This week I’m firing up the Big Green Egg to show you how I do a smoked turkey just in time for Thanksgiving. I’ve been smoking our Thanksgiving bird for many years and it always gets rave reviews.
First let’s talk about the Smoked Turkey. More than likely you’ll be buying a turkey at your local grocery store, and these birds come frozen. Allow at least 3-4 days for the turkey to thaw in the refrigerator.
Once thawed place the turkey in the sink and remove it from the packaging. Normally turkeys are packed with the neck and a bag containing giblets. Remove these and rinse the bird with cool water.
Like all poultry, turkey has a neutral flavor and is really acceptable to the seasonings and injections you use on it. My process involves a few steps: First I soak the turkey in a brine, then a good dose of seasoning goes on the skin, and last an injection to fortify the flavors inside the meat.
Brining is a great way to add flavor and moisture to the turkey. It needs to soak for at least 24 hours to take full advantage of the brine and what you get is a moist turkey that has all the flavors of the seasonings trapped deep inside the meat.
Smoked Turkey Brine Recipe:
2 gallons water
1 cup salt
1 cup sugar
¼ cup creole seasoning* (recipe below)
fresh herb bundle of sage, rosemary, thyme
2 lemons halved
2 bay leaves
4-5 garlic cloves smashed
1 Tsp whole black pepper corns
2 small onions quartered
Pour 1 gallon of the water into a pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Add the salt and sugar and stir until dissolved. Pour this mixture into 1 gallon of cold water and add the Creole Seasoning, Herb Bundle, Lemons, Bay Leaves, Garlic, Black Peppercorns, and Onion. Allow the mixture to steep in the refrigerator and cool completely. The brine can be made a day ahead of time for better results.
Smoked Turkey Creole Seasoning Recipe:
1⁄4 cup salt
2 Tsp cayenne pepper
5 Tsp granulated garlic
4 Tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tsp paprika
1 Tsp onion powder
1⁄2 Tsp dried oregano
1⁄2 Tsp dried thyme
1/2 Tsp dried parsley
You’ll need a container large enough to hold the turkey and 2 gallons of brine, so I use an oversized ziplock bag. You can usually find these at Walmart, Home Depot, or Lowe’s in the storage section.
Place the turkey in the bag and pour the brine over it. The turkey should be completely submerged in the brine. It’s easier to do this in a cooler just in case something spills. Pack ice along sides of the turkey and leave in a cool place for 24 hours. You’ll also want to check on it occasionally to make sure you have plenty of ice in the cooler.
After 24 hours remove the turkey from the brine and place in the sink to drain. Pat the skin dry with a paper towel.
Now it’s time to season the outside of the smoked turkey. First spray the skin with cooking spray (vegetable or canola). This helps the seasonings stick and keeps it from turning dark during the cooking process.
I use two seasoning blends on the skin. First my AP seasoning (a blend of salt, granulated garlic, and black pepper) then the Creole Seasoning (recipe above). Layer both of these seasons on all sides of the turkey.
For stuffing the cavity I use a few stalks of celery, onion, and apple. You can use whatever you like here but skip the stuffing. We cook dressing in the south and not inside the bird. The vegetables and fruit add extra mass to the turkey which helps it cook evenly.
The next step is to inject the turkey for added moisture and flavor. I’m a big fan of Butcher’s line of injections, and David’s Bird Booster products are excellent with turkey. I use ¼ cup of Bird Booster Honey mixed with 2 cups of water. Inject the breast, legs, and thighs spreading the needle out about 1” for every stick.
The turkey is ready for the Big Green Egg at this point, so fire up the smoker and bring the temperature up to 300 degrees. You can duplicate this procedure on any cooker just hold your temps in the 275-300 range. Higher temps are needed for the skin to turn out perfect.
Smoked Turkey really absorbs smoke flavor and there’s nothing worse than over smoked meat, so take it easy with the wood. I use a couple small chunks of pecan and hickory and that’s all. You only need about 2 hours of smoke; any more will overpower the turkey and will eventually build up on the skin giving it a dark color.
