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How To Smoke A Turkey

Smoking a turkey is absolutely the best way to cook a whole turkey. The flavors can't be beat and it is so juicy and so moist that you will never cook your holiday turkeys in the oven - or the fryer - ever again.

Most people don't get to have the luxury of having a perfectly smoked turkey, but with your smoker and this recipes... you can produce the turkey that will have everyone bragging on your BBQ skills.

I have tried about every method there is for cooking turkey - from roasting it to deep frying it, but slow-smoking a turkey is the way to go. I have never had another turkey - from anywhere - that was as as moist and delicious as when I smoke it.

Turkey ready for smoker

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 tap water
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 cup Molasses
  • 1 cup Honey
  • 1 ½ cup Salt
  • ¼ cup Killer Hog's The BBQ Rub
  • 3-4 Bay Leaves
  • Fresh Thyme Bundle
  • 1 Tbsp 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.

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 1 gallon 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.

Of course, if you have a big enough pot you can skip the bag and the cooler and just put the turkey straight into your refrigerator, but my wife isn't willing to give up that much space in our frig this time of year.

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.

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 rubbed and ready for injection

To season the turkey skin I use a mixture of:

  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 cup Granulated Garlic
  • 1 Tbsp Poultry 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 Killer Hog's 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 Tbsp hot sauce
  • 1 tsp Granulated Garlic
  • 1 tsp 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 brined, injected and ready for the smoker

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.

Setting your temp higher (at 275 - 300 degrees) allows you to get a skin that is more crispy than it is rubbery.

turkey smoking on grill

It normally takes about 3 - 3 1/2 hours to get it to the proper internal temp, but as you know some cookers cook differently.

Different people will tell you to cook your turkey to all different temps... some say 165, 170 or even 185.

Really, it's a personal preference... 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.

To make your life a lot easier - every BBQ'er and griller needs a Thermapen - an instant-read thermometer.  And using a DOT (probe thermometer) will allow you to monitor the Turkey while you cook and even set to alarm when it hits the right internal temp.

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.

Smoked Turkey  

Tips for Smoking Whole Turkeys:

  • You can baste your turkey with apple juice every few hours to give it more flavor and keep it really moist... but it is not necessary, just an added step you can follow if you have the extra time.

  • I let my turkey smoke for 2 hours, then check my coals and then take a look-see at the bird. If it looks dark, give it a good spray. If it looks fine, check it out in another 30 min. or so.

  • Keep a good smoke on it the entire time and start checking the internal temp after 1 ½ 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.

  • 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.

Get my Smoked Bone-In Turkey Breast Recipe Here >>
Smoked Turkey Breast Recipe


The BBQ Rub - a barbecue dry rub developed by The Killer Hogs

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