If your thinking about smoking a turkey this year, I highly recommend it. You can skip the traditional roasted bird or the deep fried disaster-waiting-to-happen and fire up your smoker.  Once you try this recipe, you’ll never cook turkey any other way.

The first thing we need to talk about is what size bird to buy.  I prefer the 10-12lb avg. turkeys.

This size turkey cooks evenly throughout the breast and thighs, and the meat is very tender in young turkeys.  You can find them at any grocery store this time of year sometimes for as low as .29 per lb if you watch the sales ads.

Smoked Turkey

Most of the time, it’s going to be a frozen bird which is perfectly ok as long as you know how to thaw it properly.

The safest way is to give yourself plenty of time and let it thaw slowly in the refrigerator. It takes several days to thaw a 12lb turkey, so you’ll need to plan your cook well in advance.

If you do get in a pinch and have to hurry the thaw, place the turkey in a large vessel and fill it with water. Never let a turkey sit out and thaw on the counter; it creates the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to grow.

Once you have the turkey thawed, remove the neck and giblets (most turkeys have these stuffed in the neck and cavity areas), and rinse the bird under cool water.

Now it’s time for the brine.  

You don’t have to brine your bird, but it makes all the difference in the end.I brine my turkeys for 24 hours. This soak gives the turkey plenty of time to absorb flavor throughout the entire bird, and it makes for a juicier final product.My Turkey Brine Recipe:

  • 2 gallons of tap water
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 cup Molasses
  • 1 cup Honey
  • 1 ½ cup Salt
  • ¼ cup The BBQ Rub
  • 3-4 Bay Leaves
  • Fresh Thyme Bundle
  • 1 TBS Whole Peppercorns
In a large stock pot bring 1 gallon of water to a boil and add the brown sugar, molasses, honey, bbq rub, and bay leaves. Once the ingredients have dissolved turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. I make this the night before and refrigerate until time to brine.

The best way I’ve found to brine is using a XL Ziplock bag inside a cooler. This way everything is contained and if there is any leakage it will be contained in the cooler.

Place the turkey inside the storage bag and pour in the brine. This is when I toss in the thyme bundle and peppercorns (and you can use any herbs or aromatics you like here).

Top the turkey off with an additional gallon of water and the entire bird should be covered.  Close the bag and lay a bag of ice on top (this will help keep the turkey submerged). Let the turkey soak for 24 hours replacing the ice as needed.

The next day remove the turkey from the brine and rinse under cool water. Allow it to drain and pat off any excess water with paper towels.

Cut a couple apples in half and stuff in the cavity. I also add onion and celery. This will add mass to the turkey helping it cook even and gives it some additional flavor.

smoked turkey brined and rubbed
To season the turkey skin I use a mixture of:

  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 cup Granulated Garlic
  • 1 TBS Poultry Seasoning
**NOTE: This is more seasoning than you will need for one turkey, but it will keep for several months in an air tight container. I keep it in a ziplock bag, and fill a Stainless Shaker with enough to last a couple weeks. It stays in my spice cabinet and anytime we’re cooking poultry, it gets some of this seasoning.
First spray the outside of the turkey with cooking spray to help the seasonings stick to the skin and keep the outside from getting to dark.  Apply the seasoning mix to the outside making sure to cover everything; then apply a light layer of The BBQ Rub.
The next step is to inject the turkey.  You can use a store bought injection like Tony’s Creole Butter, but I created my own version.  Here’s the recipe:
Turkey Butter Injection
  • 1 stick real butter
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 TBS Hot Sauce
  • 1 tea Granulated Garlic
  • 1 tea Cajun Seasoning (I used Louisiana brand)
Melt the butter in a sauce pan and add the chicken broth, hot sauce, garlic, and Cajun seasoning. Whisk the ingredients together and remove from heat once incorporated.  It doesn’t need to come to a boil.

Let the injection cool and shoot it into the turkey. You can check out the BDI Injector I used in my video here >> Hit the breast in 3-4 locations on each side and do the same for the legs and thighs.  Before placing the turkey on the smoker, use butcher twine to secure the legs and wings.

turkey ready for smoker
Now, after all of that comes the easy part… smoking the turkey. 

