thought only pitmasters could make a whole smoked turkey, think again! The process of smoking a whole turkey is easier than you think and will make a delicious addition to your holiday table.
My smoked turkey, with its smoky flavor and dark brown crispy turkey skin, is packed with moist, flavorful turkey meat, thanks to the brining process.
My smoked turkey would make a delicious Thanksgiving turkey, but you don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving dinner to enjoy the best turkey you ever had. Turkey’s are available all year long at many grocery stores, and my easy smoked turkey recipe will take roast turkey to a whole new level of smoky deliciousness.
The smoking process couldn’t be easier, and my turkey brine recipe uses simple pantry ingredients, making the whole process easy with minimal prep work.
Ingredients to make Smoked Turkey
Let’s start by gathering the ingredients we need to make my smoked turkey recipe. In Chef Speak, this is called the “Mise en Place,” which translates to “Everything in its Place.”
Not only does setting up your ingredients ahead of time speed up the cooking process, it also helps ensure you have everything you need to make the dish.
Made with simple ingredients
I didn’t use a lot of seasonings for the dry rub, just black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder because most of the flavor in my smoked turkey breast recipe comes from the wet brine.
Feel free to add your favorite seasonings to the dry rub. Sweet paprika and poultry seasoning would make nice additions. For a touch of sweetness, add a little brown sugar, and for a touch of heat, add a little bit of cayenne pepper.
How to Make Smoked Turkey Recipe
Start by making the wet brine for the whole smoked turkey.
This simple brine is easy to make and easily adaptable to your taste preferences.
You can add your favorite fresh herbs and aromatics to the turkey brine ingredients for additional flavor. Bay leaves, sage, cut orange wedges, or lemon wedges would be good additions to the wet brine.
Table salt is not the same as Kosher salt. If you don’t have kosher salt, use one tablespoon of table salt (½ the amount of kosher salt).
*See the notes in the recipe card for a dry brine recipe you can use with my smoked turkey recipe.
I love the ThermoPro wireless meat thermometers. The easy to use app makes it easy to track the temperatures of the meats and seafood your cooking.
You get a great variety of wood chips with this starter pack. You get one bag of apple, cheery, mesquite, and hickory wood chips in each variety pack.
- Add the vegetable broth, kosher salt, black pepper, fresh rosemary, and fresh thyme to a large pot.
- Bring the mixture to a boil (make sure all the kosher salt has dissolved). Then remove the pot from the heat and let the brining mixture cool for 15 minutes.
- Add the cold water and ice to the mixture.
- Place the turkey breast side up into a container large enough to hold the entire turkey (that will fit in your fridge).
- Add the brining mixture to the container, then add enough cold water to cover the whole bird. Cover the container with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 18-24 hours.
- Remove the turkey from the brine, making sure to get rid of any excess liquid. Then pat dry with paper towels.
- Season the turkey with the seasoning mixture, then add the onions, lemons, and orange quarters to the turkey cavity.
The size of the container depends on the size of the turkey. Smaller turkeys could fit in a two-gallon ziplock bag, but larger turkeys will require a larger container. An ice chest can be used to brine the turkey by adding freezer packs or ziplock bags filled with ice. Don’t add more ice directly to the brine; it will dilute the mixture.
- Preheat your smoker to 275 degrees. Let the turkey come to room temperature while the smoker preheats. This will help them cook more evenly.
- When the smoker has reached 275 degrees F.. add your favorite wood chips to the smoker tube. I used a combination of mesquite and cherry wood chips.
I use an electric smoker for smoking meats and seafood. It’s easy to use and takes all the work out of using a smoker.
If you don’t have an electric smoker, you can use a pellet smoker, charcoal grill, or gas grill to smoke a turkey. Place the turkey in a foil pan directly on the grill grate and use indirect heat to smoke the meat. Just make sure the grill temperature reads 275 Degrees. High heat is not your friend.
- Place the turkey in the smoker on a rack. For a bird this size I like to cook it in an aluminum pan (or roasting pan). It’s easier to manage, you’ll have less clean up, and you’ll be able to collect the drippings to use to make gravy. *Alternatively, you can place the turkey directly on the smoker rack with a drip pan underneath to catch the drippings.
- Place a temperature probe (or meat thermometer) into the thickest part of the turkey thigh, being careful not to hit the thigh bone. *Remember we are cooking for an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Cooking times will vary depending on the turkey size and the smoker type.
- When the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 150 degrees F., wrap the end of the leg bones with foil. This will help the skin from shrinking up the leg. Then cover the entire turkey with aluminum foil. *At this point, the turkey has taken on as much smoke flavor as it can, and this step will help keep it moist as it finishes cooking.
- When the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 165 degrees, remove it from the smoker.
Cook times will vary depending on the size of the turkey and the type of smoker.
*Remember we are cooking for an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Cook times will vary depending on the turkey size and the smoker type.
Remove the smoked turkey from the smoker and let it rest for 30 minutes before slicing. This will give the juices time to redistribute throughout the turkey.
*I like to brush the turkey with melted butter a few times as the turkey rests. You can also brush the outside of the turkey with melted butter during the cooking process.
Wouldn’t you love to serve this delicious smoked turkey to your friends and family this holiday season? It’s definitely a show stopper, and my easy smoked turkey recipe will make you look like a culinary genius!
Store any leftover turkey in an airtight container for 4-5 days. To store in the freezer, double wrap with plastic wrap, then store in a ziplock bag in your freezer for up to 2 months.
Smoked Turkey Cooking Tips:
Don’t forget to thaw: If your starting with a frozen turkey, make sure the turkey is completely thawed before you start the brining process. And make sure to remove the innards from the cavity of the turkey before brining. Defrost your turkey at least 48 hours in advance of placing it in the brine.
Wet Brining: Let the turkey brine for 18 – 24 hours. But don’t wet brine any longer than 24 hours or the meat may get mushy.
Let the meat come to room temperature: It’s important to let the meat sit for 30 minutes at room temperature before cooking. It will help the meat to cook more quickly and more evenly.
Use a digital thermometer: It’s important to keep watch on the internal temperature of the meat, and a wireless digital thermometer will make your life much easier. I like probe thermometers, and most have apps for your phone which makes monitoring the internal temperature easy.
Let the meat rest after cooking: Letting the smoked turkey rest for at least 30 minutes will give the juice time to redistribute, giving you a tender and juicy turkey. Cutting them too soon will result in a puddle of juice on your plate and dry meat.
Yes, you definitely want to do some type of brine to help keep the meat moist. Brining also helps regulate the cooking temperature so it cooks more evenly during the smoking process. Not only will the brine help maintain the cooking temperature while smoking, a good brine will also add additional flavors to the meat.
The best temperature to smoke a whole turkey is 275 degrees F. Smoking at lower temperatures will take longer to cook and also can keep the turkey in the critical temperature zone of 40° F to 140° F for longer than 4 hours.
Lower temperatures and longer cook times can also make the turkey dry and tough.
Yes, you can. However, it’s best to use a fresh turkey for brining. Frozen turkeys have been injected with a sodium solution and won’t be able to fully absorb the brine.
You can also inject the turkey with your favorite marinade to add more flavor. Injecting the brine into the turkey speeds up the brining process.
Smoking at 275 degrees Fahrenheit takes 20 to 30 minutes per pound. Smoking at 250 degrees Fahrenheit takes about 25 minutes per pound, and at 225, it takes about 30 minutes per pound of turkey.
Cooking times will vary depending on the type of smoker.