Place the turkey on the smoker and close the lid. It’s going to take about 3-4 hours to hit the target temperatures of 165 in the breast and 175 in the thighs. Every 45 min to 1 hour spray the skin with cooking spray for moisture. This is also the biggest aid in keeping the skin a nice golden color.
At the two hour mark it’s time to monitor those internal temperatures of the Smoked Turkey. I use a Thermoworks DOT probe thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the breast. Set it for 165 and keep a close eye on the temps.
After 3 hours the smoked turkey should be getting close. I always double check the internals with a hand held Thermapen just to be sure. Internal should read 175 in the thickest part of the thigh and juice should run clear when you remove the probe.
Get the smoked turkey off the smoker when you see these temps and let it rest inside for a minimum of 15 minutes. It doesn’t hurt to cover it loosely with aluminum foil and rest it in a dry cooler until ready to serve.
The smoked turkey will stay piping hot for 3-4 hours in a dry cooler. This is also a great method to transport the turkey to your dinner even if it’s a couple hours away.
This Thanksgiving skip roasting that turkey in the oven and forget about messing with all that hot oil; fire up your smoker and get ready to feast on the best Thanksgiving Turkey your family has ever tried!
Happy Thanksgiving and Keep on Smokin’!
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How To Smoke a Thanksgiving Turkey on the Big Green Egg | Smoked Turkey Recipe
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Dude, you are awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time to set out these recipes. Every thing I’ve made of yours has been fantastic. My family is even more grateful for your website haha! I will absolutely being trying this turkey out this year.
Can you share what you placed below the grate on the BGE? Does it sit directly on the coals?
I just used the heat deflector with the BGE
If I don’t have a heat deflector, can I use a large shallow pan? or place it directly on the grate?
you need to have some type of deflector in place so you can cook the turkey indirect
Malcom! You are THE MAN!
Quick question. I’m following your BGE turkey recipe to the LETTER, But don’t have your seasoning (the seasoning you put on before the creole seasoning). You say it’s essentially salt pepper garlic seasoning? Can you shoot me ingredients/quantities, or is that information proprietary ? Hope to have my 12.5 lb turkey on the BGE in a couple of hours, so hoping you’ll see this…
Can I do two ten pound turkeys on my standard size egg?
You might want to check this out – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcGHGr4l-rU
We made this turkey for Thanksgiving and it was the best turkey I’ve ever had. It was the best turkey anyone ever had. We bought a 14 lb turkey and it fed 6 people with everyone taking leftovers. Normally everyone says don’t give me too much turkey, I just want enough for a sandwich. No one said that this year, everyone wanted as much as they could get. Next holiday I’m going to cook 2 turkeys. It was that good.
Thanks again Malcom. I have been following your advice for almost three years and you have personally turned me into a family backyard BBQ pro. I own a BGE and a Traeger. Would love to have a collection of different style smokers such as yourself. Anyways, we , again have used this recipe and is simply a fantastic cook. Thank you for all you do for us.
Smoked mine on my Pit Boss. My youngest daughter said “daddy turkey is usually dry but this one wasn’t and the best I’ve ever had!” Cooked a second one for our second Thanksgiving get together and again best they have had… no more roasted turkeys around here!
Malcom, great advice always. You have become my go to guy for BGE cooking. Thanks a million.
I have an off-set reverse flow. Would you suggest on smoking that on at least 300 to get the skin right? And also is there a time x the lbs for a guide using a smoker?
300 is great for turkey
Any suggestions for someone needing to cook the bird the day before? I will not have time to cook thanksgiving day due to travel. Can I finish the night before, wrap in towels, place in dry yeti until the next day around 1? Or will the heat be gone?
If the turkey falls below 140 internal – it’s in the danger zone and that’s when people get sick. I would suggest cooking it, letting it cool, placing it in the fridge then re-heating it in the oven right before you serve. 140 internal is the target internal temp for re-heating.
I know it is best to do a smaller bird…but I couldn’t find one smaller than 20lbs at Kroger. Any tips for working on a larger turkey?