I smoke turkeys at temps between 275-300 degrees. Higher temps make for a better bird. The outer skin turns a beautiful mahogany color and is almost crispy.For smoke, I use pecan or a fruit wood like cherry. And it’s pretty easy to over-smoke a turkey, so go easy on the wood.Place the turkey on the smoker and set a timer for 1 ½ hours. As long as you maintain temps, there’s not much to do, just let it cook.

When the timer goes off, rotate the turkey on the rack to ensure it is cooking evenly on all sides.  I never flip the turkey.  It stays on the back, breast up, the entire cook.

turkey on smoker
It takes about 3 ½ hours to smoke a 10-12lb turkey but checking the internal temps is key.  It has to hit at least 165 in the breast and 175 in the thigh.

When you stick the turkey, juices should run out clear. There should be no trace of blood or pink colored liquid.

I start checking the internal about the 2 ½ hour mark just to see where it is.  At this point if the outside is starting to get dark, I’ll lay a piece of aluminum foil over it.  The foil acts as a tent and will prevent the skin from browning any further.

Once I see a temp of 165 in the thickest part of the breast and the juices are running clear out of the thigh (175 internal), the turkey is done…. Almost… you want to let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.  If you go at it too soon with the knife, all of the juices will run out onto your cutting board and you’ll have dry turkey.  Be patient and let things cool off for a few minutes.

smoked turkey ready to eat
Now your ready to dig in…

Once you try Smoked Turkey you won’t be able to stomach oven cooked bird. This turkey is guaranteed to be the star of your Thanksgiving feast, so brush up on your carving skills and Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Malcom Reed
Killer Hogs BBQ Cooking Team
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About the Author

I am Malcom Reed and my brother, Waylon, and I are the Killer Hogs competition bbq team. Here at HowtoBBQright.com, I want to give you my secrets, methods and techniques you need to produce competition-quality BBQ. I want to give enough detail for BBQ novices, but still offer information that is useful for the professional BBQ cooks. I only focus on REAL bbq. And I take it seriously.

40 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. John Taylor November 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm -

    Great recipe I am going to do this on Thanksgiving. One question I have to to grandmas house about hour away , how do i keep it warm , Just use towels and put in cooler ? Thanks for great information

  2. Administrator November 18, 2013 at 8:03 am -

    Yeah, that is exactly what I would do. Pull it off the smoker, wrap it in aluminium foil and put it in a dry cooler with some towels lining the bottom. The hour rest in that cooler will be fine and it will still be warm when you go to slice it.

  3. Fernando November 21, 2013 at 9:57 pm -

    Thanks a bunch for this turkey video. The family will be impressed when but out the bird! I’ll be ordering your rub soon!

  4. Administrator November 22, 2013 at 8:04 am -

    thanks for checking it out!

  5. Brett Cunningham November 22, 2013 at 10:32 am -

    Great recipe Malcom! I Smoked 12 turkeys last year and 100% of the people that got them have called and wanted me to do it again.

  6. Mikey November 26, 2013 at 5:20 pm -

    Malcom,
    I’m gonna do your smoked turkey recipe on Thanksgiving day
    I just made the brine and man it smells great !n my kitchen (I Mean Great)
    I did your BBQ meatloaf recipe last weekend and Loved it
    I’ll be putting My 13lb bird on my Pellet Pro Grill Thursday am @ 11am
    It will be 20 degrees outside and thats the beauty of pellet smokers i can smoke meat all year long, right through Wisconsin’s long cold winter
    Thanks Again & Go Packers
    & keep the recipes coming and i will let you know how it the the outcome

  7. Kenneth Bishop November 29, 2013 at 2:45 pm -

    Malcom,
    I followed this video exactly to a “T”. I smoked 2 turkeys. One for myself and one for a friend. Needless to say I am the smoking king, at least for their neck of the woods. It was awesome. thanks for the video

  8. Jamie P. Bishop December 23, 2013 at 1:36 pm -

    Put the turkey in the brine & can’t wait to put it on the smoker tomorrow. My mouth is watering already!!! Also gonna use your recipe for smoked ham. Man am I gonna be eating good. Love Your site, hell I even bought your spice rub & a few other items.

