Smoking A Whole Turkey for Thanksgiving

One thing I’ve learned over the years about smoking poultry is that you need to do it with a higher heat for a shorter amount of time. This helps get the skin a nice, golden color… keep the meat moist… and create the best smoked turkey possible.

Tuck The Legs of your Turkey into the cavity for a more “finished” look

I personally like to smoke my turkeys around 275 – 300 degrees for 3 hours.

Also, I always recommend spraying the outside of your turkey with cooking spray. This also works to keep the skin crispy and give it that golden-brown color.

But to start off with, I always BRINE my turkeys before I smoke them.

I like to brine my turkeys for 24 hours prior to smoking. If you want to skip the brine, it will turn out just fine. I do think that the brine creates a moister turkey and I highly recommend it if you have the time.

Brine for Smoked Turkey:

  • 2 Gallons of Water
  • 1 1/2 Cups of Kosher Salt
  • 1 Cup of Brown Sugar
  • 1 Cup of Dark Molasses
  • 1 Cup of Honey
  • 1/2 Cup BBQ Dry Rub
  • 2 TBS Whole Black Pepper Corns
  • 4 Whole Bay Leafs

Bring 1 quart of the water to a boil and add the other ingredients to dissolve. Allow to cool completely.

Place the turkey in a large plastic bag then place it in a cooler. (If you can find the XL storage Ziplock bags, they will work the best… but in a pinch I have used a new kitchen trash bag)

Pour the brine over the turkey and add the other 3 quarts of water. Make sure you have the bag already in cooler because it makes this process a lot easier. The turkey should be submerged in the liquid. Now you just have to keep your turkey cold for 24 hours.. so you will need some ice and you will need to replenish the ice as it melts. If it’s cold outside I always keep my cooler in my garage… this just keeps the ice from melting as fast.

Now that your turkey has brined for 24 hours, it’s time to wash it. You want to make sure you wash it very good and remove any pieces inside the cavity and neck.

Once you have the bird washed and paper towel dried, it’s time to inject. I normally use ½ of the jar of injection but you can use the entire thing if you want. Spread out the injection sights and be sure to concentrate on the thighs and legs. I usually hit the breast at the top, bottom and middle. The wings aren’t that important.

Once injected, spray the entire turkey with the cooking spray and apply your rub. (I like to use a Cajun Seasoning).

Let your bird come to room temp (about 30 – 45 minutes) and then it’s time for it to go on the smoker. Your smoker needs to be up to operating temp (275 – 300) and then you can place the turkey on a rack – breast side up.

Keep a good smoke on it the entire time and start checking the internal temp after 1 ½ – 2 hrs. If you do notice that the turkey is getting darker than you want it, Take a big piece of aluminum foil and tent the bird. This will keep it from getting any darker.

It normally takes about 3 hours to get it to the proper internal temp, but as you know some cookers cook differently.

I want to take mine to 165 and then let it rest. Larger birds may need to go to higher temps but 185 would be way too much in my opinion. If you can grab the leg and it feels like it’s coming off, it’s done.

Remove the turkey once you get it to the proper internal temp and allow it to rest before carving. If you don’t let it rest, all of the juice will run out when you start carving resulting in a dry turkey.

Malcom Reed
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Comments 4

  1. Hey Malcom,

    What size bird are you cooking? Are you basting? Or would basting just cancel out the cooking spray step? Thanks. Great site!

    1. Post
      Author

      I’m looking for a Turkey that is 12 – 14lb average. That’s the perfect size for cooking. Typically that weight cooks in 3.5 hours.

      I don’t baste, I’ll just hit it with more cooking spray if it ever looks like it’s getting too dark. I’ve never based, worried it might pull off the rub. If you try it, let me know how it works for you.

  2. what kind of wood do you recommend for smoke? and also what type of flavor do you recommend for injection? something like garlic butter? Looking forward to giving this a shot. thx

    1. Post
      Author

      For smoking a Turkey, I recommend a combination of apple and cherry wood. That’s what I got with.

      When injecting a Turkey, I like a creole butter flavor. You can make your own but I usually buy one made by Tony Chachere’s. But any kind of butter injection is great to inject in Turkey… it all depends on what kind of flavors your looking for.

      Smoked Turkey is some good stuff and it’s a quick cook time.

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