How To Smoke a Turkey
Your turkey is brined and seasoned, and now you need to know how to smoke turkey. Don't worry if you've never gone down this road before. You'll do fine with these turkey smoking tips.
Previously, you learned how to brine turkey, and then you seasoned it with a turkey dry rub mix. Now it's time to smoke it.
Turkey Smoking Tips
Set up your smoker or grill
- For all vertical smokers - fill the water pan 2/3 full of very hot
water. Place the turkey in a roasting pan, or put a pan on the lower
rack to catch the drippings (for gravy).
- For charcoal vertical smokers - fill the charcoal bowl or ring half
full of unlit charcoal. Place a few chunks of smoke wood on top, then
fill the rest of the way with lit charcoal briquettes. This creates a
progressive burn, that extends cooking time. Repeat this procedure
(without adding more smoking wood) as needed to keep the temperature up
to the desired level.
- For gas grills - use indirect grilling. Preheat with all burners on,
then turn off the center burner(s) and place the turkey (in a pan to
catch juices) there, so there's no heat directly underneath it.
- For charcoal grills - use indirect grilling. Place a pile of burning
charcoal on each side of the grill. Place the turkey in the center of
the grate. Replenish charcoal as needed.
The best smoker temperature - Keep the temperature of your smoker
or grill at a minimum of 275 degrees, up to 325 degrees. Turkey can be
smoked at lower temperatures, but it's not necessary. A turkey smoked a
higher temperature is actually better than a turkey smoked low and slow,
at 225 degrees. The turkey cooks quicker, loses less moisture, and the
skin is crispy, not rubbery.
How long to smoke a turkey - It depends. The correct answer is
"as long as it takes to reach 170 degrees". The temperature of the grill
or smoker, the size of the turkey, weather conditions, and other
factors affect the length of time needed to smoke a turkey. At a steady
325 degrees, it will take approximately 15 minutes per pound. At 275,
closer to 30 minutes per pound. Best bet - Use a remote thermometer and
go by internal temperature, not time.
Placing turkey in smoker - If you want the juices for gravy, or
you want to keep your cooker clean, place the turkey on a raised rack
placed in a shallow baking pan. Some swear by smoking turkey breast side
down, claiming the breast is juicier that way. The problem is, the
breast is done at a lower temperature than the legs and thighs. And
positioned breast down, it's closer to the heat, so there's more chance
of the breast becoming overdone. I prefer to smoke turkeys breast up,
but when done, flip it over and let it rest breast down. Thing is, if
you cook it to the right temperature the breast meat will be moist.
Basting the smoking turkey - Basting adds flavor to the turkey,
and helps give the skin nice color and crispiness. Butter is great,
vegetable oil is ok too. Be aware that every time you open your grill or
smoker, you'll have to add an extra 15 to 30 minutes to the cooking
time due to heat loss.
How to Smoke a Turkey
Smoking wood and turkey - Good woods for smoking turkey are
apple, cherry, and oak. Hickory works, but only if you like its distinct
flavor. If you're not experienced at smoking turkeys, keep the amount
of smoking wood used to a minimum. 2 or 3 fist size chunks, or 2 or 3
handfuls of soaked wood chips wrapped in foil packets is a good starting
point. In charcoal smokers, you can bury the wood in the charcoal as
you fill up the charcoal pan. In electric smokers, place foil packets of
wood, one at a time, next to (but not touching) the heating element.
When is it done? - Safe recommended done temperature from the
USDA is 170 for the breast, and 180 for the thigh and legs.
Unfortunately, if cooked until it reaches those temperatures, it will be
very overdone. The internal temperature rises up to 10 degrees AFTER
the turkey is removed from the oven. So remove it when the breast
reaches 160, thigh 170, and it'll be done just about perfectly.
The after-smoke rest period - Always give the turkey a rest
period of at least 30 minutes after it's removed from the smoker or
grill. Place it breast side down on a platter and cover with a tent of
foil. As it rests, the juices become locked in to the protein fibers,
and the meat will be moist. If not rested, juice will flow out of the
turkey when it's cut, and the meat will be dry.
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