Couple options: 1. spatchcock it(remove back bone and it’ll lay flat) This way it cooks even and much faster 2. Slow the breast down by chilling the breast before smoking. This will slow the white meat down and give the dark meat a head start.
The main thing with larger birds is to know that it’ll take longer. You’ll probably need to tent it at some point to keep it from getting too dark and use a good probe thermometer to monitor the internal temps. Give yourself 5-6 hours for a 20lb bird.
Hi Malcolm – how do you go about catching the drippings for a gravy with this recipe. I am thinking of putting a drip pan underneath the bird (on top of the deflector) on my BGE. Curious to your thoughts. Thanks!
I’ve never caught the drippings – I think the smoker will give them a bad taste.
My wife uses some of the drippings to make a bomb gravy! Just use enough drippings for your taste and add chicken broth or something else to increase the amount. I use butcher twine to hold the disposable foil trays under the rack. I can squeeze two 12 lb turkeys and 2 drip pans in my electric smoker.
Malcom I love all your recipes! Question. I’ve read that there is no need to brine a frozen turkey because they are pre-brined in a salt solution. If I brine a frozen bird, will the meat turn mushy and too salty?
I always brine those birds. The solution they have been soaked in doesn’t add much flavor. And a turkey can take a lot of flavor
I am smoking a 13 pound turkey this year. I also have a bone in turkey breast. How much time should I allow for the breast?
I have a recipe that lays out the cook time on a bone-in turkey breast here: https://howtobbqright.com/2014/11/21/smoked-turkey-breast/
My buddy at Swine Life also just did a bone-in turkey breast recipe you might want to check out too – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq_RWmlZAws&t=6s
how big was your turkey in this cook??
10-12lb range is my optimal size
Have you ever tried beer can turkey with the same rub? Is it worth it, especially if I didn’t have a chance to brine the turkey?
I have tried it before and it’s pretty good
When firing up the BGE do you put in the wood chunks right away… or wait for the grill to come up to temp. first? Just wondering how long wood should be on before the bird goes on.
I wait until it comes up to temp then add my wood chunks – right before I set my grate in place.
Hi Malcom, great instructional video and awesome turkey when i followed your instructions. One questio is the skin on the turkey comes out of the egg looking great but it was a bit rubbery both times ive used this method. I hold the egg temp at 300 throughout and the breast is at 165 and thighs are usually around 180. Am i doing something wrong? Wish the skin was more crisp. Thanks!
You can increase the cook temp a little to get the skin to render more. Cooking around 325 should help, but it’s also a good idea to check the grate temp. It could be that the dial temp is reading higher than you’re actually cooking.
“Smoked Turkey really absorbs smoke flavor and there’s nothing worse than over smoked meat, so take it easy with the wood. I use a couple small chunks of pecan and hickory and that’s all.”
Would a pellet smoker not be a good choice here as it is tough not to “take it easy on the wood” as it is the fuel providing the heat?
Your website is a great resource for all things smoking. Thanks!
Yes, a pellet smoker is great for poultry – seems to do better with the skin and won’t over-smoke it
Hey Malcom! I did this last Thanksgiving and it was great! Now my extended family wants me to do it for everyone. If doing this on an offset smoker would you rotate multiple turkeys around the cooker? If so, how often?
Malcom, I am planning to do a 20 lb turkey this Thanksgiving. I saw your comments above about spatchcocking the bird, but we want the traditional presentation. I can tent the bird with heavy foil to keep it from getting too dark. Any other recommendations? (I’ll have the extended family over so can’t afford to mess this one up!)
Thanks for everything!
Using both the brine and Butcher’sBBQ injection will the bird get too salty?
Hey Malcom! If I do a Beer Can Turkey on the BGE, should I not brine it? Will it be too much moisture if I brine and use a beer can?
Your brine recipe calls for 1 cup of salt…..is that kosher salt or regular table salt?
Malcolm, I’m not a fan of steamed drippings hitting the deflector. Could I smoke a turkey over a pan of apple cider vinegar?
On a side note, I think a smoked turkey with a side of your apple bourbon baked beans sounds great.
What is in the injection mixture that you inject the turkey with?