  9. Vince March 17, 2014 at 7:09 pm -

    The flavour of this bird was fantastic. My company raved that this is what turkey is suppose to taste like. couldn’t believe the moisture in the white meat, even in the leftovers the next day!! Your recipes definitely deliver.

    thanks Malcom

  10. Christina V April 15, 2014 at 8:03 am -

    Excellent recipes! I have a customer who recommended this recipe while I was updating our community page on our website. We do chicken! But this works amazing on our chickens too! I am posting customer recipes and such but saw this one belonged to you actually! So figured I’d better ask you if I could share this on our webpage for other people to try on their chickens? Keep cooking up the good stuff! We appreciate it

  11. Jason B. April 17, 2014 at 1:14 pm -

    I’m going to be smoking the turkey in a couple days. How necessary is the brine will it still turn out good if I skip that process?

  12. Administrator April 24, 2014 at 8:45 pm -

    Oh yeah – it will still turn out great without putting your turkey in the brine. If I’m close on time, I’ll skip the brine occasionally. The brine just gives the turkey more flavor and moisture. It adds to the finished product.. but skipping this step isn’t going to take anything away.

  13. Administrator April 24, 2014 at 8:48 pm -

    Sure – share away

  14. Anonymous July 27, 2014 at 2:45 pm -

    What about smoking a turky with a rotisserie?

  15. Todd August 1, 2014 at 9:09 am -

    If you brine the bird, do you really need to inject? It seems the brine would bring enough flavor to the process.

    I really enjoy watching your videos. Keep them coming.

  16. Administrator September 16, 2014 at 7:58 am -

    It’s just another layer of flavor. You can just do one or the other – but when I’m cooking turkeys for the family, I like to brine and then inject with the creole butter. It makes a super moist and delicious turkey.

  17. Administrator September 16, 2014 at 8:00 am -

    a rotisserie would turn out some good bird. They key is just to get those temps up to 275 – 300 and hold them steady.

  18. Dion September 29, 2014 at 9:06 am -

    I am not one to leave comments, but after smoking a turkey breast this weekend following the recipe above, I just had too.

    It turned out amazing!!

    The brine was the key and adding some cherry wood to add to the sweetness even had my youngest kid eating it.

    Thanks for the guidance and looking forward to my next smoke.

    Side note: I didn’t do the injection and I opted to sit it in a cast iron skillet on top of some veggies.

  19. Art November 4, 2014 at 7:07 am -

    Malcolm, besides taking more time, why not smoke in the conventional 225-250 temp range? Thanks for the great videos, recipes, and products. You’ve brought my smokin’ and bbq’n to the next level.

  20. Administrator November 4, 2014 at 4:12 pm -

    The reason for smoking at the higher temp is to over-come the “chewy” skin. Your skin isn’t going to get crispy on a smoker, but it can be nice and bite-through, which is what the higher temps do.

  21. Bob November 6, 2014 at 11:09 am -

    Malcom, I am looking forward to trying the smoked turkey recipe this year. At any point during the process can I put dressing (stuffing) in the bird ?

  22. Administrator November 6, 2014 at 3:07 pm -

    Yeah, I get this question all the time… stuffing the bird is no problem. You would just start off with the stuffing inside the bird and replace the apples and onions.

    The only crucial thing about stuffing is that you have to make sure it temps out to 165 too… that just ensures that all the juices from the bird that got into the stuffing have reached the safe temp.

  23. k.kiser November 12, 2014 at 11:10 am -

    Sounds good but I have found doing a dry brine for 36 hrs in the fridge as the bird defrosts adds a tremendous amount of flavor v and moisture. But hay I’ll try your recipe all the others I’ve triedchave been great. Thanks

  24. Matthew Long November 12, 2014 at 2:46 pm -

    Gidday from Townsville, Australia. I’ll be doing a 12lb bird in my homemade horizontal drum BBQ smoker using heat beads (or charcoal) and its pretty hard to get cherry wood or maskeet, can I use Hickory? Or would that be too strong?

  25. Administrator November 12, 2014 at 6:48 pm -

    Hickory will be fine – just don’t put too much on or it can give an oversmoked flavor.

  26. Ana Lastres November 15, 2014 at 8:03 am -

    I’ll be doing a 12lb turkey in my regular bbq. How do I know which quantity of charcoal or wood to put so I don’t have open it and loose heat?

  27. Don Foscalina November 17, 2014 at 7:59 am -

    I’m going to be trying this recipe this year. One question I did have was yoir thoughts on replacing the water on the brine with a chicken broth? I’ve seen quite a few different brine recipes out there and they basically are all pretty close to the same thing. But I notice some use a broth as opposed to water. Is that worth it in your opinion?

  28. Administrator November 21, 2014 at 7:06 am -

    Yeah, that is no problem. Just watch the salt

  29. Administrator November 21, 2014 at 7:10 am -

    I like use a clean-burning charcoal like royal oak or stubbs.

  30. Travis January 11, 2015 at 5:11 pm -

    I used your video and recipe today and my family raved about! And I must say it was the best turkey I’ve EVER had!!

  31. George September 14, 2016 at 11:04 am -

    Hey Brother just wanted to thank you for all your info and videos! I’ve been cooking for about 10 years and just purchased an A1 reverse flow from Custom Pits in GA. I find all your info very helpful and am gonna try competitions starting next year! Thanks for all you do!#POPPOPBUBBASOWNBBQ!

  32. Dan Hayes September 26, 2016 at 11:19 am -

    I have used this recipe, and it turned out great! The only problem was there was that it was so good, I ran out of meat. Would it be any different smoking more than one bird at a time?

  33. Ryan October 11, 2016 at 7:35 pm -

    Malcom, we tried your recipe last weekend and absolutely loved it. Only thing was we had an 18lb bird and smoked it in a regular Smoky Mountain Series smoker at around 300 degrees with apple wood chunks. It only took about 3.5 hrs and when we checked the breasts, thighs and legs they were all at the temps you mentioned in your recipe according to our probes. When we cut into the bird everything was moist and amazing except for the legs and thighs still showed signs of blood close to the bone. What are your recommendations as we didn’t want the breasts to be over cooked and dry out. Other than that, this is definitely the only way to cook a bird.

    Thanks.

  34. Jordan November 20, 2016 at 8:45 am -

    Malcom,

    Thanks for the recipe! Question about the type of Turkey to buy..? A lot of options these days with frozen, fresh, natural, organic, free range, etc, etc. I’ve noticed the frozen birds have about 6 to 9% of brine already added and I’m afraid this recipe will be too salty.. I just don’t want an over “gamey” taste or over salty. Please help!!!

    Thanks!

  35. AmaTexan November 24, 2016 at 5:29 am -

    Hey Malcom, I’ve done this recipe of yours twice.Last Thanksgiving and today.I know the same results will be EXCELLENT!
    Love your videos,keep up the good work!
    Thanks a bunch!

  36. Joel Franks November 24, 2016 at 4:13 pm -

    First time smoker. Found this recipe–Home Run! Followed it to a tee…The flavor was incredible! First smoker is a gas Charbroil Smoker I got at Lowes…its a little harder to keep at 275-300 ..so took me about 6 hours to perfection…but youre right–the skin is where the money is at! Thanks Man…brisket is next. Ordering some rub tomorrow!.

    Joel

  37. Administrator November 25, 2016 at 9:49 am -

    They all have that solution – but I always brine anyway. It gives you more flavor and moisture. As far as brands go – it’s personal. They all cook the same way.

  38. Mike H November 26, 2016 at 6:41 am -

    Malcom ,
    I did your smoked turkey and the competition ribs for Thanksgiving. I can’t thank you enough for your advice and tips. I didn’t follow the to a T but I did what I had to do to get by but everything was the best.
    Keep it low and slow
    Thanks again,
    Mike

  39. jim November 27, 2016 at 9:08 am -

    Excellent recipe! first time I ever smoked a turkey! the results were amazing moist and great smokey flavor! so good there were no lefy overs!

  40. Tommy November 29, 2016 at 10:21 pm -

    Malcom I gotta tell you this was the best turkey I have ever eaten. Thanks for all the info and tips, it’s really great stuff.

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